Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Slide Rules of Attraction: The Verdict

Earlier, I asked whether innate beauty and external effort are complements or substitutes in producing attractiveness. Three readers have now informed me that the verdict is in: they’re substitutes. In general, women with higher levels of estrogen are perceived as more attractive -- but the use of make-up shrinks or even eliminates the attractiveness gap.
Both male and female volunteers rated the faces of the women with the highest hormone levels as the most attractive.

These faces tended to have classically feminine features, such as larger eyes and lips and smaller noses and jaws.

However, when the women in the photographs were wearing make-up, no relationship between attractiveness and oestrogen was found. …

Head of the study, Miriam Law Smith, said: … "Make-up can improve appearance across the board, but it will obviously help people who are less attractive more." [emphasis mine]
The question remains whether a similar rule holds for men. I’ll go out on a limb and say make-up is not the most relevant form of external effort for men. Exercise might be. Now, if (and it’s a big if) testosterone plays the same role in affecting men’s innate beauty as estrogen plays in affecting women’s, my guess is that innate beauty and external effort would be complements for men, since men’s bodies with the most testosterone would probably be most responsive to exercise. However, this conclusion is contingent on women actually finding the most testosterone-laden men the most naturally attractive.


Carina said...

I'm not impressed with her conclusion. It's not at all "obviously" supported by the findings of her study. She can claim only that make-up masks the effects of estrogen cycling.

Make-up makes the biggest difference for women who aren't at peak fertility, be they attractive or unattractive on the whole.

Glen Whitman said...

The article indicates that they were looking at the long-term effects of higher estrogen levels, not just the estrogen cycling within a single woman. It refers specifically to physical features that could not be changing on a week-to-week basis. "Oestrogen levels during puberty can impact on appearance by affecting bone growth and skin texture, [the research team] said." "These faces [of women with higher estrogen levels] tended to have classically feminine features, such as larger eyes and lips and smaller noses and jaws."

But the article doesn't describe their methodology in detail, so I can't say whether they adequately controlled for within-person estrogen cycling.

Carina said...

I checked, and they did control. That allays my major concern with the methodology, though I'm still not impressed with the sample size.

So it is supported by her study, but it's still not obvious. I point to the Liverpool research and stick with the claim that make-up helps an attractive women at the bottom of her cycle more than a less attractive woman at the top of hers.