May 09, 2006
Women Can Detect Child Friendliness In Male Faces

Women are wired up to detect which men like children.

(Santa Barbara, CA) – Women are able to subconsciously pick up cues in men's faces and use those cues to determine if they are attracted to the males for long-term or short-term relationships, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Chicago.

The study was published online today by the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, the UK's national academy of science.

Men whose faces reflected an interest in children were intuitively perceived by woman as candidates for long-term commitments, whereas men whose faces indicated high testosterone levels were determined to be short-term prospects for relationships.

"Women are surprisingly accurate in being able to determine interest in children and testosterone levels," said James Roney, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who is the lead author of the paper. "Our data suggest that men's interest in children predicts their long-term mate attractiveness even after we account for how physically attractive the women rated the men," he said.

For the study, the researchers recruited male undergraduate students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds who were tested for testosterone and for their interest in children.

Researchers took saliva samples to measure testosterone levels. To determine interest in children, researchers showed the men a pair of pictures, one each of an adult and a baby. They were then asked which picture they preferred. Slightly more than twelve percent of the men expressed no interest in the baby pictures, while the rest expressed a range of interest, up to nine out of ten preferences for the infants.

The researchers then took pictures of each man, asking them to display a neutral expression. An oval frame was placed around each photo to focus attention on the faces and the photos were shown to undergraduate women from diverse backgrounds at UCSB.

The women were asked to rate the men according to whether they thought the men liked children, whether they appeared masculine, physically attractive, or kind. They were then asked to determine men's attractiveness as short-term romantic partners or as long-term partners for relationships such as marriage.

The men chosen as being most interested in children were also the same men who had expressed the most interest in children in the photo test. The women were also able to determine from their photos which men had high testosterone levels because they perceived the men as looking masculine.

Although women said they were attracted to the men who tested high for testosterone, an important factor in their attraction to men for a long-term relationship was their perception of a man's affinity for children, even after accounting for their perceptions of men's general kindness.

"The research suggests that men's interest in children may be a relatively under-appreciated influence on men's long-term mate attractiveness," Roney said.

What I'd like to see: Test women for estrogen levels and body shapes and see if the more feminine women are better or worse at detecting which men are more child-friendly. I bet the higher estrogen or perhaps high estradiol women are better at identifying good mates.

Also, are higher testosterone men more likely to get divorced?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 May 09 11:11 PM  Brain Sexuality

Tom said at May 10, 2006 3:18 AM:

Next up - Scientists discover "gay-dar". Don't touch that dial!

Theresa said at May 10, 2006 11:22 AM:

I bet the higher estrogen or perhaps high estradiol women are better at identifying good mates.

I bet just the opposite -- that women with tons of estrogen pick the "cads" and not the "dads". Estrogen makes you stooopid, don't cha know? ;)

Dezakin said at May 10, 2006 1:33 PM:

Whats with all this selection preferential navel staring research getting press? I can't see any use for it outside of cocktail party conversation in an attempt to sound clever as a prelude for doing the dance for making children. The social science/evolutionary psychology nonsense is nice and low budget to be sure.

Not exactly useful in any meaningful way.

Robert Silvetz said at May 10, 2006 3:42 PM:

Actually, we know hyperestrogenization yields insensitivity to proper sex cues. This is well-known unwanted side-effect of oral contraceptives. If the poor girl also gets whacked in her testosterone levels (which provide a big input to the sex drive), not only doesn't she get it when men want her -- she doesn't want men at all....

Ontogen said at May 10, 2006 3:58 PM:

"I can't see any use for it"

I can't imagine how understanding our male-female sexual relations could not be useful --unless we (as many do) prefer to think of such things in more idealistic, less scientific ways.

Wolf-Dog said at May 10, 2006 4:16 PM:

The fact that women are attracted to high-testosterone men is because such men would be more competitive and more fit to survive, and hence their offspring would inherit these traits. It is implied that women would prefer having kids from such high-testosterone adventurers, while keeping a nurturing husband who will consistently take care of the children. This is correct only in the context of the environment and culture. Until very recently, this was 100 % true, but more recently, purely abstract thinkers and dreamers are also becoming very successful due to the changing conditions of life, where competition is no longer a sport, but more like abstract mathematics. For this reason, it is possible that women will soon EVOLVE, and their attraction to a mate, will favor the genes of pure intellect, even if the men they will have children from, are not very athletic...

Note that Chinese women might often be more interested in intellectually accomplished men instead of very athletic looking men. Since the average IQ scores in the educated parts of China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, etc, happen to be substantially higher than the average IQ scores of white Europeans, perhaps this implies that some Far Eastern nations have evolved to incorporate attraction for intelligence genes instead of athletic genes.

Randall Parker said at May 10, 2006 7:38 PM:

Robert Silvetz,

But I'm thinking more of estradiol than estrogen. Will the same hold true for that? I doubt that shapely women are less attracted to men. Though I'd be interested in evidence on this.

Also, hormone levels cause different effects at different stages in development. Also, receptor concentrations and other ways the body can respond to them can differ in relative rations in different parts of the body between people.

Robert Silvetz said at May 11, 2006 12:30 AM:

OK. Obviously my generic term caused confusion. Last I looked the "estrogen" in many OCP's is ethinyl estradiol.... so certainly supraphysiologic estradiol kills female responsiveness to sex cues.

However, as with all chemicals in the hormone cascade, increasing concentration first enhances the operative functions and then depresses them as the system pegs and negative feedback loops dominate. So high physiologic estradiol levels probably make women more amenable to the sex cues.

I wish I had access to the actual study. Unless they blinded everybody, I'm really wary of the results. It is also fraught with peril to think in terms of total sex steroid hormone levels. This is because it's the free and bioavailable fractions, a miniscule percentage of total, that is active. I have real doubts that women got the sex level right just by looking. Put another way, many macho males have low total-T but high free-T because of the low levels of SHBG and albumin in their blood. The saliva test would not classify them properly.

I know the study has some evolutionary pyschology appeal, but I would want to know more before I buy into the conclusions...

Legal lady said at May 11, 2006 11:38 AM:

Well, it may not be incredibly useful information, but I do think this study is really interesting. It makes me wonder if I could guess accurately about males liking children, or whether I sub-consciously factor that in when I meet a guy. I've never thought about it on purpose, but maybe when I look for kindness it's the same kind of test.

bristlecone said at May 11, 2006 12:20 PM:

So a woman's best interests are served by marrying the engineer and sleeping with the gardener? No wonder murder is the first thing on a man's mind when he catches his woman straying...or why child abuse is more prevalent among step families than biologicals....


1). Intellect has only had a REAL impact on social station for the past 3-4 generations...before the GI Bill, most people never could afford colleges. Before the '60s, "Legacy" admissions allowed stupid children of alumni to attend elite colleges at the expense of smarter, less connected people. I'd guess evolution takes a long time to manifest itself, especially at 20 years per human generation.

2). Don't confuse a "suitible mate" with a "successful mater." The ignorant layabout with 9 kids from 6 "Baby-Mommas" is more successful, from a Darwinian perspective, than Bill Gates.

3). I agree that this might happen over time, as evidenced by the Ashkenazi Jews...centuries of persecution means that those with portable skills (money changing, trade, medicine, mastery of technology) would survive. Studies have shown that Ashkenazi Jews are even smarter than Asians.

Legal Lady:

Don't write off the nice, but non-breeding guy...I had no interest in kids until my own came along, now I adore ALL kids...I think it's a matter of getting used to them and trying to understand them on their level.

CASpears said at May 11, 2006 12:34 PM:

I'm Western but have lived in East Asia (japan and China) and trust me a lot of East Asian women are quick to run off with European and even African men. I've seen it many times in Shanghai and Tokyo. They too like tall men, the only difference I've seen is they tend to prefer thinner men and more clean cut appearance (not the rugged look many Western women like)...but still they like masculine men as well.

This can also been seen in interracial dating stats in the US, East Asian women marry out a lot...probably higher than any group in the country.

CASpears said at May 14, 2006 5:55 AM:

You know I've been thinking about this a lot. I honestly don't think that women are ever going to run off with nerdy effeminate men, just because their IQ is high.
Being intelligent is just one piece of being successful. There are many women who are highly intelligent, but they typically do not hold the power positions in society for the same reason effeminate nerds do not. They lack the masculine aggressiveness to command respect and go after what they want. You don’t become president by being effeminate, you don’t even become a senator that way, you don’t become like Donald Trump by being a wimp, etc.

This is like the Medieval Ages…smart wimps became priests or advisors to masculine alpha males who also had a brain, like Richard the LIONHEART (name says it all). Women, given a choice, will always go for the basket of goods that is most likely to produce a successful spouse (given what they are bringing to the table).

Bob Badour said at May 14, 2006 3:22 PM:


Nerdishness is a very masculine trait; albeit, sometimes infantile. Effeminacy is something entirely different. I have known some effeminate men who were anything but nerdish and who are often very successful with the ladies.

I believe women find nerds less attractive due to lower attentiveness than for any other reason.

CASpears said at May 15, 2006 12:36 PM:

How is nerdishness masculine?

I agree nerdishness is not equal to effemininity...but I also do not see it as masculine behavior.

radeon said at May 15, 2006 1:44 PM:

"This is like the Medieval Ages…smart wimps became priests or advisors to masculine alpha males who also had a brain, like Richard the LIONHEART (name says it all). "

Those who intelligently manipulate the world behind the scenes are quite apt in my book, they may not always get the glory but they will tend not to get the fall either. In any case the alpha brutes can always be poisoned/framed or tricked into doing some thing that disposes of them, that is if these become a useless nuisance.

CASpears said at May 15, 2006 5:54 PM:

you are assuming the alpha male is not intelligent, that is a mistake. The truth is to be "successful" in any society, raw intelligence is just one ingrediant, for this reason the person with the highest IQ in the crowd does not always get the prize. It is often the person with a higher than average IQ, charisma, empathy, diplomatic skills, etc. From what I have seen, this is rarely the person with the highest IQ. This is one reason intellectuals rarely become leaders of men.

I think you are likely just hoping beyond hope Radeon, that one day some society will actually form where the uber smart beta male will be dominent...but beta and dominent are kind of oxymorons. LOL...keep dreaming, lift some weights and improve your people skills. LOL

Bill said at September 13, 2006 3:53 AM:

An Alternative conjecture re IQ East v West:-

For centuries Christendom culled off those with "clerical/scholarly" aptitude an put them into the scriptoria/monastries/churches/universities. . . and forced them to be celebate!
Meanwhile the Confucian Mandarin/scholars and Jewish scholars etc of the East prospered and had large families.
Thus Easterners bred for text-type aptitude: verbal memory, fine neat writing skill, and SHORT-SIGHTEDNESS! And higher IQ. Females can only choose from the males availiable, And the best of them became nuns.

Beverly J. said at April 3, 2007 6:11 AM:

In case you haven't heard of it, their is a term for nerds with 'hotness': 'Nerfherders'! The one thing I've notice recently among femme family & friends is that, even if their first idea of male perfection is the uber-alpha, 'Get the f*** outta my way or it's pain!' types (a couple even getting knocked up as a teen), later on they became wise, recognizing that there are some great qualities in geeks. But some 'tecchies' are very stubborn in that they are unwilling to let an intelligent, caring lady help them have the best of both worlds, ie: becoming a confident, well-rounded, scholarly gentleman. But again, I do believe that this willfulness is another indicator of alpha male behavior! So, in essence, it is up to them whether or not they become a 'chronic bachelor' or not. I just know that I'm grateful that the he-man that I married turned out to be the hottest looking geeks I've ever even heard of!!!

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