TUESDAY, April 20, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- When young women look for long-term mates, they really do prefer Ray Romano-types over the Brad Pitts and Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the world.
While they're attracted to muscular men for quick flings, female college students surveyed at two campuses said they'd choose scrawnier guys as spouses, according to new research.
While the women surveyed tend to think of muscular men as more attractive and better in bed, they also think of them as "less faithful, less likely to treat them well and be less emotionally sensitive," said study co-author David Frederick, a psychology graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"When women are choosing mates -- except for very attractive women -- they're facing a tradeoff of choosing a guy who's very sexy or one who will stick around and treat them well," he added.
Frederick and a colleague surveyed 325 college-age women about their preferred male physiques, and measured their reactions after they looked at pictures of real and computer-generated men. The men were of various levels of muscular fitness.
Frederick reported the results April 17 at a meeting of the western region of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in San Diego.
On a scale of 1 to 5, the women rated the average male at just below 3. The average rating for their ideal "short-term" partner was about 4.5; it was 4 for "long-term" partners. The women rated muscular men as nearly twice as sexy -- and twice as intimidating and dominant -- as non-muscular men.
"Based on the theory we're working under, most women wouldn't choose to marry Brad Pitt because he has so many short-term dating opportunities," Frederick said.
Most women wouldn't be confident that such a hunk would stay faithful. "The average woman would probably go for the Ray Romano guy as the long-term marriage partner," Frederick said.
And what of the most spectacularly built men, those who remind people of the new governor of California? Judging by the study results, they may be out of luck. Women reported an "ickiness factor" when they looked at the most muscular men, Frederick said.
"Women really associated the extreme levels of muscularity with high levels of narcissism and self involvement," he said.
The exceptions to the rules are extremely attractive women who tend to be willing to take the risk of marrying well-built men. (That may explain why Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt are an item, and why the marriage of Billy Joel and supermodel Christie Brinkley didn't last.)
Gordon G. Gallup Jr., a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany, said the findings might reflect human habits developed through evolution. When females pick mates, they may be looking for men who are more likely to "invest in the family and their offspring and make a long-term, committed investment in the relationship," said Gallup, who formerly taught Frederick.
By contrast, women looking for partners may view muscular men "as more likely to play the field and less likely to make commitments," Gallup said.
Evolutionary psychologists study how the ancient human past influences our current actions. Learn more about the field from the University of California, Santa Barbara. If you thought the size of your pectorals was the only thing that mattered when it comes to sexual attraction, check out this BBC story on how full lips make you more attractive to the opposite sex.