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Fruit over sunbed: carotenoid skin coloration is found more attractive than melanin coloration

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Skin coloration appears to play a pivotal part in facial attractiveness. Skin yellowness contributes to an attractive appearance and is influenced both by dietary carotenoids and by melanin. While both increased carotenoid coloration and increased melanin coloration enhance apparent health in Caucasian faces by increasing skin yellowness, it remains unclear firstly, whether both pigments contribute to attractiveness judgements, secondly, whether one pigment is clearly preferred over the other, and thirdly, whether these effects depend on the sex of the face. Here, in three studies, we examine these questions using controlled facial stimuli transformed to be either high or low in (a) carotenoid coloration, or (b) melanin coloration. We show, firstly, that both increased carotenoid coloration and increased melanin coloration are found attractive compared to lower levels of these pigments. Secondly, we show that carotenoid coloration is consistently preferred over melanin coloration when levels of coloration are matched. In addition, we find an effect of the sex of stimuli with stronger preferences for carotenoids over melanin in female compared to male faces, irrespective of the sex of the observer. These results are interpreted as reflecting preferences for sex-typical skin coloration: men have darker skin than women and high melanisation in male faces may further enhance this masculine trait, thus carotenoid coloration is not less desirable, but melanin coloration is relatively more desirable in males compared to females. Taken together, our findings provide further support for a carotenoid-linked health-signalling system that is highly important in mate choice.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-293
Number of pages25
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date10 Sep 2014
StatePublished - 2015

    Research areas

  • Carotenoids, Skin colour, Skin yellowness, Melanin, Attractiveness, Health, Sex differences

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ID: 144280948