(2.5 MB) Kandrik M, Hahn AC, Wincenciak J, DeBruine LM & Jones BC (2015). Emotional expression modulates the effect of stimulus sex on the reward value of faces. European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association in Helsinki. March 2015.

Objective: Studies have shown that physical attractiveness has a greater positive effect on the reward value of smiling faces compared to faces with relatively negative expressions. These results suggest cues of positive social interest can modulate the reward value of other facial cues, potentially supporting efficient allocation of social effort. Since previous neurobiological and behavioural studies have shown that heterosexual men find women’s faces more rewarding than men’s faces, here we tested whether this effect of sex of face on reward is also modulated by emotional expression. Methods: Young adult heterosexual men (N=61) completed a standard key-press task to assess the reward value of men’s and women’s faces displaying happy, sad, angry and fearful expressions. In this task, participants can control the length of time they view a face by pressing buttons to either increase or decrease viewing time. Longer viewing times indicate greater reward value. Results: Analyses revealed a main effect of sex of face, whereby women’s faces were more rewarding than men’s faces. As we had predicted, however, there was an interaction between sex of face and emotion. The effect of sex of face was greatest for smiling faces. Conclusions: Our results present further evidence that cues of social interest can modulate the effect of other cues on the reward value of faces.

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