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Visual cues to female physical attractiveness

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Martin Tovee, Douglas Maisey, Dr Piers Cornelissen


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Evolutionary psychology suggests that a woman's sexual attractiveness is based on cues of health and reproductive potential. In recent years, research has focused on the ratio of the width of the waist to the width of the hips (the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR)). A low WHR (i.e. a curvaceous body) is believed to correspond to the optimal fat distribution for high fertility, and so this shape should be highly attractive. In this paper we present evidence that weight scaled for height (the body mass index (BMI)) is the primary determinant of sexual attractiveness rather than WHR. BMI is also strongly linked to health and reproductive potential. Furthermore, we show how covariation of apparent BMI and WHR in previous studies led to the overestimation of the importance of WHR in the perception of female attractiveness. Finally, we show how visual cues, such as the perimeter-area ratio (PAR), can provide an accurate and reliable index of an individual's BMI and could be used by an observer to differentiate between potential partners.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Tovee MJ, Maisey DS, Emery JL, Cornelissen PL

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Year: 1999

Volume: 266

Issue: 1415

Pages: 211-218

Print publication date: 22/01/1999

ISSN (print): 0269-7270

ISSN (electronic):

Publisher: Royal Society of Edinburgh


DOI: 10.1098/rspb.1999.0624

PubMed id: 10097394


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