Past research has found that people pay more attention to more attractive faces. However, it is unclear whether highly attractive faces capture people’s attention more quickly, or whether highly attractive faces hold people’s attention longer. To address this, a team of researchers used eye-tracking equipment to observe individuals’ eye movements while looking at highly-attractive and less-attractive faces.
Their findings were published February in Frontiers in Psychology.
In the first study, participants were shown a series of masculine and feminine faces, as well as “morphed” faces which morphed masculine and feminine features together. They were told to look at each face until a dot appeared next to it on the screen. If highly attractive faces hold participants’ attention longer than less attractive faces, they should take longer to notice the dot when viewing highly attractive faces.
As predicted, attractive faces held participants’ attention longer than less attractive faces. The researchers also found gender differences. When looking at female faces, men showed an even greater difference in attention, looking much longer at attractive faces than female participants did.
To see whether highly attractive faces are better at capturing people’s attention initially, the researchers conducted a second study. In this study, participants were shown two faces and were asked to pay attention to either the face on the left or the face on the right for each pair. If highly attractive faces draw people’s attention more quickly than less attractive faces, participants should take longer to look when the target face (the face they are told to look at) is unattractive and the distractor face is attractive.
When men were instructed to look at a male face, their reaction time was slower when the distractor face was female. Men also looked more quickly at female target faces. This tells us that men’s attention is captured more quickly by female faces. Surprisingly, women’s initial attention was not influenced at all by the gender of the faces, telling us that attractiveness does not cause women to pay attention to faces more quickly.
Throughout both studies, the person’s hair color and eye color did not influence their attention. This tells us that the facial attractiveness alone—not any other feature—is what captured participants’ attention. This was surprising considering that past research found that blue-eyed males find blue-eyed females particularly attractive.
Collectively, this research suggests that attractive faces hold our attention longer than unattractive faces. Opposite-gendered faces capture men’s, but not women’s, attention more quickly.