Having a Feminine or Masculine Face More Important Than Looking Symmetrical, Says Study

split of man and woman profile
A study has found that people tend to prioritize how masculine or feminine a person’s face looks when judging attractiveness. (Photo: Getty Images)

Symmetry has traditionally been known as the scientific basis for attractiveness. Thanks to some very nonscientific analyses of celebrity faces, it’s become a standard assumption that the more symmetrical the face, the more widely the person is considered to be beautiful. Now, a new study out of Oakland University in Michigan aims to challenge that notion.

Study authors Justin K. Mogilski and Lisa L. M. Welling found that the perceived “masculinity” or “femininity” of a face appeared to be more important in determining attractiveness than symmetry and other factors, such as skin coloration, which can offer clues to a person’s health. In the study, 508 heterosexual adults were asked to rate digitally altered male and female photos for attractiveness. They could choose mates as long-term partners or short-term mates (aka sexual relationships only).

The results showed that heterosexual women seemed to care more about a mate who looked “masculine” than one who looked healthy based on the fresh-faced appearance of his skin — even when evaluating someone as a long-term mate. They also were more concerned with masculinity than with symmetry.

However, when it came to men looking for long-term mates, the “femininity” of female faces was relatively unimportant to them. They cared more about symmetrical faces and how healthy their skin looked.

Mogilski talked to Psypost about why he wanted to dig into this research. “I think systematically examining how people prioritize certain qualities over others during partner evaluation has the potential to reveal evolved architectural design features of the human brain,” he explained. Mogilski’s other research includes studies on monogamy, staying friends with an ex, and fighting within relationships.

Notably, the study was based on the responses of heterosexual adults only. How different would these responses be if researchers considered a wider range of sexuality and gender preferences? Concepts of what’s considered “masculine” and “feminine” are rapidly changing — and some might even say dwindling. As these notions change, the popular notion of attractiveness will almost certainly move along with it.

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