Are you looking for love or just a fling? According to science, your romantic intentions are written all over your face.
A British study of 700 heterosexual volunteers found that adults can discern a potential mate’s attitude toward sexual relationships just by looking at his or her facial features. Male participants showed a preference for women whose features suggested openness to short-term sexual relationships, while women generally preferred men whose faces hinted at suitability for a long-term relationship.
“Lots of previous studies have shown that people can judge a lot about a person from their face, including things like health and even some personality traits like introversion,” said study co-author Dr. Ben Jones in a prepared statement, “but this really is the first study to show that people are also sensitive to subtle facial signals about the type of romantic relationships that others might enjoy.”
The study participants examined photographs of faces of members of the opposite sex, and were asked to judge their attractiveness and sexual attitudes. Their judgments were then compared with the actual attitudes and behaviours of the people in the photos. Out of 153 volunteers in the first study sample, 72 percent correctly identified sexual attitudes from images more than 50 percent of the time.
Men with large noses, square jaws, and small eyes are signalling to the world that they prefer short-term relationships, says the research. This combination of facial features is associated with higher perceived masculinity, a trait women tend to avoid when they’re looking for long-term partners.
Men, on the other hand, have a tendency to go for women who look like they might prefer a short-term relationship or casual sex. Larger lips and wide eyes are two of the features associated with a preference for short-term relationships in women.
“Our results suggest that although some people can judge the sexual strategy of others simply be looking at their face, people are not always sure about their judgments, possibly because the cues are very subtle. Yet preferences for different types of faces were actually quite strong,” study author Dr. Lynda Boothroyd said in a statement.
Interestingly, the impulse to make assessments based on facial features appears regardless of the kind of relationship men and women are seeking. A man who says he’s ready for a relationship will still tend to choose a mate who appears open to a short-term fling.
Of course, though faces may provide cues to sexual attitudes, study co-author David Perrett cautioned men not to presume any kind of relationship is wanted based on appearance alone. It’s bad manners. And besides, he added, “most women found promiscuous-looking guys unattractive for both short and long-term relationships.”