They say that beauty is only skin deep, but there’s no denying that those first impressions are important ones. Ever wonder what men are really noticing, and what they really, honestly find the most attractive? Fortunately, there have been at least a handful of studies that have tried to find out just what men (and women) find attractive in their prospective partners, and it turns out that sometimes, it’s so hardwired into us that we don’t even realize what we’re looking for… until we find it.
Blue eyes (but only sometimes)
In theory, blondes have more fun. And what’s more wholesome than a blue-eyed blonde? Brown-eyed girls shouldn’t despair, though, as a study from the University of Tromso in Norway suggests that when it comes to potential mates, it’s only blue-eyed men that show a preference for blue-eyed women.
The study is pretty fascinating stuff. It asked 443 individuals a series of questions based on the hair and eye color of their current and past partners. They also presented participants with a series of photos in which the models’ eyes had been manipulated to change color, while leaving the rest of their appearance the same. They found that while women and brown-eyed men showed no preference over selecting partners (or being attracted to) any particular eye color, they also found that blue-eyed men overwhelmingly chose (and were attracted to) blue-eyed women.
The study also suggests there’s a very practical reason for this, and it’s all down to genetics. If you think back to some of the earliest things you learned about genetics in junior high, it’s that blue eyes are recessive. The only way a child can have blue eyes is to be born to two blue-eyed parents, or to two people who each carry part of the recessive gene for blue eyes. When two blue-eyed parents have a brown-eyed child, there could be something fishy going on. Blue-eyed people don’t carry the genes for brown eyes (they’d have brown eyes themselves), so the reasoning goes that a blue-eyed man will be more attracted to a blue-eyed woman. The study’s authors say that, conscious or subconscious, blue-eyed men’s preference for blue-eyed women might be linked to one extra layer of paternity protection.
An “older” appearance
It can be tough when those first few gray hairs show up, or when you realize that you’re suddenly in the next higher age bracket. But according to a joint study between psychologists from the University of St. Andrews and the University of Liverpool, a more mature appearance is exactly what some men find the most attractive.
Generally, cultures have a set of norms about what they consider attractive — that’s what makes a movie star universally admired, for example. Researchers wanted to find out how our personal experiences helped shape what we as individuals find attractive, so they looked at whether or not the faces we’re exposed to as children impact what we’re attracted to as adults. They found that it absolutely does, at least, when men are looking for a long-term partner.
The study found that men who were born to “older” mothers (those over 30) were more likely to find older women more attractive when they were looking for long-term relationships. While men who were only thinking in the short term didn’t show the same preferences, there was a definite correlation between the age of a man’s parents and his choice in women. While the mechanism that’s at work here isn’t entirely understood, it’s suggested that when looking for a long-term partner, there’s something about the influence of the first committed, long-term relationship we’re in (the parent-child relationship) that helps provide us with feelings of security as adults.
Similar characteristics to parents
Other studies suggest that parents’ influence on what characteristics men find attractive goes even beyond age. Another study from the University of St. Andrews looked at a phenomenon known as imprinting, well known to exist in the animal world and, until recently, largely unexplored in humans.
The study looked at how likely men (and women) are to be attracted to certain hair and eye color in their chosen partners, and they found that for men, the best indicator of preferences was the hair and eye color of their mothers. When nearly 700 volunteer participants (including 394 men) were asked about the hair and eye color of themselves, their parents, and their partners, they found that overwhelmingly, men were attracted to the same coloring that their mothers had. The same correlation didn’t appear when comparing their father’s hair and eye color, and while researchers aren’t entirely sure what’s going on here, they did suggest that it’s possible that the early connection between mother and son formed a sort of subconscious bond that suggests safety, familiarity, and comfort linked to the eye and hair color they knew first.
Another study, this one done by the University of Tokyo, found that men showed significant preference for women who shared something else with their mother: height. When they looked at volunteers who reported their own heights, along with their parents’ and their partners’ heights, they found that men were much more likely to be attracted to a woman of similar height to their mother.
The right sense of humor
A sense of humor is high on the list of traits that everyone says they look for in potential partners, but according to a study published in Evolution and Human Behavior, the sort of humor men and women find attractive is surprisingly different.
When both men and women were asked about the traits they looked for in a partner, both groups reported a sense of humor was equally important. But when the study looked a little further, they found that while women valued both the ability to be funny and to appreciate the same sort of things they found funny, men were a little more one-sided with what they found attractive. The men surveyed didn’t rate funny women as any more desirable, and instead, it was receptiveness to their own sense of humor that they valued. In other words, men want someone who’s going to laugh at their jokes. For men, it wasn’t as necessary that women be able to make them laugh. They were looking for someone who appreciated their capacity for what the study called their production of humor.
When men’s responses were broken down by the type of relationship they were talking about, the results were even more drastic. When it came to dating and long-term relationships, it was even more important for men to find someone who appreciated their sense of humor, while funny females were better for friendship and short-term relationships.
The right head tilt
According to a pair of Australian researchers, one thing that men find surprisingly attractive is a simple one that anyone can do — just tilt your head the right way.
They took a series of faces that were manipulated to appear as they were being viewed from different angles, and volunteers were then asked to rate the attractiveness of those faces, along with how feminine or masculine they were. They found that men were most attracted to faces when women tilted their heads forward enough that they were looking slightly up.
The results were significant and suggested that nothing more than a simple adjustment to the way we carry ourselves could make someone measurably more attractive. They suggested that it has something to do with height, and that when a man sees a woman who tilts her head forward and looks up at him, she’s presenting herself in such a way that accents height differences and, in turn, traditional ideas about masculinity and femininity.
Taking hunter-gatherer risks
This one goes both ways, and it turns out that both men and women find certain risk-taking behaviors incredibly attractive in potential mates. Personality traits that include being open to certain risks were rated as highly attractive to women, but surprisingly, men were attracted to women who were a certain kind of adventurous.
According to a study done by the University of Alaska Anchorage, men (and women) were attracted to those with personality traits that allowed them to take part in and enjoy what they called hunter-gatherer risks. That includes activities and dangers similar to what our ancient ancestors would have faced, like skiing, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, and other outdoor activities. While those are things we usually think of as being attractive when a man does them, the study found that men are also attracted to the same behaviors in women.
Being attracted to risk-taking behaviors only went so far, through, and it was only ancient risks that were found attractive. Taking modern risks were definitely seen as less attractive, and that meant everything from driving without a seat belt to dabbling in drugs.
A high-pitched voice
While you might think that a husky voice would be a sexy one, studies have shown that what men are really attracted to is a higher-pitched voice. According to one study done by University College London, high-pitched voices were found to be almost universally more attractive to men, mostly because of the features, figure, and youth they imagined to go along with that voice. Volunteers were asked to listen to a series of voices and then rate them based on their appeal, and researchers found that there was sort of a sweet spot in pitch. Men rated high-pitched voices more attractive, but only to a certain point. When the voice got too high-pitched, the attractiveness declined. By the end of the study, they concluded that in order to be most attractive, a voice should be moderately high-pitched and slightly breathy, all which reportedly signaled that the speaker had a small frame.
Weirdly, they were also able to draw comparisons between their results and results that had been already found in the animal kingdom. There, males and females often have different pitch and tone to their voice, as they’re used for different reasons. That further led the team to the conclusion that men prefer moderately high-pitched voices not only because of the physical qualities they imply, but also because they impart the idea of submissiveness and make confrontation seem unlikely.
If your voice doesn’t fall into the realm of “moderately high-pitched,” there’s no need to fear. According to a study from the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, women who are talking to a man they’re attracted to tend to speak in a higher pitch without even realizing they’re doing it.
The science behind this one is pretty fascinating, and while ovulation might not be a specific trait, it is linked to some traits that men find attractive. According to a study in the journal Hormones and Behavior, men were more likely to rate women as being the most attractive when they were at the most fertile point in their menstrual cycle.
There have been a huge number of studies done on this, and there have been some fascinating discoveries. As women approach peak fertility, voices get higher in pitch, body odor changes and becomes more desirable, and it’s even suspected there might be some sort of incredibly discreet change in skin or lip color — all things men have traditionally found more attractive.
In 2007, a University of New Mexico study found that fertility even seemed to impact the tips made by professional lap dancers, and another study done by researchers from the University of Gottingen in Germany got similar results. Men were asked to watch silhouettes of women dancing and to pick out the more attractive women based only on their movements. Overwhelmingly, they choose the women who were at their most fertile, and they did the same thing when they were asked to choose the most attractive silhouettes of women simply walking. Researchers suspect that hormonal changes that happen in the body at times of peak fertility change some things to appeal even more to men, allowing them to pick up on fertility unconsciously.
The perfect WHR
When it comes to overall body shapes, we always hear that it’s the hourglass figure that’s most attractive. That might not be entirely true, though, and according to research done by professors at the University of Texas, it’s only the last part of the traditional trio of measurements that really matters.
Professor Devendra Singh took a look at the differences in how male and female bodies store fat, coupled with indicators of health and fertility. She found that when women have a waist to hip ratio (WHR) of between .67 and .8, they’re thought to be the most attractive to men. She conducted a series of experiments that not only surveyed men as to what shape they found most attractive, but also looked back through the last few decades at everything from Miss America contestants to Playboy models. The overwhelming majority of the men she surveyed agreed that the most attractive shape had to do with that magic WHR number, no matter what their age group was.
Other studies seem to show that no matter what the actual size of a woman is, it’s the ratio that’s more important than the weight or build. From women like Beyonce to Kate Moss, it didn’t matter how much they weighed. It was the ratio that men found most attractive.
Personality really does matter
When it comes to figuring out which traits are going to be most attractive to potential partners, it’s easy to focus on the physical. But studies have shown that personality traits like kindness really, truly do make a person more attractive. One study done at the University of Westminster polled 2,157 male students to find out what they found most attractive. The result showed something we’d find surprising, and that’s the fact that there was no body type or shape they found to be more universally attractive than any other. When men were supplied with personality traits, though, those traits made them select a wider range of body types and sizes that they said were attractive, compared to the selections they made on physical appearance alone.
Another study from a group of Chinese universities found similar results. They took both men and women and asked them to rate the attractiveness of a series of faces based only on appearance. Two weeks later, the same group was given personality traits along with the faces, and positive traits made faces more attractive. They even gave it a name: the halo effect.
So what are some of the traits connected with an increase in physical attraction? Honesty, respectfulness, and a positive attitude. Almost all positive personality traits have been shown to have a positive impact on what men think and how attractive they view potential partners, leading some psychologists to suggest as much effort should be put into the personality component of first impressions as the physical one.