Integrating information regarding others' physical attractiveness, the direction of their attention, and cues to their emotional state would allow you to direct social effort, a limited resource, to the most attractive individuals who will reciprocate this effort. Although most prominent models of face processing propose that physical aspects of faces and social signals (e.g. gaze direction and expression) are analyzed by independent systems, we show the strength of attractiveness preferences is sensitive to the combination of gaze direction and expression: preferences for physically attractive faces are strongest when they are directing positive social interest at the viewer (Experiments 1 and 2). Using visual adaptation paradigms, we also show that social signals and physical aspects of faces are processed by interdependent neural systems (Experiments 3-5), revealing mechanisms that may have evolved to maximize the potential benefits of our own choices about whom we attempt to engage in social interaction.
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