Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 8, pp 2313–2325 | Cite as

Eye Movements When Looking at Potential Friends and Romantic Partners

  • Omri GillathEmail author
  • Angela J. Bahns
  • Hayley A. Burghart
Original Paper


Eye movements of 105 heterosexual undergraduate students (36 males) were monitored while viewing photographs of men and women identified as a potential mate or a potential friend. Results showed that people looked at the head and chest more when assessing potential mates and looked at the legs and feet more when assessing potential friends. Single people looked at the photographs longer and more frequently than coupled people, especially when evaluating potential mates. In addition, eye gaze was a valid indicator of relationship interest. For women, looking at the head corresponded to greater interest in friendship, whereas for men looking at the head corresponded to less interest in friendship. These findings show that relational goals and gender may affect the way people scan their environment and search for relevant information in line with their goals.


Mating Friendship Eye-tracking Chest Waist-to-hip ratio Attraction 



We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Melanie Canterberry and Austen McGuire for assisting with the eye-tracking equipment and software, and we thank Megan Chen for creating the data visualizations displayed in Figures 2 and 3.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10508_2017_1022_MOESM1_ESM.sav (2.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (SAV 2782 kb)
10508_2017_1022_MOESM2_ESM.docx (24 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 24 kb)


  1. Bahns, A. J., Crandall, C. S., Gillath, O., & Wilmer, J. (2016). Nonverbal communication of similarity via the torso: It’s in the bag. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 40, 151–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Birnbaum, G. E., & Gillath, O. (2006). Measuring subgoals of the sexual behavioral system: What is sex good for? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23, 675–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bleske-Rechek, A., & Buss, D. M. (2001). Opposite-sex friendship: Sex differences and similarities in initiation, selection, and dissolution. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1310–1323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brewer, G., Archer, J., & Manning, J. (2007). Physical attractiveness: The objective ornament and subjective self-ratings. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 5, 29–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brooks, R. C., Shelly, J. P., Jordan, L. A., & Dixson, B. J. (2015). The multivariate evolution of female body shape in an artificial digital ecosystem. Evolution and Human Behavior, 36, 351–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Buss, D. M., & Barnes, M. (1986). Preferences in human mate selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 559–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cacioppo, J. T., Berntson, G. G., & Nusbaum, H. C. (2008). Neuroimaging as a new tool in the inbox of psychological science. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 62–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cash, T. F., & Derlega, V. J. (1978). The matching hypothesis: Physical attractiveness among same-sexed friends. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 240–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. de Valois, R. L., & de Valois, K. K. (1980). Spatial vision. Annual Review of Psychology, 31, 309–341.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Dixson, B. J., Grimshaw, G. M., Linklater, W. L., & Dixson, A. F. (2011a). Eye-tracking of men’s preferences for waist-to-hip ratio and breast size of women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 43–50.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Dixson, B. J., Grimshaw, G. M., Ormsby, D. K., & Dixson, A. F. (2014). Eye-tracking women’s preferences for men’s somatotypes. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35, 73–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dixson, A., Halliwell, G., East, R., Wignarajah, P., & Anderson, M. (2003). Masculine somatotype and hirsuteness as determinants of sexual attractiveness to women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 29–39.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Dixson, B. J., Vasey, P. L., Sagata, K., Sibanda, N., Linklater, W. L., & Dixson, A. F. (2011b). Men’s preferences for women’s breast morphology in New Zealand, Samoa, and Papua New Guinea. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1271–1279.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Edlund, J. E., Sagarin, B. J., & Johnson, B. S. (2007). Reciprocity and the belief in a just world. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 589–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ekman, P. (1978). Facial signs: Facts, fantasies, and possibilities. In T. Sebeok (Ed.), Sight, sound and sense (pp. 124–156). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Fantz, R. L. (1961). The origin of form perception. Scientific American, 20, 66–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fantz, R. L. (1965). Visual perception from birth as shown by pattern selectivity. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 188, 793–814.Google Scholar
  19. Feingold, A. (1988). Matching for attractiveness in romantic partners and same-sex friends: A meta-analysis and theoretical critique. Psychological Bulletin, 104, 226–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Feingold, A. (1990). Gender differences in effects of physical attractiveness on romantic attraction: A comparison across five research paradigms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 981–993.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gillath, O., Bahns, A. J., Ge, F., & Crandall, C. S. (2012). Shoes as a source of first impressions. Journal of Research in Personality, 46, 423–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hall, C., Hogue, T., & Guo, K. (2011). Differential gaze behavior towards sexually preferred and non-preferred human figures. Journal of Sex Research, 48, 461–469.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Hatfield, E., & Sprecher, S. (1986). Measuring passionate love in intimate relationships. Journal of Adolescence, 9, 383–410.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Hewig, J., Trippe, R. H., Hecht, H., Straube, T., & Miltner, W. H. (2008). Gender differences for specific body regions when looking at men and women. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 32, 67–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hinsz, V. B., Matz, D. C., & Patience, R. A. (2001). Does women’s hair signal reproductive potential? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 37, 166–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hughes, S., & Gallup, G. (2003). Sex differences in morphological predictors of sexual behavior: shoulder to hip and waist to hip ratios. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 173–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Janssens, K., Pandelaere, M., Van den Bergh, B., Millet, K., Lens, I., & Roe, K. (2011). Can buy me love: Mate attraction goals lead to perceptual readiness for status products. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 254–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johnson, M. A. (1989). Variables associated with friendship in an adult population. Journal of Social Psychology, 129, 379–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kanwisher, N., McDermott, J., & Chun, M. M. (1997). The fusiform face area: A module in human extrastriate cortex specialized for face perception. Journal of neuroscience, 17, 4302–4311.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Kowler, E. (2011). Eye movements: The past 25 years. Vision Research, 51, 1457–1483.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Lykins, A. D., Meana, M., & Kambe, G. (2006). Detection of differential viewing patterns to erotic and non-erotic stimuli using eye-tracking methodology. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 569–575.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Lyons, M., Marcinkowska, U., Moisey, V., & Harrison, N. (2016). The effects of resource availability and relationship status on women’s preference for facial masculinity in men: An eye-tracking study. Personality and Individual Differences, 95, 25–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Maner, J. K., Gailliot, M. T., & Miller, S. L. (2009). The implicit cognition of relationship maintenance: Inattention to attractive alternatives. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 174–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Montoya, R. M., & Horton, R. S. (2013). A meta-analysis investigation of the processes underlying the similarity-attraction effect. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30, 64–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Morry, M. M., Kito, M., & Ortiz, L. (2011). The attraction-similarity model and dating couples: Projection, perceived similarity, and psychological benefits. Personal Relationships, 18, 125–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rhodes, G., Proffitt, F., Grady, J. M., & Sumich, A. (1998). Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 5, 659–669.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rilling, J. K., Kaufman, T. L., Smith, E. O., Patel, R., & Worthman, C. M. (2009). Abdominal depth and waist circumference as influential determinants of human female attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30, 21–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rozmus-Wrzesinska, M., & Pawlowski, B. (2005). Men’s ratings of female attractiveness are influenced more by changes in female waist size compared with changes in hip size. Biological Psychology, 68, 299–308.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Scheib, J. E. (2001). Context-specific mate choice criteria: Women’s trade-offs in the contexts of long-term and extra-pair mateships. Personal Relationships, 8, 371–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Scheib, J. E., Gangestad, S. W., & Thornhill, R. (1999). Facial attractiveness, symmetry and cues of good genes. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 266, 1913–1917.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  41. Schmukle, S. C., Liesenfeld, S., Back, M. D., & Egloff, B. (2007). Second to fourth digit ratios and the implicit gender self-concept. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 1267–1277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Segal, M. W. (1974). Alphabet and attraction: An unobtrusive measure of the effect of propinquity in a field setting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 654–657.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Shanteau, J., & Nagy, G. F. (1979). Probability of acceptance in dating choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 522–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Shoup, M. L., & Gallup, G. G., Jr. (2008). Men’s faces convey information about bodies and their behavior: What you see is what you get. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 469–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Simpson, J. A., & Harris, B. A. (1994). Interpersonal attraction. In A. L. Weber & J. H. Harvey (Eds.), Perspectives on close relationships (pp. 45–66). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  46. Singh, D. (1993). Body shape and women’s attractiveness: The critical role of waist-to-hip ratio. Human Nature, 4, 297–321.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Singh, D., Dixson, B. J., Jessop, T. S., Morgan, B., & Dixson, A. F. (2010). Cross-cultural consensus for waist–hip ratio and women’s attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 176–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Singh, D., & Luis, S. (1995). Ethnic and gender consensus for the effect of waist-to-hip ratio on judgment of women’s attractiveness. Human Nature, 6, 51–65.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Swami, V., & Tovée, M. J. (2013). Resource security impacts men’s female breast size preferences. PLoS ONE, 8, e57623. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057623.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  50. Thornhill, R., & Gangestad, S. W. (1999). Facial attractiveness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3, 452–460.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Tovée, M. J., Maisey, D. S., Emery, J. L., & Cornelissen, P. L. (1999). Visual cues to female physical attractiveness. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 266, 211–218.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. Tovée, M. J., Swami, V., Furnham, A., & Mangalparsad, R. (2006). Changing perceptions of attractiveness as observers are exposed to a different culture. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27, 443–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tovée, M. J., Tasker, K., & Benson, P. J. (2000). Is symmetry a visual cue to attractiveness in the human female body? Evolution and Human Behavior, 21, 191–200.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Voracek, M., & Fisher, M. L. (2006). Success is all in the measures: Androgenousness, curvaceousness, and starring frequencies in adult media actresses. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 297–304.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Wetsman, A., & Marlowe, F. (1999). How universal are preferences for female waist-to-hip ratios? Evidence from the Hadza of Tanzania. Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 219–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Yang, T., Chen, H., Hu, Y., Zheng, Y., & Wang, W. (2015). Preferences for sexual dimorphism on attractiveness levels: An eye-tracking study. Personality and Individual Differences, 77, 179–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Yarbus, A. L. (1967). Eye movements and vision. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Zebrowitz, L. A., Olson, K., & Hoffman, K. (1993). Stability of babyfaceness and attractiveness across the life span. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 453–466.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Omri Gillath
    • 1
    Email author
  • Angela J. Bahns
    • 2
  • Hayley A. Burghart
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyWellesley CollegeWellesleyUSA

Personalised recommendations