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Beauty Trumps Youth

Men go for looks when choosing a partner

THURSDAY, July 5, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- When it comes to choosing a mate, a guy prefers a glorious July over a middling April, a new study suggests.

When faced with a choice between a relatively older, beautiful woman and a younger, less attractive woman, men seem to prefer beauty before age when seeking a long-term partner, say researchers at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College (BCUC) in the United Kingdom.

"This suggests that men choose beautiful women because they will produce more beautiful offspring who will be able to spread their genes more effectively than plainer women," says Becky Melhern, one of the study's authors and a doctoral student at BCUC.

Melhern and George Fieldman, an evolutionary psychologist at BCUC, showed nearly 200 men photographs of the faces of nine women. One 36-year-old woman, more attractive than the rest, was designated the "target" female by the researchers.

The men were divided into three groups. The first group, with an average age of 30, was told that the woman was 36. The second group, average age 35, was told she was 41, and the final group, average age 30, was told that the target woman was 46. In addition to the target female, the men were shown pictures of five younger but less attractive women, as well as three older but less attractive women.

The men were asked to rank the women in order of preference as potential long-term partners. All three groups rated the target female as the most desirable mate, no matter what they thought her age was.

Melhern says the findings may provide a clue as to why some men find it hard to be faithful to their partners. She says if a man is involved in a good, stable relationship with a plain-looking woman, and he meets a more beautiful woman, "his genes may, in effect, be pushing him towards the beautiful woman." She says understanding the biological mechanisms that draw humans to beauty might help people learn to behave more appropriately.

The study is reported in the June 27 issue of the New Scientist.

Neil Clark Warren, a psychologist and author of the book How to Know If Someone Is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less, is not surprised that the men picked the beautiful woman. "The media has made it so appealing to look at what we call the wrapping," he says. But, he says 80 percent of what makes a relationship work is what's on the inside and not superficial factors such as appearance.

Warren says a survey of the 70,000 members of the Internet dating service, called, which he founded, shows men want an emotionally healthy partner, who is honest and with whom they have "chemistry." Women want an honest, emotionally healthy and spiritual partner, he says.

What To Do

This survey certainly has its shortcomings. The 36-year old target woman, while considered beautiful by the researchers, may be desirable to young men even when they're told she's 10 years older. But would the results have been skewed if, for instance, they had been shown a beautiful 46-year-old woman instead?

The Marriage Information Center at Brigham Young University offers these tips on Choosing a Spouse and this article on Whom Not To Marry!.

SOURCES: Interviews with Becky Melhern, doctoral student, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, United Kingdom, and Neil Clark Warren, Ph.D., psychologist and author of How to Know If Someone Is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less; June 27, 2001, New Scientist
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