Both behavioral and neural measures of the motivational salience of faces are positively correlated with their physical attractiveness. Whether physical characteristics other than attractiveness contribute to the motivational salience of faces is not known, however. Research with male macaques recently showed that more dominant macaques’ faces hold greater motivational salience. Here we investigated whether dominance also contributes to the motivational salience of faces in human participants. Principal component analysis of third-party ratings of faces for multiple traits revealed two orthogonal components. The first component (“valence”) was highly correlated with rated trustworthiness and attractiveness. The second component (“dominance”) was highly correlated with rated dominance and aggressiveness. Importantly, both components were positively and independently related to the motivational salience of faces, as assessed from responses on a standard key-press task. These results show that at least two dissociable components underpin the motivational salience of faces in humans and present new evidence for similarities in how humans and non-human primates respond to facial cues of dominance.
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