Youth, tallness and shapely long arms are among the key features found most attractive in women, regardless of cultural differences, a new study has found.
Most studies of attractiveness have focused on torso, waist, bust and hip measurements so the finding that the length and girth of arms are also important adds weight to the view that it is the "whole package" that determines attractiveness, says Professor Rob Brooks, lead author of a paper published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.
Professor Brooks and Ms Jules Shelly – both of the UNSW Evolution and Ecology Research Centre – along with colleagues from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Tianjin Polytechnic University, carried out what they say is the most comprehensive analysis yet made of the effect of body shape and fat deposition on female attractiveness.
"Physical attractiveness is an important determining factor for evolutionary, social and economic success," the paper says. "The dimensions of someone's body can tell observers if that person is suitable as a potential mate, a long-term partner or perhaps the threat they pose as a sexual competitor."
The team used body scanning technology to produce three-dimensional images of the bodies of 96 Chinese women, aged between 20 and 49. The images were altered to remove clothes and physical traits such as facial features, skin colour and hair colour and texture to avoid racial and cultural bias.
The images were then shown to a sample of 92 Australian adults - 40 men and 52 women - aged between 18 and 58 and mostly of European descent. Their attractiveness ratings were compared to those of a group in Hong Kong, again to avoid cultural bias. Both sample groups were asked to rate the models' attractiveness on a 7-point scale.
The team then explored the statistical results, focusing on age, body weight and a range of length and girth measurements.
There was a strong level of agreement between all the groups: younger, taller and slimmer women were rated as more attractive. Women with narrow waists, especially relative to their height, were also preferred.
The study also showed that BMI (body mass index) and HWR (hip-to-waist ratio) were both strong predictors of attractiveness. Scans of taller women who had longer arms were also rated highly, however leg size did not contribute significantly to the ratings.
"When models are stripped of their most obvious racial and cultural features, the types of bodies we find most attractive tend to be shared by men and women across cultural divides," says Professor Brooks.
"Our mating, pairing and social preferences have been fashioned by the benefits of choosing the best possible mates, partners and group mates, wherever circumstances allow.
"These preferences find their expression not only in the mating and social decisions we make today, but also in novel modern contexts such as hiring and remuneration, purchasing and marketing and the value of payments such as tips to staff.
"Of course, these result only tell us what the ideal body is like but in reality most people have little chance to team up with someone who has their ideal body shape. In the end, no matter how much you might want someone, you have to find someone who wants you."
See also: http://www.bodylab.biz/
Rob Brooks - rob.pooks@ unsw.edu.au
UNSW Faculty of Science media liaison - Bob Beale - firstname.lastname@example.org - 0411 705 435