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25 May 2011
Smiling not sexy, say women
by George Atkinson

Smiling men are significantly less sexually attractive to women than brooding men, according to a new University of British Columbia (UBC) study that may help explain the allure of "bad boys" and other male archetypes. The study, published in the journal Emotion, found dramatic gender differences in how men and women rank the sexual attractiveness of commonly displayed emotions, including happiness, pride, and shame.

"While showing a happy face is considered essential to friendly social interactions, including those involving sexual attraction - few studies have actually examined whether a smile is, in fact, attractive," says UBC psychologist, Jessica Tracy. "This study finds that men and women respond very differently to displays of emotion, including smiles."

The researchers devised a series of experiments where 1,000 adults rated the sexual attractiveness of hundreds of images of the opposite sex engaged in universal displays of happiness (broad smiles), pride (raised heads, puffed-up chests) and shame (lowered heads, averted eyes).

Tracy found that women were least attracted to smiling, happy men, preferring those who looked proud and powerful or moody and ashamed. In contrast, male participants were most sexually attracted to women who looked happy, and least attracted to women who appeared proud and confident.

Study co-author, Alec Beall, stressed that the experiments looked only at sexual attractiveness, not at suitability for a long-term relationship. "We were not asking participants if they thought these targets would make a good boyfriend or wife - we wanted their gut reactions on carnal, sexual attraction."

Past research suggests females are attracted to male displays of pride because they imply status, competence and an ability to provide for a family. A proud expression also accentuates typically masculine physical features, such as muscles and upper body size.

Interestingly, other studies have associated smiling with a lack of dominance - the archetypal submissive and vulnerable woman, for example. "Happiness is a particularly feminine-appearing expression," suggested Beall.

Displays of shame, Tracy adds, have been associated with an awareness of social norms and appeasement behaviors, which elicits trust in others. This may explain shame's surprising attractiveness to both genders, she says, given that both men and women prefer a partner they can trust.

There is no word yet on whether the findings have caused men to smile less on dates, or inspired online daters to update their profile photos.

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Source: University of British Columbia

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