A Review: Physical Attractiveness, Sexual Selection, and Facial Neotony

Couple in Love

Disclaimer: this is in no way or form my work I am simply summarizing point made by  Doug Jones in his article entitled Physical Attractiveness, Sexual Selection, and Facial Neotony: Cross Cultural Evidence and Implications.

As the title suggests there is mounting evidence from several recent studies that indicates heterosexual males tend to select female partners based on facial neotony as a basis of judging physical attractiveness.   Specific characteristics of facial neotony include but are not limited to:  large eyes, full lips, and small noses. That being said there are limitations to these findings. Although, there is considerable ethnographic material on the standards of attractiveness in non-Western societies there are the findings of these ethnographic studies are not comprehensive enough to support a theory of universal facial neotony selection of female partners by heterosexual males. Firstly, the work of social psychologists is highly empirical and descriptive, with little in theory or quantitative data that would explain why people find particular features attractive.  Secondly, cultural anthropologists rarely conduct research on standards of attractiveness and their consequences due to the ethical and political conflicts that may result from such a study.

Now that the limitations of these studies have been acknowledged let’s talk about the details and findings of all the studies that have recently been done on the topic.  Sexual selection occurs when some organism gain an edge in mating and fertilization at the expense of others of the sex.  In many animal species, male reproductive success is more dependent on mating success than is female reproductive success, so sexual selection commonly acts with greater intensity on males than on females. Now focusing on humans, considerable anatomical and behavioral evidence suggests that males have been subject to stronger sexual selection than females, although the differences are definitely less pronounced than in other mammals. Dimorphism in the sexes exist, human males tend to be larger than females, attain sexual maturity at a later age, universal there is more male-male aggression than female-female aggression, and polygyny is more common than polyandry. Humans are a anomaly unlike with other mammals in humans males are more concerned than women with the physical attractiveness (facial neotony) of a potential sexual partner.

 Now lets talk about the case studies that indicate males look for facial neotony (physical attractiveness) when selecting a partner. Buss (1989) reviews survey data from 37 populations samples from 33 countries and finds that in every sample males are more concerned than females with the physical attractiveness of a potential mate. Gregersen (1983) reports similar findings in a more recent review of nearly 300 societies, mostly non-Western and nonurbanized. MacArthur and Apatow (1983-84) used police kits to produce “average” male and female faces with different combinations of “baby faced” and mature features: large and small eyes, low and high vertical placement of features, small and large noses and ears, all three baby-faced features together. The results for both sexes, were that faces with large eyes were rate more attractive than average faces. Interestingly for males only faces with baby features were rated more attractive than faces with mature features. Fauss (1986) asked subjects of both sexes to construct the face of an ideal member of the opposite sex using a police Identity kit.  The results were that males and females had wide mouths with full lips and a gracile lower jaw and chine.  Ideal females also had gracile noses and high-arched eyebrows. Riedl (1990) subjects were instructed to introduce the most attractive facial image using a computer program, which allowed them to manipulate sizes, shapes, and positions of facial features. The results showed that males’ ideal female faces had larger eyes and smaller chines and jaws than typical female faces. Females’ ideal males faces were similar to typical males faces.

Lastly, the author smartly acknowledges to a degree that conceptions of beauty and attraction are encultured. Standards of physical attraction has both a species-typical and population –specific component.  Furthermore, variation of these components may be predictable given knowledge of human biology and local circumstances.

Thanks for reading,  you can follow me on  Twitter at DemelioU or  you can subscribe  to my RSS feed the little orange button in the left hand menu.


Demelio U.

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