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Urban Living Shapes Human Sexual Preferences

Update Date: Oct 20, 2014 05:55 PM EDT

Human sexual preference might be molded by city living, a new study suggests.

It's generally believed that human sexual preference evolved through a long process of social and sexual selection. However, new research reveals that the preference for masculine men and feminine women developed significantly more recently than previously thought.

Researchers from Brunel University in London surveyed 12 populations from around the world.  After analyzing the sexual preferences in societies, ranging from primitive to very modern, researchers found that highly feminine women and highly masculine men were attractive only in the most industrialized and urbanized environments.

"We digitally morphed masculine and feminine faces from photographs of people to find out what choices people from small-scale societies made," lead researcher Andrew Clark, a professor at the Brunel University London, said in a news release.

"We found that they didn't place the same emphasis on 'sex typicality', that is, on highly feminine women and highly masculine men. In fact, they often favored the neutral face, and sometimes the least 'sex-typical' one," Clark added.

The latest study involved 962 participants who were shown sets of three composite and digitally manipulated photographs of someone from the opposite sex. Participants were then asked to indicate that face that they deemed the most attractive.

"This data challenges the theory that exaggerated sex-specific traits were important for social and sexual selection in ancestral environments," added Clark. "Preferences for sex typical faces are a novel phenomenon of modern environments. It's probably not a consistent thread in human history."

The study "Human preferences for sexually dimorphic faces may be evolutionarily novel," is published in the journal in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.  

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