In guys, women pick healthy over manly

U. NOTTINGHAM (UK) — Having a healthy skin color is more important in determining how attractive a man is to women than how manly he looks.

Researchers in the Face Perception Group at University of Nottingham took photographs of 34 Caucasian and 41 black African men’s faces in carefully controlled conditions and measured the skin color of the faces.

The team found that in both the African and Caucasian populations the attractiveness ratings given by the women was closely related to the amount of “golden” color in the skin. Their findings have been published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.


The research, led by Dr. Ian Stephen, used a new computer technique called Geometric Morphometric Methods to measure mathematically how masculine the faces are. “We used this technique to mathematically compare the shape of the men’s faces to a similar sample of women’s faces from the same populations,” says Stephen.

This technique gave each face a mathematically determined masculinity score—an independent measure of how typically male they are. Thirty African and 32 Caucasian women then rated how attractive each of the men in the photographs looked.

When we find a member of the opposite sex attractive, that is our brains telling us that person is an appropriate mate. In evolutionary terms, people who can identify healthy fertile mates will be more successful at leaving offspring.

“The attractive color in our face is affected by our health—especially by the amount of colorful antioxidant carotenoid pigments we get from fruit and vegetables in our diet,” says Stephen.

“These carotenoids are also thought to be good for our immune and reproductive systems, making us healthy and increasing our fertility. The masculinity of the face had no effect on the attractiveness of the face.

“Our study shows that being healthy may be the best way for men to look attractive. We know that you can achieve a more healthy looking skin color by eating more fruit and vegetables, so that would be a good start,” he says.

Women may need to be familiar with a particular population before they can detect these color cues. While the golden color was very important when women were rating faces of their own ethnic group, women don’t seem to care about skin color in other-ethnicity men.

This might be because the skin color of other groups is so unfamiliar that the women cannot detect these relatively subtle color differences.

The research was carried out in collaboration with investigators at University of Nottingham’s Malaysia campus, Bristol University, and Brunel University London.

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