You are here
Sensation seeking and men’s preference for facial femininity in women
I have until now addressed variation in men’s preferences regarding women’s physical femininity in terms of sexual orientation-related differences, but even among heterosexual men there is variation in the extent to which physical femininity is preferred in women, and here is an article on a series of 3 studies on this issue. In these studies, the authors took pictures of the faces of young adult women and presented them to men in two forms, slightly masculinized and slightly feminized. The male judges rated them for attractiveness.
In all 3 studies, men generally preferred above average femininity in women’s faces, but men more prone to sensation seeking – and by extrapolation more likely to indulge in risky behaviors overall – had a stronger preference for facial femininity in women.(1, pdf)
In the 2nd study, it was shown that men’s degree of sensation seeking was unrelated to attractiveness ratings of facial femininity in men’s faces. In the first two studies, men’s ratings were on a 0–7 scale. To rule out the possibility that men more into sensation seeking were more prone to choose higher numbers to rate faces they found more attractive, in the 3rd study, the authors examined the number of times men preferred the more feminized faces, and replicated the main find of the first two studies.
So what is the explanation? The authors favor a condition-dependent hypothesis. They point out research showing that women find more daring men more appealing, i.e., willingness to indulge in more risky behaviors on the part of men is potentially attractive to women and a potential marker of men’s mate quality. The extent of femininity of women is also a potential marker of their mate quality. So the assumption is that those with higher mate value prefer others with higher mate value. But whereas those with higher perceived mate value are expected to disproportionately seek/direct courtship toward partners with higher mate value, why should they find those of lesser mate value more appealing in a scenario where they are merely asked to rate attractiveness rather than direct courtship toward the choices presented?
I can think of a more likely explanation. The neurophysiology of overall stronger sensation seeking can be roughly modeled as a need for overall stronger stimuli to engage one’s mind. Therefore, heterosexual men who need stronger stimuli in general to stimulate their mind disproportionately favor more feminine women and possibly have a stronger interest in women’s attractiveness also.
What may cause stronger sensation seeking? The authors mention some research on prenatal and adult exposure to testosterone. If the brain organizes and develops under higher androgen levels, then the odds of sensation seeking are increased. There is empirical evidence for this in terms of studies basic on finger length ratios and salivary testosterone in men, and also observations that men are more likely to indulge in sensation-seeking activities than women.
- Jones, B. C., DeBruine, L. M., Little, A. C., Conway, C. A., Welling, L. L. M., & Smith, F. (2007). Sensation seeking and men’s face preferences. Evol Hum Behav, 28, 439-446.