“A beautiful woman’s face is like chocolate, cash or cocaine to a young man’s brain, according to Harvard University researchers. Their brain-imaging study revealed that while young heterosexual males are indeed capable of finding beauty in another man’s face, only a lovely female visage can set off the “reward centres” in their brains.
When men in the study were shown pictures of various faces, only the female faces deemed beautiful triggered activity in brain regions previously associated with food, drugs and money, according to findings published in the November 8th issue of Neuron. The unique effect of the comely female face occurred despite the fact that the men also rated some male faces as “beautiful.”
“It looks like there can be a difference between what the brain ‘likes,’ an image that is judged to be attractive, and what the brain ‘wants,’ something that is regarded as a reward in and of itself,” study author Dr Hans Breiter, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a statement. In their experiments, the researchers first asked a group of men to rate how attractive they found the faces - which, unbeknownst to the participants, had already been placed into the categories “beautiful” or “average.” The men’s ratings, it turned out, fell in line with the categories, and attractive male faces garnered ratings similar to attractive female faces.
But in the next phase of the study, men in another group were allowed to control how long they viewed a particular face by pressing a key. Breiter’s team found that they “expended effort” to see the beautiful female faces for a longer time, but for all other faces they tried only to “make the faces disappear faster.” Finally, in a third group of men studied with brain imaging known as functional MRI, the investigators found that only the attractive female faces set off the brain’s “reward circuitry.”
“It’s particularly interesting that the attractive male faces actually produced what could be considered an aversion response, even though they had been recognised as attractive,” Breiter said. His co-author, Dr Nancy Etcoff, noted that this research echoes previous work suggesting the human perception of beauty may be “in-born.” “While we know that experience, learning and personal idiosyncrasies all have an impact on attraction between particular individuals, these results show that this basic reward response is deeply seated in human nature,” she said in a statement.
Source: New Zealand Herald November 10, 2001 via Reuters