11 June 2021

What’s Attractive To You?

Welcome back. This should stir your mind: What do people find attractive in a potential mate? Apparently, there’s ongoing debate in the field of evolutionary mate choice psychology regarding how similar or different male and female preferences are across age.

What’s in that person’s magnet that attracts you (graphic from leadg2.thecenterforsalesstrategy.com/blog/5-characteristics-of-a-landing-page-that-converts)?

A recently published study by a team of researchers affiliated with Australia’s Queensland University of Technology and University of New South Wales and Switzerland’s Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts joined that debate, investigating competing evolutionary theories.

The researchers used data from the national online Australian Sex Survey of 2016, analyzing the responses of 7,325 Australian participants, ages 18 to 65.

Rating Attraction Characteristics

Participant responses were to the same basic question asked about nine characteristics associated with attraction--age, attractiveness, physical build/features, intelligence, education, income, trust, openness and emotional connection: To what extent do you find a person’s [specific characteristic] influences how sexually attractive you find them? The responses were ratings from 0, not important, to 100, extremely important.

The researchers grouped the nine characteristics into three categories commonly associated with sexual attraction: aesthetics (age, attractiveness and physical build/features), resources (intelligence, education and income) and personality (trust, openness and emotional connection).

Nine characteristics and three categories of attraction (developed from journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0250151).
They found the pattern of responses regarding the nine characteristics were similar for both genders. The three personality characteristics, physical build and attractiveness were rated quite high in importance; age, intelligence and education were rated more evenly; and income was rated quite low.

But there were significant gender differences on the 100-point scale for many characteristics. Most notably, females rated age, education, intelligence, income, trust and emotional connection from 9 to 14 points higher in importance than did males.

Relative Importance of Characteristics
In addition to the absolute or raw ratings of the nine characteristics, the researchers also standardized the responses to gauge the relative importance of the nine characteristics for each participant. (Calculate the average value of the nine responses and the standard deviation, then subtract the value of each characteristic from this average and divide by the standard deviation.) The standardized values are essentially the importance of one characteristic relative to the average importance of all nine characteristics.

Analysis of the relative importance of characteristics identified subtle and not-so subtle differences. For example:

Males regarded attractiveness and physical build as the most important aesthetic characteristics, rating them higher than all other characteristics. Females regarded age as the most important aesthetic characteristic and rated attractiveness and physical build somewhat above their average rating.

Both genders regarded income as the least important characteristic for sexual attraction, with no significant gender difference.

Females gave a higher absolute rating to openness than did males; however, males actually regarded the relative importance of openness slightly higher than did females.

The Effect of Respondents’ Age
The researchers conducted a series of statistical analyses (regression) to explore the effect of respondents’ age on preferences. For aesthetics, they found males had a consistently higher preference, though it decreased with age. The gender difference was opposite for resources and personality, with females exhibiting a stronger relative preference at most ages.

Gender differences in relative importance of aesthetic, resource and personality characteristics of attraction across age. Graph displays males (M) having higher regard as values above 0 and females (F) having higher regard as values below 0 (modified from journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0250151).
Example observations for individual characteristics were:
- females’ higher regard for age shows little change across age.
- males’ higher regard for physical build was maximum when younger than 30s, and for attractiveness, from mid-20s to low 50s.
- females’ higher regard for education was lowest from mid-20s to 40, while that for intelligence was maximum from mid-20s to mid-50s.
- males’ higher regard for openness and trust tended to increase with age, while females’ higher regard for emotional connection varied little with age.

Wrap Up
Should you wish to delve into the field evolutionary mate choice, the researchers note that many of the study results are consistent with theories of selection pressure and that they align with theories of parental investment, the gender similarities hypothesis and mutual mate choice.

They conclude that the broader discipline still contains considerable scope for further inquiry toward a unified theory, particularly when exploring gender differences across age.

Thanks for stopping by.

Study of gender attraction across age in PLOS ONE journal: journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0250151
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-05/quot-bsb051721.php
Evolutionary psychology: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology

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