6 November 2009

Gay or straight, the rules of attraction don't change

by Kate Melville

A new study from a researcher at Harvard University finds that regardless of sexual orientation, men's brains are wired for attraction to sexually dimorphic faces - those with facial features that are most synonymous with their gender.

"Our work showed that gay men found highly masculine male faces to be significantly more attractive than feminine male faces. Also, the types of male faces that gay men found attractive generally did not mirror the types of faces that straight women found attractive on average," said researcher Aaron Glassenberg. "Men, gay or straight, prefer high sexual dimorphism in the faces of the sex that they are attracted to. Gay men and straight men did not agree on the types of male faces they considered attractive."

The study, appearing in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, is the first to examine the facial feature preferences of gay men and lesbian women. Women's preferences are more complex than men's, as indicated by prior research demonstrating that ovulation, contraceptive use, self-perceived attractiveness, and sex drive all affect face preference. In Glassenberg's study, straight women preferred more masculine-faced men than lesbian women, while lesbians preferred slightly more masculine female faces than straight women or men.

The experiment involved participants viewing images of faces that were digitally manipulated to be more masculine or feminine, and then indicating which face they considered more attractive. Sexually dimorphic features in male faces include a broad jaw, broad forehead, and more pronounced brow ridge. A sexually dimorphic female face has a more tapered chin, larger lips, and a narrower forehead.

Prior research has also shown that women prefer more masculine male faces when ovulating, indicating an evolutionary function for facial attraction. Men who have faces that are higher in sexual dimorphism (masculinity) have been shown to have better health and dominance but lower investment in offspring. Although it is difficult to make substantial evolutionary claims from this study, Glassenberg's work supports the idea that male attraction operates differently from female attraction, regardless of sexual orientation.

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Source: Harvard University