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Women’s perceptions of their attractiveness linked to preferences for male facial masculinity


Heterosexual women who consider themselves to be attractive tend view more masculine-looking male faces as more attractive, according to new research published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

“Previous work investigating whether more attractive women preferred more masculine men had reported mixed results, but had mostly tested small samples of women. In particular, studies assessing whether women rated by other people as being particularly attractive had tested very small numbers of women only,” said study author Ben Jones, a professor at the University of Strathclyde.

“We ran two large studies to examine whether women who considered themselves to be particularly attractive or who were rated by other people as being particularly attractive preferred more masculine men. We found that only women’s ratings of their own attractiveness predicted their preference for masculine men.”

For their new study, the researchers collected data from 454 heterosexual women who visited a lab and 8,972 heterosexual women who completed the study online. The participants were shown pairs of faces and asked to indicate which one was more attractive. To obscure the purpose of the study, the participants were also asked to assess various other facial traits.

An example of a feminized (left) face and masculinized (right) face used in the current study.

The participants who visited the lab were also photographed (without makeup), and a separate group of 16 men and 16 women rated their facial attractiveness. Participants who completed the study online, on the other hand, provided a rating of their own self-assessed attractiveness.

Jones and his colleagues found that women’s facial attractiveness, as rated by others, was not associated with their preferences for facial masculinity. But the researchers did find that women who rated themselves as more attractive were more likely to view more masculine male faces as more attractive.

“It appears to be women’s perceptions of their own attractiveness, rather than how attractive other people think they are, that is key to their masculinity preference,” Jones told PsyPost.

But like all research, the new study includes some caveats.

“We might see different results if we used other methods to assess women’s attractiveness (e.g. assessed the attractiveness of their behavior or bodies) or assessed masculinity preferences using images of men’s bodies or recordings of their voices. We also only tested straight women’s masculinity preferences. These results might not generalize to gay or bisexual women,” Jones explained.

“While it looks like women’s ratings of their own attractiveness do predict their masculinity preferences, we still don’t really know why. Previous researchers have suggested that women who think they are particularly attractive might consider themselves to be better placed to likely to attract masculine men as long-term partners. However, there have been no direct tests (yet) of this assumption.”

The study, “Do more attractive women show stronger preferences for male facial masculinity?“, was authored by Ciaran Docherty, Anthony J. Lee, Amanda C. Hahn, Lisa M. DeBruine, and Benedict C. Jones.



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