thumb_modelWhen viewing sexy pictures, will men or women focus more on the faces of the participants? Surprisingly, men tend to look at the faces more than women, according to a new eye-tracking study conducted at the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN) in Atlanta.

Researchers hypothesized women would look at faces and men at genitals, but, surprisingly, they found men are more likely than women to first look at a woman’s face before other parts of the body, and women focused longer on photographs of men performing sexual acts with women than did the males. These types of results could play a key role in helping researchers to understand human sexual desires and its ultimate effect on public health…

“Men looked at the female face much more than women, and both looked at the genitals comparably,” said lead author Heather Rupp, Ph.D., a fellow at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, who conducted the study in partnership with Kim Wallen, Ph.D., a Dobbs Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroendocrinology at Emory University and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. [From Emory University Press Release: Sexual Photographs: Surprise! Men Look At Faces, Women Focus On Sexual Acts]

Sex has often been a major theme in advertising, but it’s possible that the emphasis in some ads has been skewed toward assumptions about gender-based responses to sexy images. Bikini-clad beer babes attract male attention, but perhaps more emphasis on the faces might actually generate more interest. I don’t think the study should be interpreted to mean that attractive female bodies will be ignored by male viewers – there’s plenty of empirical evidence to contradict that notion. Still, in composing still photography or video camera angles, and even in selecting models or actresses, it’s important that advertisers pay attention to faces.

Similarly, sexy ads targeting a female audience shouldn’t assume that a handsome face is enough – clearly, women will look beyond the face if given the opportunity. Of course, many ads aimed at women already do incorporate a lot more than faces.

I don’t think this finding will change sexy ads very much – most are designed to appeal at multiple levels. Nevertheless, the non-intuitive nature of the finding is interesting and a good thing for neuromarketing-oriented advertisers to keep in mind.

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