Images of European female and male faces were digitally processed to generate spatial frequency (SF) filtered images containing only a narrow band of visual information within the Fourier spectrum. The original unfiltered images and four SF filtered images (low, medium-low, medium-high and high) were then paired in trials that kept constant SF band and face gender and participants made a forced-choice decision about the more attractive among the two faces. In this way, we aimed at identifying those specific SF bands where forced-choice preferences corresponded best to forced-choice judgements made when viewing the natural, broadband, facial images. We found that aesthetic preferences dissociated across SFs and face gender, but similarly for participants from Asia (Japan) and Europe (Norway). Specifically, preferences when viewing SF filtered images were best related to the preference with the broadband face images when viewing the highest filtering band for the female faces (about 48–77 cycles per face). In contrast, for the male faces, the medium-low SF band (about 11–19 cpf) related best to choices made with the natural facial images. Eye tracking provided converging evidence for the above, gender-related, SF dissociations. We suggest greater aesthetic relevance of the mobile and communicative parts for the female face and, conversely, of the rigid, structural, parts for the male face for facial aesthetics.
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