La Difference

This research examined the relative sexual attractiveness of individuals showing emotion expressions of happiness, pride, and shame compared with a neutral control. Across two studies using different images and samples ranging broadly in age (total N = 1041), a large gender difference emerged in the sexual attractiveness of happy displays: happiness was the most attractive female emotion expression, and one of the least attractive in males. In contrast, pride showed the reverse pattern; it was the most attractive male expression, and one of the least attractive in women. Shame displays were relatively attractive in both genders, and, among younger adult women viewers, male shame was more attractive than male happiness, and not substantially less than male pride. (more)

In our society, men and women are different. Not only do they have different physical capacities and vulnerabilities, their minds differ.  They demand different things, in particular from the opposite gender. In response, they supply different things to the opposite gender. For example, men supply the pride demanded by women, and women supply the happiness demanded by men.

While folks are sometimes indignant that others’ expectations about them depend on their gender, few are willing to change the fact that their wants regarding others depend on those others’ genders. So there is little prospect of eliminating gender-based social expectations. Nor is it obvious that this would be a good idea.

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  • Andr

    What’s the difference between pride and happiness?

  • Mark M

    I agree with everything Robin says, with the warning that you cannot take a generalization and apply it to all the individuals of a group. You can say that attempting to change gender-based social expectations of society won’t work, but individuals may still want to adapt their social behavior to the individuals they socialize with, which can easily vary from the generalization.

  • GudEnuf

    So why does Michael Buble have so many female fans if his music is so happy?

    • “So why does Michael Buble have so many female fans if his music is so happy?”

      His music puts women in a happy mood, so they’ll be attractive to men. (But does *he* _look_ happy while he sings happy songs?)

  • One thing the abstract reports confuses me greatly: I would have thought that male shame displays would be the most repellent of all. Is that addressed anywhere?

    • It’s difficult to write it precisely, but my intuition is that women value active men higher than passive men.

      When men are happy, they relax and do less, so happiness is a predictor of pasivity. (Imagine a happy smile of marijuana user.) When men are ashamed, it means that they did something significant, even if something bad.

  • Tyrrell McAllister

    It’s pretty surprising to me that shame is “relatively attractive in both genders”. Even more surprising, it’s “not substantially less [attractive] than male pride”. This seems especially strange on a status-based understanding of attraction.

    Naively, showing shame seems like a low-status move. Yes, it might be even lower status to be seen doing something shameful and yet not show shame. But surely it’s higher status not to be seen doing something shameful in the first place.

    If that’s right, then showing shame is evidence of having been caught doing something shameful, and hence having lowered one’s status. Hence, shouldn’t status-based theories predict that shame is unattractive, or at least substantially less attractive than pride?

  • The attractiveness of shame is hard to understand on a one-sided status theory. Shame is attractive because emotional vulnerability is. People are attracted to what they envy, which can be but is not necessarily status. Men lack happiness because they’re overwhelmed by castration anxiety; women lack pride because they suffer from penis envy.

    • I think it is not shame per se that is attractive, it is the capacity for shame that is attractive, i.e. someone without a capacity for shame is unattractive. Someone without a capacity for shame has no sense of morality, no sense of decency, no sense of how to treat other human beings except either as objects that don’t matter, or as means to ends. A man without a capacity for shame is likely to treat a woman simply as a sex object and not as a human being with her own needs and wants.

      If you feel no shame when you treat someone shamefully, why would anyone want to associate with you? This is why some people try to blame their victims when they treat their victim shamefully, saying he/she “made me do it”. Bernie Madoff had only contempt for his victims. He felt no shame that he had defrauded them.

      I think that men who can’t express shame would be the ones to blame women and to not respect them after sleeping with them. The king never apologizes and never feels shame no matter how many serfs he has drawn and quartered. He doesn’t have the capacity to recognize that the subjects he abuses are people just like him because they aren’t. They are subjects at the bottom of the social hierarchy. If you are a woman and want to be treated like dirt, then be attracted to a man who can’t feel shame. Since relatively few women want to be treated like dirt, many women find men with the capacity to exhibit shame attractive.

  • Marcus

    Interesting. I’m interested whether there is a reason for specifying “in our society”, or perhaps which society? Do you mean post-agriculture society?

  • Anonymous

    In theory at least, it might be possible to regulate gender expectations to the field of romantic relationships only- although in practice I suspect there’s something I’m missing…

  • Douglas Knight…in-pres-Emotion.pdf

    Yes, an ellipsis in the file name.

    Note that when they asked a woman to act out the emotions (page 3), shame was by far the least attractive emotion. But when they asked a man to act out the emotions, the results roughly agreed with the results of found pictures. Thus what they really demonstrate that is that FACS coding of shame in women doesn’t work (in their hands).

  • Michael

    Here is more evidence that there are gender differences in which expressions are attractive:

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  • This was answered long ago:
    Men look for beauty, which is another way of saying reproductive fitness.
    Women look for a mate who will support them through the long, vulnerable period of child-birthing and -rearing.
    Nature selected for these traits.
    Makes sense to me.