Friday, May 27, 2011

Does Our Personality Affect Our Level of Attractiveness?

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Part of what determines how much success you will have in the dating world is whether you have a good sense of whether people find you attractive. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that certain personality traits contribute to being a good judge of whether someone else thinks you’re worth meeting again.

The study is one of a series to come out of a big speed-dating experiment held in Berlin about five years ago. “Most of the prior research had worked with hypothetical scenarios, where people are asked by a questioner, ‘What kind of people would you like to get to know?’ and so on,” says Mitja Back of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, who co-wrote the new paper with Lars Penke of the University of Edinburgh, Stefan Schmukle of Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, and Jens Asendorpf of Humboldt University Berlin. The problem, of course, is that what people say they like—honesty, humor, and so on—may have little to do with what they actually like—for example hotness.

In this case, Back was interested in another question: is there’s something about personality that makes some people better at predicting whether others will want to meet them? In 17 groups, a total of 190 men and 192 women met members of the opposite sex—basically the standard speed dating routine, but this time, with psychologists collecting a lot of data. Among that data was personality information and the all-important question after each three-minute date: for each person you talk to, do you want to see that person again? They were also asked if they thought the other person would want to meet them.

On the whole, people are very bad at guessing how many of the other persons will want to meet them. Some people had no clue at all. But others did better. Success was correlated with particular traits that are stereotypically associated with the sexes: Men who have a more promiscuous orientation were better at guessing if a woman would want to meet them, and women whose personality was very agreeable were better at guessing if a man would meet them.

Back thinks men who are inclined toward casual sex are displaying behavior that’s very stereotypically associated with their sex; this may in turn evoke more typical behavior in the woman they’re talking to, which could make them more accurate at predicting whether the woman will be interested. Women who are agreeable, on the other hand, might make men more comfortable and more willing to flirt—which could make it easier to judge whether the man will want to meet them again.

“Speed dating is a very good context to study dating behavior” Back says. “It’s almost like psychologists could have invented this.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy guys finish last, says new study on sexual attractiveness

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Women find happy guys significantly less sexually attractive than swaggering or brooding men, according to a new University of British Columbia study that helps to explain the enduring allure of "bad boys" and other iconic gender types.

The study – which may cause men to smile less on dates, and inspire online daters to update their profile photos – finds dramatic gender differences in how men and women rank the sexual attractiveness of non-verbal expressions of commonly displayed emotions, including happiness, pride, and shame.

Very few studies have explored the relationship between emotions and attraction, and this is the first to report a significant gender difference in the attractiveness of smiles. The study, published online today in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion, is also the first to investigate the attractiveness of displays of pride and shame.

"While showing a happy face is considered essential to friendly social interactions, including those involving sexual attraction – few studies have actually examined whether a smile is, in fact, attractive," says Prof. Jessica Tracy of UBC's Dept. of Psychology. "This study finds that men and women respond very differently to displays of emotion, including smiles."

In a series of studies, more than 1,000 adult participants rated the sexual attractiveness of hundreds of images of the opposite sex engaged in universal displays of happiness (broad smiles), pride (raised heads, puffed-up chests) and shame (lowered heads, averted eyes).

The study found that women were least attracted to smiling, happy men, preferring those who looked proud and powerful or moody and ashamed. In contrast, male participants were most sexually attracted to women who looked happy, and least attracted to women who appeared proud and confident.

"It is important to remember that this study explored first-impressions of sexual attraction to images of the opposite sex," says Alec Beall, a UBC psychology graduate student and study co-author. "We were not asking participants if they thought these targets would make a good boyfriend or wife – we wanted their gut reactions on carnal, sexual attraction." He says previous studies have found positive emotional traits and a nice personality to be highly desirable in a relationship partners.

Tracy and Beall say that other studies suggest that what people find attractive has been shaped by centuries of evolutionary and cultural forces. For example, evolutionary theories suggest females are attracted to male displays of pride because they imply status, competence and an ability to provide for a partner and offspring.

According to Beall, the pride expression accentuates typically masculine physical features, such as upper body size and muscularity. "Previous research has shown that these features are among the most attractive male physical characteristics, as judged by women," he says.

The researchers say more work is needed to understand the differing responses to happiness, but suggest the phenomenon can also be understood according to principles of evolutionary psychology, as well as socio-cultural gender norms.

For example, past research has associated smiling with a lack of dominance, which is consistent with traditional gender norms of the "submissive and vulnerable" woman, but inconsistent with "strong, silent" man, the researchers say. "Previous research has also suggested that happiness is a particularly feminine-appearing expression," Beall adds.

"Generally, the results appear to reflect some very traditional gender norms and cultural values that have emerged, developed and been reinforced through history, at least in Western cultures," Tracy says. "These include norms and values that many would consider old-fashioned and perhaps hoped that we've moved beyond."

Displays of shame, Tracy says, have been associated with an awareness of social norms and appeasement behaviors, which elicits trust in others. This may explain shame's surprising attractiveness to both genders, she says, given that both men and women prefer a partner they can trust.

While this study focused on sexual attraction between heterosexual men and women in North America, the researchers say future studies will be required to explore the relationship between emotions and sexual attractiveness among homosexuals and non-Western cultures.

Overall, the researchers found that men ranked women more attractive than women ranked men.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Do Women Want Tall Men Because Can Fight Better?

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Standing Up to Fight: Does It Explain Why We Walk Upright and Why Women Like Tall Men?


Complete article

A University of Utah study shows that men hit harder when they stand on two legs than when they are on all fours, and when hitting downward rather than upward, giving tall, upright males a fighting advantage.

This may help explain why our ape-like human ancestors began walking upright and why women tend to prefer tall men.

"The results of this study are consistent with the hypothesis that our ancestors adopted bipedal posture so that males would be better at beating and killing each other when competing for females," says David Carrier, a biology professor who conducted the study. "Standing up on their hind legs allowed our ancestors to fight with the strength of their forelimbs, making punching much more dangerous."

"It also provides a functional explanation for why women find tall men attractive," Carrier adds. "Early in human evolution, an enhanced capacity to strike downward on an opponent may have given tall males a greater capacity to compete for mates and to defend their resources and offspring. If this were true, females who chose to mate with tall males would have had greater fitness for survival."

Carrier's new study is being published May 18 in the online Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

The idea is not new that fighting and violence played a role in making human ancestors shift from walking on all fours to walking on two legs. But Carrier's new study physically demonstrates the advantage of fighting from an upright, two-legged posture.

Carrier measured the force of punches by male boxers and martial arts practitioners as they hit in four different directions: forward, sideways, down and up.

A punching bag fitted with a sensor measured the force of forward and sideways punches. For strikes downward and upward, the men struck a heavy padded block on the end of a lever that swung up and down because it was suspended from an axle.

In either case, the men struck the target as hard as they could both from a standing posture and on their hands and knees.

The findings: for all punching angles, men hit with far more force when they were standing, and from both postures they could hit over twice as hard downward as upward.

Humans: Two-Legged Punching Apes?

The transition from four-legged to two-legged posture is a defining point in human evolution, yet the reason for the shift is still under debate. Darwin thought that our ancestors stood up so they could handle tools and weapons. Later scientists have suggested that bipedalism evolved for a host of other reasons, including carrying food, dissipating heat, efficient running and reaching distant branches while foraging in trees.

"Others pointed out that great apes often fight and threaten to fight from bipedal posture," says Carrier. "My study provides a mechanistic explanation for why many species of mammals stand bipedally to fight."

Carrier says many scientists are reluctant to consider an idea that paints our ancestors as violent.

"Among academics there often is resistance to the reality that humans are a violent species. It's an intrinsic desire to have us be more peaceful than we are," he says.

Nevertheless, human males and their great ape cousins -- chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans -- frequently fight each other for territory and access to females.

The most popular theories about why we became bipedal are based on locomotor advantages -- increases in the efficiency of walking and running. However, research shows upright posture is worse for locomotion, contrary to what Carrier initially believed.

"If you're a chimpanzee- or gorilla-type ancestor that is moving on the ground, walking bipedally has a cost," he says. "It's energetically more expensive, it's harder to speed up and slow down, and there are costs in terms of agility. In every way, going from four legs to two is a disadvantage for locomotion. So the selective advantage for becoming bipedal, whatever it was, must have been important."

Nearly all mammals, including chimps and gorillas, move on all fours when they run or cover long distances on the ground. On the other hand, all sorts of four-legged animals stand up and use their front legs to fight. They include anteaters, lions, wolves, bears, wolverines, horses, rabbits and many rodents and primates.

Carrier believes that the usefulness of quadruped forelegs as weapons is a side effect of how forelegs are used for walking and running. When an animal is running with its body positioned horizontally, the forelegs strike down at the ground. By lifting the body to a vertical posture, animals can direct that same force toward an opponent.

In addition, quadrupeds are stronger pulling back with their forelimbs than pushing forward. That translates to a powerful downward blow when they rear up on their hind legs. These advantages, which grow directly out of four-legged movement, can be used most effectively by an animal that can stand easily on two legs.

Carrier predicted that animals would hit harder with their forelegs when their bodies were held upright than when they were horizontal, and that they would hit harder downward than upward. Although it would be ideal to test these hypotheses with four-legged animals, humans should still possess the advantages that led our ancestors to stand upright, and they are more practical test subjects.

The results were exactly what Carrier expected. Men's side strikes were 64 percent harder, their forward strikes were 48 percent harder, their downward strikes were 44 percent harder, and their upward strikes were 48 percent harder when they were standing than when they were on their hands and knees. From both postures, subjects delivered 3.3 times as much force when they hit downward rather than upward.

Do Women Want Men Who Can Fight?

While Carrier's study primarily deals with the evolution of upright posture, it also may have implications for how women choose mates. Multiple studies have shown that women find tall men more attractive. Greater height is also associated with health, social dominance, symmetrical faces and intelligence in men and women. These correlations have led some scientists to suggest that women prefer tall men because height indicates "good genes" that can be passed on to offspring. Carrier believes there is more to it.

"If that were the whole story, I would expect the same to be true for men -- that men would be attracted to tall women. But it turns out they're not. Men are attracted to women of average height or even shorter," he says.

The alternative explanation is that tall males among our ancestors were better able to defend their resources, partners and offspring. If males can hit down harder than they can hit up, a tall male has the advantage in a fight because he can punch down to hit his opponent's most vulnerable targets.

Carrier certainly isn't saying women like physically abusive men or those who get into fights with each other. He is saying that women like tall men because tallness is a product if the evolutionary advantage held by our ancestors who began standing upright to fight.

"From the perspective of sexual selection theory, women are attracted to powerful males, not because powerful males can beat them up, but because powerful males can protect them and their children from other males," Carrier says.

"In a world of automatic weapons and guided missiles, male physical strength has little relevance to most conflicts between males," he adds. "But guns have been common weapons for less than 15 human generations. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised that modern females are still attracted to physical traits that predict how their mates would fare in a fight."

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Spouses select partners based on social and political attitudes

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Though "variety is the spice of life" and "opposites attract," most people marry only those whose political views align with their own, according to new research from Rice University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Political scientists found that political attitudes were among the strongest shared traits and even stronger than qualities like personality or looks.

In an article published in the April issue of the Journal of Politics, researchers examined physical and behavioral traits of more than 5,000 married couples in the United States. They found spouses in the study appeared to instinctively select a partner who has similar social and political views.

"It turns out that people place more emphasis on finding a mate who is a kindred spirit with regard to politics, religion and social activity than they do on finding someone of like physique or personality," said John Alford, associate professor of political science at Rice University and the study's lead author.

On a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 means perfectly matched, physical traits (body shape, weight and height) only score between 0.1 and 0.2 among spouse pairs. Personality traits, such as extroversion or impulsivity, are also weak and fall within the 0 to 0.2 range. By comparison, the score for political ideology is more than 0.6, higher than any of the other measured traits except frequency of church attendance, which was just over 0.7.

The study adds to recent "sorting research" that has uncovered a surprising level of uniformity in Americans' personal political communication networks -- where they live, with whom they socialize and where they work.

The new research shows that this sorting doesn't stop with the selection of neighborhoods or workplaces, however. It's also visible in choice of spouses, Alford said.

"It suggests that, perhaps, if you're looking for a long-term romantic relationship, skip 'What's your sign?' and go straight to 'Obama or Palin?'" Alford said. "And if you get the wrong answer, just walk away."

Alford and his co-authors noted that sorting is not the only reason for spouses' political uniformity, but it is clearly the most powerful. More traditional explanations for the political similarity of spouses turned out to have only modest effects and account for only about 10 percent of the similarity between long-term partners. Social homogamy -- or the tendency for people to choose a mate from within one's own religious, social, economic and educational surroundings -- played only a small role.

Similarly, the researchers found little support for interspousal persuasion, the notion that partners tend to adapt to one another's political beliefs over time – a discovery that could have implications on partisan politics for generations to come, the researchers said.

"We did expect to find a strong political bond between husbands and wives," said John Hibbing, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a co-author of the study. "But we were surprised that political concordance seems to exist from the very early years in the marriage, instead of the folk wisdom of mates growing more alike politically as their relationship goes along."

The authors said this sorting can have a big impact on the future of American politics: If parents transmit political traits to their children, then the practice of liberals marrying liberals and conservatives marrying conservatives seems likely to increase political uniformity into the next generation.

"Obviously, parents are very influential in shaping the political beliefs of their children," Hibbing said. "If both parents are on the left or on the right, it makes it more difficult for a child to be something different. It may be part of the reason why we see such polarization."

This means that marriage -- a major means by which diversity enters into extended families --doesn't actually contribute much to the political "melting pot," Alford said.

"Instead, marriage works largely to reinforce the ongoing ideological polarization that we see so clearly today," he said.