November 02, 2008

Sexy parents produce sexy daughters (but not sons)

A very interesting new paper in Animal Behaviour regarding the inheritance of masculinity/famininity and attractiveness. On the left are composites of 10 attractive parents and their daughters, and on the right composites of 10 unattractive parents and their daughters.

Not surprisingly, the attractive female looks similar to another facial composite in a recent study on facial correlates of sociosexuality by authors from the same institution (University of St. Andrews in the UK).

The difference between Fisherian runaway selection and "good genes" theory -mentioned below- is that in the former, a "sexy" trait is selected even though it has no adaptive value (such as the peacock's tail), while in the latter the latter the "sexy" trait is that which signifies good genetic qualities (e.g. health).

From the paper:
Our findings are supportive of both Fisherian processes and good genes theory. Both parents contributed to the attractiveness and femininity of daughters. We found that daughter's attractiveness was predicted independently by father's attractiveness and mother's femininity (and therefore, by default, mother's attractiveness). Fisherian selection processes would suggest that men have evolved preferences for sexually dimorphic facial characteristics in opposite-sex partners, and through human evolution these preferences have increased the frequency of feminine facial characteristics such as a slender chin, full lips and large eyes in women. Good genes theory predicts the same finding, although it suggests that feminine facial characteristics must by definition signal good quality, including possible cues to immunocompetence, fertility, youthfulness, health and perhaps even maternal tendencies


We are perplexed as to why we did not find any evidence for the inheritance of attractiveness in males, through either the female or male parent. Attractiveness, by its own definition, should be sexy, and while we found evidence for sexy parents–sexy daughters, we did not find the parallel in male offspring. While masculine dads produced masculine sons, in this study, sexy parents did not produce sexy sons.
UPDATE : For a possible solution to this paradox, see next post.

Animal Behaviour doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2008.07.031

Sexy sons and sexy daughters: the influence of parents' facial characteristics on offspring

R. Elisabeth Cornwell, and David I. Perrett


Choosing a mate to maximize fitness underlies all sexual selection theories. Key to understanding mate choice is the inheritance of particular traits. Using family photos, we evaluated the predictions made by sexual selection theories for human mate choice concerning the inheritance of facial characteristics and assortment in facial appearance of parents. We found that both fathers' and mothers' attractiveness predicted the facial attractiveness of daughters: ‘sexy daughters’. Fathers and sons were related to each other in facial masculinity but not attractiveness, providing only partial evidence for ‘sexy sons’. Mothers and sons did not relate in masculinity–femininity; neither did fathers and daughters. Parents were similar in attractiveness but masculine men were not partnered to feminine women. Our findings support some predictions of Fisherian selection processes and ‘good genes’ theory but are less consistent with ‘correlated response theory’ and the immunocompetence handicap principle.



Jason Malloy said...

"We are perplexed as to why we did not find any evidence for the inheritance of attractiveness in males, through either the female or male parent."

Interesting. I can't find any papers on the heritability of (human) male attractiveness. It's high for females, but no numbers for males.

I really don't think this will be replicated, but I could be wrong.

Crimson Guard said...

Isnt masculine considered sexy for men? These studies are funny.

eurologist said...

Yeah, I don't trust these studies based on personal experience.

Would be fun to see how the tool below fares... I am tempted to upload a picture of Brooke Shields and Andre Agassi...

DocG said...

There appears to be no known measure of attractiveness per se, i.e., unmediated attractiveness. As with so many other pseudo problems in science, we are probablly dealing with an essentially semiotic issue. When we attempt to judge something via photos, the photograhic process and the manner in which the issue at hand is mediated by that process must be taken into account. The most "attractive" person in the world can look like something the cat dragged in, depending on how that person is photographed. Photographs are NOT unmediated windows on reality and it is naive in the extreme to assume they are. Above and beyond that, what makes someone attractive as a person is a matter of extraordinary complexity involving at least two people, and a host of criteria, making this an extremely difficult matter to scientifically assess.