Men Look for Good Bodies in Short-Term Mates, Pretty Faces in Long-Term Mates, Research Shows

Sept. 20, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — Men who are looking for short-term companionship are more interested in a woman's body than those looking for a long-term relationship, who focused on a woman's face, according to new research from psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

A woman's body generally provides cues about her state of fertility while her face gives insight into her long-term reproductive value, according to previous research. So the new findings suggest men seeking a short-term relationship have psychological adaptations to look for partners who are fertile and can produce offspring.

"Men's priorities shift depending on what they want in a mate, with facial features taking on more importance when a long-term relationship is the goal," says psychology graduate student Jaime Confer, who co-authored the research with graduate student Carin Perilloux and Professor David Buss. "Mating is central to the engine of natural selection. This research helps clarify people's preference."

Women showed no significant difference in their interest in faces or bodies when looking for short-term or long-term mates, according to the study published this month in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

Previous research has examined the qualities that make faces and bodies attractive, such as symmetry and waist-to-hip ratio. But this is the first study to experimentally analyze the relative importance of faces and bodies as whole components.

As part of the study, 375 college students were shown an image of another person, whose face and body was hidden, who was described as either a potential short-term or long-term mate. The participants had the option of looking at either head or body, but not both.

Twenty-five percent of men who were told to consider the mate as a long-term partner looked at their potential partner's body. In contrast, 51 percent of those who were told to consider her as a short-term partner chose to look her body.

Confer and her colleagues are considering follow-up research in which participants will be asked if they want to see the faces or bodies of potential rivals who may be stealing their mates. That could help reveal if men and women feel more threatened by a pretty face or a good body.

For more information, contact: Gary Susswein, Office of the President, 512-471-4945; Jaime Confer, 512-761-5757.

40 Comments to "Men Look for Good Bodies in Short-Term Mates, Pretty Faces in Long-Term Mates, Research Shows"

1.  Becky said on Sept. 22, 2010

This marks the first time I've ever read that a woman's face "gives insight into her long-term reproductive value." No explanation is given, but I'm wondering why this strikes me as vaguely offensive?

2.  Jason Shear said on Sept. 23, 2010

It would be useful to include a direct link to the relevant article when the primary point of a story (as in this case) is to report the results of new research.

3.  Candace said on Sept. 23, 2010

Intriguing. Looking forward to the results of the new study and possibly the same study regarding women's preferences.

4.  Sean said on Sept. 23, 2010

@ Becky - Yeah, don't worry, evolutionary psychology spits in the face of modern-day political correctness. I'm not a psych major or anything, but from what I've learned, it seems as if a symmetrical face is a signal of overall health. So perhaps a woman who has a symmetrical face now will be healthy in the long-run so that a guy can have many babies that will be cared for in the future.

5.  Rachel said on Sept. 23, 2010

It's offensive because women are inconsistently valued, or so says the article. But when is that news?

6.  Jen said on Sept. 24, 2010

What is somewhat disturbing is that someone is funding this research.

7.  Mark said on Sept. 24, 2010

How does a women's face give "insight" into her "reproductive value" and why isn't the body just as good of an indicator of "reproductive value." This doesn't sound remotely scientific. Don't bring in concepts like evolution without being able to back them up with data that isn't based on relative terms with hazy definitions.

8.  Deena Berg said on Sept. 24, 2010

I'm afraid this sounds like "duh" research to me too. Did they ask the men what their reasoning was? I may be old and jaded, but I bet it goes something like this, "she can hide her body under clothes if we stay married a long time and she lets herself go, but I can't put a bag over her face every day for the rest of her life. "

9.  Jacob said on Sept. 24, 2010

There's nothing offensive about these concepts, people. If you've ever taken a biology course, then you know that organisms instinctively look to select the mates with whom they can produce the most viable offspring.

Of course in today's society that isn't our main priority (consciously anyway), because we tend to look at the opposite sex as a partner for life, not just as a baby factory.
This study is referring to the animal, reproductive instincts within humans, not whether men actually value women as people. Of course they do.

Evolutionary psychology doesn't spit in the face of political correctness. You're just looking at it in the wrong context. In studies like this, people are looked at as one of many species in the animal kingdom, not as the dominant lifeform with its culture and its politics. It's just saying, from a biological standpoint, this is what we are genetically disposed to value in mates.

10.  Billy said on Sept. 24, 2010

@Candace: Did you miss the above quote from the SAME STUDY: "Women showed no significant difference in their interest in faces or bodies"?

Glad I could help.

11.  Guillermo Aldana said on Sept. 24, 2010


12.  Amy said on Sept. 25, 2010

Get over it. This is not offensive at all. All it is doing is delving into the natural instincts we as humans have. They are not trying to slight men or women in any way; they are researching human behavior, and if you don't like the results, aw well.

13.  Rebekah said on Sept. 25, 2010

I agree with Jen. It IS offensive that somebody is funding this research, especially because it is so clearly biased. Do people not realize that women very often are the ones who choose their partners? Even if those reasons are not physical, some research could be done on the psychological components of attraction...for example, on the personality traits of a potential partner.

14.  Jimbo said on Sept. 26, 2010

Everyone needs to tranquila here. Wouldn't you want a guy who valued your face more than your body? I'm pretty sure that's a lot more objectifying. And don't act like 1) women don't do the same thing to men or 2) physical attraction isn't important.

15.  Sean said on Sept. 26, 2010

Don't let emotions get in the way of scientific research. Just because the results may be offensive to some doesn't mean it's not worth knowing.

16.  Ryan said on Sept. 27, 2010

Why is that disturbing? Would you rather we not fund any research? How are we to learn what motivates behavior?

17.  Billy said on Sept. 27, 2010

@Candace: Perhaps you missed the statement in the above article: "Women showed no significant difference in their interest in faces or bodies when looking for short-term or long-term mates."

18.  Christy said on Sept. 27, 2010

Question: What if they say you have both? "You have a beautiful face and body." What would that mean?

19.  Sean said on Sept. 28, 2010

Of course this spits in the face of political correctness. As we've seen here, you can't report the conclusions of your evolutionary psychology study without offending people. You'll always come up with statements like "men prefer women with good bodies because it signals fertility, or women prefer well-off men so that they can provide for their offspring better." Try getting elected after saying something like that.

THE POINT IS that you can't let these notions of political correctness influence what researchers can discover about ourselves.

@ everyone else hating on this article - Obviously this isn't intended to have all their findings in it. It's basically just a human interest article that you might find in a newspaper. The researchers likely have reported their findings to a scientific journal. If you want your hard facts, take the time to sift through what probably amounts to 40+ pages of jargon. If you just want to know something interesting, which I suspect is all you wanted when you clicked this link, simply read this article.

20.  Brian said on Sept. 28, 2010

Correct me if I am wrong...The study shows that when asked what they seek in their short/long-term mate, they SAY body/face, but this study does not confirm that their choice is the actual criteria they use. Consciously they may say one thing when in reality they evaluate a mate based on something entirely different.

21.  jane said on Sept. 28, 2010

How do they account for the attraction between non-heterosexual people then?

22.  jane said on Sept. 28, 2010

Sean--it's offensive not because the results are politically incorrect, but because the study as a whole is biased in a way that reflects a sexist underlying ideology.

Also, the study doesn't really prove anything. We are never told what physical characteristics the men prefer, or their reactions to what they see once the halves of the picture are revealed. So who's to say this has ANYTHING to do with fertility? What are the signs of a "fertile" body (most of what evolutionary psych has so far theorized has been disproven years ago)? "Beauty" is a cultural construct; this may prove something about a very specific demographic (American male college students, probably mostly united by race, ethnicity and class as well), but it doesn't do much more than that.

23.  LORRAINE INGERSOLL said on Sept. 29, 2010

Men and long marriages are confirmed by "happiness"! If a man sees his wife is happy...that is what he comes home for. If she is not happy, he will lose interest. Lorraine

24.  Van said on Sept. 30, 2010

Why all the drama? No one ever said that the only criteria for men and women selecting mates is based on a decision tree of face or body. Obviously the mating psychology is substantially more sophisticated. Have you ever heard anyone choose a mate based only on face and body knowing that the person is a psycho or an axe murderer? Of course not. The research is simply implying that if a mating decision was based on only two criteria, which one, if any, has more influence and at what stage. Fundamental research is key to understanding human behavior. I applaud the researchers' effort to analyze another set of data in that goal.

25.  D Newcomb said on Sept. 30, 2010

What is meant by long-term productive value? Here is my take: Short term relationship = priority is sex. It is physical but impersonal. Long term relationship = interest in an intimate companion. A face - eyes, expression of emotions, etc. influence the connection one has with a person on more levels than just physical. A face gives you a glimpse into a person's soul or psyche, if you will. It is not just about beauty.

26.  Dave said on Sept. 30, 2010

Sexual data for homosexuals would be a statistical aberration, which does not further reproduction of the species.

27.  chrissy said on Sept. 30, 2010

@Deena Berg - Hahahahhahahahaha. That was a hilarious comment.

28.  John said on Sept. 30, 2010

If a man is picking a woman for a long term relationship he looks at the face to try and discern if there is intelligence. If he is looking for a woman for a short term sex relationship intelligence is less important than how healthy the woman is. Women are probably the same. "Attractiveness" is complicated. This test is simple, so results are crude.

29.  Barbara said on Sept. 30, 2010

Although I realize this is research, it seems as though a short-term relationship would not necessarily be concerned, from the male's vantage point, about whether the woman is fertile and healthy. Perhaps I am missing something?

30.  Joe H said on Sept. 30, 2010

Wow, really? Can I get some of this research money? I'll study the effects that beer has on a man's criteria of a woman's body and face. Oh yeah, I already know the answer - there's an inverse relationship. Duh!

31.  Felisa Grace said on Sept. 30, 2010

We're in the middle of the greatest economic recession since the 1920s and this is the best research the psychology department at UT could come up with for funding? What a great waste of dollars. Sad. And shallow.

32.  Stacey said on Sept. 30, 2010

A true "mate" is someone you are going to make a baby with, irrespective of the amount of time you are going to spend with them in or out of a relationship. Unless participants were told, "consider this person as someone with whom you want to have children" the simple fact that birth control exists skews the results from a true understanding of fertility and reproduction.

33.  Kathy said on Sept. 30, 2010

I'd be more interested in an article like this if it were rather they were intelligent, athletic or fun! Some men and some women...are just pigs. This is actually research?

34.  James Thornton said on Oct. 1, 2010

What's disturbing here is someone actually paid money for this dross. Let me guess...Taxpayer-funded?

35.  upali said on Oct. 1, 2010

Van and Newcomb, I am glad you guys have seen the research in the true academic spirit. Most people tend to get carried away without reading the article properly and analyzing the objective of the study. C'mon guys, this is a different perspective, not necessarily 100 percent, but has rationality. I will always go for a pretty face coupled with the emotional qualities of the mate. A Texas Ex from the beautiful island of Sri-Lanka

36.  Ken said on Oct. 3, 2010

So how does a woman become desirable when she's past the point of being fertile? Do I study how she holds a pencil?

37.  DJ Dodson said on Oct. 4, 2010

Mating rituals as a dessert menu? The questions asked in this research say a lot - about the research perspectives.

Cf, Researching "which of only two candies children might prefer while watching a TV show versus a movie" will never encourage "a 40 hour work week and a diet of cruciferous vegetables."

Cosmetics companies might be interested in this sort of thing. If the object is to choose the "candy coating" for deception, I am reminded of the cowbirds that lay their eggs in another species' nest for "free childcare." Buyer beware! DJ

38.  Guillermo.Aldana said on Oct. 4, 2010

There is absolutely nothing disturbing about research, folks. This is merely a summary of results. The fact that is was funded, well, I think you would be surprised at what gets funded out there. If the research helps us quantify what has been suspected regarding human behavior, then I see nothing wrong with that. If the research is biased toward anyone due to lack of integrity of the researchers, then we should all have a problem with that. Early on this century taxpayers funded research on how bats bounce off and receive sound back. Somewhere there was a Texan saying, "What?" Well, that research led to sonar, which UT Austin is now well known for through its Applied Research Laboratory. Maybe in time, this study can help us understand other parts of human behavior. Food for thought. Latin Elvis

39.  Guillermo.Aldana said on Oct. 4, 2010

@Lorraine: A lot of wisdom in your comment BTW.

40.  Richard said on Oct. 26, 2010

@Jane 22

Ugh. Tarzan comment Jane remark "because the study as a whole is biased in a way that reflects a sexist underlying ideology." Hoggedybosh.

Great! Let's choose not to study things merely because they don't please us. Feminist studies do not trump mother nature.

"Sexist underlying" is absolutely Freudian.

Though I have to agree, the importance of the study topic teeters somewhere between the trivial and the obvious...surely this was funded by an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant.