Why Humans Like to Look at Attractive Faces–University of Oslo PhD Thesis

Few visual impressions can be compared to humans’ interest for faces. New research suggests that our brain rewards us for looking at pretty faces. A quick glimpse of a face provides us with rich information about the person in front of us. Are we acquainted? Man or woman? Happy or angry? Attractive? In her Ph.D. thesis, conducted at the Department of Psychology, University of Oslo in Norway, Olga Chelnokova (photo) has explored how our visual system is able to direct attention to the most important information in a face. Her study suggest that evolution has made us experts on faces. “We are very curious about others’ faces, we read stories in them and evaluate their aestetic value,” says Ms. Chelnokova. Together with colleagues from the research group Hedonic Pharmacology lab, she revealed that the brain reward system – a cluster of regions deep in our brain – is involved in our evaluation of other people’s attractiveness. “The reward system is involved in generating the experience of pleasure when, for instance, we enjoy tasty food or happen to win a lottery. It turns out that the same system is also engaged in creating the feelings of pleasure when we look at a pretty face,” Ms. Chelnokova says. Previous research has shown a high level of agreement between/among people when it comes to evaluating facial attractiveness. In the current study, the scientists let participants view images of faces pre-rated as most, intermediate, or less attractive. This was done after participants received a small dose of morphin, a drug that stimulates the reward system. “Participants rated the most attractive faces as even more attractive, and were willing to do more presses on the button that let them look at the picture for a longer time. They also spent more time looking at the eyes of the people in the pictures.”
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