Annekathrin Schacht, Katja Werheid and Werner Sommer

The appraisal of facial beauty is rapid but not mandatory

Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

Facial attractiveness is an important source of social affective information. Here, we studied the time course and task dependence of evaluating attractive faces from a viewer's perspective. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded while participants classified color portraits of unfamiliar persons according to gender and facial attractiveness. During attractiveness classification, enhanced ERP amplitudes for attractive and nonattractive faces relative to faces of intermediate attractiveness were found for an early component around 150 msec and for the late positive complex (LPC). Whereas LPC enhancement conforms to previous studies employing various types of affective stimuli, the finding of an early effect extends earlier research on rapid emotion processing to the dimension of facial attractiveness. Dipole source localization of this early ERP effect revealed a scalp distribution suggesting activation of posterior extrastriate areas. Importantly, attractiveness-related modulations of brain responses were only marginal during the gender decision task, arguing against the automaticity of attractiveness appraisal.