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Macho Men No Good For Love

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Women see ‘masculine’ men as unsuitable long-term partners, new research suggests. Conversely, the psychologists from Durham and St Andrews Universities found that men with feminine facial features are seen as more committed and less likely to cheat on their partners.

Men and women were asked to judge digitally altered pictures of male faces made to look more masculine or feminine. Men with masculine faces were classed as significantly more dominant, less faithful, worse parents and as having personalities that were less warm, compared to their ‘feminine’ counterparts. (Credit: Image courtesy of Durham University)

The study, published recently in Personality and Individual Differences, asked over 400 British men and women to judge digitally altered pictures of male faces made to look more masculine or feminine. The participants were asked to predict personality traits including sexual behaviour and parenting skills based on what they saw.

Men with masculine faces, with features such as a square jaw, larger nose and smaller eyes, were classed as significantly more dominant, less faithful, worse parents and as having personalities that were less warm, compared to their ‘feminine’ counterparts, who had finer facial features with fuller lips, wide eyes and thinner, more curved eyebrows.

The scientists say the research, partly supported by the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, backs up earlier research about masculinity and perceptions of personality and gives further insight into what people see in others when choosing potential partners. It will also advance studies in areas like evolutionary biology, fertility and genetics and offer new insights for relationship counselling and psychology.

Lead author, Dr Lynda Boothroyd, a lecturer with Durham University’s Department of Psychology, commented: “This research shows a high amount of agreement between women about what they see, personality wise, when asked to ‘judge a book by its cover’.

“They may well use that impression of someone to decide whether or not to engage with that person. That decision-making process all depends on what a woman is looking for in a relationship at that time of her life.”

The study asked participants to complete a web-based test. Pairs of pictures which only showed the face without any hair, ears, neck, shoulders or clothing visible, were presented side by side. The participants were asked to select which face they thought was more of a particular trait and how much more so by clicking on a point of the scale. Traits selected for judgement were dominance, ambition, wealth, faithfulness, commitment, parenting, and warmth.

The survey also found that faces which appeared healthier, for instance those with better complexion, were seen as more desirable in terms of all personality traits compared to those who looked unhealthy. Similarly, older faces were generally viewed more positively compared to younger ones.

Professor David Perrett from St Andrews University adds: “Our research also found that it is men’s health that conveys all round good qualities for partnership and personality. Our results contradict claims that machismo denotes fitness and disease immunity. Masculinity may buy you dominance but not necessarily tip top physical condition. Instead women see a healthy guy as the source of wealth, and fit for family life.”

Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 43, Issue 5, October 2007, Pages 1161-1173 doi:10.1016/j.paid.2007.03.008
Copyright © 2007 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.

Partner characteristics associated with masculinity, health and maturity in male faces

Lynda G. Boothroyda, b, , , Benedict C. Jonesc, D. Michael Burtb and David I. Perretta

a School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, United Kingdom
b Department of Psychology, University of Durham, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, United Kingdom
c School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 2UB, United Kingdom

Received 27 November 2006; revised 8 March 2007. Available online 24 April 2007.


This research investigated the partner characteristics that are attributed to male facial masculinity, and how these characteristics compare to those attributed to increased age or health in faces. We found that masculinity is perceived as reflecting heightened dominance, but reduced suitability as a long term partner. This is concordant with previous studies and supports the proposal that a masculinity preference could reflect attraction to dominance rather than immunocompetence. Increased health in faces was perceived as increasing dominance, wealth and pro-social traits (faithfulness, commitment, parenting, etc.), which weakens the widely held supposition that health is closely related to masculinity in facial attraction. Results regarding facial maturity were mixed across studies. Furthermore, Study 2 found that the perceived attributes of faces clustered into two dimensions; the first dimension being a ‘halo’ of all seven desirable traits (which varies with healthiness), and the second dimension being a perception of dominance and unsuitability as a partner (which varies with masculinity).

Keywords: Mate-choice; Personality; Masculinity; Neoteny; Health; Faces

see also:

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2006 Dec 29;361(1476):2143-54.

Reproductive strategy, sexual development and attraction to facial characteristics.

Cornwell RE, Law Smith MJ, Boothroyd LG, Moore FR, Davis HP, Stirrat M, Tiddeman B, Perrett DI.

School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, South Street, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9JP, UK.

Sexual reproduction strategies vary both between and within species in the level of investment in offspring. Life-history theories suggest that the rate of sexual maturation is critically linked to reproductive strategy, with high investment being associated with few offspring and delayed maturation. For humans, age of puberty and age of first sex are two developmental milestones that have been associated with reproductive strategies. Stress during early development can retard or accelerate sexual maturation and reproduction. Early age of menarche is associated with absence of younger siblings, absence of a father figure during early life and increased weight. Father absence during early life is also associated with early marriage, pregnancy and divorce. Choice of partner characteristics is critical to successful implementation of sexual strategies. It has been suggested that sexually dimorphic traits (including those evident in the face) signal high-quality immune function and reproductive status. Masculinity in males has also been associated with low investment in mate and offspring. Thus, women’s reproductive strategy should be matched to the probability of male investment, hence to male masculinity. Our review leads us to predict associations between the rate of sexual maturation and adult preferences for facial characteristics (enhanced sexual dimorphism and attractiveness). We find for men, engaging in sex at an early age is related to an increased preference for feminized female faces. Similarly, for women, the earlier the age of first sex the greater the preference for masculinity in opposite-sex faces. When we controlled sexual dimorphism in male faces, the speed of sexual development in women was not associated with differences in preference for male facial attractiveness. These developmental influences on partner choice were not mediated by self-rated attractiveness or parental relationships. We conclude that individuals assort in preferences based on the rapidity of their sexual development. Fast developing individuals prefer opposite-sex partners with an increased level of sexually dimorphic facial characteristics.

PMID: 17118929 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


Written by huehueteotl

August 10, 2007 at 8:51 am

Posted in Psychology

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