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More than just a pretty face

Men looking for a fling will check out a woman's curves, while for men looking for a long-term relationship, it's all about the allure of a pretty face.

It's the kind of scientific research that the diet industry won't like to hear; there's no need for a woman to kill herself dieting, because men looking for love really do look in a woman's eyes before checking out her cleavage.

If his eyes head south, he's looking for a quick squeeze, and isn't too interested in a woman's facial attractiveness.

New research conducted on college students from the University of Texas strongly suggests men prefer a pretty face over a sexy body for a long-term relationship.

It makes total sense, as the face is the first part of his beloved a man sees in the morning. Anyone planning on seeing a face for years to come, is likely to prefer if it is attractive and enjoyable to look at.

The study found men rate a pretty face in a long-term relationship higher than a woman does when she is selecting a life partner. This may indeed be evident in some celebrity relationships -- such as actress Salma Hayek and French billionaire businessman Francois-Henri Pinault, and Jennifer Lopez and husband Marc Anthony.

Meanwhile, there's Rod Stewart married to the beautiful Penny Lancaster, and billionaire Donald Trump married to the beautiful Melania Knauss.

Possibly the best advertisement for the appeal of a pretty face regardless of not being slim, is Irish actor Pierce Brosnan's stunningly gorgeous wife Keely Shaye Smith. It means a woman killing herself to lose 10 pounds could be prioritising the wrong area of her physical attractiveness. The new study suggests she would be better off taking care of her complexion, teeth and eyes.

Potential

The research showed 375 heterosexual college students an image of a person with their head and body covered up and described the person as either a potential short- or long-term mate.

Participants had the option of looking at either the head or body, but not both. Men made a distinction between face and figure, depending on whether they were thinking about sex or love.

Among male participants, 75pc of those who were told to consider the person as a long-term partner chose to see the face first. Meanwhile, 51pc chose the body first if they were looking at a potential short-term partner. "Men's priorities shift depending on what they want in a mate, with facial features taking on more importance when a long-term relationship is the goal," says Jaime Confer, who co-wrote the research with graduate student Carin Perilloux and Professor David Buss. "Mating is central to the engine of natural selection. This research helps clarify people's preferences."

Women, on the other hand, showed no significant difference in their interest in faces or bodies when looking for short-term or long-term mates, according to the study published last month in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour.

A woman's face and body signify different things, say the research authors. To put it in clinical terms, facial features are cues of youth and health, and features such as large eyes are feminine because "they are sensitive to the rise in oestrogen levels that accompanies puberty and persists through a woman's reproductive lifespan".

This would indicate long-term reproductive value; that is, the time a woman has left to reproduce.

The body, meanwhile, signifies fertility in the here and now. A young and comely pregnant woman, for example, would have a high reproductive value but zero current fertility potential -- as she is clearly unavailable.

Fertility

Evolutionary psychology theory holds that men value current fertility (body) more in a short-term mate and reproductive value (face) in the long term.

There may even be more to a pretty face. "The face is a signifier of emotion and character," said Roy Baumeister, the author of a new book, Is There Anything Good About Men? in response to the research.

"One of the biggest limitations is that we didn't ask participants why they chose face or body," says Confer.

She is now considering follow-up research in which participants will be asked if they want to see the faces or bodies of potential rivals who could represent competition in finding a mate.


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