People Magazine’s 2014 Sexiest Man Alive Is Chris Hemsworth: What Does Science Have To Say?

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Is Chris Hemsworth really the sexiest man alive, scientifically speaking? Photo courtesy of Reuters

In case you haven’t heard, Chris Hemsworth has been voted this year’s People magazine’s "Sexiest Man Alive." He replaced last year’s reigning hottie, Adam Levine from Maroon 5. Although the magazine's Sexiest Man Alive rating has been around since 1985, how closely does its male attractiveness scale accurately portray what science says all women want?

Older Men May Be More Accurate

The very first sexiest man alive was Mel Gibson in 1985. Since then, we have met a wide array of magazine-labeled sexy men, but most seemed to share, more or less, being in their mid-to-late 30s. With People's target reader being a 38-year-old woman, scientifically speaking, the magazine might be more accurate to award an older man with “Sexiest Man Alive” title.

An older man marrying a younger woman is seen in nearly every culture, and scientists may have an explanation for this. According to New Scientist, women may be biologically programmed to be more attracted to older men because this combination has been proven to yield the most offspring.

According to the study, done at the University of Vienna and the University of Veterinary Medicine, also in Vienna, couples in which the male was older than the female tended to have more offspring. More specifically, the data showed that the most children were found in couples where the man was four to 5.9 years older than the woman. However, the same study showed that in Sami people, an indigenous group native to the arctic, the optimal age gap was even more significant. Data showed that Sami males who were 15 years older than their partners had the most children.

"I don't know why the optimal age differences were so much bigger among the Sami people, but it might be related to culture," one of the lead researchers, Samuli Helle, explained to New Scientist. "Perhaps those huge lifestyle differences are important."

Are Beards Not Sexy?

Another trait which the vast majority of the Sexiest Men Alive share is a clean-shaven face. So the question persists, according to science, is this portrayal of attraction accurate?

One 2011 study polled more than 200 women of both European and Polynesian background on what facial appearance they found most attractive. Results showed that the majority of women tended to associate bearded faces as being more aggressive and having a higher social status than shaven faces, but as for being more attractive: "Women ... do not rate bearded faces as more attractive than clean-shaven faces," the researchers wrote in their study, which you can find published in the journal, Behavioral Ecology.

Another study begged to differ, finding that, in general, women tended to prefer whatever was least common. "The mean attractiveness of a suite of faces is altered by the frequency of beards," the researchers wrote, finding that beards were most alluring in areas where facial hair is rare, and clean-shaven faces are most popular in areas where a hairy face is the norm. The researchers compared this to the male preference for blonde-haired ladies. 

"With female hair color, there has been speculation that red, brown, and blonde spread via their novelty, but the evidence is very ambiguous," Dr. Rob Brooks, one of the authors of the study, told the BBC.

A third study proved the two previous wrong, finding it was actually heavy stubble that females found the most attractive, although they did observe that female preference tended to change according to a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Are Muscular Bodies Really That Important?

Chris Hemsworth, best known for his portrayal of Thor, is defined by his extremely muscular body and manly facial features. But according to science, when given the choice, women could choose a thinner physique over the classic Macho man. A masculine physique and strong jawbones are caused by high testosterone and, unfortunately, high levels of this hormone can interfere with the immune system, Live Science reported.

A recent study found that women are more cued by fat content, since, according to Vinet Coetzee, it’s a more accurate marker of health.

"We found that a man’s weight serves as a better indicator of the relationship between immune response and attractiveness than masculinity does," Coetzee explained. "It is therefore more likely that Latvian women use weight, rather than masculinity, in their subconscious judgments of a man’s immunity."

White Men?

In 1996, Denzel Washington became the first black man to ever win the title of People’s Sexiest Man Alive. To this day, he remains the only black man to have ever received this “honor.” Although evidence shows that most people tend to date and marry within their own race, there might be a reason that white men so often snag this title.

Data from the Facebook app "Are You Interested" found that race is particularly important among online daters, and some races receive incredibly disproportionate amounts of interest. According to data taken from 2.4 million heterosexual interactions reviewed, all women, except black women, are drawn most to white men.

A similar review from OkCupid found that, once again, white men got the most replies from almost every group. While researchers expected that white women would prefer white men, they were surprised to find that Asian and Latina women preferred white men “even more exclusively.”

“Most men (except black men) are unlikely to initiate contact with black women. All men (including Asian men) are unlikely to reply to Asian women, and although women from all racial backgrounds tend to initiate contact with men from the same background, women from all racial backgrounds also disproportionately reply to white men," Kevin Lewis, a researcher on the OkCupid study, told Popular Science.

The reason for this strange disproportion of attention, however, is unclear.

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