Does physical attractiveness and sex impact decisions in a threat detection task?
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The current study was conducted to investigate whether gender and physical attractiveness of face primes had any effect on subsequent categorization of weapons and non-weapons by participants. In Study 1 participants were required to rate a set of face photos of men and women on their level of at-tractiveness and also how threatening they perceived them to be. These photos were used for Study 2 as primes paired with weapons and non-weapons. One hundred and ten University of Canterbury students were required to categorise weapons from non-weapons after primed faces appeared on a computer screen. Adapted from the ‘shooter paradigm’ and priming studies, this aimed to discover participant’s stereotypes when threat is involved. Specifically, it aimed to assess people’s susceptibility to perceive a non-threatening item as a threat. Three possible theories are presented to explain the findings – the halo effect, the evolutionary intra-sexual competition theory, and the arousal theory. The results of study 1 indicated that there is a negative correlation between physical attractiveness and threat, such that as a target’s physical attractiveness increases their perceived level of threat decreases, suggesting the existence of an overall halo effect (attractive people are non-threatening). The results of study 2 revealed an impact of female primes (in particular attractive female primes) on males’ misclassification of non-weapons. There was no effect found of the primes on females’ classifications. An arousal theory is used to explain this differential response. The results are discussed in terms of implications for the real-world and limitations of the study are outlined and suggestions are made regarding future research.