Sexual attractiveness: Sex differences in assessment and criteria

John Marshall Townsend, Timothy Wasserman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

79 Scopus citations

Abstract

Two studies of university undergraduates used novel measures to explore sex differences and intrasexual variation in mate preferences and sexual behavior. Study 1 used photographs of models to assess the effects of sex of subject and target persons' ambition/income on judgments of dating, sexual, and marital desirability, and analyzed these effects' associations with subjects' sexual attitudes and behavior (Simpson's and Gangestad's Sociosexual Orientation Inventory [SOI]). Results were consistent with the proposed model of mate selection: for men, potential partners' physical attributes establish a pool of coitally acceptable partners, some of whom may merit long-term investment. When women choose partners, nonphysical characteristics such as ambition, status, and dominance establish a pool of partners who are potentially acceptable for sexual relations and higher-investment relationships. Target persons' ambition/income strongly affected women's, but not men's, reported willingness to date and have sex with target persons, and the effects on women were not associated with their SOI scores. Study 2 used photographs of models in bathing suits to explore sex differences in the capacity to determine coital acceptability by means of a visual scan, what types of information men and women need in addition to a visual scan in order to determine coital acceptability, and whether these variables are associated with subjects' SOI scores. Results were consistent with the hypotheses. Women with high SOI scores require fewer signs of male willingness to invest in order to engage in sexual relations than do women with low scores. Nevertheless, the two groups have essentially the same perceptual filters and criteria in mate selection, and these differ dramatically from those of men. A "tradeoff-threshold" model of mate evaluation is described, and its compatibility with Singh's models is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-191
Number of pages21
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume19
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1998

Keywords

  • Evolution
  • Sex Differences
  • Sexual attractiveness
  • Sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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