June 29, 2009
Men In Closer Agreement Than Women On Attractiveness

Guys know what they want and they pretty much agree with each other on who is hot.

There is much more consensus among men about whom they find attractive than there is among women, according to a new study by Wake Forest University psychologist Dustin Wood.

The study, co-authored by Claudia Brumbaugh of Queens College, appears in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Men agree a lot more about who they find attractive and unattractive than women agree about who they find attractive and unattractive," says Wood, assistant professor of psychology. "This study shows we can quantify the extent to which men agree about which women are attractive and vice versa."

Unfortunately the press release does not provide any quantitative results. Here is the abstract which also doesn't provide much details. You can buy the article at that link.

The pictures of men and women were only between the ages 18 and 25. I would like to see a study using a wider age range. My expectation is that female attractiveness will be seen as dropping off with age a lot faster than male attractiveness. Also, I'd like to see a study that uses psychometrics to compare attractiveness of women and men based on both the IQ of the viewer and the viewee. Do smart people find smart people more attractive? Do dumb people find smart or dumb people more attractive? Also, I'd like to know how the physical traits and character traits of men and women affect what they see as attractive. For example, does a guy with more masculine physical features and dominant personality feel greater attraction to the most feminine-looking women or to less feminine-looking women?

More than 4,000 participants in the study rated photographs of men and women (ages 18-25) for attractiveness on a 10-point scale ranging from "not at all" to "very." In exchange for their participation, raters were told what characteristics they found attractive compared with the average person. The raters ranged in age from 18 to more than 70.

Before the participants judged the photographs for attractiveness, the members of the research team rated the images for how seductive, confident, thin, sensitive, stylish, curvaceous (women), muscular (men), traditional, masculine/feminine, classy, well-groomed, or upbeat the people looked.

Breaking out these factors helped the researchers figure out what common characteristics appealed most to women and men.

Men's judgments of women's attractiveness were based primarily around physical features and they rated highly those who looked thin and seductive. Most of the men in the study also rated photographs of women who looked confident as more attractive.

As a group, the women rating men showed some preference for thin, muscular subjects, but disagreed on how attractive many men in the study were. Some women gave high attractiveness ratings to the men other women said were not attractive at all.

The press release doesn't indicate whether the pictures were full body or just face. Do ratings of just faces predict ratings of full bodies? I'd expect fat distribution to have a big impact on that. A buxom woman will pick up points in a full body shot while a pot belly will decrease attraction.

So why are men more consistent in their judgments? Do women differ from each other more than men do in their mating strategies? Or is the study picking up on greater variation over time in terms of what women want in men? In particular, how much of the female difference was due to the women being at different stages of their menstrual cycles? See my post Ovulating Women Prefer Smell Of Dominant Men and also my post Nursing Women More Attracted To Higher Pitch Male Voices. Monthly hormonal variations are going to cause women to feel more attraction to alpha men with more masculine features when the women are ovulating and then toward beta men to help raise the kids.

Another possible cause of the greater female difference might be due to age of the females. Does a 35 year old woman on average want different physical features (perhaps less masculinity) than a 20 year old woman? Maybe the full article gets into this. If anyone reads it post in the comments.

Update: Following up on comments made by bbartlog and David Friedman: If the pictures of men showed clearer signs of status (e.g. wearing a medical uniform with an MD on the name tag versus clothing for a lumberjack) would the female choices line up more closely? Or maybe in the pictures used some of the pictures showed status indicators which only some of the women noticed? How consistent are women in their status rankings?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 June 29 10:18 AM  Brain Sex Differences

A Texan said at June 29, 2009 1:23 PM:

So, in other words, women don't know what they want.

Tell me something I didn't know already.

bbartlog said at June 29, 2009 1:50 PM:

So why are men more consistent in their judgments? Do women differ from each other more than men do in their rating strategies?

No. The problem here is that the study is not giving women the information they need, therefore there is more noise in their answers. Suppose you had two sets of men rate women: the first set of men got pictures of women in bathing suits, the second set of men had to judge the attractiveness of women based on pictures of their shins. Which set of men would have more consistent judgments?
The situation with men and women is analogous. Since pure physical appearance is a smaller component of men's attractiveness to women (personality characteristics like ambition, confidence and humor are relatively more important), their answers to a photo-base setup like this will show more variation.

David Friedman said at June 29, 2009 1:56 PM:

The obvious explanation is that, since women's input to reproduction is largely biological, physical appearance is more relevant to a man in choosing a mate. The man's input is resources, status, protection and the like, which are harder to deduce from physical appearance.

It would be worth doing a similar study which included information signaling wealth, status, personality, and the like.

Kane said at June 30, 2009 5:27 AM:

I wonder if the results indicate that headshots were used; and, if full-body photos showing clothing were used instead, would style of dress indicate status and result in more consistent female ratings?

Ben said at June 30, 2009 11:09 AM:

I also wonder what directions the viewers were given. If women were asked to rate men based on attractiveness as a mate, the answers might be very different than how they would rate them based on their attractiveness in a purely physical, sexual manner. Ditto for men, but the difference is probably less pronounced. Sort of the whole "he/she's hot, but would you take him/her home to mom?" thing.

Dave said at June 30, 2009 11:30 AM:

The results would have been more meaningful if the women were provided income information to go along with the photos.

pgaddis said at June 30, 2009 11:43 AM:

kinda goes back to the saying: "Men need a place. Women need a reason."

JorgXMcKie said at June 30, 2009 11:43 AM:

Yes, the reason for rating attractiveness means a lot. James N Schubert did a fairly large number of studies rating (among other things) a generalized 'attractiveness' of political candidates, both male and female (but separately). There was widespread agreement on which candidates were most and least attractive across sex, age (14-80), and most countries (a mild surrogate for culture). He used real pictures of actual politicians.

Since the respondents told that the pictures of politicians (but not told why they were rating them) I'm guessing they used a different strategy for comparison than if they thought they were going to date.

Commonalities for men were that: men with relatively pronounced jawlines, brow ridges, and cheekbones (all testosterone markers for maturity) and general healthy appearance were regarded as more attractive. Beards and baldness lowered attractiveness somewhat. Commonalities for women were that: women with visible ear lobes (age marker), short, shiny hair, and mildly oval faces (as opposed to heart-shaped or triangular or round), smooth skin (along with the hair a health indicator), and non-obvious makeup were regarded as more attractive.

While David Buss pretty much proved that in any given culture the "ideal woman" appears to be between 5 and 10 years past menarche and has a waist to hips ratio of about .67, that is for breeding purposes. For political leadership, we want our women to look like youngish grandmothers.

Hyperpotamus said at June 30, 2009 11:43 AM:

All the pictures used in that study came from hotornot.com, and were of people who listed themselves as in the age range 18-25. I would guess that the researchers would not be so unwise as to include pictures of people wearing medical outfits or any other such obvious career-related clothing - that's pretty basic craft in such studies. Also, the ratings were done separately not only by sex but also by sexual orientation. This allowed the researchers to compare gay men's ratings of photographs of men with straight women's ratings of the same photographs, and also lesbian's ratings of photographs of women with straight men's ratings of the same photographs. In both cases, men's ratings were more consistent than women's ratings - and clearly characteristics of the individual photos have nothing to do with these differences.

To answer Ben's question, all participants were asked to say for each photo, “How attractive do you find this person?” They responded on a 10 point scale (with end points labeled "not at all" and "very"). The study used 98 photos of women and 98 of men. Participant numbers were: Heterosexual - 1371 men, 2683 women; homosexual - 126 men, 128 women. So the researchers had lots of data to work with.

Charlie said at June 30, 2009 11:51 AM:

David Friedman nailed half of it.

The other: The constantly published ideal of the female body, far in excess of the exposure males get. The contrast between today's ideal and that of, say, a hundred years ago, tells you it's a transient thing.

I seem to recall a different study from years ago that said women were even more critical/refined/similar (?) in critiquing female bodies than were men.

Hyperpotamus said at June 30, 2009 1:38 PM:

Charlie - you don't suggest any mechanism by which the "constantly published ideal of the female body" would produce the effect reported in the paper this post is about. And your account is even less persuasive given the fact that the same sex difference was found whether men and women were responding to photos of males or men and women were responding to photos of females (see my comment above).

David Friedman's comment is mystifying to me: "since women's input to reproduction is largely biological..." - what does that mean? A man's input isn't "biological?" And the finding this post is about is not that physical appearance is more relevant to a man than to a woman in choosing a mate, but rather that men agree more with other men than women agree with other women on who is "hot." The two ideas might be related but they are not the same thing.

el polacko said at June 30, 2009 8:35 PM:

if the straight women had been shown pictures of the straight men's wallets, there would have been much more agreement in that group. straight women are not really physically attracted to the male body. they are more interested in what they can get out of a relationship.

clayton said at July 1, 2009 7:55 AM:

El polacko.... when was the last time you got laid? Ladies like men who are in shape and strong, thats what they find attractive. "thin and Muscular"

women go through phases, when young they want the tough strong guy, then when they have kids they want financial stability and security, and then backto the strong guy again.

Get off your ass, find an RKC certified kettlebell instructor, burn off that computer and coke generated flab , loosen up your hip flexors and then start taking Muay Thai, Pekiti Tirsia Jeet Kun Do or something to make yourself somewhat manly. Man up already.

Loyola said at July 1, 2009 3:31 PM:

I saw a study on TV where they asked women to rate photos of men for sexual attractiveness. Then they showed the same photos (to different women) but with a note on the photo about the guy's job or income. The women's ratings of sexual attractiveness changed dramatically! How can that be? To a man, a beautiful poor woman is just as attractive as a beautiful rich one. It's not about money, it's about physical attractiveness. But not for women. For women, a man's income and status are more sexually attractive than looks. So I agree with David Friedman's comment.

Straight Woman said at November 26, 2010 7:29 PM:

straight women are not really physically attracted to the male body.


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