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The attractiveness of emotion expressions Beall, Alec Trevor


This research included two sets of studies examining the relative sexual attractiveness of individuals showing several distinct emotion expressions. In the first set of studies, we examined the extent to which men and women find members of the opposite sex displaying expressions of happiness, pride, and shame, compared with a neutral control, sexually attractive. In the second set of studies, we probed into the mechanisms underlying a somewhat surprising finding from the first set of studies, that male displays of shame are particularly attractive to North American women. Finally, we tested whether women’s attraction to high-status men-- a possible factor underlying the attractiveness of pride and shame—varies across cultures. Across all five studies, using different images and samples ranging broadly in age and ethnicity (total N =1273), several findings emerged. First, there was a large gender difference in the sexual attractiveness of happy displays: happiness was the most attractive female emotion expression, and one of the least attractive in males. In contrast, pride showed the reverse pattern. Second, shame displays were relatively attractive in both genders, and, among some women judges, male shame was more attractive than male happiness, and not substantially less than male pride. Third, American women at high-conception risk were less attracted to men showing shame than low-conception risk women, suggesting that male shame displays may be indicative of poorer genetic fitness. Fourth, Indian women were found to be less attracted to men showing shame than American women, further suggesting that American women’s attraction to shame-displaying men is due to socio-cultural factors. Fifth, status was found to be more relevant to male attractiveness among Indian than American women, suggesting that shame’s low-status message is less problematic for its attractiveness among American women. Overall, this research provides the first evidence that distinct emotion expressions have divergent effects on sexual attractiveness, which vary by gender but largely hold across age. These findings also provide an explanatory account of the attractiveness of male shame found among several North American samples; this pattern is best explained by cultural factors and cannot be accounted for by biological factors.

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