The wandering mind of men: ERP evidence for gender differences in attention bias towards attractive opposite sex faces

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2011 Sep;6(4):477-85. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq066. Epub 2010 Jul 2.


To examine the time course and automaticity of our attention bias towards attractive opposite sex faces, event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded from 20 males and 20 females while they carried out a covert orienting task. Faces that were high, low or average in attractiveness, were presented in focus of attention, but were unrelated to task goals. Across the entire sample larger P2 amplitudes were found in response to both attractive and unattractive opposite sex faces, presumably reflecting early implicit selective attention to distinctive faces. In male but not female participants this was followed by an increased late slow wave for the attractive faces, signifying heightened processing linked to motivated attention. This latter finding is consistent with sexual strategy theory, which suggests that men and women have evolved to pursue different mating strategies with men being more attentive to cues such as facial beauty. In general, our ERP results suggest that, in addition to threat-related stimuli, other evolutionary-relevant information is also prioritized by our attention systems.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Beauty
  • Cues
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Young Adult