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Patterns of eye movements when male and female observers judge female attractiveness, body fat and waist-to-hip ratio

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Piers Cornelissen, Hannah George, Dr Martin Tovee


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Behavioural studies of the perceptual cues for female physical attractiveness have suggested two potentially important features: body fat distribution [the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR)] and overall body fat [often estimated by the body mass index (BMI)]. However, none of these studies tell us directly which regions of the stimulus images inform observers' judgments. Therefore, we recorded the eye movements of three groups of 10 male observers and three groups of 10 female observers, when they rated a set of 46 photographs of female bodies. The first sets of observers rated the images for attractiveness, the second sets rated for body fat and the third sets for WHR. If either WHR and/or body fat is used to judge attractiveness, then observers rating attractiveness should look at those areas of the body which allow assessment of these features, and they should look in the same areas when they are directly asked to estimate WHR and body fat. So we are able to compare the fixation patterns for the explicit judgments with those for attractiveness judgments and infer which features were used for attractiveness. Prior to group analysis of the eye-movement data, the locations of individual eye fixations were transformed into a common reference space to permit comparisons of fixation density at high resolution across all stimuli. This manipulation allowed us to use spatial statistical analysis techniques to show the following: (1) Observers' fixations for attractiveness and body fat clustered in the central and upper abdomen and chest, but not the pelvic or hip areas, consistent with the finding that WHR had little influence over attractiveness judgments. (2) The pattern of fixations for attractiveness ratings was very similar to the fixation patterns for body fat judgments. (3) The fixations for WHR ratings were significantly different from those for attractiveness and body fat.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Cornelissen PL, Hancock PJB, Kiviniemi V, George HR, Tovée MJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Evolution and Human Behavior

Year: 2009

Volume: 30

Issue: 6

Pages: 417-428

ISSN (print): 1090-5138

Publisher: Elsevier Inc.


DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.04.003


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