Women view male faces as more attractive when they evoke impressions of desirable personality traits, according to published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. The new findings help to explain some of the variation in heterosexual women’s perceptions of male facial attractiveness.
“Human faces naturally interest scientists across a wide range of disciplines because it is filled with meanings,” said lead author DongWon Oh, a postdoctoral researcher at New York University.
“Facial attractiveness strongly affects people’s behaviors in many different directions, which makes it an important topic. I’ve always been interested in how our beliefs and prior tendencies lead us to find certain faces more attractive than others. Personality preference is one such source.”
In the study, 131 women rated the attractiveness of male faces that had been manipulated to have more masculine or more feminine features. Some of the participants also rated the extent to which each face reflected a certain personality trait.
Additionally, the participants indicated how much they valued various personality traits in a potential partner. Included in the list were 8 stereotypically feminine and 8 stereotypically masculine psychological traits.
Overall, the participants desired feminine personality traits — such as warmth, trustworthiness, and empathy — more than masculine personality traits — such as dominance, aggressiveness, and competitiveness. But there were some notable exceptions. For example, the masculine trait of independence was highly valued, while the feminine trait of submissiveness was undesired.
Importantly, the researchers found that the women’s preferred personality traits were associated with their attractiveness ratings of the male faces.
“A lay belief about attractiveness goes that (and this is backed up by scientific evidence too), there are certain visual features that make a face attractive, like youthfulness and smoothness of skin. While this is true, it largely neglects a deeper, perhaps separate origin of these preferences,” Oh told PsyPost.
“Our study shows that attractiveness perceptions of faces are influenced by the person’s idiosyncratic preference for a specific personality type (not only by universal, fixed set of perceptual features, like facial youthfulness). Women who value warmth, for example, are more likely to perceive faces that appear to reflect warmth as attractive than women who do not value warmth.”
“On the other hand, women who value confidence, for example, are more likely to perceive faces that appear to reflect confidence as attractive than women who do not, and so forth. The eye wants what the heart wants – as the title of the paper says. These findings explain the rich diversity in attractiveness perception and mating choice in us humans,” Oh said.
But the study — like all research — includes some limitations. The researchers only examined heterosexual women in an industrialized society. “Future work can test how generalizable the eye-wants-what-the-heart-wants phenomenon is, extending the current work by including diverse samples,” Oh explained.
The study, “The eye wants what the heart wants: Female face preferences are related to partner personality preferences“, was authored by DongWon Oh, Natalie Grant-Villegas, and Alexander Todorov.