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Seasonal variation in men’s ratings of women’s attractiveness
Pawlowski and Sorokowski(1, pdf) had a sample of Polish men, both rural and urban, rate the attractiveness of the same set of women’s pictures on 5 occasions: 2004 dates were Jan, May, Aug, Oct; 2005 date was Jan. The images comprised of a woman’s physique whose waist-to-hip ratio was manipulated by digitally altering waist or hip size (woman’s WHR was 0.65), pictures of women’s breasts, and pictures of ordinary faces.
The authors found no seasonal variation in men’s ratings of the attractiveness of women’s faces or in men’s ratings of their own appeal. But men rated women’s bodies and breasts more appealing in the winter months, and also reported finding their female partners more appealing in the winter months.
The most plausible explanation of these observations is the contrast effect. Since Polish men are exposed to more of women’s bodies in the summer, increasing the likelihood of being exposed to some very attractive women’s bodies, they are likely to find the bodies of most women less appealing during the summer, but exposure to women’s faces does not change with season and neither does men’s ratings of ordinary women’s faces. In support of this possibility, the authors noted that rural men rated the women’s pictures higher, on average, than urban men, and rural men also reported finding their female partners more appealing than urban men.
The contrast effect has been documented in some other studies, and has been mentioned before as a problem that this site is creating for women. Promoting feminine beauty is bound to increase pressure for women to look more attractive in this direction, but to me it appears that the benefits outweigh the harm. At least indulgence in negative health behaviors are not consistent with acquiring feminine beauty, in contrast to attempts to acquire the thin looks promoted by the fashion industry.
Another find was that older men rated women’s pictures higher than younger men. There are other data showing that older people judge physical attractiveness less critically than younger ones (an example: obesity was judged more critically by elementary school children than high school children, who in turn were more critical than young adults, who in turn were more critical than middle aged people).
But there are alternative explanations of the study’s finds, suggested by the authors. A possible explanation is seasonal variation in men’s mood. But this appears unlikely since men’s ratings of their own attractiveness and the attractiveness of women’s faces didn’t change seasonally. Alternatively, it could be that winter is marked by food and resource scarcity, making men perceive the same physique looks more appealing because the greater the scarcity the more appealing whatever is available.
Another possibility is seasonal variation in testosterone, but the data on this topic are unclear, and again, one has to wonder why the face ratings have been unaffected by variation in testosterone levels (see example of men more prone to sensation seeking/risk taking, something affected by testosterone, finding more feminine faces more appealing).
At this time, the contrast effect seems the most plausible explanation of the find.
- Pawlowski B, Sorokowski P. Men’s attraction to women’s bodies changes seasonally. Perception 2008;37:1079-85.