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Male facial attractiveness: evidence for hormone-mediated adaptive design

Victor S. Johnston (a), Rebecca Hagel (a), Melissa Franklin (b), Bernhard Fink (c) and Karl Grammer (c)

(a) Department of Psychology, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA
(b) University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA
(c) Ludwig-Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology Vienna, Austria

Experimenters examining male facial attractiveness have concluded that the attractive male face is (1) an average male face, (2) a masculinized male face, or (3) a feminized male face. Others have proposed that symmetry, hormone markers, and the menstrual phase of the observer are important variables that influence male attractiveness.


This study was designed to resolve these issues by examining the facial preferences of 42 female volunteers at two different phases of their menstrual cycle. Preferences were measured using a 40-s QuickTime movie (1200 frames) that was designed to systematically modify a facial image from an extreme male to an extreme female configuration.


The results indicate that females exhibit (1) a preference for a male face on the masculine side of average, (2) a shift toward a more masculine male face preference during the high-risk phase of their menstrual cycle, and (3) no shift in other facial preferences. An examination of individual differences revealed that women who scored low on a "masculinity" test (1) showed a larger menstrual shift, (2) had lower self-esteem, and (3) differed in their choice of male faces for dominance and short-term mates.


The results are interpreted as support for a hormonal theory of facial attractiveness whereby perceived beauty depends on an interaction between displayed hormone markers and the hormonal state of the viewer.


Figure 1: Schematic diagram of the steps used to produce the facial morph movie. 1. Simultaneous morphs produce average male and female faces. 2. Faceprints program produces features and proportions of masculine and feminine faces. 3. Carricatures produce extreme male and extreme female faces. 4. Three morphs produce movie clips that are combined into a single movie (Images by V. Johnston & B. Fink, Copyright: Elsevier Science).


The original paper has appeared in Evolution and Human Behavior, 22(4), 251-267 (2001).



Selected references & further reading:


Barrett, J. C. & Marshall, J. (1969). The risk of conception on different days of the menstrual cycle. Population Studies, 23, 455-461.


Cashdan, E. (1996). Women's mating strategies. Evolutionary Anthropology, 5(4), 134-143.


Cunningham, M.R., Barbee, A. P., & Pike, C. L. (1990). What do women want? Facialmetric assessment of multiple motives in the perception of male facial physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(1), 61-72.


Gangestad, S. W., Thornhill, R., & Yeo, R. A. (1994). Facial attractiveness, developmental stability, and fluctuating asymmetry. Ethology and Sociobiology, 15, 73-85.


Grammer, K. & Thornhill, R. (1994). Human (Homo sapiens) facial attractiveness and sexual selection: The role of symmetry and averageness. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 108, 3, 233-242.


Johnston, V. S. (1999). Why we feel: The science of human emotions. Perseus Press: Reading, Mass.


Møller, A. P. & Thornhill, R. (1997). Bilateral symmetry and sexual selection : a meta-analysis. American Naturalist, 151, 174-192.


Penton-Voak, I. S., Perrett, D. J. ,Castles, D. L., Kobayashi, T., Burt, D. M., Murray, L. K., and Minamisawa, R. (1999). Menstrual cycle alters face preference. Nature, 399, 741-742. BBC News on Women's Choice of Men and Menstrual Cycle


Thornhill, R. & Gangestad, S.W. (1999). Facial attractiveness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3(12), 452-460.


Thornhill, R. & Grammer, K. (1999). The body and face of woman: One ornament that signals quality? Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 105-120.



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