Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Now Women Love Feminine Faces on Men!

What do women want? It's not only Freud who had trouble with that. Evolutionary psychologists cannot make up their minds, either. Jennifer linked to a new write-up in the UK Daily Male Mail about a study which found that in one of those glare-at-computer-simulated-faces-and-decide-which-to-mate-with women (presumably heterosexual women) went for men with "feminine" features:
Men with feminine faces will be luckier in love as more women are attracted to them than masculine men, according to a new study.
Most women prefer men with more feminine shaped faces and darker skin, according the research by psychologists at New York and Princeton universities.
But the investigation found that men typically also want women’s faces to be feminine with plump lips and wide eyes.

Two groups of men and women were shown a selection of thousands of computer-generated faces of the opposite sex to rate, which had been manipulated to look either more masculine or feminine.

The computer model tested 50 dimensions of facial features, including nose size, plumpness of lips and facial colouring.
The scientists found that more men want women’s faces to have a feminine shape, while women want men’s faces to have a feminine shape, but darker skin.

The first comment to the story tells us that this is not true when women are ovulating! Then they wish to mate with men with cracker jaws and bushy ear hair.

Just kidding about the jaw and the ear hair. What at least one study argues is that women pick more masculine faces as attractive when they are ovulating, though the rest of their cycles they go for feminine-faced guys.

It would seem that defining feminine and masculine features in isolation from everything else is rather tricky. For instance, are plump lips feminine everywhere on earth? Don't men have wide eyes? And to the extent that we can define masculine and feminine features in a laboratory setting, how does this translate to reality when most people's faces might belong somewhere along the dimension from one extreme characterization to the other, or where a person might have "feminine" eyes and a "masculine" mouth or the other way round?

Also, what if studies like these end up slipping a bit and in fact measure something else than femininity/masculinity of features? Youth, for instance? Youth sounds like a pretty good candidate for a different explanation of those findings, assuming that the studies were properly done, because young faces share quite a few so-called "feminine" characteristics.
This post is about the Daily Male Mail write-up, not about the initial study which I have not seen. It's the popularizations that will turn up at cocktail parties or at the bars and pubs, not people who have read the studies and all the relevant literature, and that's why I write about the former.