A Scottish university study of male and female preferences for facial characteristics of the opposite sex has found that although men are attracted to women with the most feminine features, women also find femininity in men appealing.
The research could explain the female fascination for Hollywood actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, whose looks are more cute than brute.
Scientists from the University of St Andrews believe the results reveal a deep-rooted biological mechanism for choosing the best mate, with men preferring women who are most capable of bearing children and women choosing men who would make good fathers.
The scientists used computers to enhance the effects that female and male hormones produce on a face. Oestrogen, the female hormone, enhances a face's feminine shape whereas testosterone, the male hormone, causes masculinised features, notably a prominent jaw and heavy brows.
Men and women in Scotland, South Africa and Japan were asked to judge the attractiveness of a panel of male and female faces. Dr David Perrett, the leader of the research team, expected to find that men would prefer the most feminised female face and women would like the most masculinised male face as this would suggest the highest levels of sex hormones in either sex.
"From a biological perspective, high levels of sex hormones should make faces more attractive. This is because testosterone in men is related to strength and resistance to disease, and oestrogen in women is related to health and fertility," Dr Perrett said.
Although this was true for female faces, the scientists found that the most attractive male face was one that had retained some feminine features. "Making faces more masculinised in shape made the owners look more dominant, but it also made them look colder and more dishonest," he said.
"By contrast, giving faces a more feminine shape made both males and females look kinder, more trustworthy, and even better parents."
The findings, published in Nature, support the view that human facial characteristics have evolved to provide important cues about a person's reproductive potential. Women who apply cosmetics to make their eyebrows thinner and more arched, or make their lips fuller are increasing their attractiveness by making these features less masculine.
"Our finding of a preference for a feminised face shape in females fits predictions from evolutionary theory. The preference may have evolved because it offers an advantage in terms of reproductive success," the scientists said.
In men, however, a highly masculinised face was considered less attractive by women because it appeared less emotional, colder and less honest and co-operative.
Although high levels of testosterone in men are linked with a good immune system and overall strength, they are also linked with "more troubled relationships, with increased rates of infidelity, violence and divorce", said the researchers.
As the female preferences for feminised men were the same for all countries, the researchers believe the results indicate a universal female preference for men with feminine features.Reuse content