Hormones 'make women prettier'
BEAUTY is not just skin deep, but is inextricably linked to a woman's fertility and health, according to new research into attractiveness.
Scientists who showed men the faces of young women found that women with higher levels of oestrogen were rated as more attractive, healthy and feminine-looking than those with lower levels. The research suggests a deep-rooted evolutionary link between beauty and reproductive fitness which has helped men to identify mates who will bear them large numbers of offspring.
Psychologist Miriam Law Smith, who led the team of psychologists at St Andrew University's Perception Lab, said: "The relationships between oestrogen and appearance in natural images of faces found here are important because they are the first evidence for a link between facial femininity and oestrogen that has previously been assumed in facial attractiveness research.
"The associations of oestrogen with attractiveness and health ratings also provide evidence that markers of oestrogen are consistently seen as attractive and healthy. These detectable cues to reproductive hormones may have shaped male preferences, and could therefore provide an adaptive explanation for the cross-cultural tendency for feminine faces to be found most attractive."
Ms Law Smith added: "Women are effectively advertising their general fertility with their faces. Our findings could explain why men universally seem to prefer feminine women's faces.
"In evolutionary terms, it makes sense for men to favour feminine fertile women, those that did would have had more babies."
The research is the latest in a series of experiments conducted by researchers at St Andrews which have shed new light on attraction. The team has discovered that, contrary to popular myth, people are not attracted to partners with similar facial features.
When shown pairs of pictures, people chose the face of a stranger as the most sexually attractive. However, people looking at faces that looked similar to them identified them as more trustworthy.
In fact, men and women found people of the opposite sex who looked like them physically unattractive, which scientists said was a subconscious attempt to avoid the taboo of incest. Researchers describe this as instinctive "inbreeding avoidance" which uses facial resemblance as a cue to identifying potential family members.
Dr Nick Neave, Evolutionary Psychologist at Northumbria University, said that looking at faces is a good indicator of male sexual hormone testosterone and oestrogen levels.
"You only have to compare the faces of Arnie and Miss World. A feminine face is rounder with gentle features, big eyes, small nose and big lips. While women invest more in their partner, men really just want someone young and pretty who is fertile.
"After the menopause, women's faces change as oestrogen levels drop and they become more masculine."
Dr Ben Jones, who runs the Face Laboratory at Aberdeen University, said: "When rating the attractiveness of female faces, people tend to a kind of evolutionary agreement.
"Oestrogen is an indicator of fertility and overall health. Attractive women may be more medically healthy and able to produce children. Women's faces even change according to different times of their menstrual cycle and are often thought most attractive when at their most fertile."
Dr Jones continued: "Men from all cultures and all backgrounds find similar faces attractive. They are drawn to a babyish face and big baby-like eyes with arched eyebrows which seem consistent with high oestrogen levels.
"Attractive people with attractive faces are the sort of people who would make good mates so there is an evolutionary advantage to this choice.
"Women are less uniform in their tastes."
But author Jilly Cooper said yesterday: "It sounds like another silly theory. Sex appeal is about scent and charisma. You don't know if you want to go to bed with someone until you kiss them.
"Barbara Streisand has got sex appeal and she hasn't got a little nose or big eyes."
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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