The “Johnny Depp Effect” is a term coined after the actor Johnny Depp that explains how men with more feminine faces, such as those possessing wide eyes, fuller lips, and narrow nose are deemed more attractive than traditionally masculine faces. However, a new study published by researchers in the journal PLOS ONE by Otago, Warwick Business School, and University of California, San Diego on Feb. 4, argues that men with feminine features are only attractive in some situations, but not all.

When people were initially asked to identify a face as male or female in the first test, they rated the feminine faces as less attractive. The researchers note that this only happens when the faces are first categorised by gender.

University of St Andrews/The Perception Lab

University of St Andrews/The Perception Lab

Co-author Professor Jamin Halberstadt of Otago’s Department of Psychology says the “processing fluency,” or the ease with which information is processed, perceived or categorised, could have been responsible for this.

According to Piotr Winkielman from the Warwick School of Business and UCSD, this mental effort influences impressions negatively, making objectively pretty subjects seem unattractive at first sight.

“The idea we tested is that the mental effort of having to assign a gender to an ambiguous face has a flow-on effect of negatively influencing how we feel about that face,” Halberstadt asserts.

The team conducted a second experiment that involved classifying gender-ambiguous faces by ethnicity. This time, the participants did not find the feminine-looking male faces as less appealing. This implied that simply disliking facial ambiguity does not necessarily make feminine-looking faces less attractive.

“It has previously been suggested that a woman’s preference in male faces vary due to hormonal influences that sometimes she is subconsciously looking for signs of a ‘nice dad’ who will be a good provider, while other times it is the highly masculine ‘bad boy’ with his ‘better’ genes,” says Halberstadt. “However, our research indicates that such changes in preferences can instead be explained by a simple cognitive process.”