A woman's body provides cues about her state of fertility while her face gives insight into her long-term reproductive value, according to previous research. So the new findings from the study by researchers at the University of Texas
, US, suggest that men seeking a short-term relationship have psychological adaptations to look for partners who are fertile and can produce offspring.
But isn't the finding obvious? Explains Jaime Confer, one of the authors of the study, "That's the reaction we have most frequently received in response to our findings. People think it makes intuitive sense once they hear the pattern of our results. I suspect though that people would have generally predicted a priori
that men would prioritise a woman's body, relative to her face, in both short- and long-term mating contexts.
"In actuality, men attended to a woman's body in short-term mating contexts substantially more than in long-term mating contexts. Also, they (the study subjects) never showed a lack of interest in a woman's face, as might have been expected. Even in the short-term mating condition, men removed the face box (explained later) 49 percent of the time."
"Though women show no significant difference in their interest in faces or bodies when looking for short-term or long-term mates, men's priorities shift depending on what they want in a mate, with facial features taking on more importance when a long-term relationship is the goal," the researcher says.
The study 'More than just a pretty face: men's priority shifts toward bodily attractiveness in short-term versus long-term mating contexts', published this month in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior
, has been co-authored with Carin Perilloux and Professor David Buss.
Researchers showed college students an image of another person, whose face and body was hidden, and who was described as either a potential short-term or long-term mate. The participants had the option of looking at either head or body, but not both by removing the boxes which covered the two respective portions.
The authors claim this is the first study to experimentally analyse the relative importance of faces and bodies as whole components. Previous research has examined the qualities that make faces and bodies attractive, such as symmetry and waist-to-hip ratio.
So how does this study build on the existing findings and literature? Confer points out, "I'd refer your readers to the literature breaking down the specific features that make a face or body attractive. For the face, such qualities include symmetrical features of average size and sexually dimorphic features (e.g., large eyes and small chin in women; pronounced brow ridge and jawbone in men).
"For the body, such qualities include breast size, leg length, waist-to-hip ratio, shoulder-to-hip ratio, and muscularity. To the best of our knowledge, our study is the first to experimentally investigate the relative importance of an individual's face and body as whole units."
The results empirically support the hypothesis that men attend to bodily cues more in short-term than long-term mating contexts. "Women's relative preferences, on the other hand, are unaffected by mating condition, suggesting that women consistently prioritize facial cues over bodily cues."
The adaptive shift in men's mating psychology was also reflected as a stable individual difference in men's SOI (sociosexual orientation) scores, with unrestricted men giving greater priority than restricted men to information obtained from a woman's body. "Thus," the researchers said, "men who most benefit from assessing current fertility, as opposed to reproductive value, showed greater interest in a woman's bodily cues."
Confer and her colleagues now want to take their findings further. They want to see if men and women feel more threatened by a pretty face or a good body. And they leave their study open for others to build on. "Given that our results were obtained from a relatively young sample, future studies should replicate these results using a more diverse sample of participants."