Redness enhances perceived aggression, dominance and attractiveness in men's faces

Ian D. Stephen*, Francesca H. Oldham, David I. Perrett, Robert A. Barton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In a range of non-human primate, bird and fish species, the intensity of red coloration in males is associated with social dominance, testosterone levels and mate selection. In humans too, skin redness is associated with health, but it is not known whether - as in non-human species - it is also associated with dominance and links to attractiveness have not been thoroughly investigated. Here we allow female participants to manipulate the CIELab a7* value (red-green axis) of skin to maximize the perceived aggression, dominance and attractiveness of photographs of men's faces, and make two findings. First, participants increased a* (increasing redness) to enhance each attribute, suggesting that facial redness is perceived as conveying similar information about a male's qualities in humans as it does in non-human species. Second, there were significant differences between trial types: the highest levels of red were associated with aggression, an intermediate level with dominance, and the least with attractiveness. These differences may reflect a trade-off between the benefits of selecting a healthy, dominant partner and the negative consequences of aggression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-572
Number of pages11
JournalEvolutionary Psychology
Volume10
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

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