Tag: do gentlemen really prefer blondes?

How a hot partner makes you seem hotter

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 28, 2010

Ask a veteran E-Harmony or Match.com user to list her peeves about online dating, and she’ll surely mention the “cropped-ex shot.” Why do so many people include pictures of themselves with seemingly unattached body parts — a slim bangled arm thrown around their shoulder, or hairy fingers around their waist? Those body parts, assumed to belong to an ex, are maddening in part because of what they don’t reveal: the ex herself (or himself).

That’s because we rate another person’s attractiveness, at least in part, on the attractiveness of his or her partner.

Researchers call this mate-choice copying. As I detail in BLONDES, mate-choice copying happens in many animal species, and there’s mounting evidence that human animals are no exception. If that male has an attractive partner, then there must be something worthwhile about him. It’s a wisdom-of-crowds approach.

The latest mate-copying study, published by researchers at Duke University and the University of California Davis, involves 30 male and 30 female volunteers who all described themselves as straight. One group of volunteers was then asked to rate the attractiveness of men and women pictured alone in photos. Another group was then shown pictures of the same men and women paired together and asked how desirable they would find long-term relationships with members of the opposite sex in the pictures. They were told the people in each photograph had been engaged in a long-term romantic relationship but their relationship ended.

These exes were not cropped out.

No surprise to evolutionary psychologists: Both male and female volunteers rated people in the pictures as more desirable when they were paired next to attractive companions than when they were pictured alone. This was true for both men and women. By using cameras to track eye movements during the experiments, the researchers also saw that when volunteers spent more time looking at a potential mate’s unattractive partner, they were less interested in that mate. Interestingly, even though judges were only asked to rate the person of the opposite-sex, they all spent significant time looking at that person’s partner. Having a homely ex can hurt you.

The exception, the researchers found, is if you’re a hot woman. While women downgraded otherwise hot men if they were paired with a dumpy partner, men gave high ratings to the most attractive women regardless of their partners. As found in other studies, women, generally the choosier and more cautious sex, are more likely to rely on social cues such as whether other women find the target guy attractive.

By no means does this warrant that you leave your ex, in full or in part, in your profile photo. Unless your ex is your only asset.

Are firstborns likelier to marry firstborns?

Posted in news, Polls and Surveys by jenapincott on February 20, 2010

Opposites attract, but not in marriages or other long-term relationships. As I describe in BLONDES, we value in others what we value in ourselves. So many of us prefer those with similar background, religion, ethnicity, education, values, and so on. Women often prefer potential spouses who look like themselves or family members. We even prefer those whose body language and verbal intonation resembles our own.

The marriage-minded seek the like-minded.

So is it any wonder that researchers have now found evidence that birth order — one of the major forces that influences who we are — also influences our choice in marriage?

In a recent study, Harvard researcher Joshua Hartshone and his colleagues found evidence that people are more likely to form long-term romantic relationships with someone of the same birth order rank. Only children are likelier to marry other onlies, firstborns are likelier to marry firstborns, middleborns are likelier to marry middleborns, and lastborns are likelier to marry lastborns.

The study, based on the responses of over 2,500 visitors to the website www.coglanglab.org, found that the birth-order effects are independent of family size and unlikely to be a product of class or ethnicity. “If spouses correlate on personality,” Hartshone writes, “and personality correlates with birth order, spouses should correlate on birth order.”

Incidentally, the researchers found that best friends also tend to share the same birth order.

My parents are both firstborns. Many of my closest friends are onlies and firstborns who married other onlies and firstborns respectively. Me, I’m a firstborn who married a middleborn.

BLONDES in the media

Posted in magazine articles, media by jenapincott on February 15, 2010

A few fun international links to BLONDES in the last couple days. One in the Sunday Times and the other in BusinessWorld.

Why do women get physically aroused and not even know it?

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 7, 2010

Some women seem to get turned on by almost anything man-on-women action, man-on-man, woman-on-woman, animal-on-animal, and so on. This is what sex researchers find when studying sexual arousal. When female volunteers are asked to watch erotic movies while outfitted with a plethysmograph, an instrument for measuring blood flow to the vagina, they often get very hot and bothered “down there.” Problem is, when many of those same women are asked to report how aroused they actually feel “up there” they often say they’re not turned on at all. Sometimes they even say they’re repulsed.

So what’s going on? Do women even know what turns them on?

Such is the puzzle that has plagued sex researchers for decades. And it’s a topic clinical psychologist Meredith Chivers and her colleagues address in a recent study, a meta-analysis of 132 papers on the genital measures of sexual arousal.

Why don’t women’s genital and subjective responses always agree? Here are a few theories the researchers present:

Women’s genital responses are hidden from view and produce less prominent somatosensory cues. While men may get turned on by feeling themselves get erect, women do not. However, [studies have found that] even when women received feedback about their level of vaginal engorgement, correlations (between genital and subjective arousal) were low and statistically nonsignificant. [Being told we’re getting turned on doesn’t necessarily turn us on.]

Women may edit their self-report of feeling sexually aroused because of socially desirable responding. Positive affect directs attention to erotic stimuli, thereby increasing sexual response, whereas negative affect interferes in the processing of sexual cues, resulting in lower sexual response. Lower concordance among women may reflect their experience of negative affect while watching the
conventional, commercially available erotica that is primarily produced for men.

Interestingly, the authors suggest that genital response to sexual stimuli may be an evolved self-protection mechanism:

Female genital response is an automatic reflex that is elicited by sexual stimuli and produces vaginal lubrication, even if the woman does not subjectively feel sexually aroused… Female genital response entails increased genital vasocongestion, necessary for the production of vaginal lubrication, and can, in turn, reduce discomfort and the possibility of injury during vaginal penetration. Ancestral women who did not show an automatic vaginal response to sexual cues may have been more likely to experience injuries that resulted in illness, infertility, or even death subsequent to unexpected or unwanted vaginal penetration, and thus would be less likely to have passed on this trait to their offspring….Reports of women’s genital response and orgasm during sexual assaults suggests that genital responses do occur in women under conditions of sexual threat. That women can experience genital response during unwanted sex or when viewing depictions of sexual assault suggests that women’s vasocongestion response is automatically initiated by exposure to sexual stimuli, whether or not these stimuli are preferred, and without subjective appraisal of these stimuli as sexually arousing or desired.

During processing of sexual stimuli, brain areas associated with emotional inhibition are activated among women… Genital responses are not affected by involuntary inhibition involving the anterior cingulate cortex, but subjective responses are. [Incidentally, women’s anterior cingulate cortex is most active when we’re ovulating and attracted to macho, high-testosterone men. The ACC is activated when you’re in conflict about something. Is this also a self-protection mechanism warning us to proceed with caution?]

Bottom line: Physical arousal is no proof a woman is really turned on. To really get a woman hot and bothered, you have to start from the top.

Os homens preferem mesmo as loiras?

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 1, 2010

Now in Portuguese (Brazil)!

The case for wearing blush

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 24, 2010

Bad news for pale girls like me: red is hot. Not only do studies find that men are more attracted to women in red, now we find that men prefer women who are red. Their cheeks, that is….

In a new study, evolutionary psychologist Ian Stephen and his colleagues at the Face Perception Lab recruited volunteers of various races and asked them to digitally adjust the color tone on more than 50 faces to make them look as healthy and attractive as possible. Volunteers consistently added more red coloring to the cheeks — whether the face was Caucasian, Asian, or Black. The redder the face, the more suggestive it is of oxygen-rich blood reaching the skin. The more oxygen-rich blood, the more suggestive it is of the person’s general health and youth. An old person, a sick person, a person with hypertension or bad circulation…will not get rosy-cheeked.

And not only is a flush suggestive of good health and fitness….but high sex hormones as well. In women in particular, high levels of estrogen may cause an expansion of tiny blood vessels under the skin. Hence, rosy cheeks. As in monkeys, female facial redness may be associated with fertility and reproductive quality.

As Stephen points out, the human eye has evolved to pick up on fine variations on the color red. “People are sensitive to the subtle color difference between oxygenated and deoxygenated blood (oxygenated blood is a bright red colour, deoxygenated blood has a slightly bluish red colour, and we interpret this difference in skin blood oxygenation colour as a cue to the health status of individuals.”)

But why did the researchers find that volunteers preferred women over men with rosy cheeks? One reason may be the sex hormones, which show up more obviously in flushed female faces. But it may also be due to the fact that men already have ruddier faces than women do — they have higher levels of hemoglobin and arterial oxygen content in their blood. As a result, the male blush is not as obvious a cue of good health and high sex hormones.

There are surely other reasons why a maidenly blush is attractive, as I describe in BLONDES. For one, a flash of color to a woman’s cheeks may suggest youth, modesty, embarrassment, excitement…all of which, depending on context, may appeal to red-blooded men.

Do hypochondriacs prefer macho men?

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 8, 2010

Evolutionary psychologists tell us that one of the reasons why women find masculinity attractive is that high testosterone is a sign of a strong immune system. A strong immune system, in turn, in a sign of good genes and childhood development (testosterone is an immunosuppressant and only men with good genes can overcome its drawbacks). These strong square-jawed macho men aren’t necessarily good dads: they’re more likely to be uncooperative, combative, and aggressive. But they may offer good genetic material for your kids, depending on the circumstances.

So how do you prove that women equate masculinity with good genes and healthy immune systems (subconsciously, at least)? An indirect approach was taken by Lisa DeBruine and her colleagues at the Face Research Lab at the University of Aberdeen. (The Lab conducts many fascinating studies on attraction, some of which I reference in BLONDES.)

In this new study, DeBruine recruited 345 women of all ages to rate faces. The faces were digitally altered, and ranged from very masculine to very feminine. Participants also completed a test called the Three-Domain Disgust scale, designed to measure moral disgust (deceiving a friend), sexual disgust (hearing strangers have sex), and pathogen disgust (stepping on poop).

Turns out that women’s preference for masculinity in male faces was correlated with disgust sensitivity to pathogens, but not in the moral and sexual domains. (Yes, hypochondriacs do prefer macho men!) DeBruine speculates that in certain situations, such as disease-ridden environments, women are wired to prefer high-testosterone males. The benefits of their good immune system genes are worth the tradeoff.

The testosterone-means-good-genes theory, anyway, may explain why women in disease-ridden environments are likelier to choose macho guys. Explains DeBruine et al.:

Because a partner’s heritable health is of greater value when pathogens are a greater concern, concern about pathogens is likely to also be a factor that contributes to the resolution of this tradeoff. Cross-cultural differences in mate preferences and mating systems vary consistently with differences in pathogen prevalence. When people from 29 different cultures were asked to rank a series of attributes based on how important they would be in a mate, people in areas with a high prevalence of pathogens ranked physical attractiveness higher than people in areas with a relatively low prevalence of pathogens did. Also consistent with these
findings, rural Jamaican women prefer masculinity more than British women do…

So do hypochondriacs, fearful of disease, marry more macho men (e.g. self-professed hypochondriac Susie Essman and her new husband?) As environments become more sterile, will we prefer men with softer, sweeter faces and personalities? Or will the next swine flu outbreak inspire us to pursue pigs?

Do pretty waitresses really get higher tips?

Posted in news by jenapincott on December 19, 2009

Do pretty waitresses get higher tips? Researchers at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration want to know. Why? Because it may affect hiring decisions. The researchers claim in their recent study that evolutionary theory suggests that attractive women should receive higher tips than less attractive women.

To test this theory, the researcher recruited more than 400 restaurant waitresses to complete an online survey, asking them to rate their physical attractiveness, sexiness, age, bra size, hair color, waist size, weight, and average tip percentage.

The findings (or how to increase your tips if you’re a waitress):

1.) Blondes reported receiving larger percentage tips than did waitresses with other hair colors, as expected.
However, the blond waitresses in this study did not perceive themselves to be more attractive than the waitresses with other hair colors.

2.) Women with large breasts and/or slender bodies received larger average tips than their counterparts without these characteristics.

More surprisingly:

3.) Tips increased with age with the largest tips going to women in their thirties.

The author’s analysis:

Perhaps the male restaurant customers were most attracted to the waitresses in their late teens and early twenties as expected, but tipped the waitresses who were in their thirties more than those who were younger because they thought they had a better chance of picking-up the older waitresses. Alternatively, the majority of the male customers in this study, whose average age was probably greater than 35 years old, may have been most attracted to waitresses in their thirties.as men age, they prefer women increasing younger than themselves, but nonetheless prefer increasingly older women in an absolute sense….. Given that the median age in the U.S. is 35 years old and that median age of paying restaurant customers is almost certainly even older,….most of the men is this study may have preferred women in their thirties, which is the age group among waitresses that received the largest tips.

4.) WHR (waist-to-hip ratio) was unrelated to tips in this study. Thick-waisted women were just as likely to get big tips.

The analysis:

Perhaps the effects of WHR on perceptions of physical attractiveness are too small to affect more overt behaviors… Alternatively, the failure to find a WHR effect on tipping may be due to the possibility that the waitresses’ clothing obscured their WHRs to their tipping customers.

The study has several weaknesses. First, it relies on women’s self-reports of their attractiveness, which is always tricky. More importantly, the study didn’t attempt to assess is a waitress’s effectiveness at doing her job. One would think competence and friendliness would would be stronger factors. (Which is most important — competence, friendliness, or looks? Fodder for another study?) Nor did it take into account other variables: venue, uniforms, and customer base. Did the study consider the fact that many customers may be (straight) women?

I, for one, don’t care if my waitress has big breasts or blond hair. I just want my food.

Damsel in distress? Go blond.

Posted in news by jenapincott on December 12, 2009

Do blondes get picked up more than brunettes? The question can be taken literally, as evidenced in psychologist Nicolas Gueguen’s latest study* on female hitchhikers. A specialist in the nuances of courtship and attraction, Gueguen wanted to know if a woman is more likely to be offered a ride or other assistance if she goes blond. All else being equal, do light-haired hitchhikers get more lifts?

Gurguen recruited five women in their early twenties (all natural brunettes) to stand, one at a time, by the side of a road popular with hitchhikers in France. Their job was to try to get motorists to pull over. Each woman was equipped with three wigs, blond, brunette, and black, which she was instructed to rotate every time forty cars had passed. When a car stopped, she (and two independent observers) kept a record of what color wig she was wearing and whether the driver was male or female.

Drivers prefer blondes, it turns out. Blond hair, compared with brown or black hair, inspired a statistically larger proportion of drivers to stop and offer assistance (18% for blondes vs 14% and 13% for brunettes and women with black hair respectively). Interestingly, this was true only of male drivers. Female drivers, who stopped less frequently for hitchhikers, showed no hair color bias.

Gueguen attributes a greater attractiveness of blond hair color to men’s willingness to help blondes. As described in BLONDES, blond hair may be associated with female youth, health, and fertility. Because fair-haired hitchhikers may appear younger, they may come across as more vulnerable or less of a threat.

Blond hair is also more eye-catching than other shades, so drivers may be more likely to notice blond hitchhikers. But why would more male than female drivers offer rides to blondes if sexual attraction didn’t have something to do with it?

For various reasons, slightly more drivers appear to prefer blondes. But are they gentlemen? That remains in question.

Nicolas Gueguen’s studies are good fun. In BLONDES I reported on his fascinating research on the power of touch in a courtship context. I’ve also blogged about Gurguen’s studies on whether makeup is more likely to attract men; whether dog owners attract more dates (and whether breed makes a difference); how priming men to think about love changes their behavior; whether asking a woman a small favor makes her more likely to give him her number later; and whether cup size helps a female hitchhikers get picked up.

* to be published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, 2009, 109, 3, 1-8.


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