Just kidding! Science still can't figure it out.
Scottish and Welsh scientists are flummoxed by the seemingly unanswerable question: what do women really want?
In Wales, Dr. Robert Brooks has analyzed existing data that found that women from less healthy countries prefer hooking up with more virile, masculine looking men and concluded that what women want from partners is not the robust genes to overcome sickness and pestilence, but rather a big strong masculine looking guy to protect them from the violence that surrounds them. What women want is a man who can best provide for them in their respective environments.
Brooks also concluded that inequality and violence against women also led women to prefer Fabioesque mugs. Reports The Economist,
Since violent competition for resources is more pronounced in unequal societies, Dr Brooks predicted that women would value masculinity more highly in countries with a higher Gini coefficient, which is a measure of income inequality. And indeed, he found that this was better than a country's health statistics at predicting the relative attractiveness of hunky faces.
Dr. Brooks then attempted to find a correlation between the overall level of violence in a society and a heterosexual woman's preference for more masculine features, but he found that countries with high levels of inequality between the sexes also tend to be the most violent, the sickest, and the poorest. Science seemed stumped for the time being.
But, wait! Scottish scientist Dr. Lisa DeBruine to the rescue! She attempted to once and for all link preference for masculine features with aversion to sickness by asking participants to rate15 male and female faces, each tweaked to display more "masculine" or "feminine" features. And then the fun started.
Next, the participants were shown another set of images, depicting objects that elicit varying degrees of disgust, such as a white cloth either stained with what looked like a bodily fluid, or a less revolting blue dye. Disgust is widely assumed to be another adaptation, one that warns humans to stay well away from places where germs and other pathogens may be lurking. So, according to Dr DeBruine's hypothesis, people shown the more disgusting pictures ought to respond with an increased preference for masculine lads and feminine lasses, and for the more symmetrical countenances.
That is precisely what happened when they were asked to rate the same set of faces one more time. But it only worked with the opposite sex; the revolting images failed to alter what either men or women found attractive about their own sex. This means sexual selection, not other evolutionary mechanisms, is probably at work.
Masculine features, then, are preferred in the face of sickness because their genes are more likely to produce offspring that are resistant to disease. Both teams of scientists admit that more work needs to be done before we can once and for all decide what we fickle ladyfolk like in our men.
While knowing what women want may not be the most useful scientific quest, knowing that women in wealthier countries prefer less virile, masculine men goes a long way in demystifying the inexplicable sexual success of the male hipster.
Sexual Selection: Hunkier Than Thou [The Economist]
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