Looking healthy is more attractive than manliness

03 Feb 2012 12:21:55.940


Having a healthy skin colour is more important in determining how attractive a man is to women than how manly they look. These are the findings of a study carried out by researchers in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.

Researchers in the Face Perception Group took photographs of 34 Caucasian and 41 black African men’s faces in carefully controlled conditions and measured the skin colour of the faces. The team found that in both the African and Caucasian populations the attractiveness ratings given by the women was closely related to the amount of “golden” colour in the skin. Their findings have been published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour.

The research, led by Dr Ian Stephen, used a new computer technique called Geometric Morphometric Methods to measure mathematically how masculine the faces are. He said: “We used this technique to mathematically compare the shape of the men’s faces to a similar sample of women’s faces from the same populations.”

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This technique gave each face a mathematically-determined masculinity score – an independent measure of how typically male they are. Thirty African and 32 Caucasian women then rated how attractive each of the men in the photographs looked. 

Research driven by evolutionary theory

When we find a member of the opposite sex attractive, that is our brains telling us they are an appropriate mate. In evolutionary terms people who can identify healthy fertile mates will be more successful at leaving offspring.

Dr Stephen said: “The attractive colour in our face is affected by our health – especially by the amount of colourful antioxidant carotenoid pigments we get from fruit and vegetables in our diet. These carotenoids are also thought to be good for our immune and reproductive systems, making us healthy and increasing our fertility. The masculinity of the face had no effect on the attractiveness of the face.”

Eat more fruit and veg to look attractive

Dr Stephen said: “Our study shows that being healthy may be the best way for men to look attractive. We know that you can achieve a more healthy looking skin colour by eating more fruit and vegetables, so that would be a good start.”

Women may need to be familiar with a particular population before they can detect these colour cues. While the golden colour was very important when women were rating faces of their own ethnic group, women don’t seem to care about skin colour in other-ethnicity men. This might be because the skin colour of other groups is so unfamiliar that the women cannot detect these relatively subtle colour differences.

The research was carried out in collaboration with with Dr Ian Penton-Voak and Dr Isabel Scott at Bristol University and Dr Nicholas Pound at Brunel University London.

An image is available on request (please credit Dr Ian Stephen). Details for the caption: The images on the left are averages of the least attractive African and Caucasian men's faces, and the images on the right are averages of the most attractive African and Caucasian men's faces, as rated by women of the same ethnic group. The images on the right are noticeably higher in the healthy "golden" colour, but not more masculine.

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or Lindsay Brooke, Media Relations Manager in the Communications Office at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 951 5751, lindsay.brooke@nottingham.ac.uk

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia. Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. For more details, visit: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/impactcampaign

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Ian Stephen, on +603 8924 8730, ian.stephen@nottingham.edu.my

Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: lindsay.brooke@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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