Exploration of the Influence of Smiling on Initial Reactions Across Levels of Facial Attractiveness
Stephanie M. Shields, Caitlin E. Morse, Paige Arrington, and Dr. David F. Nichols
- Used EEG to examine the timing of brain responses to attractiveness and emotionality as well their interaction.
- Data collected in Spring 2014.
- Poster presented at Synapse 2015 and Roanoke College Alumni Weekend 2015.
- Manuscript published in American Journal of Undergraduate Research.
Both attractiveness and emotionality independently affect perception and interact to influence how a person perceives others. It has previously been shown that expressing positive emotions increases perceived attractiveness in general, but the relative influence of smiling across attractiveness levels and timing of this interaction is unknown. Such an interaction could entail dependent brain processing with interactions between brain areas or independent processing within each brain area. The present studies aimed to investigate this interaction and how it occurs through behavioral, specifically self-report, and physiological, specifically electrophysiological, methods. In each study, female undergraduate participants were shown images of male faces with smiling or neutral expressions. Study 1 used participant ratings to provide insight into the interaction and to establish an image subset of faces of high attractiveness (HA) and low attractiveness (LA). An interaction was found wherein HA faces were rated significantly higher on attractiveness when smiling whereas LA faces were rated similarly attractive regardless of emotional expression. Study 2 used electroencephalography (EEG) to examine the timing of brain responses to attractiveness, emotionality, and their interaction. Though a main effect of attractiveness consistently occurred prior to a main effect of emotional expression across two data sets, the presence of an interaction effect was inconsistent. There was some evidence for independent processing wherein the earliest brain responses are predominantly affected by attractiveness and are influenced by emotional expression, but dependent interactions between modular processing areas cannot be ruled out. Together, these results help to shed light on the interplay of attractiveness and emotionality though additional research could help to clarify the timing of the interaction on a neural level.
Synapse 2015 Abstract:
From formal interviews to blind dates, wanting to make a good first impression can cause a great deal of stress. When wondering about how to make a good first impression, outward appearance tends to be a big focus, and it is possible that a simple smile can make a difference in how one is viewed. Using electroencephalography (EEG), we examined whether brain responses differed based on the emotionality and attractiveness of the faces shown to participants. 27 female Roanoke College students viewed images of male faces, which had previously been rated on their attractiveness by other female students. In the prior ratings, younger males tended to be sorted into the high attractiveness (HA) group while older males fell into the low attractiveness (LA) group. For each male face, an image of the man displaying a neutral expression and an image of the man smiling were used. Brain responses were measured based on event related potentials (ERPs) and valid EEG trials. The P300 response to HA faces was higher in magnitude than the P300 response to LA faces. The magnitude of response varied between the smiling and neutral conditions for the HA faces but not the LA faces. Additionally, the smiling conditions were associated with fewer valid trials. Based on the observations made by researchers during data collection, we believe this resulted from facial responses such as smiling as well as from laughter. These findings suggest that attractiveness and facial expression do affect how people react to others, but expression may not make a difference for less attractive people.