Many studies have investigated the physical cues that influence face preferences. By contrast, relatively few studies have investigated the effects of facial cues to the direction and valence of others’ social interest (i.e., gaze direction and facial expressions) on face preferences. We found that participants demonstrated stronger preferences for direct gaze when judging the attractiveness of happy faces than when judging disgusted faces and that this effect was particularly pronounced for judgements of opposite-sex faces (Study 1). By contrast, no such opposite-sex bias in preferences for direct gaze was observed when participants judged the same faces for likeability (Study 2). Collectively these findings for a context-sensitive opposite-sex bias in preferences for perceiver-directed smiles, but not perceiver-directed disgust, suggest gaze preference functions, at least in part, to facilitate efficient allocation of mating effort, and evince adaptive design in the perceptual mechanisms that underpin face preferences.
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