The effects of waist-to-hip ratio and body weight on male judgements of female physical attractiveness, wife desirability, and health, both within and between cultures.
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Evolutionary theories maintain that female physical attractiveness has evolved to honestly signal health and reproductive potential. Both a low waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) and a critical range of body weight have received considerable attention in this respect. As a result these cues should be universally utilised by males when evaluating female attractiveness. However, a lack of cross-cultural uniformity in these male judgements has led some researchers to reject this theory and embark on new philosophies. Research into social learning, gender roles and resource scarcity have all claimed to provide much needed constancy to an area in tension but contradictory findings continue to emerge. The primary objective of the present research is to investigate each of these theories by assessing the importance of these cues within and between cultures. Using a mixed design 129 males (43 British undergraduates, 39 rural Scotsmen, 47 Namibian males) ranked the ‘attractiveness’, ‘wife desirability’ and ‘perceived health’ of 15 female line drawings varying in body weight (3 levels) and waist-to-hip ratio (5 levels). All samples of males utilise WHR systematically when judging each dependent variable with a general decrease in preference with each deviation from WHR 0.7. However, this pattern was least consistent and pronounced in Namibian responses. Both U.K samples of males preferred average weight figures for each criterion while Namibian males preferred overweight figures. It is suggested that, an adaptive evolutionary theory can incorporate aspects of social learning, gender roles and resource scarcity therefore accounting for the present findings and helping to interpret past inconsistencies. Evolutionary theory predicts that men should value cues to health and fertility but what is healthy and fertile in one environment is not necessarily so in another environment. Males should assign maximal attractiveness to figures which best suit local optima for health and reproductive potential and as a result there should be no universal standard of female physical attractiveness but an adaptive evolutionary theory could predict preference according to the surrounding environment.