Taking Control of Aggression: Perceptions of Aggression Suppress the Link Between Perceptions of Facial Masculinity and Attractiveness
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AbstractWomen’s preferences for masculine-looking male faces are inconsistent across studies, with some studies finding a positive relationship between masculinity and attractiveness and others finding a negative relationship or no association. One possible reason for this inconsistency is that the perception of masculinity is also associated with perceptions of aggression, which may be viewed as particularly costly to women (aggressive individuals are more likely to experience injury or death). Based on the proposal that women’s preference for masculinity is in conflict with their aversion for aggression in male faces, we hypothesized that the bivariate associations between perceptions of masculinity and attractiveness would be weak or negative, but would be positive and significantly stronger after controlling statistically for perceptions of aggression. Across three studies involving three sets of faces (n = 25, 54, 24) and five sets of raters (n = 29, 30, 26, 16, 10), this hypothesis was supported with the average correlation between perceptions of masculinity and attractiveness (r = -.09) reversing in direction and substantially increasing in magnitude after perceptions of aggression were controlled statistically (r = .35). Perceived masculinity may thus involve both attractive and unattractive components, and women’s preferences for masculinity may involve weighing its relative costs and benefits.