Women may swoon over celebrities like Gerard Butler, Simon Cowell, and Colin Firth, but what do all of these three men have in common? A wide face. According to a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science, women are more likely to perceive wider-faced men as more attractive during three minutes of speed dating, but only for a fling.

When it comes to dating and mating, width does matter for women. The shape of a person’s face can tell a lot about how sexually attractive he or she is, and can also portray how aggressive, dominant, and trustworthy they may be. Facial symmetry — where both sides of the face, right and left, are alike — is consistently related to attractiveness for both males and females, according to Psychology Today. Those who have an asymmetrical look are likely to be viewed as less attractive because facial asymmetry has been associated with illness and disease.

While men prefer women with larger than average size eyes and lips, which suggests youth and female fertility, women are drawn to men with wider jaws because it implies strength and sexual maturity. These facial structures and features are nonverbal cues that both men and women use to determine who they find sexually attractive within minutes of meeting someone.

Previous studies have linked facial structure as a reliable nonverbal cue of higher testosterone levels, wealth, power, and aggressive behavior. A study published in the journal Psychological Science, found higher facial width-to-height ratio predicted aggression in men with wider faces. This finding can be attributed to the rise of testosterone levels during puberty. Men’s facial structure and features begin to emerge at this time as testosterone increases, which can also lead to aggression. This aggression can drive social dominance and lead men to feel superior and strong.

Now a team of researchers at Singapore Management University, believe a man’s facial shape influences whether a woman views them as a potential partner for either a short-term, or long-term relationship. In the study, over 150 single men and women, between the ages of 18 to 24 were recruited. The participants participated in one of seven speed dating events and did not receive any compensation, other than the possibility of meeting a potential romantic match.

Each speed-dating one-on-one interaction took place in semi-private booths and lasted for a total of three minutes. At the conclusion of every date, the female participants recorded whether or not they wanted to go on another date with the person they just saw. A one to five scale was used to determine how interested they were in a potential short-term relationship, long-term relationship, or friendship.

The participants’ facial width measurements were based on their bone structure, not their weight, to help determine if higher facial width-to-height ratios can predict sexual attractiveness. This calculation was used as a mechanism to ensure the width of the participants’ face was not dependent on their eating habits, but their genes. The researchers accounted for the men’s age and independently-rated attractiveness before finalizing the results.

The findings revealed women perceived men with wider faces as more attractive, but only for a short-term, not long-term relationship. Higher facial width-to-height ratio was seen as a physical marker of male dominance — a sexually selected trait that indicates genetic quality — and also, aggression. These qualities are what may appeal to fertile women who seek a partner that is fit, strong, and dominant.

Within three minutes of meeting someone in real life, women found these men more dominant and attractive for a short-term relationship, which created the willingness to go on another date. "The fact that women wanted to see these men again suggests that our findings are robust — women aren't just saying they are interested, they're actually willing to be contacted by these men," said  Katherine Valentine, lead researcher and psychological scientist at Singapore Management University, in the news release. "Previous studies have found that women prefer more dominant men for short-term relationships, but almost all of these studies were based in the lab and did not involve an interaction that could actually lead to mating and dating."

Possible reasons for why wider-faced men are seen as only short-term relationships may be attributed to the association between higher facial width-to-height and aggressiveness, deceitfulness, and less trustworthiness. Although these genetic qualities could be ideal in mating, women may want to avoid the potential harm they may cause in long-term relationships. The researchers plan on further investigating how individual differences, such as facial structure and features, affect their overall attractiveness, and in what social situations.

 

Sources:

Li NP, Penke L, Perrett DI, Valentine KA. Judging a Man by the Width of His Face: The Role of Facial Ratios and Dominance in Mate Choice at Speed-Dating Events. Psychological Science. 2014.

Carre JM, McCormick CM, Mondloch CJ. Facial Structure Is a Reliable Cue of Aggressive Behavior. Psychological Science. 2009.