Attractive results

by Marc Wilson / 23 June, 2013
Good looks can make the difference between life and death.
Every year I ask students to vote for whatever subject they want me to teach in their last lecture. In previous years, I’ve done improvised lectures on lying and deception, cults, happiness or whatever else is the flavour of the day.

This year, it was actor Ryan Gosling. Or at least that’s what one person asked for: “Ryan Gosling … shirtless … or not. [Please teach about] Relationships so you can give me advice on how to win Ryan Gosling over.” As it happens, if you Google “psychology” and “Ryan Gosling”, a surprising amount of material comes up, suggesting Ryan’s wife-to-be isn’t alone in her obsession. Indeed, one good blog post from Psych Your Mind addresses the question of why people are obsessed with RG.

One study has suggested less-attractive people are more likely to be declared dead on arrival at hospital. Photo/Thinkstock


While preparing my final lecture (relationships, with a bit of Ryan thrown in), I learnt a fair bit. Long before I’d picked up a scientific journal, life had already taught me that women tend to prefer attractive men to, well, bug-ugly ones.

Good looks can help when it comes to the ladies, but they can also make the difference between life and death. Maybe your grandma told you to make sure you wear clean underwear every day just in case you get run over and other people see your undies? Research hasn’t looked at undies-related mortality, but – and this caused a furore when first reported – it transpires one study has suggested less-attractive people are more likely to be declared dead on arrival at hospital (paramedics work harder to keep good-lookers alive). And to think there was a fuss over a recruitment company soliciting attractive people as clients.

Similarly, I’ve already heard of the evolutionary theories that suggest manly men are popular because they bring the promise of being able to provide for, and protect, their offspring.

Not everyone picks Gerard Butler over Zac Efron, though. Why? There’s no accounting for taste, but there are meaningful national differences in the relative preference for manly, as opposed to girly, men (sorry, Zac).

Lisa DeBruine and colleagues in the UK asked participants in 30 countries to indicate their preference
for photographs of men who varied from very masculine to very feminine in proportions.

They found that countries with a shorter life span and greater mortality and communicable-disease rates tended to prefer Butler over Efron. The reverse was true in many Western countries with better standards of living. DeBruine and friends suggest this is because the more threatening the context, the greater the need for a rugged man who can fend off threats to life and limb.

But it gets worse – for me, at least (I’m not a manly man, unless I wear a Vin Diesel mask and you squint). As well as cultural variation in preference for classical masculinity, women at different times prefer masculine more than at other times. In fact, research suggests women looking for a long-term partner are happier to eschew ruggedness than if they were considering a short-term dalliance. Evolutionary psychologist David Buss goes so far as to imply that I, as a girly man, need to keep an eye on my mate when she is at her most fertile lest she be seduced by Daniel Craig’s bulky biceps and well-turned calves. As if I don’t have enough to think about.

Of course, women aren’t always the baddies. Here’s a question: what is the minimum level of acceptable intelligence (in terms of percentage of the population) for a partner you anticipate going on a date with? Dating regularly? Sleeping with? How about marrying? Women typically show a fairly linear increase from about the 50th to 65th percentile the more intelligent, the more intimate and long-lasting the anticipated relationship. And men? Identical. Except for “sexual relations”, where the minimum acceptable intelligence is a little over able-to-tie-own-shoes. As sad as it is predictable.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Trade Me bans sale of pugs, British and French bulldogs
86110 2018-01-20 10:49:32Z Business

Trade Me bans sale of pugs, British and French bul…

by Sally Blundell

As a result of growing concern over the welfare of pugs, British and French bulldogs, Trade Me has announced they're banning the sale of these breeds.

Read more
Puppy farming: New Zealand's secret dog-breeding shame
86056 2018-01-20 00:00:00Z Currently

Puppy farming: New Zealand's secret dog-breeding s…

by Sally Blundell

NZ has an unregulated puppy-breeding industry where unscrupulous operators can flourish, so why aren’t we following the lead of overseas governments?

Read more
The Crown has lost its way in season two
85715 2018-01-20 00:00:00Z Television

The Crown has lost its way in season two

by Greg Dixon

To read the gushing media reports, you’d have thought The Crown was a winning combination of the Second Coming, unicorns and sliced bread.

Read more
How your name influences who you become
85737 2018-01-20 00:00:00Z Psychology

How your name influences who you become

by Marc Wilson

Researchers say that 'Daisy' is more likely to dress and act in a feminine manner because the name has a stereotype of femininity.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and present lend their support
86105 2018-01-19 15:45:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and pres…

by RNZ

Politicians from at home and abroad are reaching out to offer congratulations to the Prime Minister mum-to-be.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND a mum
86091 2018-01-19 12:36:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND…

by Katie Parker

New Zealand’s newly minted PM and bizarrely cool and normal lady Jacinda Ardern has announced that she and partner Clarke Gayford are expecting a baby

Read more
Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy
86074 2018-01-19 11:11:36Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy

by RNZ

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that she is pregnant, with the baby due in June.

Read more
What the media silly season taught us
85933 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

What the media silly season taught us

by Graham Adams

To the eternal gratitude of media chiefs, each holiday period seems to throw up at least one minor scandal that runs in the absence of anything newsy.

Read more