Masculine faces appeal most to women in countries where disease is rife
A country's disease rates influence women's preference for masculine or feminine-looking faces, claim psychologists
Masculine faces have less appeal for women in countries
where disease rates are low, such as
A study of women in 30 countries found they were more likely to choose a masculine-looking partner if their country scored low on a health index based on World Health Organisation mortality figures. By contrast, in countries where people have a longer lifespan, women favoured more feminine-looking men, even though they might not have the healthiest genes available.
The research challenges the long-held belief that beauty is
largely determined by culture. "When women are choosing a mate, they're
weighing up two different things. On the one hand a really attractive, high
genetic quality mate will give them very healthy offspring. On the other, there
is getting "investment" from a mate – one who'll be a good dad,"
said Lisa DeBruine, who led the study at
DeBruine's team used a computer to create average male and female faces by merging photographs. The computer then used these to work out how the features of a masculine face differ from a feminine face. The most obvious differences are the larger jaws and deeper brows of more masculine men.
Next, DeBruine recruited 4,794 heterosexual Caucasian women from around the world to take part in the online experiment. Each of the women was asked to look at 20 pairs of male faces and indicate which was the more attractive of the two. In each case, one of the pair was digitally manipulated to make it 50% more feminine than the original, while the other in the pair was made 50% more masculine.
When DeBruine compared the women's
answers with the health index score for their country, she saw a strong
preference for more masculine faces in less healthy areas. Women in
"Certain environmental factors shift the balance when a woman is choosing a mate, and health is one of those. If a woman lives in an environment where there are lots of pathogens and disease, they are more likely to trade off a good investment in favour of better health for their children," DeBruine said. "In places where health is less of an issue, women are not so willing to do that."
Comments in chronological order (Total 46 comments)
Nymo: 17 Mar 2010, 12:39AM
What absolute drivel! Full of tenuous unsubstantiated claims and embarassingly woolly thinking. It assumes that there are universal criteria for what constitutes a 'masculine' face - there obviously are not. It assumes that a more 'masculine' face correponds with 'higher quality' genes - without saying why. It assumes the notion of 'high quality genes' is scietnifically valid and meaningful - it obviously isn't. It assumes that men with a 'more feminine' face will be 'better dads' - without saying why. I hope it's the idiot of a science writer journalist that has mangled what is really a very well thought out study, and not the usual evolutionary psychology rubbish, but I doubt it.
DaRkWins: 17 Mar 2010, 3:16AM
"It assumes that there are universal criteria for what constitutes a 'masculine' face - there obviously are not." I guess this wouldn't be too hard. Take average measurements of female faces and average measurements of male faces. The differences between this can be considered a spectrum between feminine faces and masculine faces. Men with masculine faces would have higher than male average measurements of the features which are different to the female average measurements, etc...
"It assumes that a more 'masculine' face correponds with 'higher quality' genes - without saying why." If you want to know why don't expect it from a newspaper article. newspaper articles are not books. if you want to know why read books. I think I read in a book called Sex & Cognition (Kimura) that men with masculine faces are healthier because their bodies produced more testosterone during development than is needed to fight disease. hence as they develop they become bigger, stronger, i.e. more masculine.
"It assumes the notion of 'high quality genes' is scientifically valid and meaningful - when it obviously isn't." All this is saying is that females on average "prefer" masculine faced men compared to feminine faced men because masculine men had healthier genes (as mentioned above). females are probably not aware of this, but over (evolutionary) time, females who mated with masculine |healthy) men, had masculine (healthy) sons, and daughters who inherited this preference for masculine men. under natural selection, masculine faced men fared better in the environment, and also this was sexually selected for.
"It assumes that men with a 'more feminine' face will be 'better dads' - without saying why." because men with masculine faces know they are preferred by females, hence, they can pursue a reproduction strategy of mating with many different partners maximizing the number of offspring they can produce. feminine faced men don't enjoy this advantage (unless they have some other quality e.g. resources, etc..) Therefore, women who mate with them can be more sure that these men will not be chasing other women.
"the usual evolutionary psychology rubbish” but it is obvious you don't know much about evolutionary psychology or you would have known what evolutionary psychologists have to say about the questions you had above.
Herebutforfortune: 17 Mar 2010, 4:14AM
Unless the study controlled for other factors that
differentiate nations as different as, say,
Jerrycom: 17 Mar 2010, 6:57AM
What is masculine looking? Big 6ft. tall, looking like a blond Russian? A brown Turk (mustache & all)? Or a black African with frizzy hair (before they starting shaving them off)? Well, the gymnasts are good looking (exercise, see!), usually short though muscled. Mullah Omar of the Taliban is a tall slim guy (with reportedly one blue eye, the other one got struck by a shrapnel), not too muscled. Maybe those psys should go and interview him?
Bloody joke! Psychology is based on giant-size intellectual
fraud! It was born in western countries to cloud up perception of basic social
(class) realities. Now it's even spread to
This study has no experimental controls in it. The finding that Mexican and Swedish women have different aesthetic tastes is one thing, to then arbitrarily put it down to a "feminist face" and a "masculine face" based on health rather than say religion (protestant versus Catholic) is stretching things enormously. Obviously, also, the question must also be asked, "What is a Caucasian?" Perhaps the Scientific American should make some changes on its editorial staff. Or perhaps the Ian Sample introduced things in his article not really present in the original and it is on the Guardian staff that the changes need to be made.
Littlepump: 17 Mar 2010, 8:54AM
Right I have just read the actual paper, so a few comments
@nymo: “What absolute drivel! Full of tenuous unsubstantiated claims and embarassingly woolly thinking.”The paper makes no claims about feminity and good fatherhood (but they do link their findings to theories on fatherhood and masculinity) etc etc etc... There really should be a higher standard of reporting on science.
@herebutforfortune: “Why couldn't it be that women, who enjoy a higher standard of living or greater social equality, for two examples, tend to place less importance on superficially masculine features?” They did use GPD age and sexual orientation as possible determinants of preferences and infact GDP and health standards tend to covary, but the health index had greater explanitory power for the preference of masculine faces than GDP.
@ jerrycom: “What is masculine looking? Big 6ft. tall, looking like a blond russian? A brown Turk (mustache & all)? Or a black African with frizzy hair?” They were only looking at Caucasian faces (again the rubbish article does not make this clear) and they used the same face but reduced things like brow and chin size to make the face look more feminine.
@JDMilano: “This study has no experimental controls in it. The finding that Mexican and Swedish women have different aesthetic tastes is one thing, to then arbitrarily put it down to a "feminist face" and a "masculine face" based on health rather than say religion (protestant versus Catholic) is stretching things enormously.” Kindof true, but the results showed no variation between people of different cultural backgrounds, although this was not tested as rigorously as it might have been.
So when Nymo stated, ‘I hope it's the idiot of a science writer journalist that has mangled what is really a very well thought out study’ their guess was indeed correct.
So a decent, but hardly ground breaking piece of research, is poorly reported, leading to criticisms that are valid based on the article, but have little grounds in relation to the actual paper. Net result, more anti science sentiment and everyone is a loser. If this is the best the Guardian can do maybe it should stop reporting science all together as a scientist I find it all very depressing.
LogicLover: 18 Mar 2010, 1:19AM
My initial feeling here is to ask how many other factors can you link this to other than the health index? I`d have a serious look at that before making a causative link between the two, especially when the health index probably reflects financial spending on health in a country far more than it reflects a stronger or weaker genetic makeup. What the hell is a strong genetic makeup anyway - having a big jaw? In what way does that help confer disease resistance?
It really wouldn’t surprise me if I could correlate the preference for masculine faces with all kinds of things other than health index. If the scale goes Mexico-UK-Sweden then it could be heat, hair colour, number of professional wrestlers, taco consumption etc etc
PeterMaling:18 Mar 2010, 1:46PM
What this drivel shows, if anything, is the photographs women like to look at. Men are not sets of pixels. They move and speak... both of those actions having far greater masculinity indication than face bones. So the best this "study" could indicate is actually women's porn preferences. It's as simple as that.
Sorry, Mr Sample, this will not do.
Muscleguy: 19 Mar 2010, 8:18AM
All those dissing the study need to realise that without reading ALL the literature relating to the area and related areas your criticisms of the base(s) of the research are just ignorant.
Just like in the German male student's preference for faces and bodies that were close but not too close I pointed out that population studies have shown that this is, on average, what we find in couples, all across the world. That research wasn't thought up on a whim on a rainy Sunday afternoon for a laugh, it was an attempt to examine and understand a phenomenon that had been seen and established to be true, on average. Which is what science is supposed to do.
Now I don't know as much about the hinterland of this study
as I did the other one, but those assuming on the basis of nothing that there
is and can be no basis for this are talking through a hole in their heads.
There is a whole literature on female mate preference, for eg
that preference for masculine faces and bodies is stronger around ovulation and
at other times more feminine men are preferred. The idea again being that there
is tension between an ideal genetic father and the ideal husband. Or maybe you
thought traditional marriage and social strictures against adultery were
invented and maintained all over the world for no reason? The rate of children
not their 'father's' is somewhere between 15% and 20% in some populations. It
is at least 12% here in the
The really interesting things about the preference during the cycle thing though, is that women on the combined pill prefer the masculine all the time. Note though that these are statistical differences, as I said there was a stronger preference not an absolute one. So this and related research does not say and does not find that women are complete slaves to their hormones. It simply says that we humans are not immune to influence from them either.
So all those dissing this research because they feel it makes them somehow less human, holding the barricades strong against reductionist science have got it wrong. So just like the argument of Nature vs Nurture was always more of a media beatup and a hope in Diderot's eyes while science got down to measuring what percentages in any given situation were Nature and which Nurture, on average.
This article appeared on p13 of the Main section section of the Guardian on Wednesday 17 March 2010. It was published on guardian.co.uk at 00.05 GMT on Wednesday 17 March 2010. It was last modified at 14.37 GMT on Wednesday 17 March 2010.
Ian Sample, science correspondent