On the above video-clips we can watch how a highly attractive guy captures massively the attention of females in large mixed groups at nightclubs.
Humans frequently make real-world decisions based on rapid evaluations of minimal information; for example, should we talk to an attractive stranger at a party? Little is known, however, about how the brain makes rapid evaluations with real and immediate social consequences. To address this question, Cooper et al (2012) scanned participants with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they viewed photos of individuals that they subsequently met at real-life “speed-dating” events. Neural activity in two areas of dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), paracingulate cortex, and rostromedial prefrontal cortex (RMPFC) was predictive of whether each individual would be ultimately pursued for a romantic relationship or rejected.
Activity in these areas was attributable to two distinct components of romantic evaluation: either consensus judgments about physical beauty (paracingulate cortex) or individualized preferences based on a partner’s perceived personality (RMPFC). These data identify novel computational roles for these regions of the DMPFC in even very rapid social evaluations. Even a first glance, then, can accurately predict romantic desire, but that glance involves a mix of physical and psychological judgments that depend on specific regions of DMPFC.
The pattern we can trivially observe is overall female preference for potencial male partners with whom a woman shares extraordinary physical/sexual chemistry. The fusiform face area, the lateral occipital cortex and medially adjacent regions, is activated automatically by physical appearance and it serves as a neural trigger for pervasive effects of attractiveness in social interactions.
We must consider two aspects of mate choice evolved in tandem 1) traits that evolved in the “display producer” to attract mates and, 2) corresponding neural mechanisms in the “display chooser” that enable them to become attracted to these display traits.
Fisher et al (2002) discusses a fMRI brain scanning project on human romantic attraction, what it is believed is a developed form of “courtship attraction” common to avian and mammalian species as well as the primary neural mechanism underlying avian and mammalian mate choice.
Their work hypothesizes that courtship attraction is associated with elevated levels of central dopamine and norepinephrine and decreased levels of central serotonin in reward pathways of the brain. It also proposes that courtship attraction is part of a triune brain system for mating, reproduction and parenting:
1)The sex drive evolved to motivate birds and mammals to court any conspecifics.
2) The attraction system evolved to enable individuals to discriminate among potential mating partners and focus courtship activities on particular individuals, thereby conserving mating time and energy.
3) The neural circuitry for attachment evolved to enable individuals to complete species-specific parental duties.
Recent studies have investigated what constitutes beauty and how beauty affects explicit social judgments. By example, Olson and Marshuetz (2005) found that those who are physically attractive reap many benefits and wider variety of mate choices. Since little is known about the perceptual or cognitive processing that is affected by aesthetic judgments of faces and why beauty affects our behavior. In their study, these authors show that beauty is perceived when information is minimized by masking or rapid presentation. Perceiving and processing beauty appear to require little attention and to bias subsequent cognitive processes. These facts may make beauty difficult to ignore, possibly leading to its importance in social evaluations.
They began by asking whether attractiveness can be perceived from minimal amounts of visual information. To answer this question, authors asked participants to rate faces that were presented under severely impoverished viewing conditions.
Although participants reported that they could not accurately see the faces, their ability to “guess” about the attractiveness level of the faces was surprisingly accurate.
In a second experiment, they asked whether the presence of an attractive face biases subsequent cognitive processing. This was tested in a priming task in which rapidly presented face primes were followed by positive or negative word targets. They reasoned that if attractive faces are encoded with little effort or attention and bias subsequent cognitive processing, then RTs to congruent words (e.g., positive words) should be faster than when the same words are preceded by an incongruent (e.g., unattractive) face. The results were that attractive upright faces prime positive words.
This finding could be interpreted as the generation of an implicit attitude (Fazio, 2001) when an attractive face is presented. No priming effects were observed for inverted faces or unattractive faces. The lack of RT speeding when a positive word was preceded by an inverted attractive face suggests that it is attractiveness, per se, rather than some uncontrolled low-level visual attribute, that led to the performance benefit observed in experiment 2. Why unattractive faces did not speed processing of negative words is less clear, although they speculate that unattractive faces do not induce negative emotions.
The generality of the attractiveness effect was tested in a third experiment . This experiment replicated the priming effect of attractive faces but found no priming effect for attractive houses, suggesting that attractive faces may induce emotions, whereas other attractive stimuli may not, or at least may not in the same manner. Other types of attractive stimuli, such as abstract art (Duckworth, Bargh, Garcia, & Chaiken, 2002) or animals (Halberstadt & Rhodes, 2003), have been shown to bias cognition, but such processes may be slower, requiring more time (Duckworth et al., 2002), attention, or effort, than attractiveness judgments for face stimuli, which appear to be easy and rapid. An alternative explanation for these findings is that the attractiveness of houses is not extracted as rapidly as it is from faces. Future studies can address this issue by using houses in a masking task similar to that reported in experiment 1.
There are a number of interesting issues not addressed in their article. For example, they did not find any significant interaction of participant gender with the gender of the stimuli. Another interesting issue is the question of how variables like sexual orientation might interact with facial attractiveness and gender.
The specifics of what particular feature or property of the face stimuli contribute to a positive or negative attractiveness judgment cannot be determined from this study. Other researchers have reported that facial averageness (Rhodes, Sumich, & Byatt, 1999) and facial symmetry are critical features (Grammer & Thornhill,1994; Rhodes et al., 1998), as well as sexual dimorphism (Johnston, 2000) or feminization (Perrett et al., 1998).
In summary, Olson and Marshuetz propose that facial attractiveness is assessed rapidly and from small slivers of visual information. These attentionally undemanding judgments bias other cognitive processes that may be the result of changes in affect upon viewing the “rewarding” (Aharon et al., 2001; O’Doherty, Winston, Perrett, Burt, & Dolan, 2003) attractive faces. These findings suggest that the positive benefits that attractive people garner may be due to processes that influence decisions with little awareness or intention, and that the beauty bias may result from a host of low-level visual and emotional effects.
The conclusions reached by Fletcher et al (2014) in a research based on judgments from partners and observers, is that assessments of attractiveness/vitality perceptions (compared with warmth/trustworthiness and status/resources) were the most accurate and were predominant in influencing romantic interest and decisions about further contact. Second, women were more cautious and choosy than men—women underestimated their partner’s romantic interest, whereas men exaggerated it, and women were less likely to want further contact. Third, a mediational model found that women (compared with men) were less likely to want further contact because they perceived their partners as possessing less attractiveness/vitality and as falling shorter of their minimum standards of attractiveness/vitality, thus generating lower romantic interest. These novel results are discussed in terms of the mixed findings from prior research, evolutionary psychology, and the functionality of lay psychology in early mate-selection contexts.
Finally I would like to comment a study of Fisher and Cox (2009) where authors explored women’s receptivity with respect to romantic relationship type and length, and investigated how male attractiveness influences this receptivity. Their findings suggest that women are willing to consider the most attractive men for all types of romantic relationships. In addition, short-term relationships yielded the highest rates of receptivity, which suggests that this relationship type provides a trial period for potential long-term mates and consequently represents a compromise between purely sexual relationships and long-term, committed relationships.