Photo courtesy of photopin.com
If you have been following the posts on Mind the Science Gap this week, I’d imagine that you are beaming with excitement considering that the special day of flowers, chocolate, mating, dating, and kisses is finally here – Happy Valentine’s Day!
For those of you that are currently hitched (and have graciously withdrawn yourselves from the world of dating) feel free to read along and reminisce, but for those of you that are single and on the pursuit for a date to invite to dinner this evening, it may be time to review your “game” (well-practiced enticement techniques). Many of us may believe that one of the most timeless ways to initiate a conversation with a prospective date is to lock eyes and flash them a confident pearly white smile, but studies have shown that depending on your gender, this could be the last thing that you want to do – how shocking!
Collage adapted from photopin.com
Emotions have the ability to reflect both our transient emotional status as well as the characteristics of our stable personality. Considering that we portray a wide range of emotions on a daily basis it is no surprise that men and women have developed (perhaps, evolutionarily) an attraction to specific emotions in the opposite sex. A study by Tracy and Beall (2011) in Emotion examined both men’s and women’s sexual attraction to emotions expressed by the opposite sex.
By asking men and women to rate the attractiveness of pictures representing different emotions (happiness, pride, shame, neutral) of the opposite sex, the study established that while men are most attracted to happiness expressed by women, women are least attracted to happiness and most attracted to pride expressed by men. What makes one emotion more attractive than another and why are there differences between sexes, you may ask?
Let’s take a closer look and see what it is about these emotions that turns us on and turns us off!
What emotions are men attracted to in women?
The number one emotion that men are attracted to in women is happiness – a simple smile. Overall, happiness is thought to be one of the most feminine expressions of emotion because it is presented on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum (in the case of this study) from pride. Someone who expresses their happiness through smiling is thought to be a more friendly, approachable and receptive person. From an evolutionary perspective, people who exhibit more pride tend to be higher up on the social/power scale and therefore less receptive to relationships and mating. Research suggests that men typically place importance upon the health, youth and receptivity to sexual interaction of women. Therefore, it could be inferred that men are more attracted to happiness because it is classically representative of a female mate who demonstrates all of these desirable characteristics.
As discussed above, the study suggests that pride is a lesser desired emotion by men because it represents a higher power status and consequently a lack of friendliness, approachability and receptivity. This interpretation of emotional expression could have evolved from the idea that men sought out women who were equipped to bare children and provide emotional support to their families, rather than those who were focused upon serving as the primary providers for a family – roles typically filled by a male.
While the expression of shame has a greater consequence in men than in women, its expression reduces the overall sexual appeal of women. In the context of this study, the expression of shame is interpreted to be representative of a person defined by low hierarchal status and obedience. When looking back into the depths of time, one could imagine how it may have been been favorable for women to be submissive and of low social hierarchy because these characteristics would boost a man’s sense of dominance and pride, but in the current study shame does not present any significant positive outcomes upon sexual attractiveness.
What emotions do women prefer to see expressed by men?
Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) pride is the number one male emotion that instigates sexual attraction from females. Across cultures, pride is typically associated with high status and dominance. Typically pride is associated with masculinity and attractiveness and is manifest in body language through an expanded chest, distinguishable upper body strength, and an overall large figure. From a females’ perspective, pride as exemplified through emotions, signifies the presence of qualities that would make for a good provider of a family.
Shame is an interesting emotion when expressed by males, because based on the age of the female, it can serve as a stimulator or inhibitor for sexual attraction, irrespective of its low mate value. In general, shame is thought to be more of a feminine characteristic due to the fact that it represents the role of submission, which is more frequently evolutionarily associated with women. When expressed by males, shame is representative of trustworthiness and group commitment. By nature of breaking them, shame reflects an understanding of social laws and a commitment to becoming a better member of society.
Interestingly, shame expressed by men appears to be more attractive to specifically younger (college-aged) women. This age specific attraction could be explained by the fact that the sexual preferences of younger women are more aligned with evolutionary mating preferences since they are more proximate to the act of reproduction than older women. Whether women realize it or not, the study demonstrates that a male’s expression of shame can tug on a female heart string or two.
Finally, the most consistently rejected emotion as expressed by men is happiness (how sad!). How does this make sense? As discussed earlier, happiness is the most attractive emotion when expressed by females because of its femininity and lack of dominance. Since women prefer expressions that confer dominance, it makes sense for them to reject an emotional expression that lacks dominance.
As a single male looking to land a date on Valentine’s Day, are you telling me that in order to be successful I shouldn’t express happiness?
Of course not! Considering that the data collected from this study was solely based upon participant’s attractiveness ratings of pictures, more studies need to be done that incorporate interpresonal interactions and the influence of social situations upon the gender specific attraction to emotional expression. Quite obviously we do not only formulate opinions of people based upon our interpretations of pictures, but given the growing presence of social media (Facebook, dating websites), more and more frequenly our pictures do, in fact, generate first impressions. Therefore, this information could help explain why specific people are attracted to others based upon these pictorial first impressions.
- So, men, unless you are committed to throwing all conversation to the wind and solely relying upon your emotional expression as a means for asking a lady out for dinner, I wouldn’t be too worried about letting a smile slip here or there.
- Women, if you could possibly need any more of a reason to bare those teeth and laugh like there’s no tomorrow, you now have scientific research behind your back. Smile and laugh away, because not only will you enjoy your evening, but also men won’t be able to take their eyes off of you.
The purpose of our lives it to be happy. – Dali Lama
Male and female successfully smiling together. photo courtesy of photopin.com
Tracy J, Beall A. (2011). Happy guys finish last: The impact of emotion expressions on sexual attraction. Emotion. 11, 1379-1387.