We know that looks aren’t everything when it comes to long-lasting, fulfilling love, but there’s no point in denying that physical attraction plays a large part in bringing couples together in the first place. But when considering what makes someone hot, is it more about face or body? Science has the answer.
What’s more important? Researchers Carin Perilloux of Southwestern University in Texas and Jaime Cloud of Western Oregon University wanted to find out why we like what we like about the people we like. (Whew, that’s a mouthful.) To find out, they surveyed 250 men and women by having them imagine that they were single and picking out their ideal partners. Note that all participants were straight and therefore imagining opposite-sex partners.
Rating attractive qualities isn’t easy. The participants in the experiment were given a long list of attributes that typically make someone attractive, from facial traits like eyes, hair, complexion, and smile to body composition traits like height, waist size, chest size, etc. From there, participants could ramp up each individual quality on levels ranging from 0 to 10 to create their ideal partner. For instance, if someone turned the complexion trait up to 10, that person would basically have the skin of a goddess.
You can’t have it all. In order to keep the participants from basically turning every quality to 10 and basically creating the most physically perfect specimen on earth, Perilloux and Cloud were given a limited number of “points” to spend. Some got 70, others got 30, but they could only crank their dials until they’d used up their allotted points, thereby making them pick and choose which qualities mattered more.
Guys’ preferences change depending on what they want. The researchers found that when guys were designing a long-term partner, they cared more about a woman’s facial features than her body. However, when they were creating a short-term fling, they were way more interested in bodily traits (save for those men with larger point budgets, who still went for facial features).
Fertility may come into play. For men prioritizing facial features in long-term partners, the researchers believe this may have something to do with fertility, in particular a woman’s facial features giving away her relative levels of it. Basically, if a woman has many wrinkles and appears older, she’s less likely to be in ideal child-bearing range and while not a conscious decision, this could play into men’s preferences.
Women are pretty consistent in what they’re looking for. The women in the study predominantly prioritized facial features whether they had a high or low point budget and whether or not they were creating long-term partners or short-term flings. In other words, that’s good news for dudes with dad bods.