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Why the dating game is taken at face value

Suitors can tell a young person’s attitude to sexual relationships by the look on their face, according to new research which gives deeper insight into mate attractiveness.

Scottish researchers at the Universities of St Andrews and Aberdeen collaborated with Durham University in a study which also found that young men and women look for complete opposites when it comes to relationships.

The study found that men generally prefer women they perceive are open to short-term sexual relationships, whilst women are usually interested in men who appear to have potential to be long-term relationship material.


The scientists say the research shows people can use their perceptions to make more informed partner selection depending on the type of relationship they are after.  The study is a significant step in further understanding the evolution of partner choice.

Dr Ben Jones, of the University of Aberdeen's Face Research Lab, said, "Lots of previous studies have shown that people can judge a lot about a person from their face, including things like health and even some personality traits like introversion, but this really is the first study to show that people are also sensitive to subtle facial signals about the type of romantic relationships that others might enjoy."

In the study, 700 heterosexual participants were shown pairs of photographs or 'averaged' facial images of men and women in their early 20s with two opposing attitudes to relationships.  The participants were asked to choose the face that they felt would be more open to short-term sexual relationships, one-night stands and the idea of sex without love.  They were also asked which face they thought was the most attractive for a long or short-term relationship, who was more masculine or feminine, and who they thought was generally attractive.

These perceptual judgments were compared with the actual attitudes to relationships of the subjects in the photographs determined through a detailed questionnaire.  The results determined that the majority of the men and women taking part could accurately judge from photographs who would be more interested in short-term sexual relationship or a long-term relationship.

The research found that women who were open to short-term sexual relationships were usually seen by others as more attractive.  The men who were more open to casual sex were generally perceived as more masculine-looking, with squarer jaws, larger noses and smaller eyes.  The findings support previous research which found that women see masculine men as more likely to be unfaithful and make worse parents, and therefore less attractive for both short and long-term relationships.

Dr Lynda Boothroyd from Durham University's Psychology Department, said, "Our results suggest that although some people can judge the sexual strategy of others simply from looking at their face, people are not always sure about their judgements possibly because the cues are very subtle.  Yet preferencesfor different types of face were actually quite strong. 

"This shows that these initial impressions may be part of how we assess potential mates – or potential rivals – when we first meet them.  These will then give way over time to more in depth knowledge of that person, as you get to know them better, and may change with age."

Professor David Perrett, a psychologist from the Perception Lab University of St Andrews cautioned, "While faces do hold cues to sexual attitudes; men should not presume any kind of relationship is wanted from appearance alone since women's choice is what matters. Indeed most women found promiscuous-looking guys unattractive for both short and long-term relationships."

For more information and to take part in web-based experiments, log onto or

The study, published today in the Journal of Evolution and Human Behaviour, was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council. 




Professor David Perrett, Perception Lab, University of St Andrews tel: 01334 463044 or email href=""></a></p>

Dr Lynda Boothroyd, Department of Psychology at Durham University, tel: 0191 334 3289 or email: href=""></a></p>

*** NB Dr Ben Jones is unavailable for comment this week ***



Notes to Editors

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: Wednesday 9th of April 2008

Contact: Jennifer Phillips

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