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Feminine Men More Attractive Than Previously Believed

Update Date: Sep 23, 2014 06:14 PM EDT

Feminine-looking men are more attractive than previously believed.

New research challenges the theory that women, especially those living in poor and disease-ridden areas, are hardwired to prefer masculine male faces that indicate higher levels of testosterone production.

Lead researcher Lawrence S. Sugiyama, an anthropologist at the University of Oregon, analyzed the mate preferences of 962 adults from 12 populations living in various economic systems in 10 nations.

Researchers found that female mate preferences in market economies located in countries like United Kingdom, Canada and China are most likely to support the theory that women prefer more masculine faces.

"In large-scale societies like ours we encounter many unfamiliar people, so using appearance to infer personality traits can help cope with the overwhelming amount of social information. For instance, in all cultures tested, high testosterone faces were judged to be more aggressive, and this is useful information when encountering strangers," Sugiyama said in a university release.

"It's not the case that women have a universal preference for high testosterone faces, and it's not the case that such a preference is greater in a high-pathogen environment," Sugiyama added.

"And the opposite is also the case. Men don't uniformly appear to have a preference for more feminine faces, at least within the ranges of cultures shown in this study. In cultures tied to pastoralism, agriculture, foraging, fishing and horticulture, not so much," researchers wrote in the study.

For instance, women of rural Ecuador's Shuar population prefer men with more feminine faces. Researchers noted that the Shuar had a long history of warfare in Ecuador, and the modern population lives off of a mixed economy based on horticulture, hunting, foraging and small-scale agro-pastoralism.

In the study, Shuar women were shown culturally appropriate facial representations of potential opposite-sex mates and asked which one they would prefer.  The findings revealed that Shuar women did not like men with faces that indicated high testosterone levels.

"Shuar women preferred slightly less testosterone-looking faces," Sugiyama said, explaining this could be because Shuar women have grown tired of years of warfare and would prefer mates who would be less likely to participate and encourage their children to engage in violent behaviors.

Researchers said the study involved students and Cree populations in Canada, students and urban residents in two Chinese cities, the Tuvans in Russia, students in the United Kingdom, the Kadazan-Dusun in Malaysia, villagers in Fiji, the Miskitu in Nicaragua, the Tchimba in Namibia and the Aka in the Central African Republic.

"Performance by the different populations wasn't chance," Sugiyama added. "For each society there was a pattern. There were significant preferences in each culture. Market economies do play a part, but something more was going on.

"I think the real message of this study is that we in this field need to stop and rethink how we have been thinking about these things," he concluded. "Maybe the idea of infectious disease -- the presence of pathogens -- isn't the main driving factor. The underlying adaptations are likely to track other ecological considerations and local cultural factors that we don't have data on and may eventually be very important in understanding attractiveness."

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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