Do Men Find Dumb-Looking Women More Attractive?

The state of the universe.
May 23 2012 3:06 PM

Do Men Find Dumb-Looking Women More Attractive?

A new study says yes.

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Having said that, the studies to date are also far from perfect. There’s the obvious criticism that ancestral women didn’t have mojitos and martinis to loosen their tenuous hold on chastity, and so ethanol-fueled conceptions couldn’t have exerted any kind of selection pressure. Yet knowing evolutionary psychologists, the equally obvious countercriticism is that modern women’s inebriation is just an exaggerated version of altered states of consciousness that human beings have indeed experienced for hundreds of thousands of years. More important are methodological concerns.

For example, given that the photos of women were collected online, confounds are inevitable. Do photos of boozed-up young women posted on the Internet simply happen to depict more physically attractive females—ones who’ve dolled themselves up for parties, say—than the sober head shots of those who party less? It’s hard to believe that this would be the same for all the “exploitability” cues (such as “sleepy”) but the same problems would certainly apply to cues such as “tight clothes” and “come hither look.” To control for things like facial symmetry, it would have been better, in my opinion, to have the same model exhibiting a targeted sampling of the 88 cues generated by the original raters.

It also seems to me that although men may lower their standards when it comes to judging women for casual sex, even the creepiest, horniest, coldest man has his aesthetic limits. This could be why the proposed physical signs of “exploitability” —say, being obese or a dwarf—didn’t pan out in the first study. According to a strict interpretation of the authors’ model, after all, a woman with even profound mental handicaps (such as being comatose while on life support or having an IQ commensurate with that of a sickly possum) would make her pretty damn hot. That just doesn’t ring true. I’m going out on a limb here, but from their evolutionary theoretical perspective, perhaps some minimal degree of genetic normalcy or maternal competence, even in “easy” women, is key. According to their model, given that the unconscious goal for these males is to spread their genes without being tethered to paternal responsibilities, even the most incapacitated of women should, at the very least, have enough brain cells firing to raise a healthy child to the age of maturity.

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I think it’s fair to say that the findings are consistent with the authors’ sexual exploitability hypothesis—and evolved sex differences in reproductive strategies more generally. But here we run into one of the consistent criticisms of evolutionary psychology, which is that there can be a “just-so story” to explain every data set. Perhaps the effects reported by Goetz and her team can be interpreted just as well from a non-evolutionary perspective. (If you think so, I’d be curious to hear your ideas in the comments section below.) However you interpret them, results like these can feel self-evident, given that “obviously” men would find drunk and air-headed women easy to screw. But we also must be on the lookout for our own retrospective biases: After all, I’m not so sure most people would have predicted that men would also find such women more attractive. All else being equal, would you really have thought that the average man would subjectively perceive such women to be physically more alluring than their sober, bright-minded peers?

Jesse Bering is the author of Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us. Read his columns here and follow him at jessebering.com, @JesseBering, or on Facebook.