Human Physique and Sexual Attractiveness in Men and Women:
A New Zealand–U.S. Comparative Study
Barnaby J. Dixson ÆAlan F. Dixson Æ
Phil J. Bishop ÆAmy Parish
Received: 26 November 2007 /Revised: 30 September 2008 /Accepted: 11 October 2008 /Published online: 13 January 2009
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009
Abstract Men and women living in New Zealand and
California completed ﬁve studies regarding human physi-
que and sexual attractiveness. In Studies 1–3, women rated
images of male stimuli and, in Studies 4–5, men rated female
stimuli. In Study 1, women in both countries rated meso-
morphic (muscular) and average male somatotypes as most
attractive, followed by ectomorphic (slim) and endomorphic
(heavily built) ﬁgures. In Study 2, amount and distribution of
masculine trunk hair (chest and abdominal) was altered pro-
gressively in a series of front-posed male ﬁgures. In both
countries, the image lacking any trunk hair was rated as the
most attractive, with a steady decline in attractiveness as
hirsutism became more pronounced. Study 3 assessed attrac-
tiveness of front-posed male ﬁgures that varied only in the
length of the non-erect penis. Five lengths were presented:
The smallest penile size was rated as less attractive than three
intermediate sizes. The largest penile size was not the most
attractive, but received higher scores than the unaltered and
smallest penile size. In Study 4, men rated the attractiveness
of back-posed female images varying in waist-to-hip ratio
(WHR) (from 0.5 to 1.0). The 0.7 WHR ﬁgure was rated more
attractive in New Zealand and the 0.6 WHR in California.
Study 5 measured the attractiveness of female skin color;
men expressed preferences for lighter skinned female ﬁgures
in New Zealand and California. Results indicate very similar
preferences for sexually dimorphic physical traits among
men and women of European extraction, living in two cul-
turally and geographically different environments.
Keywords Sexual attractiveness Evolution
Masculine somatotype Feminine waist-to-hip ratio
Penile length Secondary sexual traits
Theory suggests that people may (either consciously or
subliminally) use a variety of morphological features to as-
sess the reproductive quality of potential mates (Barber,
1995; Symons, 1995; Thornhill & Gangestad, 1996). Female
waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a reliable signal of female health
and fecundity, with lower WHR being linked to triggering
menarche (Lassek & Gaulin, 2007), maintaining regular ovu-
latory cycles (Singh, 2002) and efﬁcient storage of the
omega-3 fatty acids required for neural development of the
fetus (Lassek & Gaulin, 2008). WHR is also a signiﬁcant
correlate of female attractiveness, with low WHRs being
most attractive to men in North America, the UK, and Ger-
many (Furnham,Tan, & McManus, 1997;Henss,2000;Singh,
1993a,1993b). Body Mass Index (BMI) is also signiﬁcant
in determiningfemale attractiveness (Swami& Tove
´e, Maisey, Emery, & Cornellisen, 1999). Larger than
average female breasts are attractive to men (Singh & Young,
1995), a trait which may relate to female reproductive poten-
tial, as women with lowerWHRs and large breasts have higher
fecundity (Jasienska, Ziomkiewicz, Ellison, Lipson,& Thune,
2004). Women with higher follicular phase levels of estradiol
also have more attractive faces (Law-Smith et al., 2006).
B. J. Dixson (&)A. F. Dixson
School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington,
Wellington, New Zealand
P. J. Bishop
Department of Zoology, Otago University, Otago, New Zealand
Gender Studies Department, University of Southern California,
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Arch Sex Behav (2010) 39:798–806
If human beings have evolved cognitive mechanisms that
assess visual cues of a potential mate’s health and fecundity,
then it is necessary to understand what similarities and vari-
ations exist between cultures. It has been suggested that a
low female WHR is more attractive to men (e.g., WHR =
0.7: Singh, 2006); however, some studies do not support this
claim. For example, among the Matsigenka of Peru, a WHR
of 0.9 was most attractive (Yu & Shepard, 1998). In Bakos-
siland in rural Cameroon, a WHR of 0.8 was most attractive
(Dixson, Dixson, Morgan, & Anderson, 2007b). In Tanzania,
Wetsman and Marlowe (1999) found that a WHR of 0.9 was
most attractive to Hadza men. However, in a more recent
study, which presented images of women in which the but-
tocks were visible, Hadza men preferred a WHR of 0.6
(Marlowe, Apicella, & Reed, 2005). Clearly, further careful
cross-cultural investigations are required to understand the
relation between female WHR and sexual attractiveness.
Human beings are sexually dimorphic in skin tone (Rob-
ins, 1991). Female skin is often lighter than male skin (Dar-
win, 1871; Frost, 1988,1994; van den Berghe & Frost, 1986).
Natural selection may have been a primary determinant of
lighter skin in women, as vitamin D synthesis is crucial
during pregnancy and lactation (Jablonski & Chaplin, 2000).
Sexual selection may maintain the degree of skin color
dimorphism within populations through males being sexu-
ally attracted to females with lighter skin, a theory supported
by ethnographic data showing that feminine beauty is as-
cribed to lighter skin tone (Aoki, 2002; van den Berghe &
Frost, 1986). Recently, in a quantitative study of sexual pref-
erences among university undergraduates in China, men
showed a marked preference for images of females with
lighter skin tones (Dixson, Dixson, Li, & Anderson, 2007a).
Cross-cultural studies are limited, however, and the role of
skin tone in female attractiveness requires further study.
Male physique can be classiﬁed according to somatotype
(Sheldon, Stevens, & Tucker, 1970). Somatotyping is an
anthropometric scaling method for deﬁning physique in
relation to muscularity and body fat, employing a three di-
mensional system which measures a person’s mesomor-
phy (muscularity), endomorphy (fatness), and ectomorphy
(leanness) (Carter & Heath, 1990; Sheldon, Dupertuis, &
McDermott, 1954). Homo sapiens is sexually dimorphic in
degree of mesomorphy. While male mesomorphy varies
between populations, within populations men are typically
more mesomorphic than women (Carter & Heath, 1990).
Male somatotype is also a signiﬁcant determinant of sexual
attractiveness to women, with a mesomorphic muscular
physique being highly attractive in the UK, Sri Lanka, and
Cameroon (Dixson, Halliwell, East, Wignarajah, & Ander-
son, 2003; Dixson et al., 2007b).
Darwin viewed sexual selection as operating to enhance
sexually attractive traits and recent studies of Homo sapiens
have provided some supporting evidence. For example, taller
men are more attractive as romantic partners to women
(Hensley, 1994) and men who are taller than average within a
population sire more offspring in the U.S., UK, and Poland
(Mueller & Mazur, 2001; Nettle, 2001; Pawlowski, Dunbar,
& Lipowicz, 2000). Thus, in Mueller and Mazur’s (2001)
study of military ofﬁcers in the U.S., taller men were more
likely to have a fourth child, whereas the median family size
was three for the same study population.
Nonhuman primates develop capes of hair that depend
upon circulating androgens (Dixson, 1998). In Homo sapi-
ens, mature males display secondary sexual hair to varying
degrees on the face, chest and trunk. It has been suggested that
this characteristic may have been retained in males as a visual
signal of sexual maturity (Pagel & Bodmer, 2003). Pronoun-
ced hirsutism has been found to be highly attractive in the UK
(Dixson et al., 2003) but not in China (Dixson et al., 2007a).
Since variation in the appeal of male body hair may exist
between populations, more cross-cultural data are required to
measure the importance of this trait.
Human male genitalia undergo considerable growth at
puberty. First, the testicles enlarge, pubic hair grows, and the
penis increases in length and girth (Tanner, 1978). Much
speculation surrounds the role male genitalia may play in
terms of attractiveness to potential partners (e.g., Miller,
2000) and there is some evidence for the importance of penile
length and girth in women’s judgments of male partner sat-
isfaction (Stulhofer, 2006). Clearly, however, further cross-
cultural studies are required to examine these questions.
The purpose of this study was to compare the preferences
for morphological features and secondary sexual character-
istics in people of European heritage, who have historically
taken different migratory paths and currently inhabit geo-
graphically different settlements. Europeans began settling
the North island of New Zealand in 1840 and Anglo-Amer-
icans colonized California following the Mexican war in
1848 (Beck & Williams, 1972; Kirch, 2000). Frequently,
cross-cultural research has tested whether humans have
evolved mechanisms for assessing mate quality by compar-
ing the preferences of people from very distant cultures.
However, in making cross-cultural comparisons of human
mate selection, one valid approach is to compare people of
European origin whose ancestors emigrated to geographi-
cally separate environments (on opposite sides of the Paciﬁc
Ocean). If humans have evolved psychological mechanisms
for evaluating potential partners for health and fertility, then
the same preferences should be present among people who
share a common ancestry. To test this, we compared sexual
attractiveness ratings for a variety of morphological traits by
people of European origin who currently live in New Zealand
and California (USA). In both countries, the subjects selected
were of similar age (predominantly in their teens or 20s),
mostly unmarried and of comparable educational level (uni-
Arch Sex Behav (2010) 39:798–806 799
A total of 137 men (M age, 20.3 years) and 185 women (M
age, 20.1 years) constituted the New Zealand sample and 85
men (M age, 20.7 years) and 81 women (M age, 20.3 years)
constituted the U.S. sample. Less than 5% of the participants
Each questionnaire began with a cover sheet to collect
demographic information from each participant, including
sex, age, ethnicity, and marital status (married or single). All
questionnaires were anonymous and participation was
Images of males were produced by scanning photographs
of front and back-posed males from Sheldon et al. (1954). In
each case, images from the mid-range of three somatotypes
(mesomorphic, ectomorphic, and endomorphic) were used,
as well as a man of average somatotype. We did not modify
these images to control for possible differences in ﬂuctuating
asymmetry. Images of women were the same as those used in
previous studies (Dixson et al., 2007a,2007b). Any asym-
metries present in the original images of both sexes have been
retained and it is possible that such differences might have
affected attractiveness ratings to some degree. The scanned
images of males and females were then manipulated using
Photoshop 7.0 and standardized for height, posture, and for
studies 1–4, color. Skin color was matched to a European
Caucasian sample by scanning photographs from Anatomy
for the Artist (Simblet, 2001) into the computer and matching
skin color of the images to these photographs in Photoshop
7.0. Where front-posed images were used, faces were blacked
out, as our studies did not concern facial stimuli.
For Studies 1–3, women used a 6-point Likert scale to score
ratings of attractiveness where 0 =unattractive, 1 =only
slightly attractive, 2 =mildly attractive, 3 =moderately
attractive, 4 =very attractive and 5 =extremely attractive.
In Studies 4–5, men chose the female image that they found
most attractive for either a short-term or a long-term
Study 1 measured female preferences for back posed male
images varying in somatotype (ectomorph, endomorph,
mesomorph, and average). Images were presented in random
order and women rated each image using the 6-point scale for
Study 2 assessed female preferences for front-posed male
images varying in degrees of hirsuteness on the trunk (chest
and abdomen). Five images of a front-posed mesomorphic
male were presented in random order and each image varied
in degree of hirsuteness. Images of mesomorphic males were
used because mesomorphy has been shown to be highly
attractive to women (Dixson et al., 2003,2007b). The dis-
tribution of chest and abdominal hair was altered in a step-
wise fashion from none to pronounced hirsutism. Women
rated each image using the 6-point scale for sexual attractive-
Study 3 examined female preferences for male images
varying in length of the (non-erect) penis. Penis length was
altered on ﬁve front-posed mesomorphic males (the same
mesomorphic image used in Study 2). Each image was pre-
sented in random order and rated using the 6-point scale for
sexual attractiveness. In one ﬁgure, the penis was the same
size as the original photograph used to model the images in
the computer. In the remaining four images, we altered penile
lengths. Originally, we had intended to alter the four lengths
to represent 80%, 120%, 130%, and 140% of their original
size. However, measurements of the actual ﬁgures produced
revealed images to be 78%, 122%, 133%, and 143% of the
Study 4 measured male preferences for a replicated female
image varying only in WHR; the WHR range was: 0.5, 0.6,
0.7, 0.8, 0.9, and 1.0. The images were arranged in random
order on the same sheet of the questionnaire. Participants
were asked to choose only the image they found most sexu-
ally attractive. On a subsequent page, the same range of
WHRs was shown, this time asking males to choose the im-
age they found most sexually attractive for a long-term
Study 5 assessed male preferences for female images
varying in skin color. Five color variations of the same back-
posed female ﬁgure (WHR 0.8) were used in this study. Skin
tone was altered (using Photoshop 7.0) in a step-wise fashion
(by 10 units of brightness and 15 units of contrast) to create
two images that were darker and two images that were lighter
than the original. The images were placed in random order on
a single page and men were asked to select only the image
they found most sexually attractive.
In Studies 1–3, a two-way mixed model analysis of variance
(ANOVA), with culture as the between-subjects factor and
stimulus as the within-subjects factor, was used evaluate the
attractiveness ratings. In Studies 4–5, the responses of men in
both cultures were compared using a likelihood ratio (G-
square) test with culture crossed with stimulus. If differences
in male preferences across cultures occurred, the table was
partitioned according to Agresti (2002) in order to carry out
800 Arch Sex Behav (2010) 39:798–806
Study 1: Female Preferences for Back-Posed Male Images
Varying in Somatotype
Figure 1shows the mean attractiveness ratings as a func-
tion of nationality and body type. A 2 (Nationality) 94
(Somatotype) ANOVA revealed a signiﬁcant main effect
for Somatotype, F(3, 795) =532.49, p\.0001, but there
was no signiﬁcant Nationality main effect or a signiﬁcant
Somatotype 9Nationality interaction. Post-hoc Scheffe
tests showed that the male images depicting mesomorphic
and average somatotype were rated as signiﬁcantly more
attractive than the ectomorphic and endomorphic somato-
types (all ps\.001). The mesomorphic image was rated as
the most attractive but not more so than the average
Study 2: Female Preferences for Male Images Varying
Figure 2shows the mean attractiveness ratings as a function
of nationality and body type. A 2 (Nationality) 95 (Hir-
sutism) ANOVA revealed a signiﬁcant main effect for hir-
sutism, F(4, 1060) =175.09, p\.0001, but there was no
signiﬁcant Nationality main effect or a Nationality 9Hir-
sutism interaction. Post-hoc Scheffe
´tests showed that the
most attractive image was the male ﬁgure lacking any chest
or trunk hair and main effects were due to steady declines
in attractiveness ratings as images became more hirsute
Study 3: Penile Size and Attractiveness
A 2 (Nationality) 95 (Penile size) ANOVA revealed sig-
niﬁcant main effects for Penile size, F(4, 1060) =218.06,
p\.0001 and a signiﬁcant Nationality 9Penile size inter-
action F(4, 1060) =21.74, p\.0001. Post-hoc Scheffe
tests showed signiﬁcant interactions of the repeated measure
were due to higher attractiveness scores in California for the
images depicting penile lengths 122%, 133%, and 144%,
which were rated as signiﬁcantly more attractive than penile
lengths of 78% and 100% (p\.0001 for each paired com-
parison). In New Zealand Scheffe
´tests showed that penile
lengths of 122% and 133% were more attractive than the
78%, 100% or 144% images (p\.0001 in each case).
Fig. 1 Women’s mean ratings (?SEM) for sexual attractiveness of
back-posed male ﬁgures of four different somatotypes: ENDO =endo-
morphic; ECTO =ectomorphic; MESO =mesomorphic; AVER =
average body build. ***p\.001
Fig. 2 Women’s mean ratings (?SEM) for attractiveness of front-
posed male ﬁgures which vary only in hirsuteness of the trunk (chest and
abdomen). None =no trunk hair; Max =pronounced hirsuteness.
Arch Sex Behav (2010) 39:798–806 801
Study 4: Men’s Ratings of Female Waist-to-Hip Ratios
Due to the absence of selections of the 0.9 and 1.0 WHRs,
a 2 (Nationality) 94 (Waist-to-hip ratio) G
test was con-
ducted. The results revealed a signiﬁcant association between
culture and preference for WHR (G
=26.60, df =3, p\
.0001; Table 1a). To uncover where the differences in pref-
erences occurred, the table was partitioned in order to carry
out pair-wise comparisons. When comparing selections for a
WHR of 0.7–0.8 there was no signiﬁcant association (G
0.019, df =1, p=.891). When comparing a WHR of 0.6 to
WHRs of 0.7 and 0.8 there was a signiﬁcant association be-
tween stimuli and culture (G
=8.69, df =1, p=.003),
with men from the USA preferring a lower WHR of 0.6
compared to men from New Zealand who preferred WHRs of
0.7 and 0.8. When comparing male preferences for a WHR of
0.5 to preferences for WHRs 0.6, 0.7 and 0.8 there was a
signiﬁcant association between culture and stimuli (G
17.83, df =1, p\.0001). Men from the USA gave higher
selections for a 0.5 WHR when compared to men from New
Zealand. In general, men from the USA preferred lower
WHRs of 0.5 and 0.6 compared to men from New Zealand
who preferred WHRs of 0.7 and 0.8.
Men in both cultures were then asked to select the WHR
they found most attractive for a long-term relationship. Due
to the absence of selections of the 0.9 and 1.0 WHRs, a
2 (Nationality) 94 (Waist-to-hip ratio) G
test was con-
ducted. Table 1also shows the results of this test, which
showed a signiﬁcant association between WHR preferences
and culture (G
=31.65, df =3, p\.0001). When com-
paring selections for a WHR of 0.7–0.8 there was no signif-
icant association (G
=0.403, df =1, p=.526). When
comparing a WHR of 0.6 to WHRs of 0.7 and 0.8 there was a
signiﬁcant association between stimuli and culture (G
18.63, df =1, p\.0001), with men from the USA prefer-
ring a lower WHR of 0.6 compared to men from New Zealand
who preferred WHRs of 0.7 and 0.8. When comparing male
preferences for a WHR of 0.5 to preferences for WHRs 0.6,
0.7 and 0.8, there was a signiﬁcant association (G
df =1, p\.0001) with men from the USA gave higher
selections for a 0.5 WHR when compared to men from New
Zealand. In general, men from the USA preferred lower
WHRs of 0.5 and 0.6 compared to men from New Zealand
who preferred WHRs of 0.7 and 0.8.
Study 5: Men’s Ratings of Female Skin Color
Table 2shows the results of a 2 (Nationality) 95 (Skin color)
test, which revealed a signiﬁcant association between
Fig. 3 Women’s preferences for images of male ﬁgures varying only in
length of the (non-erect) penis. Images are in order of increasing size.
Data are means (?SEM) ***p\.001
Table 1 Male preferences for female waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) for
attractiveness (A) and long-term relationship (B)
WHR Culture Total
0.5 Count 1 13 14
% Within culture 8% 15.3% 6.8%
0.6 Count 45 43 88
% Within culture 37.5% 50.6% 42.9%
0.7 Count 47 18 65
% Within culture 39.2% 21.2% 31.7%
0.8 Count 27 11 38
% Within culture 22.5% 12.9% 18.5%
0.5 Count 1 10 11
% Within culture 8% 11.8% 5.4%
0.6 Count 30 42 72
% Within culture 25% 49.4% 35.1%
0.7 Count 51 21 72
% Within culture 42.5% 24.7% 35.1%
0.8 Count 38 12 50
% Within culture 31.7% 14.1% 24.4%
802 Arch Sex Behav (2010) 39:798–806
selection and culture (G
=14.24, df =4, p=.007). When
comparing male preferences for the darker and darkest skin
tones there was no signiﬁcant association (G
=1.00, df =1,
p=.31). This trend continued when comparing male prefer-
ences between average skin tone and the two darker skin tones
=0.758, df =1, p=.38). When comparing male pref-
erences for the image one degree lighter than average with
average and darker skin tones, there was a signiﬁcant associ-
=10.16, df =1, p\.0001) with men from the
USA preferring the lighter skin tone. No signiﬁcant associa-
tion was found when comparing the lightest skin tone to the
lighter, average and darker skin tones (G
=2.30, df =3,
The study populations examined here comprised mostly
young women and men who were attending universities in
New Zealand and California. Despite the limitations of the
sample, the results obtained provide some useful insights
concerning visual cues and human sexual attractiveness.
The female preferences for male somatotypes reported
here conﬁrm the ﬁndings of previous studies conducted in the
UK, Sri Lanka, and Cameroon (Dixson et al., 2003,2007b).
A muscular (mesomorphic) male somatotype was rated as
most attractive by women, followed by an average physique.
Indeed, in New Zealand and California, ratings for these
somatotypes did not differ statistically. In China, by contrast,
an average physique was rated as more attractive than a
mesomorphic physique (Dixson et al., 2007a). Therefore,
while broad shoulders, narrow waistline, high shoulder-to-
hip ratio, and deﬁned musculature are clearly important
traits inﬂuencing female assessments of male physical attrac-
tiveness (Hughes & Gallup, 2003; Lynch & Zellner, 1999;
Swami & Tove
´e, 2005b), it is not the case that muscularity is
necessarily paramount to female ratings of male somato-
types. In both New Zealand and California, women rated
heavily built (endomorphic) masculine images as least attrac-
tive, the same result as obtained in the UK, Sri Lanka, Cam-
eroon, and China.
Somatotyping is useful in assessments of physical ﬁtness,
including strength, coordination, and endurance. Mesomor-
phic males are more successful in physical ﬁtness tests, while
ecto-mesomorphs perform best at distance running and endo-
mesomorphs excel at strength-testing sports (e.g., weight
lifting). Endomorphic males exhibit the lowest levels of
performance in all these areas (Carter & Heath, 1990). Meso-
morphy is also associated with better cardiac function, espe-
cially when compared to men who have an endomorphic
constitution (Katzmarzyk, Malina, Song, & Bouchard, 1998).
During human evolution, natural selection may have favored
masculine traits underlying strength and endurance running
as well as intellectual traits which are important for hunting
and foraging. These factors may have inﬂuenced men’s
ability to succeed in the hunter-gatherer societies from which
modern humans evolved (Bramble & Lieberman, 2004; Buss,
2003; Marlowe, 2004). An average body build may be better
adapted for endurance running, while muscularity may signal
ability to protect a potential mate and to succeed in inter-male
competition (Buss, 2003). Although the ecological factors
which selected for such masculine traits are not as important
in contemporary industrialized societies, sexual selection
during human evolution may explain deep-seated female
preferences for certain masculine somatotypes.
Compared to many non-human primates, adult human
males exhibit relatively well developed secondary sexual
traits (e.g., facial and body hair), such as occur in polygynous
species (Dixson, Dixson, & Anderson, 2005). Pagel and Bod-
mer (2003) have suggested that natural selection favored the
evolution of hairlessness in Homo sapiens, as an adaptation to
reduce ecto-parasite loads, but that hair was retained in cer-
tain areas of the body due, in part, to effects of sexual
selection. Initial studies, conducted in the UK, showed that
masculine trunk (chest and abdominal) hair was rated as
highly attractive by women (Dixson et al., 2003). However,
the current study, involving people of European descent
living in New Zealand and California, produced the opposite
result. Images of men lacking trunk hair were rated as most
attractive, with a progressive decline in scores as hirsutism
increased. Similar results were obtained in China (Dixson
et al., 2007a), while in Cameroon hirsutism had little effect
on women’s ratings of male attractiveness (Dixson et al.,
2007b). Currently, there is little support for the hypothesis
that sexual selection may have inﬂuenced the evolution of
masculine trunk hair via female mate choice. Cross-cultural
studies should continue to examine this question and to col-
lect data from women in older age groups. There is some
evidence that younger males in the U.S. are more likely to
practice hair removal from the body. Thus, a study of 118
male undergraduate students at the University of South
Table 2 Male preferences for female skin tone
Skin tone Culture Total
Lightest Count 20 8 28
% Within culture 16.7% 9.4% 13.7%
Lightest Count 37 47 84
% Within culture 30.8% 55.3% 41%
Average Count 50 26 76
% Within culture 41.7% 30.6% 37.1%
Darker Count 10 2 12
% Within culture 8.3% 2.4% 5.9%
Darkest Count 3 2 5
% Within culture 2.5% 2.4% 2.4%
Arch Sex Behav (2010) 39:798–806 803
Florida found that 64% of men were practicing depilation
(Boroughs, Cafri, & Thompson, 2005). Although the occur-
rence of depilation was not measured in the current study, it
may have inﬂuenced our results given the younger ages of
In its ﬂaccid state, the human penis is displayed more
prominently than is typical of the non-human primates, as it
protrudes from the body, it is surrounded by pubic hair, and is
more readily visible due to men’s upright (bipedal) gait. It has
been suggested that penile traits may have been inﬂuenced by
sexual selection during human evolution (Potts & Short,
1999; Short, 1980), although little attempt has been made to
test this hypothesis. In the current studies, women in New
Zealand and California rated images of the same male as
more, or less, attractive depending upon variation in length
of the (non-erect) penis. Although numerical ratings were
somewhat higher in the U.S. sample, women in both coun-
tries gave the highest ratings to images in which the penis had
been lengthened moderately (by 22% and 33%) but rated
extremes of penile length (78% and 143% of normal) as less
attractive. It may be that such preferences reﬂect female
judgments of what is healthy and normal in a male, while the
smallest, and the greatest, penile lengths may be perceived as
aesthetically abnormal. Penile width was not altered in these
studies, although there is some evidence that both the width
and length of the penis inﬂuences women’s partner satis-
faction (Stulhofer, 2006). The results from New Zealand and
the U.S. were similar to those obtained in Cameroon and
China (Dixson et al., 2007a,2007b). The (still limited) cross-
cultural evidence indicates that penile size has some signif-
icance in women’s judgments of male attractiveness.
Skin color varies consistently between human popula-
tions, so that natural selection may have favored reduction in
dark (melanic) skin pigmentation in more northerly lati tudes,
due to low UV exposure and constraints upon vitamin D
metabolism (Jablonski, 2006; Jablonski & Chaplin, 2000).
Sexual dimorphism in skin tone has been reported in a
number of ethnic groups, with women typically having a
lighter skin tone than men (Darwin, 1871; Frost, 1988,1994).
Skin condition may be a visual cue to female health and
reproductive condition, as lightening of skin color occurs
with the onset of physical maturity (Tanner, 1978). Preg-
nancy and lactation may bring about localized changes in
skin pigmentation, which persist as women age (Symons,
1995). In the current study, men rated images with lighter
skin tones as most attractive, especially so in the Californian
sample. In New Zealand, men rated the female images of
average skin color as most attractive, followed by the image
which was lightened by 10 units of brightness and 15 units of
contrast. This latter image was the most attractive to Cali-
fornia men. Male preference for lighter female skin tones was
also signiﬁcant in studies conducted in China (Dixson et al.,
2007a). Hence, our results lend support to the hypothesis that
the evolution of lighter skin coloration in women may have
been inﬂuenced by sexual selection (Darwin, 1871; van den
Berghe & Frost, 1986).
It is possible, although it remains to be determined, that
skin color may interact with hair color to inﬂuence male
perceptions of female attractiveness. Thus, women with blond
hair and tanned skin may appear darker than a brunette with
the same skin tone. Further research is required to examine
this question. Furthermore, subtlechanges in female skin tone
may occur during menstrual cycles (Roberts et al., 2004)
and women’s complexions may reﬂect differences in estroge-
nic effects upon cues which inﬂuence attractiveness (Fink,
Grammer, & Matts, 2006; Law-Smith et al., 2006). Further
cross-cultural studies to measure the effects of female skin
tone upon attractiveness and the relevance ofnaturally occur-
ring sex differences in skin coloration would be valuable.
Female WHR was an important determinant of male pre-
ferences in both New Zealand and California. The female
image depicting a WHR of 0.6 was most attractive to men in
California, both for attractiveness ratings and when consid-
ering a long-term relationship. A WHR of 0.6 and 0.7 re-
ceived signiﬁcantly higher scores for attractiveness in New
Zealand. However, when a long-term relationship was con-
sidered, men no longer preferred a female WHR of 0.6; in-
stead, more participants chose the images with WHRs of 0.7
and 0.8. This suggests that men may alter their mate prefer-
ences when considering long-term relationships, as is
thought to be the case for some other female traits (Buss &
Research using line drawings has been criticized for not
representing signiﬁcantly realistic images of human phy-
sique, and for confounding possible effects of WHR and BMI
upon female attractiveness (Tove
´e & Cornelissen, 2001).
These are valid criticisms. The results reported here are con-
sistent with Singh’s (1993a) theory that female WHR may act
as a ﬁrst pass ﬁlter in men’s judgments of female attractive-
ness, as WHR provides a reliable cue to reproductive health
and fecundity (Singh, 2002,2006). However, the images we
used in studies conducted in New Zealand, the U.S., and
elsewhere do not allow a distinction to be made between the
relative importance of female WHR and BMI in men’s judg-
ments of attractiveness, as the two variables are positively
correlated. What is clear, however, is that despite living in
different cultural and physical environments, young men and
women in New Zealand and California exhibit consistent and
very similar preferences for sexually dimorphic traits impor-
tant for mate choice.
Acknowledgements We would like to thank all the students who re-
sponded to the questionnaires at Victoria University of Wellington and
Otago University of Dunedin in New Zealand and the University of
Southern California, Los Angeles, California. We also thank three
anonymous reviewers and the Editor for most constructive criticisms of
the original manuscript.
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