Anthony Little of the University of Liverpool and his colleagues conducted a study in which he investigated attractiveness. They looked at the characteristics which men and women find attractive for either a short term relationship or a long-term relationship.
They showed images of 10 individuals of the opposite sex to 133 women and 127 men. They then asked these participants to rate these images for their attractiveness for a short-term or long-term relationship.
They did this for the face and the body separately, and then for the overall image of the whole person.
This is fascinating: it strikes right at the heart of what men and women find attractive in each other when they’re looking to form a relationship. By inference, it also gives us a clue as to what’s really important in appearance to men and women in an ongoing relationship.
Do we choose somebody for a long-term relationship on the basis of certain aspects of their physical appearance? If so, you’re very likely to want those characteristics present in your ongoing relationship. They are the things which please you.
There are, no doubt, hundreds of reasons why people choose each other as potential partners. Physical appearance is only one of these, but let’s have a look at what the researchers found.
Interestingly enough, the participants’ ratings of someone’s facial appearance and attractiveness were most important. This was a much better indication of what people thought about that person’s relationship potential than the physical attractiveness of their body.
I suppose that makes sense – it’s your partner’s face which you see most often. But even so, surely the appearance of the body is important too? I would think that to be true for men in particular. I suspect not many men would preferentially choose a partner who was obese, for example.
This experiment confirmed that body cues provide a number of types of information about a person. This information is taken into account when selecting a mate. It’s explicit or implied information about fertility, strength, athleticism, and so on and so forth.
Although these factors may not necessarily be taken into account consciously, they’re probably biologically programmed into all of us in our choice of mate. They would certainly have been very important during our evolution in ancient environments.
Powerful, masculine and strong men may have the best genes, making them more likely to survive or be dominant males. And dominance means the chance to reproduce more, and produce better offspring with a greater chance of survival. That might be why women want to mate with them.
And indeed, things such as muscularity and physical fitness may still have importance even today. They may act as signals of social dominance, at least in some social groups and levels of society.
The research showed that men thought the appearance of a woman’s body was much more important for short-term relationships than for long-term relationships. This is hardly surprising since men are sexually drawn to the physical appearance of a woman.
Perhaps only in a longer term relationship would a man be more willing to take into account the overall appearance of his partner and her other, non-physical qualities.
In other words, a man’s assessment of physical attractiveness changes with the kind of relationship he is looking for.
Also – they discovered that an individual’s body has to be above a certain level of attractiveness before it even starts to influence the person’s perceived overall attractiveness.
Basically, what this all amounts to is that for a long-term relationship, facial attractiveness is more important than bodily attractiveness for both sexes.