A new study based on face-to-face evaluations of potential partners has confirmed some evolution-based theories about human attraction. The findings have been published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
“As someone who studies attraction, I was shocked to find out that almost everything we knew about body attractiveness was based on studies using pictures on screens or, worse still, line drawings that barely resemble real people,” said study author Morgan Sidari of the University of Queensland.
“I think anyone who has experienced online dating would agree that attraction based on a photograph can be very different to attraction in person. If you want an illustration of the problem, get a photograph of a person you don’t know on a plain background and try to guess their height — it’s near impossible.”
“We know that height is important to attractiveness, so not being able to judge it properly in a study about body attractiveness is an issue. This made me very sceptical about this area of research and got me interested in pursuing it myself.”
In the study, 539 first-year psychology students had their body dimensions measured before engaging in round-robin speed dates. The participants were given 3 minutes to interact with an opposite-sex partner. The participants then rated each other’s body, face, personality, and overall attractiveness. The participants also noted whether they would be willing to go on a date with the other person.
The speed dates resulted in 2,161 face-to-face interactions, which the researchers then statistically analyzed.
Consistent with previous research, men with broader shoulders were rated as having more attractive bodies while women with smaller waists and lower waist-to-hip ratios were rated as having more attractive bodies. Taller men tended to be rated as more physically attractive as well. Surprisingly, this was also true of women.
Sidari and her colleagues also found that women viewed personality as more important to overall attractiveness than men.
But the researchers observed a wide variation in what was considered attractive.
“The main thing to take away from our study is that the relationships we found were weak, which suggests that these body features (e.g. waist, hips) do not determine attractiveness. Importantly though, a trait only needs to give a very small advantage to influence evolution. In this way, the weak relationships we see in our study can give us clues about how male and female body shapes might have evolved,” Sidari told PsyPost.
“Though we find significant relationships between these body dimensions and attractiveness, there’s still a huge amount of variation. When I looked at the highest rated female bodies in our sample, they varied wildly on waist-to-hip ratio, even though we’ve always been told that .70 is ‘ideal’. In reality, I think only one of the top 10 had a .70 ratio, and many of them were much less hourglass shaped.”
The study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“With a speed-dating study we can’t really address the question of how impactful these traits are over time. We can say that we know that these measurements influence people’s first impressions, but not that it has any lasting impact on our likelihood of dating these people,” Sidari explained.
“This is something that needs to be addressed but it’s extremely difficult (and expensive) to do these studies over a long time course, so it might take a while!”
The study, “Preferences for Sexually Dimorphic Body Characteristics Revealed in a Large Sample of Speed Daters“, was authored by Morgan J. Sidari, Anthony J. Lee, Sean C. Murphy, James M. Sherlock, Barnaby J. W. Dixson, and Brendan P. Zietsch.