Most studies of expression perception and face preferences have used face stimuli with direct gaze. Here, however, we show that gaze direction alters both the perceived intensity of facial expressions and the strength of preferences for feminine female faces. While direct gaze increased the perceived intensity of anger, fearful faces tended to be perceived as more fearful with averted gaze than direct gaze (Experiment 1). Direct gaze also increased the perceived intensity of happiness, while sad faces were perceived as more sad with averted gaze than direct gaze (Experiment 2). Finally, preferences for feminine female faces were stronger when the faces were shown with direct gaze than when the faces were shown with averted gaze (Experiment 3). While our findings for intensity of expressions indicate that changing gaze direction can alter perceptions of emotional expressions, the effect of gaze direction on face preferences indicates that attraction is not only influenced by others’ physical beauty but also by the direction of their attention. Collectively, these findings show that people integrate information from different physical and social cues when perceiving faces and demonstrate the complexity and sophistication of the mechanisms and processes that underpin face perception.
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