By BILL HENDRICKThe Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionWhen men look at pictures of women in the buff, where are their eyes likely to go first?
Men are more likely to look at a female's face before gazing at other body parts, according to a new study by researchers at Emory University.
And when men and women look at pictures of heterosexual sex, women look longer at the photos than men do, according to the study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior.
Both findings may run contrary to what most people think, but they shed light on sexual attitudes that really aren't all that mysterious when considered in a scientific light, said psychologist Kim Wallen of Emory.
Wallen and his former graduate student, Heather Rupp, showed still photos of couples having sex to 30 women and 15 men between the ages of 23 and 28. Each was rigged up with a high-tech eye-tracking gizmo to measure where his or her gaze went first, and how long it stayed there.
While men went straight to the face and lingered awhile, most of the women were more interested in what was going on in the pictures â€” the sexual activity.
Not surprisingly, Wallen said, women on hormone-filled birth control pills were interested in the overall view of the photos and "background" items like jewelry. But women not on the pill were more interested in areas of both men and women normally covered by clothing.
Rupp, who's now at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, said the "eye-tracking data suggested that what women paid most attention to was dependent on their hormonal state."
The scientists traced the findings to a brain region called the amygdala, which processes emotional information and excitement.
In an earlier brain-scanning study, Wallen found more activation in the amygdala of men than women in response to sexual stimuli. But the cause of the increased activity was unclear, and Wallen and Rupp's latest study suggests higher amygdala activation in men may be related to their increased attention to faces.
They've also concluded there are biological and evolutionary reasons for what they found.
Women can tell by looking at naked men whether the guys are in the mood, Wallen said, but women's bodies don't reveal much.
Which is why men home in on their faces.
"It's cryptic, but facial expression is one way of showing an indication of interest in and enjoyment of sex," Wallen said.(ajc.com/search)