Searching for love

Article I wrote as part of my degree. I thought it was an interesting piece to share.

Evolution and Human Behaviour                                                              

In 21st century culture we are bombarded with images of ideological beauties from models to musicians. However Charles Darwin (1871) suggested that humans don’t actually have a universally based standard of beauty because we would look all the same. Darwin (1871) also described sexual selection as the evolution of traits which enhance mating success by attracting mates and intimidating rivals. Within many species sexual selection has been intensely studied, even in humans who show subconscious mate preference. (Thornhill and Gangestad 1996) It is widely known that women prefer men with large jaws, strong chins and muscular upper bodies and men prefer women with small jaws, large eyes and a 7 inch hip-waist ratio. (Barber 1995) In humans however, studies are limited when it comes to looking at the relationship between attractiveness, intelligence and creativity on reproductive success. (But see Weiderman &Hurst 1998; Prokosch 2009;Nettle & Clegg 2006) Studies have suggested in many cultures perceptions of attractiveness are similar. (Langlois et al., 2000) So when choosing a mate, do humans choose individuals because of their attractiveness or are there resource benefits which can be gained from intelligent partners?


Rhodes et al.’s (2005) human study focused on whether attractive individuals achieve higher mating success than their peers. Attractiveness was determined by body and face quality as well as the association with sexual behaviour. Three components of attractiveness included sexual dimorphism (masculinity/ femininity), distinctiveness and symmetry. Physical attractiveness is important in potential mates but the precise role of attractiveness is unclear. (Buss& Schmitt 1993)

In this study around 400 University of Western Australia students took part in this experiment. Each individual filled out a sexual history questionnaire including information on the age of first intercourse, number of sexual partners, duration of relationships and extra pair copulations (cheating on partner when in a relationship). In addition a composite attitude score (CAS) was calculated using the sum of the ratings, whether they agreed (=1) or disagreed (=9) showing their attitude to sexual relationships. The statements were; sex without love is ok, casual sex outside of existing relationships is ok, sex on the first date is ok, and I would need to know my partner emotionally and psychologically before having sex. The final questions rating were reversed. The higher the score, the more conservative the individual’s attitude was to interactions with the opposite sex. Photographs were taken of individual’s faces as well as body pictures of individuals wearing black t-shirts and shorts with arms and legs visible. The paired body and face were rated on aspects of appearance including attractiveness, distinctiveness, symmetry and masculinity or femininity.

Males reported significantly more short term partners and had a more liberal attitude to sexual relationships with both males and females behaving in accordance to their attitude. Individuals with a more conservative attitude had fewer sexual partners.

Females with attractive faces had more long term relationships and were sexually active earlier. Attractive males (face and body) had more short term partners and were sexually active earlier than their peers. Distinctiveness was examined as an individual’s averageness. Average male (face and body) had more short term partners but also had more extra pair copulations. Symmetry was shown to have little association with sexual behaviour. Sexual dimorphism (masculinity/ femininity) is likely to enhance reproductive success in both sexes. Masculine males (face and body) had more sexual partners, particularly short term. Feminine female’s faces had more long term partners. Height is also a measurement examined with taller males having more short term partners than their shorter counterparts, similar trend were seen in taller females.

Surprisingly attractiveness within this study females were not assessed by their bodies which is usually an indicator of fertility. (Singh 1999)This may be due to males assessing female attractiveness from their faces alone. Also masculine men attracted more short term partners compared to feminine females who attracted more long term partners. This could be due to female preference of masculinity at the highest conception risk during the menstrual cycle. Body masculinity compared to face masculinity might show an even stronger shift preference by ovulating females. Attractiveness within this study clearly plays an important role in mate choice for both females and males but how do other factors such as intelligence and creativity play a part in mate choice?

Intelligence and Creativity

Prokosch et al. (2009) recently investigated human mate choice on intelligence and whether females select for more intelligent males. Females generally associate intelligence with success; by being able to access greater resources and provide better parental provision ability as well as direct genetic benefits of more intelligent offspring. Li et al. (2002) showed that when women are forced to prioritize potential long term male traits, intelligence was a necessity, not a luxury. Considering this about intelligence females should select more strongly for intelligent males even in short term relationships. Haselton and Miller (2006) found that females highly valued creative intelligence over wealth in a short term partner particularly when most fertile. Creativity in males has also been studied by Nettle and Clegg (2006) in successful British artists and poets who were shown to have a high number of sexual partners. Similarly to masculinity, females prefer intelligent and creative individuals when they are at the highest risk of conceiving and this is called the “fertility effect”. (Prokosch et al. 2009)  Contradictory Gangestad et al. (2007) found that females didn’t rate perceived intelligent men as more attractive short term mates.

The study by Prokosch et al. (2009) examined women’s preference for males assessed doing multiple tasks to evaluate intelligence, creativity and physical attractiveness. Perceived and observed intelligence were determined by female ratings and a verbal intelligence test. The overall prediction was that females would prefer more intelligent males, as a cue for providing quality gametes especially in a short term relationship. (Gangestad and Simpson 2000) 15 target men were used and divided into three groups of the same intelligence distribution. Their behavioural traits were videotaped doing a variety of tasks including reading the headlines of a newspaper, answering an open ended question needing a thoughtful and creative answer. In addition asking them to give three possible reasons why they would be a good date and a recording of them throwing and catching a Frisbee. 204 female undergraduates from the University of California completed a questionnaire of sexual history, an intelligence test and menstrual cycle data. Then the females watched the video clips of each male and completed an assessment form rating the males on their long and short term mate appeal, perceived intelligence, creativity, physical attractiveness, financial security and potential dependability.

The results indicated that rating of intelligence remained a clear predictor of long term mate appeal even ruling out the “halo effect” of physical attractiveness. (Prokosch et al. 2009)  Females accurately assessed male’s perceived intelligence by behavioural cues at a higher than chance level which would therefore effect rating on financial security and dependability.  The videotape provides visual information for females to assess males including initial physical attractiveness and then social attributes such as intelligence and personality, needed in the real world for interest in subsequent meetings. (Miller&Todd 1998) The importance of intelligence when selecting a mate may indicate a “good provider” and a reliable cue of “good genes”.

Creativity also appealed to females in both long and short term relationships. Creativity influences male’s physical appeal, maybe suggesting that creativity is sexy. They found that creativity might play a bigger role than expected and further research is required, as creativity seems to play a stronger role than intelligence. (Prokosch et al. 2009)  Intelligence is extremely important for long term mate choice but is important for short term relationships too.

Both the Rhode and Prokosch studies appear to give an insight into the working of human mate appeal but they only examine a small demographic of westernized undergraduates which therefore can’t be seen as a standardized global demographic. However this group of individuals are most likely to have choice in their future partners compared to other cultures with arranged marriages and different cultural ideals of beauty. Similar studies both on attractiveness and intelligence could be done in more culturally diverse universities to see whether different cultures select similar traits of mate appeal. Still it is interesting to see a specific demographic’s mate choice and the importance of selective traits for males and females as well as how intelligence and creativity affect female mate choice. However you have to wonder whether males assess female intelligence and creativity as important traits. Love at first sight could happen but it might be important to check out how intelligent and creative your partner is before you decide to have a long term relationship with them.


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Haselton, M., & Miller, G. F. (2006). Women’s fertility across the cycle increases the short-term attractiveness of creative intelligence compared to wealth. Human Nature, 17(1), 50–73.

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Langlois, J. H., Kalakanis, L., Rubenstein, A. J., Larson, A., Hallam, M., & Smoot, M. (2000). Maxims or myths of beauty? A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin126, 390–423.

Li, N. P., Bailey, J. M., Kenrick, D. T., & Linsenmeier, J. A. W. (2002). The necessities and luxuries of mate preferences: Testing the tradeoffs.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology82(6), 947–955.

Nettle, D., & Clegg, H. (2006). Schizotypy, creativity and mating success in humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B273(1586), 611–615.

Prokosch, M. D., Yeo, R. A., & Miller, G. F. (2005). Intelligence tests with higher g-loadings show higher correlations with body symmetry: Evidence for a general fitness factor mediated by developmental stability. Intelligence, 33(2), 203–213.

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