Physical attraction is a touchy subject at the best of times but it’s safe to assume that most of us would love a partner that is physically attractive. Unfortunately the world doesn’t work that way and the chances of you (us) hooking up with a Scarlett Johansson are near-zero. The answer? We compromise by choosing a mate that possesses some but not all of the traits we’re most attracted to.
It’s an interesting psychological process which American researchers wanted to take a closer look at, so they devised a study which analysed how humans trade one characteristic for another in the game of love. What they discovered about men was interesting.
Men who were given the chance to ‘design’ their perfect partner for a long term relationship overwhelmingly chose an attractive face over an attractive body. Not surprisingly, men who designed their partner for a short term fling chose a hot body over an attractive face. That latter result however was based on a ‘point budget’ system.
The point budget system devised by Carin Perilloux of Southwestern University in Texas and Jaime Cloud of Western Oregon University sees a limited number of points allocated to the 250 male and female participants. These men and women were tasked with imagining they were single before being given the chance to design their ideal partner of the opposite sex. Each volunteer was presented with a list of physical traits of which half were facial (eyes, nose, hair, complexion, smile) and the other half body-related (height, muscle, breast size, chest size, waist size, hip size). Participants were then asked to give each of these traits a rating from 0 to 10 depending on what they valued most. Giving a full 10 score for every trait was impossible as there were only limited points available to each participant – a budget – meaning they had to compromise in their ratings and prioritise their preferences.
Whether it’s a short term or long term relationship, male volunteers were found to prioritise an attractive face over an attractive body. The only scenario in which the body trumped the face was when male participants allocated with a smaller budget of points were asked to design the perfect partner for a short term fling. In other words men with more points to work with still chose an attractive face even for short term relationships.
The researchers believe that this behaviour in men seeking long term relationships reflects how we subconsciously judge a female’s long term reproductive potential. More specifically, a female’s long term reproductive potential could be better communicated through facial traits which includes complexion and ageing cues like wrinkles when compared to bodily traits. This, the researchers claim, is why men prefer a more facially attractive female for long term relationships.
Whilst psychologists have been aware of this for a while, it’s the first time a study has revealed a man’s competitiveness in a mating market which allows for limited preferences.
And women? They were found to be less judgemental according to the evolutionary history of humans. “Women have had less call to attend to cues to a man’s fertility,” the report from Psychology Today says.
“There is also little reason to suspect that a man’s future or current fertility is better advertised by his facial or bodily traits. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that women’s preferences don’t vary with relationship type or budget.”
The real question is: Does this study reflect your preference on the perfect long term partner?