When he smiles: attractiveness preferences for male faces expressing emotions

Mariana Carrito, Francisca Bismarck , Pedro Bem-Haja , David I. Perrett*, Isabel Santos

*Corresponding author for this work

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The impact of sexual dimorphism on facial attractiveness has been controversial due to contradictory results, particularly in studies on female preferences. Given that sexually dimorphic facial features, especially more masculine ones, have been previously related to the perception of anger, we investigated the bi-directional influence of emotional expressions and facial masculinity and explored their impact on women’s preferences for facial masculinity. We confirmed the effect of facial sexual dimorphism on the perception of emotional cues (happiness and anger) and explored whether smiling or angry expressions influence women’s perception of masculinity in male faces. Additionally, we examined women's preferences for emotionally expressive male faces altered along a continuum of masculinity. Results showed that masculinized faces are perceived as angrier, while feminized faces are perceived as happier (Experiment 1), and that angry faces are perceived as more masculine when compared to happy faces (Experiment 2). Noteworthy, our Experiment 3 uncovered a pivotal finding: women prefer reduced feminization in happy faces compared to neutral/angry faces. This suggests that the avoidance response observed towards masculinity is attenuated by a smiling expression. The current study introduces a new perspective to be considered when exploring the role of facial masculinity in women’s attractiveness preferences.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere31
Number of pages14
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2023


  • Face attractiveness
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Masculinity
  • Emotional expression


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