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Faces May Provide Clues to Sexual Attitudes

But men shouldn't presume relationship is wanted based on appearance alone, researchers add

WEDNESDAY, April 9 (HealthDay News) -- Young adults can discern another person's attitude toward sexual relationships just by looking at his or her face, according to a British study of 700 heterosexual volunteers.

The Durham University-led study also found that men generally prefer women who they believe are open to short-term sexual relationships, while women generally prefer men who they perceive to be potentially suitable for a long-term relationship.

The study participants looked at photographs of faces of members of the opposite sex (all in their early 20s) and were asked to judge their attractiveness and sexual attitudes. Their judgments were compared with the actual attitudes and behaviors of the people in the photos.

As it turned out, 72 percent of the 153 volunteers in the first study sample correctly identified sexual attitudes from photos more than 50 percent of the time.

Women who were open to short-term sexual relationships were usually rated by others as being more attractive, but the researchers need to delve into this further to determine why that's the case. Men who were most open to casual sex were generally perceived as being more masculine-looking, with facial features such as squarer jaws, larger nose and smaller eyes.

The study was published in current issue of Evolution in Human Behavior.

"Our results suggest that although some people can judge the sexual strategy of others simply be looking at their face, people are not always sure about their judgments, possibly because the cues are very subtle. Yet preferences for different types of faces were actually quite strong," study author Dr. Lynda Boothroyd, of the psychology department at Durham University, said in a prepared statement.

"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," Boothroyd 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," study co-author Dr. Ben Jones, of the University of Aberdeen's Face Research Lab, said in a prepared statement.

While faces may provide cues to sexual attitudes, men shouldn't presume any kind of relationship is wanted based on appearance alone, warned study co-author David Perrett, of the University of St. Andrews, who also noted that "most women found promiscuous-looking guys unattractive for both short and long-term relationships."

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about sexuality.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Durham University, news release, April 8, 2008

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