When selecting mates, men place greater importance on attractiveness than do women, whereas women favor status and resources more so than men. The reasons behind these differences can be rationalized from both evolutionary and sociocultural perspectives. Cloutier et al use fMRI to examine the possibility that attractive faces of the opposite sex simply have different reward value for men and women. They show that brain reward circuits (nucleus accumbens [NAcc], orbito-frontal cortex [OFC]) exhibit a linear increase in activation with increased judgments of attractiveness. Their analysis further reveals sex differences in the recruitment of OFC, which distinguished attractive and unattractive faces only for male participants. In short, brain regions involved in identifying the potential reward value of a stimulus are more active when men view attractive women than when women view attractive men.
Figure - Axial sections display the left NAcc (top) and right NAcc (middle) and a sagittal section displays mOFC (bottom) spherical regions of interest superimposed on normalized anatomic images. Graphs to the right of each image display signal change (parameter estimates) for attractive and unattractive faces across female and male participants relative to the baseline fixation. Error bars indicate standard error of the mean. Activity in the left and right NAcc was greater for attractive than unattractive faces irrespective or the participants' sex. Activity in the mOFC exhibited an interaction between facial attractiveness and participant sex displaying greater activity for attractive than unattractive faces only for male participants.