Seminar Series

Cross-cultural and laboratory responses to sexually dimorphic facial shape cues

Our talk will highlight the breadth of human behaviours that are influenced by sexually dimorphic facial shape cues. The first part of our talk will describe some of our recent research on cross-cultural differences in perceptions of attractiveness. Trade-off theories of sexual selection predict that differences in environmental factors will affect how women resolve the trade-off between the costs (e.g., low investment) and benefits (e.g., healthy offspring) associated with choosing a masculine partner. Consequently, we investigated the relationship between women’s preferences for male facial masculinity and a health index derived from World Health Organization statistics for mortality rates, life expectancies, and the impact of communicable disease. Across 30 countries, masculinity preference increased as health decreased, showing non-arbitrary cross-cultural differences in facial attractiveness judgments and demonstrating the utility of trade-off theory for investigating cross-cultural variation in women’s mate preferences. The second part of our talk will discuss experimental work demonstrating that facial masculinity can modulate the reflexive component of the short-term gaze-cuing effect. At short, but not long, viewing times, observers demonstrated a greater cuing effect for gaze cues from masculinised (i.e., dominant) faces than from feminised (i.e., subordinate) faces. This finding complements other recent work on dominance-contingent gaze-cuing in macaques and suggests that the mechanisms that underpin reflexive gaze-cuing evolved to be sensitive to facial cues of others’ dominance. Collectively, these findings highlight the importance of facial masculinity for a wide range of human behaviours, from cross-cultural differences in attraction to involuntary responses in laboratory experiments.