26 June 2009

Beauty in the eye of the beholder? Only for women

by Kate Melville

Hot or not? Men agree on the answer but women don't. So says a new study from Wake Forest University psychologists that found there is much more consensus among men about whom they find attractive than there is among women.

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

Reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study involved more than 4,000 participants who rated photographs of men and women (aged 18-25) for attractiveness on a 10-point scale. The raters ranged in age from 18 to more than 70.

Before the participants began rating the pictures, the research team rated them for how seductive, confident, thin, sensitive, stylish, curvaceous (women), muscular (men), traditional, masculine/feminine, classy, well-groomed, or upbeat the people looked. Wood said that 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.

"These differences have implications for the different experiences and strategies that could be expected for men and women in the dating marketplace," noted Wood. For example, women may encounter less competition from other women for the men they find attractive, he says. And men may need to invest more time and energy in attracting and then guarding their mates from other potential suitors, given that the mates they judge attractive are likely to be found attractive by many other men.

Wood believes the study results have implications for eating disorders and how expectations regarding attractiveness affect behavior. "The study helps explain why women experience stronger norms than men to obtain or maintain certain physical characteristics," he said. "Women who are trying to impress men are likely to be found much more attractive if they meet certain physical standards, and much less if they don't."

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Source: Wake Forest University