Attractiveness modulates neural processing of infant faces differently in males and females

Lijun YIN, Mingxia FAN, Lijia LIN, Delin SUN, Zhaoxin WANG

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Consistent attention and proper processing of infant faces by adults are essential for infant survival. Previous behavioral studies showed gender differences in processing infant cues (e.g., crying, laughing or facial attractiveness) and more importantly, the efforts invested in nurturing offspring. The underlying neural mechanisms of processing unknown infant faces provide hints for understanding behavioral differences. This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study recruited 32 unmarried adult (16 females and 16 males) participants to view unfamiliar infant faces and rate the attractiveness. Adult faces were also included. Behaviorally, despite that females and males showed no differences in attractiveness ratings of infant faces, a positive correlation was found between female’s (but not male’s) subjective liking for infants and attractiveness ratings of the infant faces. Functionally, brain activations to infant faces were modulated by attractiveness differently in males and females. Specifically, in female participants, activities in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and striatum/Nucleus Accumbens (NAcc) were positively modulated by infant facial attractiveness, and the modulation coefficients of these two regions were positively correlated. In male participants, infant facial attractiveness negatively modulated the activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC). Our findings reveal that different neural mechanisms are involved in the processing of infant faces, which might lead to observed behavioral differences between males and females towards the baby. Copyright © 2017 Yin, Fan, Lin, Sun and Wang.

Original languageEnglish
Article number551
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


Yin, L., Fan, M., Lin, L., Sun, D., & Wang, Z. (2017). Attractiveness modulates neural processing of infant faces differently in males and females. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11. Retrieved from


  • Infant
  • Face
  • Attractiveness
  • Self
  • Other
  • Reward
  • Gender difference


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