Which Facial Expressions Are the Most Sexually Attractive?

Two studies were conducted to examine the relative sexual attractiveness of facial expressions like happiness, pride, and shame compared with a neutral expression. Results showed that males found women displaying happiness to be more sexually attractive, whereas females found males showing happiness to be least attractive. Pride was the most attractive expression in males and the least attractive in females. Shame expressions were rated as attractive in both men and women, compared to neutral expressions. “Overall, this research provides the first evidence that distinct emotion expressions have divergent effects on sexual attractiveness, which vary by gender but largely hold across age.”

Emotional expressions are considered an indicator of someone’s personality. Socializing involves and requires a display of emotion, which might be guided by judgment of attractiveness. Hence, emotional expressions do have some impact on attractiveness. Very few studies have been conducted to determine the influence of different emotional expressions on sexual attractiveness. Previous studies have shown that there is an impact of happy and proud displays on attractiveness and that women prefer partners who are good providers and men prefer young, healthy and receptive partners. Two studies were conducted to examine whether the three emotion expressions of happiness, pride, and shame, compared with a neutral expression, influence the judgment of sexual attractiveness and compared the ratings by males and females.


  • Study 1 compared attractiveness judgments made for one male and one female target individual, each showing the four expressions, by 184 Canadian undergraduates. The sexual attractiveness was rated using a 9-point scale, ranging from 1 (not very attractive) to 9 (extremely attractive).
  • Study 2 included multiple targets of 400 photos, viewed online by three groups – Sample A, Sample B and Sample C.
  • Sample A included 341 Canadian undergraduates who rated 80 photographs (20 of each gender showing each expression) and completed a Socio-Sexual Orientation Scale.
  • Sample B included 120 North American adults recruited through social networking websites and Sample C consisted of 396 Canadian undergraduates who rated the attractiveness of 40 photos (10 of each gender showing each expression).


  • Happiness was rated as the most attractive expression in women while male happiness was rated the least attractive expression. The gender difference might be due to the interpretation of a man’s happy expression as a sign of feminity and low dominance.
  • Male pride was the most attractive emotion expression while female pride was the least attractive.
  • Male shame was more attractive than female shame, with male shame being particularly attractive to younger women.
  • Female shame was more attractive then female pride.

Next steps/shortcomings
The study showed that there are gender-specific effects of emotion expressions on sexual attractiveness. Future studies are required to test explanatory accounts for these findings. Studies need to confirm if findings will be the same on participants from different cultures and different demographics and whether these expressions will have a similar impact on attractiveness in live social interactions.

The study results provide a new understanding of why certain people successfully attract others. In males, the expression of pride conveyed increased masculinity and high status. This was indicative of a man’s ability to be a good provider for the partner and offspring. Men tend to seek female partners best equipped to bear children, not necessarily to support them, and thus, female pride expression was rated as less attractive than women displaying other expressions. Today, with increased interaction between people on social networking sites, these results are significant in understanding the need to regulate emotional expressions, especially when searching for a mate.

For More Information:
Happy Guys Finish Last: The Impact of Emotion Expressions on Sexual Attraction
Publication Journal: Emotion, April 2011
By Jessica L Tracy; Alec T Beall
From the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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