Some men may prefer a witty woman, but only if she's pretty as well, according to a new study. The research suggests that signs of wit and creativity in average-looking women may actually hurt their chances of getting a date even more than if they stayed completely silent. However, the opposite is true for men; women will often overlook their lack of good looks if they have other appealing traits such as humor and creativity.

The study, now published online in Royal Society Open Science, found that women may actually be punished for innate qualities that would be considered positives in men.

“Creative guys with less attractive faces were almost identical in attractiveness to really good looking guys who were not as creative," study author Christopher Watkins told AFP in a phone interview. “Creative women with less attractive faces seem to be perhaps penalised in some way.”

According to Watkins, these decisions are often involuntary and subconscious, and are a result of evolutionary biology that drives us to find the best possible mate with whom to procreate.

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For the study, Watkins had volunteers rate the looks of male and female headshots without any background context. Next, Watkins took these same photos and had new volunteers rate the individual's attractiveness, only this time there was some context to the personality of the person in the image. For example, in one experiment, the photos were attached to a short description of a painting. Some descriptions were purposely boring and unimaginative, while others were romantic and creative. In a second experiment, attached to the photo was the person’s alternative use for a car tire. Once again, some alternative uses were boring while others were imaginative.

Results showed that being imaginative and creative helped less attractive men score nearly as high in overall attractiveness as their more beautiful counterparts. Unfortunately, the same was not true for women, and having a sign of creativity could actually cause average-looking women to be scored even lower than they would without any indication of their personality.

Watkins hypothesized that women were more likely to take creativity into account when gauging a man’s overall attractiveness because they were more selective when it came to choosing mates. Creativity may be an indication of intelligence, a trait that could be passed down to potential offspring if she did choose to reproduce with him.

So if it’s not creativity that men are looking for in women, what is it? Well, as the study suggests, good looks go a long way, but this isn’t reserved to just men. A 2016 study found that both men and women preferred good looks and a slender body in potential mates. However, men have particular standards; being slender isn't enough, they want a woman with an hourglass figure, i.e. slim waist and wide hip, as this is a subconscious sign of fertility. Although in modern ages where both fertility and hip-to-waist ratio can be modified and changed, these evolutionary desires still persist.

Source: Watkins CD. Creating beauty: creativity compensates for low physical attractiveness when individuals assess the attractiveness of social and romantic partners. Royal Society Open Science. 2017

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