Findings

Eye of the Beholder

Kevin Lewis

December 19, 2009

Blind men prefer a low waist-to-hip ratio

Johan Karremans, Willem Frankenhuis & Sander Arons
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming

Abstract:
Previous studies suggest that men in Western societies are attracted to low female waist-to-hip ratios (WHR). Several explanations of this preference rely on the importance of visual input for the development of the preference, including explanations stressing the role of visual media. We report evidence showing that congenitally blind men, without previous visual experience, exhibit a preference for low female WHRs when assessing female body shapes through touch, as do their sighted counterparts. This finding shows that a preference for low WHR can develop in the complete absence of visual input and, hence, that such input is not necessary for the preference to develop. However, the strength of the preference was greater for the sighted than the blind men, suggesting that visual input might play a role in reinforcing the preference. These results have implications for debates concerning the evolutionary and developmental origins of human mate preferences, in particular, regarding the role of visual media in shaping such preferences.

----------------------

New "golden" ratios for facial beauty

Pamela Pallett, Stephen Link & Kang Lee
Vision Research, forthcoming

Abstract:
In four experiments, we tested the existence of an ideal facial feature arrangement that could optimize the attractiveness of any face given its facial features. Participants made paired comparisons of attractiveness between faces with identical facial features but different eye-mouth distances and different interocular distances. We found that although different faces have varying attractiveness, individual attractiveness is optimized when the face's vertical distance between the eyes and the mouth is approximately 36% of its length, and the horizontal distance between the eyes is approximately 46% of the face's width. These "new" golden ratios match those of an average face.

----------------------

Gazing Behavior During Mixed-Sex Interactions: Sex and Attractiveness Effects

Ischa van Straaten, Rob Holland, Catrin Finkenauer, Tom Hollenstein & Rutger Engels
Archives of Sexual Behavior, forthcoming

Abstract:
We investigated to what extent the length of people's gazes during conversations with opposite-sex persons is affected by the physical attractiveness of the partner. Single participants (N = 115) conversed for 5 min with confederates who were rated either as low or high on physical attractiveness. From a mating strategy perspective, we hypothesized that men's increased dating desire towards highly attractive confederates would lead to longer periods of gazing, whereas women's gazing would be less influenced by their dating desire towards highly attractive confederates. Results confirmed our hypothesis, with significantly increased gazing for men in the high attractiveness condition but no significant differences in women in the two attractiveness conditions. Contrary to past research findings, there was no significant sex difference in the size of the effect of physical attractiveness on dating desire. The results were discussed in terms of preference for physically attractive partners and communication strategies during courtship.

----------------------

Does attractiveness buy happiness? "It depends on where you're from"

Victoria Plaut, Glenn Adams & Stephanie Anderson
Personal Relationships, December 2009, Pages 619-630

Abstract:
Previous studies document that attractiveness predicts life outcomes, including well-being and social connectedness. This study investigates whether the attractiveness-outcomes link is especially strong in settings, such as many urban areas, that promote relationship constructions as a product of personal choice. This link may weaken in settings, such as many rural areas, that promote less voluntaristic-independent relationship constructions. Analyses of survey data from a national representative (United States) sample supported these hypotheses. Attractiveness (operationalized as waist-to-hip ratio) predicted well-being and social connectedness among urban (n = 257) but not rural (n = 330) women. Social connectedness mediated the urban-rural moderation of the attractiveness/well-being link. Findings suggest that frequently observed attractiveness effects are the product of particular, modern social contexts that promote relationship choice.

----------------------

Female and male responses to cuteness, age and emotion in infant faces

Janek Lobmaier, Reiner Sprengelmeyer, Ben Wiffen & David Perrett
Evolution and Human Behavior, January 2010, Pages 16-21

Abstract:
Neonatal features in the newborn are thought to trigger parental care, the most fundamental prosocial behaviour. The underlying mechanisms that release parental care have not yet been resolved. Here we report sex differences in the ability to discriminate cues to cuteness despite equivalence in the capability to discriminate age and facial expression. These differences become apparent in a task where adults were asked to choose the cuter of two babies. While women could reliably choose the cuter infant, men had more difficulty in doing so. When showing the exact same face pairs but asking to choose the younger or the happier baby, there was no sex difference. These results suggest that the sex difference in the ability to discriminate cues to cuteness in infants underlies female-specific emotive responses. We argue that this reactivity expressed by women evolved to ensure that a female allocates her caretaking resources to her youngest offspring while it needs mothering care.

----------------------

The two sides of beauty: Laterality and the duality of facial attractiveness

Robert Franklin & Reginald Adams
Brain and Cognition, forthcoming

Abstract:
We hypothesized that facial attractiveness represents a dual judgment, a combination of reward-based, sexual processes, and aesthetic, cognitive processes. Herein we describe a study that demonstrates that sexual and nonsexual processes both contribute to attractiveness judgments and that these processes can be dissociated. Female participants rated the general attractiveness of faces presented in either their left or right visual field. In order to examine sexual and nonsexual components of these judgments, general attractiveness ratings were correlated with ratings of these same faces made by two independent groups of raters in two specific contexts, one sexual and one nonsexual. Based on an items analysis, partial correlation coefficients were computed for each individual and used as the dependent variable of interest in a 2 (laterality: right, left) by 2 (context: sexual, nonsexual) ANOVA. This analysis revealed an interaction such that faces rated in a sexual context better predicted attractiveness ratings of faces shown in the left than right visual field, whereas faces rated in a nonsexual context better predicted attractiveness of faces shown in the right than left visual field. This finding is consistent with the assertion that sexual and nonsexual preferences involve predominantly lateralized processing routes that independently contribute to what is perceived to be attractive.

----------------------

The Effect of Leg Length on Perceived Attractiveness of Simplified Stimuli

Marco Bertamini & Kate Bennett
Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, September 2009, Pages 233-250

Abstract:
In Western culture there are countless examples of reference to female legs as a factor in sexual attraction. It is not surprising, therefore, that both males and females perceive female figures as more attractive as leg length increases, in proportion to torso or stature, and perhaps the opposite should be true for male figures. Both evolutionary and sociocultural factors can play a role in the effect, such as the emphasis on longer legs in images of attractive women. To isolate leg length from other factors we conducted three studies using an extremely simplified type of stimulus: stick figures. Results using three different dependent variables (a forced choice, a rating, and a production task) confirm a role for leg length in attractiveness judgments, modulated also by level of estimated selfattractiveness. We discuss the potential of simplified stimuli, which do not attempt to appear realistic, as a tool in the study of factors affecting attractiveness.

----------------------

The Gendered Double Standard of Aging in US Marriage Markets

Paula England, Elizabeth Aura McClintock
Population and Development Review, December 2009, Pages 797-816

Abstract:
Using data on marriages collected in most US states between 1970 and 1988, we show that the older men are when they marry, the more years senior to their brides they are, whether it is a first or higher-order marriage. While older men with more education marry down in age slightly more than less educated older men, the pattern of men marrying further down if they marry later holds strongly for all education groups. We consider several possible explanations for the tendency of men to marry further down in age if they are older at marriage. While we have no direct measure of physical attractiveness, we argue that the most compelling interpretation is that men, more than women, evaluate potential spouses on the basis of appearance. Because the prevailing standard of beauty favors young women, the older men are when they marry, the less they find women their own age attractive relative to younger women, leading them to marry further down in age if they are older at marriage. The consequence for women of men's preference for youth is more often that they remain unmarried than that they end up married to much older or less educated men.

----------------------

Sex-Dimorphic Face Shape Preference in Heterosexual and Homosexual Men and Women

Aaron Glassenberg, David Feinberg, Benedict Jones, Anthony Little & Lisa DeBruine
Archives of Sexual Behavior, forthcoming

Abstract:
Studies have used manipulated faces to test the preferences of heterosexual individuals for sexually dimorphic facial cues. In contrast to previous studies, which have generally excluded homosexual participants, we directly compared homosexual and heterosexual male and female preferences for manipulated sexual dimorphism in faces (homosexual males: n = 311; heterosexual males: n = 215; homosexual females: n = 159; heterosexual females: n = 218). Prior studies on sexual orientation and preferences for faces that were paired with masculine and feminine behavioral descriptors suggest that homosexual men prefer more masculine men and that homosexual women demonstrate no preference for either masculinity or femininity in women. In our study, we tested for similarities and differences among heterosexual and homosexual males and females with regard to their preferences for a more specific aspect of faces: sexual dimorphism of face shape. Homosexual men demonstrated stronger preferences for masculinity in male faces than did all of the other groups. Homosexual women demonstrated stronger preferences for masculinity in female faces than did heterosexual women. These results suggest attractiveness judgments of same-sex faces made by homosexual individuals are not a mirror image of those made by heterosexual individuals of the opposite sex. Our data suggest that face preferences of homosexual individuals reflect a system of biologically and socially guided preferences at least as complex as those found among heterosexual individuals.

----------------------

Cradling side preference is associated with lateralized processing of baby facial expressions in females

Harriet Huggenberger, Susanne Suter, Ester Reijnen & Hartmut Schachinger
Brain and Cognition, June 2009, Pages 67-72

Abstract:
Women's cradling side preference has been related to contralateral hemispheric specialization of processing emotional signals; but not of processing baby's facial expression. Therefore, 46 nulliparous female volunteers were characterized as left or non-left holders (HG) during a doll holding task. During a signal detection task they were then asked to detect the emotional baby faces in a series of baby portraits with neutral and emotional facial expressions, presented either to the left or the right visual field (VFP). ANOVA revealed a significant HG × VFP interaction on response bias data (p < .05). Response bias was lowest when emotional baby faces were presented in the visual field of cradling side preference, suggesting that women's cradling side preference may have evolved to save cognitive resources during monitoring emotional baby face signals.

----------------------

Human Physique and Sexual Attractiveness in Men and Women: A New Zealand-U.S. Comparative Study

Barnaby Dixson, Alan Dixson, Phil Bishop & Amy Parish
Archives of Sexual Behavior, forthcoming

Abstract:
Men and women living in New Zealand and California completed five studies regarding human physique and sexual attractiveness. In Studies 1-3, women rated images of male stimuli and, in Studies 4-5, men rated female stimuli. In Study 1, women in both countries rated mesomorphic (muscular) and average male somatotypes as most attractive, followed by ectomorphic (slim) and endomorphic (heavily built) figures. In Study 2, amount and distribution of masculine trunk hair (chest and abdominal) was altered progressively in a series of front-posed male figures. In both countries, the image lacking any trunk hair was rated as the most attractive, with a steady decline in attractiveness as hirsutism became more pronounced. Study 3 assessed attractiveness of front-posed male figures that varied only in the length of the non-erect penis. Five lengths were presented: The smallest penile size was rated as less attractive than three intermediate sizes. The largest penile size was not the most attractive, but received higher scores than the unaltered and smallest penile size. In Study 4, men rated the attractiveness of back-posed female images varying in waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) (from 0.5 to 1.0). The 0.7 WHR figure was rated more attractive in New Zealand and the 0.6 WHR in California. Study 5 measured the attractiveness of female skin color; men expressed preferences for lighter skinned female figures in New Zealand and California. Results indicate very similar preferences for sexually dimorphic physical traits among men and women of European extraction, living in two culturally and geographically different environments.


Sign-in to your National Affairs subscriber account.


Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


subscribe

Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

SUBSCRIBE
Subscribe to National Affairs.