Research by evolutionary psychologist, Dr Edward Morrison of the University of Portsmouth, found that during ovulation women have an increased preference for flirtatious facial expressions.
Dr Morrison said: “It demonstrates that attractiveness is not necessarily a fixed property of the face. By changing the way the face moves we may be able to increase our appeal to the opposite sex.”
Published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, and funded by Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the study describes how researchers produced several animated facial models whose movement was based on real people but whose shape had been standardised and stripped of any other distinguishing
qualities. These were rated on a flirtatiousness scale by 16 women.
A separate group of 47 women were then asked which of the faces they found most attractive by rating them on a scale of one to seven. In fertile phases of the menstrual cycle women consistently preferred the faces which had been categorised as more flirtatious.
By mapping points on the faces to measure their level of movement, researchers revealed that most of the women preferred the faces that were more animated. But the degree of movement was not the exclusive factor, leading researchers to conclude that women recognise specific ‘mating-relevant’ social cues.
Dr Morrison said: “The face is where we exhibit our most explicit signals – it’s the human equivalent of the peacock’s tail. But although a smile is fairly easy to interpret there are more subtle messages going on all the time.
“We use facial movement to interpret people’s intentions, such as whether they like us or not. This allows us to allocate our mating effort appropriately. For example, there is little point trying to chat up a person we admire if their expression indicates they are not interested.”
The research supports previous studies which have found that women’s behaviour and preferences vary during the menstrual cycle. During the period of ovulation women prefer taller men, more masculine faces and deeper male voices.
“By preferring these traits when they are more fertile, women have increased chances of passing them on to their offspring. Selecting the most favourable mate is one of the most fundamental aspects of human behaviour,” Dr Morrison said.
Psychologists believe that people meeting for the first time make their initial impressions based 55 percent on appearance and body-language, 38 percent on the style and manner of speaking and only 7 percent on what the person actually says.
Dr Morrison said: “An ability to ‘read’ and interpret the facial expressions and an awareness of what you are signalling with your own expressions could improve your chances of successful flirting.
“It’s difficult to define what constitutes flirtatiousness and much of it may be something we perceive without even realising it. But it seems that in the absence of other cues, the ‘social properties’ of facial movement influences how we judge attractiveness. If we wanted to attract someone at the Christmas party, flirting effectively may help to do so.”
Flirting techniques include laughing, smiling and making eye contact and women often flick their hair and adjust their clothes for no apparent reason. Men also make eye contact but are more likely to spread their arms and legs and touch other men, for example on the shoulder to indicate how tactile they are.
Researchers were unable to define which exact movements led the first group of women to interpret which faces were flirting.
Dr Morrison said: “Science is still a long way from discovering the magic formula for what women find attractive in a man.”
The two clips show the most and least flirtatious faces judged by women in the study
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