May 11, 2006


How to tell if a man wants children (Mark Henderson, The Times, 5/10/06)

Women can tell whether a man likes children simply by looking at his picture, and they are more attracted to the ones who do when they are looking for a long-term relationship, research suggests.

Scientists in the United States have found that women are surprisingly accurate at guessing male affinity for infants from facial cues alone, and use these to help to select a suitable mate with whom to start a family.

When women want a short-term relationship, however, they favour male faces that are strongly masculine, which tend to belong to men with higher levels of testosterone, the study indicates.

Dario Maestripieri, of the University of Chicago, who led the research, said that men who looked like the actors Tom Hanks or Leonardo di Caprio were more likely to be judged as being interested in children, as their faces were themselves more child-like.

“They have more rounded features, smaller chins, friendly expressions, and eyes that are relatively large compared to the size of their heads,” he said. “Women take a look at someone like Tom Hanks and come away with the impression that he’s friendly and warm towards children.” [...]

This contrasts with men who have more masculine features, such as a heavy-set jaw, smaller eyes and a strong bone structure, which tend to convey high testosterone levels and a more aggressive, less caring personality. Examples include Mickey Rourke and Christopher Reeve, Dr Maestripieri said.

While these qualities might be appealing for a brief liaison, they are much less attractive in a long-term mate. The findings fit with evolutionary predictions of how female mate preferences should differ in response to particular circumstances.

When considering a long-term partner who will help to bring up children, evolutionary theory suggests that women should favour men who show a willingness to invest in their offspring. For a short encounter, however, a man’s genetic quality and masculinity should be more important.

Dr Maestripieri said that this had been borne out by the research. “The study provides the first direct evidence that women’s attractiveness judgments specifically track both men’s affinity for children and men’s hormone concentrations,” he said.

If a self-reference can be excused, this is so fundamentally daffy that I have to violate my usual well-founded refusal -- deriving from painful memories of high school science tests -- to wade into evolutionary controversies. Indeed, any reasonable person should immediately spot two jinormous non sequiturs:

1.) It is widely known that Tom Hanks left his two kids -- indeed, even this article can't avoid mentioning it -- and many discerning folks suspect that Leonardo DiCaprio is what used to be called an "invert."

2.) Common sense suggests that if the study had gone the other way and women preferred the tougher-looking men, the article would matter-of-factly state that this also supports the predictions of evolutionary psychology. It would run something like this: Tough-looking men are preferred by women because they have higher testosterone levels and are more likely to effectively protect the family unit during dangerous times.

Regardless of one's opinion of evolutionary psychology, this article obviously does little to allay the popular suspicion that it is largely composed of post hoc rationalizations for puzzling phenomena -- which is to say: Crap that people tell themselves to explain other crap they pretend to understand.

Posted by Matt Murphy at May 11, 2006 9:55 PM

And speaking of childlike faces: I look so much younger than I am that if I take off my glasses, I can still pass as a high-schooler to certain people. As far as long-term commitments are concerned, this article says I should be a chick magnet, not the kind of guy who got a date to the senior prom through the sheer dumb luck of meeting a nice girl who gave me a ride home from a party.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 11, 2006 11:09 PM

Hmmm...perhaps I am a chick magnet and the polarities just got reversed.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 11, 2006 11:10 PM

Leonardo DiCaprio is a lesbian.

A 13 year old lesbian.

Posted by: Pepys at May 11, 2006 11:29 PM

What I liked best was the theory that men who liked pictures of children had an affinity for actual children. Have the researchers never met a child photographer? Or heard of a child pornographer? Let me tell you, there are plenty of things I like to look at pictures of that I would never want to encounter in real life.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at May 12, 2006 12:27 AM

Can't find it, but there was a study reported last year ... done in England, IIRC ... which concluded that women tend to prefer one type of man during estrus and a quite different type otherwise. One type to "father biologically", another to "father socially".

Posted by: ghostcat at May 12, 2006 12:57 AM

Around here, I'm an often lonely defender of evolutionary thought and science, but I'm not going near this. Feeble science and sloppy journalism.

Posted by: PapayaSF at May 12, 2006 1:30 AM

If this study were true, the strong-jawed, muscly guys would have died out by now because they would have no children.

Posted by: sharon at May 12, 2006 7:10 AM

So these researchers, these ones who are trying to figure out how women think, were actually men. And we are supposed to take their findings seriously why again?

Posted by: Mikey at May 12, 2006 8:00 AM

It also doesn't follow that guys who like children will care for them for decades. Maybe Tom Hanks found some other children he liked better.

Posted by: pj at May 12, 2006 9:21 AM

I'd like to have my suspicions confirmed by seeing a photograph of the men who conducted this study.

Posted by: Shelton at May 12, 2006 10:31 AM

The masculinity that appeals to women has little to do with facial features otherwise the square jawed models in upscale clothing ads would appeal rather than repel. Women are drawn to physical strength and strength of character.

Posted by: erp at May 12, 2006 10:59 AM

erp -

...and loads and loads of cash

Posted by: Shelton at May 12, 2006 12:03 PM

Shelton -

POWER, in its various forms.

Posted by: ghostcat at May 12, 2006 1:43 PM

Nah. Cash is just a coverup for those who don't have the requisites.

Posted by: erp at May 12, 2006 7:04 PM