Female hair color is thought to influence physical attractiveness, and although there is some evidence for this assertion, research has yet not addressed the question if and how physical damaging affects the perception of female hair color. Here we investigate whether people are sensitive (in terms of visual attention and age, health and attractiveness perception) to subtle differences in hair images of natural and colored hair before and after physical damaging. We tracked the eye-gaze of 50 men and 50 women aged 31-50 years whilst they viewed randomized pairs of images of 20 natural and 20 colored hair tresses, each pair displaying the same tress before and after controlled cuticle damage. The hair images were then rated for perceived health, attractiveness, and age. Undamaged versions of natural and colored hair were perceived as significantly younger, healthier, and more attractive than corresponding damaged versions. Visual attention to images of undamaged colored hair was significantly higher compared with their damaged counterparts, while in natural hair, the opposite pattern was found. We argue that the divergence in visual attention to undamaged colored female hair and damaged natural female hair and associated ratings is due to differences in social perception and discuss the source of apparent visual difference between undamaged and damaged hair.
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