Women who fear men could be a danger to their children prefer less masculine faces, according to research from the University of St Andrews.
The study by scientists at the university’s school of psychology, is the first to find that women’s face preferences are influenced by experiences and perceptions of violence.
Researchers found that the more women agree with the statement “men are dangerous to their children”, the more they preferred feminine male partners.
The study, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, found the fear of men being harmful to their children was a greater factor in how women chose men, than education and health.
Bogota, the Columbian capital, was chosen as the test site because it is one of the most violent nations in the world - its homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants was 30.8 compared to 1.0 in the UK.
The study measured the preferences of men and women from Bogota, and surrounding small towns and also asked them several questions related to health, access to media, education, and exposure to violence.
Martha Lucia Borras-Guevara, who led the research, said: “We found that men and women who strongly believed that men are dangerous to their children preferred less masculine male faces, although this effect was only significant for women.”
“We might have only found a significant effect for women’s preferences since women, relative to men, invest more time and energy in their offspring, hence there would be a strong selective pressure to recognise any facial cues in men that relate to a violent or dangerous disposition.”
Previous studies have suggested masculine men may be effective protectors for women when they feel at risk.
However, these studies have ignored the fact that when women prefer a more masculine man, they may also put themselves at risk of increased antagonistic behaviours in the context of a romantic relationship.
Dr Carlota Batres said: “More masculine men have been found to be more aggressive and therefore, in places where partner violence is high, women would benefit from preferring more feminine male partners.”
Professor David Perrett, who runs the Perception Lab, said: “These findings hint at different effects of domestic violence and/or violence outside the home on masculinity preferences. Moreover, these preferences may reflect women’s strategy to avoid male violence, demonstrating that exposure to violence influences who we find attractive.”