Age Moderates Contrast Effects in Women’s Judgments of Facial Attractiveness

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Abstract

Physical attractiveness is an important individual characteristic in most social situations. Contrast effects occur when the perceived attractiveness of an individual is lower in the context of highly attractive others or vice versa. We used mate-selection theory to predict the effects of raters’ age and age of rated faces on contrast effects in women’s attractiveness judgments. Younger (18–27 years) and older (50+ years) women rated the attractiveness of an average-looking younger or older female or younger or older male target person, after having rated a series of 5 other photos that were either highly attractive or average looking. Strong contrast effects were found for younger women rating images of younger men and women, and for older women rating images of older men, such that the same target face was rated more attractive when the context images were average looking than when they were highly attractive. Weak or nonsignificant contrast effects were found among younger women rating images of older men and older women, and among older women rating images of younger men. Contrary to predictions, no contrast effects were found for older women rating images of either younger or older women. The overall pattern of findings suggests that the salience of physical attractiveness cues may vary functionally between younger and older women and emphasizes the importance of motivational influences on evaluative processes.

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