Women living in countries with poorer health are more attracted to masculine looking men, according to a new University of Aberdeen led study.
Researchers set out to investigate biological theories that women perceive masculine traits in men as a signal of genetic health.
They found that this is indeed the case and that the lower level of health in a country the higher the preference among women for masculine facial traits.
The findings - part of ongoing University research into facial attractiveness and how people choose a mate - are published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Dr Lisa DeBruine, who together with Dr Ben Jones heads the University’s Face Research Lab, said: “We found that women from countries with poorer health, which have higher mortality and increased incidence of communicable disease, were more attracted to masculine faces than women living in countries with better health.
“People used to think beauty was arbitrary and that different cultures have different preferences.
"However our research shows that preferences may instead be explained by responses to different environmental factors like a low level of health in the population.”
The study involved more than 4,500 women from 30 countries – mainly in Europe, but also America, South America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – and was conducted over the internet via the Face Research Lab website.
The women – aged between 16 and 40 and all heterosexual – gave their preference for 20 different male faces.
Women were shown two images of the same face side by side, but one picture was very subtly altered so it had more masculine traits, for example a bigger jaw and heavier and lower brow line, and the other was oppositely altered so it had more feminine traits.
Researchers then looked at where the women were from before examining health statistics from the World Health Organization for each woman’s country.
Dr DeBruine said: “We found that women in countries like Brazil, Argentina and Mexico where the health is poorer were more attracted to masculine looking faces than women in countries like Belgium and Sweden, which have lower mortality rates and higher longevity.”
Dr Ben Jones, who was also involved in the research said: “These new findings really do seem to show that preferences for different types of men in different parts of the world are linked to cross-cultural differences in health. The effect remained even when we controlled for lots of other factors, such as cross-cultural differences in wealth.”
Dr DeBruine added: “We would now like to look at how other environmental differences between countries affect mate preferences. For example, women's equality and control of resources may also affect what type of male partner they prefer.
“We also hope to extend our research to look at countries with a greater range of health, since we were not able to include countries with very poor national health in our current research because these countries tend to have poor internet access.”