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Sex and Physiological Cycles Affect the Automatic Perception of Attractive Opposite-Sex Faces: A Visual Mismatch Negativity Study - Shu Zhang, Hailing Wang, Qingke Guo, 2018
General Discussion

Although the detection of attractive face has been investigated, the brain mechanism of attractive facial perception in females with different physiological cycles and males is unclear. The central aim of this study was to investigate the mechanism of attractiveness perception under unattended condition with a modified cross-modal delayed response paradigm. In the two experiments, the attractiveness vMMN could be obtained for all groups but occurred in different time courses for different groups.

Overall speaking, the pronounced attractiveness vMMN on posterior scalp distribution (posterior-occipital and occipital areas) demonstrated that all participants can visually detect attractive faces automatically in the context of unattractive face stimuli. From an evolutionary perspective, perception of attractiveness serves as the adaptation result for seeking mate with good quality. As we know, facial attractiveness is a reliable cue of the owner’s biological quality and mate value because attractive people have better parasite resistance, physical and reproductive fitness, longevity, less mutational load, higher intelligence, and better mental health. Thus, people with the capacity of automatically perceive high-attractive opposite-sex face have good chances to get erotic access to an opposite sex and thereby to increase their reproductive success. Based on the adaptation-oriented explanation, it posits that this automatic perception of attractive faces is an evolutionary adaptation and the result of natural selection.

Specially, we found that the amplitude of vMMN in males was much larger than FMs in Study 1 but similar as FOs in Study 2. Previous studies found that males in short bond prefer females with fertility characteristics, while males in the long bond prefer females with high reproductive value (Buss & Barnes, 2015; Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Hooff et al., 2011; Young, Critelli, & Keith, 2005). Both fertility and reproductive value can be reflected in females’ faces. Taken together, the results indicated that attractiveness is of the most importance for males in many mate choice criteria, no matter in long bond and the short bond. Good genes theory holds that attractive face is considered the symbol of healthy genes, sound immunity, and reproductive advantage, hinting more successful reproduction (Rhodes, 2006). Therefore, males may have the capacity of automatic attractiveness perception and have larger ERP effects produced by female face. Otherwise, the face that, the amplitude of N170 in males for attractive female faces was larger than unattractive female faces, can also support this, which is consistent with other studies (Lu, Wang, Wang, Wang, & Qin, 2014; Marzi & Viggiano, 2010; Zhang & Deng, 2012).

In consistent with other studies, we found that males and females showed differences in the preferences for highly attractive opposite-sex faces: FOs and males were similar but FMs are different (Aharon et al., 2001; Choi et al., 2015; Cloutier et al., 2008; Iaria et al., 2008; Ishai, 2007; Kranz & Ishai, 2006; Penton-Voak et al., 2004; Senior, 2003). More importantly, the amplitude of vMMN in FOs was as big as the males, but much larger than the FMs. These findings indicated the automatic perception of high-attractive opposite-sex faces in FOs may be underpinned by the breeding motivation. It can be explained in two ways. First, as FOs can realize their own genetic inheritance and are driven by a strong motivation for breeding, they have more intense incentives to pursue and attract sexual partners in order to have higher quality offspring. Under the motivation of breeding, ovulating females will conduct more frequent sexual behaviors, and even seek short-term sexual partners, so that they tend to invest more psychological resources in case of the opposite sex with high attractiveness (Gueguen, 2009; Röder, Brewer, & Fink, 2009). Therefore, FOs prefer highly attractive male faces (which signal good genes), which is similar to males (Gangestad, Thornhill, & Garver-Apgar, 2005; Johnston, Hagel, Franklin, Fink, & Grammer, 2001; Little, Jones, Burt, et al., 2007; Little, Jones, Pentonvoak, Burt, & Perrett, 2002). That is why the amplitude of vMMN in FOs was similar as the males. Second, the amplitude of vMMN in FOs is much larger than FMs, reflecting that FOs may be more interested in high-attractive male faces than FMs. The possible explanation is that the opposite-sex facial preferences in females are related to the menstrual cycle and based on the breeding motivation. FOs are more likely to have higher levels of sexual arousal than FMs. So that they tend to be more sensitive to male’s facial feature (Gangestad & Thornhill, 1998; Little, Jones, Burt, et al., 2007), even considered the masculine and symmetrical males were more attractive (Little, Jones, & Debruine, 2008; Penton-Voak et al., 2003; Welling et al., 2007). By comparison, the amplitude of vMMN in FMs is the smallest of all groups, so the vMMN of attractive opposite-sex faces in FMs is less automated. This indicated that the reproductive motivation is weak in this stage, and the perception of the attractive opposite-sex faces has a small effect on mate selection. Therefore, from the perspective of evolutionary psychology, females in the high fertile period (the ovulatory period) would pay more attention to the high genetic quality represented by the attractive opposite-sex face, in contrast, females in the low fertile period (the menstrual period) are interested in characteristics indicating parental investment.

Another interesting phenomenon was that the vMMN of FOs appears latest compared with the males and FMs in both the experiments, which was related to FOs’ other proliferation motivation—the motivation to avoid being tainted by genes, a danger that is most significant only in ovulation period. In this period, females are most likely to have their genes contaminated in the whole reproductive process (Navarrete, Fessler, Fleischman, & Geyer, 2009). And they may also be confronted with huge personal costs in the case of forced pregnancies (Garverapgar, Gangestad, & Simpson, 2007; Thornhill & Palmer, 2000). Under this motivation, they would prudently overestimate the opposite sex as a sexual aggressor regardless of wrong judgment and even dodge out-group to avoid the risk of being sexually assaulted (Mcdonald, Asher, Kerr, & Navarrete, 2011; Navarrete et al., 2009). This motivation can also be supported by the face-sensitive component N170, which showed differences between FOs and FMs about perceiving the attractive and unattractive opposite-sex faces. The amplitude of N170 in FOs was much higher than FMs, but there were no difference between perceiving the attractive and unattractive male faces in FOs and FMs, which have not been found in previous studies. This indicated that, in order to distinguish whether the opposite-sex face’s owner is an out-group or carrying a faulty gene, they allocate more attention resources, which were reflected in the largest amplitude of N170 and the longest latency of vMMN in FOs. In addition, through analyzing the latency of N170 and vMMN in FOs, we can see that the motivation to avoid the genetic stain takes priority over the breeding motivation. Hence, what females do first lies in ruling out the risk of gene pollution, on the basis of which they will further screen high-quality genes to breed their offspring. This is similar as some other behavior studies (Gangestad, Thornhill, & Garver-Apgar, 2010; Little, Jones, & Burriss, 2007).

In terms of neural mechanism, the attractiveness vMMN obtained in this study was distributed at posterior areas (parieto-occipital and parieto areas). These results are consistent with previous studies investigating the process of attractive facial information. Attractive faces will stimulate some cerebral regions related to reward and emotion, such as orbitofrontal cortex, amygdaloid nucleus, basal ganglia. (Ishai, 2007; Wilson & Daly, 2004; Winston et al., 2007). Some research made changes to experiment tasks with attractive and unattractive faces, but no matter how the change was, VTA would invariably be automatically activated by attractive faces (Chatterjee et al., 2009). Meanwhile, the attractiveness vMMN provided more convincing evidence about the automatic processing of the attractive faces. Meanwhile, the standardized low-resolution brain electromagnetic tomography method might help us to explore the cortical generators of attractiveness vMMN (AMMN) in future studies.

In addition, even though a lot of studies do not consistent with the conclusion, the female perception to male attractive faces differs with menstrual phase, drawn from this study (Harris, 2011, 2013; Jones, 2018; Muñoz-Reyes, Pita, Arjona, Sanchez-Pages, & Turiegano, 2014; Wood & Carden, 2014; Zietsch, Lee, Sherlock, & Jern, 2015). These controversies should be studied in future. However, this study has revealed in the time course of attractive facial perception, which may provide sounder evidence showing that females’ automatic perception of facial attractiveness varies across the menstrual cycle.

This study had some limitations. First, previous studies indicated that the traditional vMMN in the oddball sequence indeed confounds standard stimuli refractoriness reflected by the changes of early visual ERP components such as the temporo-occipital N1 component (Astikainen & Hietanen, 2009; Chang, Xu, Shi, Zhang, & Zhao, 2010; Stefanics, Csukly, Komlósi, Czobor, & Czigler, 2012; Susac, Ilmoniemi, Pihko, Ranken, & Supek, 2010; Susac, Ilmoniemi, Pihko, & Supek, 2004) and N170 component (Japee, Crocker, Carver, Pessoa, & Ungerleider, 2009; Vlamings, Goffaux, & Kemner, 2009; Wronka & Walentowska, 2011), due to its similar latency and scalp topography with vMMN (Luck, 2014). Astikainen, Cong, Ristaniemi, and Hietanen (2013) found two separate components for the emotional faces in both the oddball and equiprobable conditions by independent component … [more]
ovulation  attraction  sexual-attraction  faces  periods  female-mating-strategies  male-mating-strategies 
january 2019 by thegrandnarrative

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