Most of us think of our desires as essential determinants of who we are; that is, our self-identity is inextricably bound to what we desire. So, it comes as an unpleasant and rude awakening when someone tells us that our desires are not our own. Of course, at one level of consciousness we know how vulnerable we all are to suggestions that lead us to desire something. For instance, we know how commercials and advertisements work, but we still fall for it. When it comes to things that “really matter,” though, we like to believe that we desire them for their intrinsic value. However . . .
The first evidence that beauty is infectious is published today by scientists who have shown that when women see a rival smiling at a man, he becomes more attractive as a result.
Although we tend to think of attraction as reflecting personal preferences, our findings show that social learning (that is, ‘copying’ others) influences women’s preferences for men,” he said. “It is another example of what social creatures we are, where choices about what we wear and what cars we buy are influenced by others and are not as personal as we think.
First 28 female participants were shown eight pairs of faces and had to indicate which one in each pair they thought was more attractive. After this, participants viewed a short slideshow where they saw women looking at one of the faces in each pair with either a smiling expression (signalling a positive attitude to the looked-at man) or a neutral expression (signalling a more negative, bored, attitude to the looked-at man).
After the slideshow, participants repeated the initial face preference test and the team found that just 30 seconds of interest from another woman was enough to make a man seem more desirable.