Katja Werheid, Annekathrin Schacht and Werner Sommer

Facial attractiveness modulates early and late event-related brain potentials.

Biological Psychology

Facial attractiveness is of high importance for human interaction and communication, and everyday experience suggests that the mere aspect of a face elicits spontaneous appraisal of attractiveness. However, little is known about the time course of brain responses related to this process. In the present study, event-related brain potentials were recorded during attractiveness classification of facial portraits that were standardized with respect to facial expression. The faces were either preceded by another face of high or low attractiveness or by an affectively neutral object. Attractive as opposed to non-attractive target faces elicited an early posterior negativity (EPN; ∼250 ms) and a late parietal positivity (LPC; 400-600 ms), which were not modulated by affectively congruent prime faces. Elevated LPC activity had previously been shown in response to attractive versus non-attractive faces, possibly reflecting task-related evaluative processes. An enhanced EPN had been reported for faces with emotional compared to neutral emotional expression, and related to facilitated selection of emotional information. Extending these findings, our study is the first to report an attractiveness-related ERP modulation prior to the LPC, suggesting that appraising facial attractiveness starts already at processing stages associated with stimulus selection.