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Effects of sexual dimorphism on facial attractiveness

Abstract

Testosterone-dependent secondary sexual characteristics in males may signal immunological competence1 and are sexually selected for in several species2,3. In humans, oestrogen-dependent characteristics of the female body correlate with health and reproductive fitness and are found attractive4,5,6. Enhancing the sexual dimorphism of human faces should raise attractiveness by enhancing sex-hormone-related cues to youth and fertility in females5,7,8,9,10,11, and to dominance and immunocompetence in males5,12,13. Here we report the results of asking subjects to choose the most attractive faces from continua that enhanced or diminished differences between the average shape of female and male faces. As predicted, subjects preferred feminized to average shapes of a female face. This preference applied across UK and Japanese populations but was stronger for within-population judgements, which indicates that attractiveness cues are learned. Subjects preferred feminized to average or masculinized shapes of a male face. Enhancing masculine facial characteristics increased both perceived dominance and negative attributions (for example, coldness or dishonesty) relevant to relationships and paternal investment. These results indicate a selection pressure that limits sexual dimorphism and encourages neoteny in humans.

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Figure 1: Composite ‘average’ facial images.
Figure 2: Facial images of Caucasian and Japanese females and males that were ‘feminized’ and ‘masculinized’ 50% in shape.
Figure 3: The effect of feminization of face shape on judgements of female and male attractiveness.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by Unilever Research and the ESRC. We thank A. Whiten, R. Byrne, R. Barton, J. Lycett, S. Reicher, D. Carey, M. Ridley, J. Graves and D. Symons for comments.

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Correspondence to D. I. Perrett.

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Perrett, D., Lee, K., Penton-Voak, I. et al. Effects of sexual dimorphism on facial attractiveness. Nature 394, 884–887 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/29772

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