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Rewarding Faces

January 24, 2006

Looking at attractive people stimulates the brain’s reward centers. Now new research shows the reward depends on sexual orientation.


Sexual orientation in the brain. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

You could spend months trying to figure out if your cute co-worker is straight or gay. But armed with photographs of attractive people and a brain scanner, you could tell right away. That’s according to a new study from the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

Neurologist Alumit Ishai says the giveaway is the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in reward. Depending on one’s sexual orientation, it reacts differently to attractive male and female faces.

ALUMIT ISHAI (University of Zurich):
The heterosexual men and the lesbians responded significantly more to female faces than to male faces.

While the orbitofrontal cortex of gay men and straight women lit up for attractive men. Yet regardless of orientation, the participants agreed on which faces were objectively the most attractive.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.