Chicago Just from looking at a man's face, women can sense how much he likes children, gauge his testosterone level and decide whether he'd be more suitable as a one-night stand or as a husband, new research published Tuesday suggests.
Scientists in Chicago and California photographed men's faces and asked women to rate them on whether they seemed to like children, on their masculinity, on their physical attractiveness and on whether they seemed kind.
Then the women rated them on their potential as long- and short-term lovers.
The masculine men - those with a large jaw, prominent cheekbones, straighter eyebrows, thinner lips and a heavy beard - were found to be attractive as short-term romantic partners.
But for long-term relationships, women were more drawn to men who they thought were interested in children.
The study indicates that male hormone levels and their affinity for children may play a role in determining how attractive men are to women - albeit on a subconscious level.
"Our data suggest that women are picking up on facial cues that may be related to paternal qualities," said the lead author of the paper, James Roney of the University of California, Santa Barbara. "The more they perceived the men as liking kids, the more likely they could see having a long-term relationship."
The women were surprisingly adept in being able to read subtle sexual signals, Roney said.
The study's female subjects accurately determined from the photos which men had high testosterone levels - they perceived the men as more masculine. They also could pick out the men who had expressed the most interest in children.
"Our study shows that women don't just look for masculinity; they also see cues for interest in infants, and they're very accurate in judging both," said Dario Maestripieri, a behavioral biologist at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study, which appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, a British scientific journal.
"They're attracted to one or the other, depending on whether they're interested in a short- or long-term partner."
The research suggests that our behavior may be affected by genetic programming that evolved to increase survival of the species, said Dr. Daniel Alkon, scientific director of the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute in Morgantown, W.Va., and Washington, D.C.
"It looks like all of us are responding to many nonverbal cues and pieces of information of which we're not really conscious that may have some origins in the hardwired parts of the brain," Alkon said.