Physical characteristics, such as a symmetrical face or masculine or feminine features, may not be as important as was previously thought in determining whether a person is attractive, contends new research from the University of Aberdeen.
Previous research into sexual attraction had mainly focused on facial features that might impart physical attractiveness, but the new study suggests that the effects of gaze direction and the expressions on peoples faces may be more important factors.
Study author, Dr Claire Conway, says that identifying the factors that govern our face preferences is a complex process and whether we find people facially attractive is dependent on a combination of factors. "When asked to think of examples of attractive facial characteristics, most people think of physical traits such as healthy looking skin, symmetrical features or a strong jaw," she noted. But Conway found strong evidence that we are also more attracted to happy faces, which are looking directly at us.
"We show that gaze direction can also be important for attraction. Faces that were looking directly at the viewer were judged more attractive than faces with averted gaze. This effect was particularly pronounced if the face was smiling and of the opposite sex to the viewer. This shows that people prefer faces that appear to like them and that attraction is not simply about physical beauty," she explained.
Interestingly, Conway thinks the findings may reflect an evolutionary imperative. "It is possible that our brains are wired this way to allow us to invest our time in attracting members of the opposite sex who seem the most receptive to our interest in them," she concluded.
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Source: University of Aberdeen