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Shape preferences pertaining to ancestral and derived forms

In a previously addressed study by Albert Magro, he showed that the widespread appeal of the Barbie doll is best explained by Barbie exaggerating many of the derived features in humans.  Magro followed up this study with a more elaborate one where he used 18 sets of line drawings representing ancestral, intermediate and derived shapes, and had them rated by men, women, children, adults and people of European, sub-Saharan African and East Asian ancestry.(1, pdf [6.7 MB])

Some examples of the line drawings used are shown below.  Note that it is not always obvious that the outlines trace shapes related to the human form.  The intermediate forms do not represent shapes mid-way between the extremes.  The participants were asked to pick the most appealing of the three choices for each set.

Line drawings depicting ancestral, derived and intermediate shapes; from ALbert Magro.

Fig. 1. Line drawings depciting ancestral, derived and intermediate shapes.

With the exception of those less than age 20 finding high foreheads the least attractive, all groups preferred intermediate or derived shapes to ancestral ones.  Men and women had similar preferences except for one minor difference; women preferred thicker lips.  The preferences of ethnic groups were largely similar.  The differences involved sub-Saharan Africans preferring straighter torsos to a more curved-in lower back and a higher forehead compared to the other two groups, and Europeans preferring intermediate neck lengths compared to the other two groups.  Different age groups had mostly similar preferences; the exceptions involved those less than age 20 finding the high forehead the least attractive and a longer neck more attractive than older individuals.

So the study showed broad agreement across different groups regarding aesthetic preferences along the ancestral-to-derived discriminant.

There is a minor shortcoming in the article by Magro.  Magro mentions a preference for facial neoteny in women on the part of men.  Neoteny refers to the retention in adulthood of the juvenile form of the ancestral species, but human face shape is not a juvenile version of an ape’s.  At most, the regression of the jaw in humans is partly neotenous and there is growth retardation in the human skill, making the adult human skull differ less from the juvenile human skull compared to the age-related transformation in apes.(2)  Chances are that Magro used neoteny in a loose sense, namely referring to the retention of more juvenile features, and hence the appropriate term would have been pedomorphy, but again, just because the male skull deviates more from the juvenile form compared to the female skull, it doesn’t mean that there is a preference for more child-like features in women’s faces; the preference is for feminine features indicative of a young adult.  Normal preferences are for signs of sexual maturity.


  1. Magro, A. M., Evolutionary-derived anatomical characteristics and universal attractiveness, Percept Mot Skills, 88, 147 (1999).
  2. Penin, X., Berge, C., and Baylac, M., Ontogenetic study of the skull in modern humans and the common chimpanzees: neotenic hypothesis reconsidered with a tridimensional Procrustes analysis, Am J Phys Anthropol, 118, 50 (2002).


Child-like features in a womans face, voice, and skin inhibit aggression and induce provisioning behaviour. Thus pedamorphic morphology is retained in females for reasons other than sexual attraction. The characteristics which men have a prefference for which females developed fully by young adulthood are quite different from juvenile features though they may not supplant them.


Child-like features in a womans face, voice, and skin inhibit aggression and induce provisioning behaviour.

The statement should read “Child-like features in a woman’s face and voice suggest reduced likelihood of aggression and increased provisioning behaviour.” The skin part is not necessary since skin closer to that of children would suggest youth/good health. In any case, pedomorphy is the wrong term for the referenced features because there should be normal safeguards against directing courtship toward sexually immature individuals. Features referred to as pedomorphic are either more feminine or more gracile. For instance, it is the greater femininity part that is associated with higher likelihood of maternal provisioning behavior and lesser likelihood to pick fights with strangers.

I'm glad it wasn't complete rubbish even if you were unimpressed with the wording.I don't like that word either but its in what the statment was pinched from, an answer in the comments at evo and proud. We could call it CSI (Caring and Sharing Inducing)morphology if thats not too Barney the Dino for you. Peter Frost's usage of pedomorphic can hardly be thought eccentric though."The fundamental principle of paedomorphosis need not be restricted to animals that have a distictive larval form that must undergo sudden and dramatic metamorphosis in order to assume the structure of the adult. Although there is no larva,animals that develop gradualy may undergo evolutionary change of the same type as that to which Garstang gave the name of paedomorphosis; for it may happen that adults resemble the juvenile or infantile stages of thei ancesters exept in the maturity of the reproductive organs. It seems legitimate to extend the meaning of paedomorphosis to cover such cases." From a 1974 book you called outdated when someone quoted it in support of certain ethnic taxa being somewhat paedomorphic. My other tome the Penguin Dictionary of Biology Tenth Edition does say that padomorphosis was formerly synomious with neoteny "Neoteny - formerly used in the broad sense of paedomorphosis... examples include development of display structures in some social mammals". This is from Feminine Beauty's perspective most relevant to adult females and why I mentioned skin which is thought redundant.What I think Frost is talking about is the key to undestanding much of the criticism your examples of feminine women and attractive women are drawing. As I interpret his blog posts (its not spelled out in them)is that white skin is held over into adulthood as a 'caring and sharing' signal to aid survival of women in the harsh conditions of winters on the north german plain 20,000 years ago,it resulted in provisioning by hunters who had the only food resources. However it inhibits aggression from males (as does the juvenile coat of many apes) and this inhibition can also extend to male sexual impulses. This is why darkening the skin as a sexual come on has a long history.Tanning is considered sexy because it is the equivalent of an adult coat colour, pale skin is juvenile and non adult characteristics are a turn of as you rightly point out. Top glamour models get the tanned look from UV,bronzer ,spray on tan,special lighting effects that give them a golden glow, or photoshopping ect.(Fashion models are a bit of an exception but bear in mind that the male ones are also very pale)Ignoring this effect you have put up some amateurish photos with poor skin tone ,some of the models realy are extremley pale compared to the mainsteam you want them to be favourably compared to. Hence critics think they look pastey, naive(stupid trailer trash)or too young. No matter how impressive the body one photo showing formica-white skin makes a very lasting and poor impression,consider never using photos where the model is or looks pale .Fat produces estone which lightens the skin localy this interacioncan creat an interaction that produces an unsitely effect, rancid as one critic has it, and she admits some of your examples really are attractive.

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