‘There are several reasons to expect such preferences [for femininity] to be stronger in places where health is better and pathogens are fewer’ the team behind this study say. Typically feminine traits like large eyes and full lips are the result of pubertal hormones like oestrogen and could signal better fertility. More masculine faces could indicate better survival skills which could be useful in a harsh environment.
The researchers manipulated 20 photos of Caucasian women’s faces to make them more or less feminine. Male volunteers recruited online from 28 different countries were asked to choose which of the two manipulated faces they thought was more attractive for each of the 20 pairs. The team recorded the proportion of feminised faces the men picked from the pairs of photos and averaged this score for all the participants from the country.
All the volunteers were more attracted to feminine faces but the results revealed that the strength of these preferences varied among countries. In Nepal volunteers picked the more feminized faces on average just over half of the time whilst volunteers from Japan picked the more feminine faces more often. Comparing the men’s preference for feminine faces to the National Health Index for their country the researchers revealed a trend suggesting that the more healthy the country the stronger the preference for feminised faces.
In less healthy environments men might prefer less feminine faces because they could indicate better survival skills. The researchers also say potential differences in testosterone levels could explain the results. Previous studies have shown that in countries with poor health where men are exposed to more pathogens, testosterone levels are on average lower. Higher testosterone levels are often coupled with a preference for more feminine faces so less testosterone could mean a less strong preference for pretty feminine faces.