Factors influencing the motivational salience of faces
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My research utilizes a behavioral key-press task adapted from the classic bar-press technique employed in many rodent studies of reward to explore the incentive salience of beauty among humans. In Chapter 2, I replicate previous findings indicating that gender differences exist for the incentive salience of beauty. I extend past findings with regard to the incentive salience of heterosexual beauty by investigating the role of additional aspects of facial appearance. Here, I find that apparent health holds incentive salience. This may serve an adaptive function by driving motivation to seek out healthy potential mates while avoiding infectious individuals. In Chapter 3, I explore gender differences in the incentive salience of adult and infant faces. I show that women demonstrate greater motivation, overall, to view infant faces while both men and women differentiate between the high-cute and low-cute versions of infant faces, suggesting that infant cuteness may hold incentive salience for both men and women but that infants in general have higher incentive salience for women. In Chapters 4 and 5, I investigate individual differences and variation across the menstrual cycle for women viewing adult faces. Women's own attractiveness was found to influence motivation to view attractive individuals, especially same-sex individuals. Within-subject variations in motivation across the menstrual cycle were apparent for the incentive salience of same-sex beauty. Taken together, the results of these experiments suggest that the incentive salience of same-sex faces among women may be partially driven by intrasexual competition – a novel explanation for women’s motivation to view same-sex individuals. Overall my research has indicated that infant cuteness, adult attractiveness and apparent health influence the motivational value of faces, while individual differences also exist among women with respect to own attractiveness and fertility. The key-press paradigm offers an exciting new method for exploring inter- and intra-sexual behavior in humans.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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