Objectives: Evolutionary psychology suggests that a woman's age and physical appearance are important mate choice criteria. Given that changes in female facial skin surface topography are important, prominent visible signs of aging, male perceptual sensitivity for variation in this trait may also affect preference and attractiveness judgment.
Methods: Two experiments were conducted to investigate perception (Experiment 1) and noticeability (Experiment 2) of skin surface topography manipulations in facial images of six British women, aged 45-65 years. In Experiment 1 skin surface topography cues were completely removed on the cheeks, the "crow's feet" area adjacent to the eye, under the eyes, above the upper lip, and on the forehead while, in Experiment 2, it was removed gradually (20% increments) on the forehead and around the eyes. In both experiments, stimuli were presented to American and German participants (total N = 300, aged 15-55 years) in omnibus pair-wise combinations (within-face). With each pair, respondents were asked to select that face which they considered as younger looking (Experiments 1 and 2) and more attractive (Experiment 1).
Results: Faces with skin surface topography cues removed were judged significantly younger and more attractive than their original (unmodified) counterparts, with modifications on the forehead and around the eyes showing the highest differences. In these areas, participants were able to detect at least a 20% visual change in skin surface topography.
Conclusions: The results support the assertion that even small changes in skin surface topography affect the perceptions of a woman's facial age and attractiveness and may, thus, also influence men's mate preferences.