Assessment of health in human faces is context-dependent

Kate V. Morgan, Andrew Morton, Ross D. Whitehead, David I. Perrett, T. Andrew Hurly, Susan D. Healy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When making decisions between options, humans are expected to choose the option that returns the highest benefit. In practice, however, adding inferior alternatives to the choice set can alter these decisions. Here we investigated whether decisions over the facial features that people find healthy looking can also be affected by the context in which they see those faces. To do this we examined the effect of choice set on the perception of health of images of faces of light-skinned Caucasian females. We manipulated apparent facial health by changing yellowness of the skin: the healthy faces were moderately yellow and the less healthy faces were either much more yellow or much less yellow. In each experiment, two healthy faces were presented along with a third, less healthy face. When the third face was much more yellow, participants chose the more yellow of the two healthy faces more often as the most healthy. However, when the third face was the least yellow, participants chose the less yellow of the two healthy faces more often. A further experiment confirmed that this result is not due to a generalised preference for an intermediate option. These results extend our understanding of context-dependent decision-making in humans, and suggest that comparative evaluation may be a common feature across many different kinds of choices that humans have to make.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-95
JournalBehavioural Processes
Early online date8 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


  • Context-dependent choice
  • Health perception
  • Decision making


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