Homo Consumericus

The nature and nurture of consumption

Congenitally Blind Men Prefer the Female Hourglass Figure (Literally).

Congenitally blind men love women with curves.

In a previous post, I discussed men's preference for female waist-to-hip ratios (WHR) that corresponds to the hourglass figure. In a more recent post, I made the point that whereas some beauty metrics are culturally determined, others are universally defined. In the context of the WHR, the general consensus is that men's evolutionary-based preference is between 0.68 to 0.72, but this can change as a function of local environments. For example, in environments that have historically had recurring caloric scarcity, men's preferences are oftentimes "adjusted" to a higher WHR.

Notwithstanding the significant scientific evidence in support for the ubiquitous male preference for the hourglass figure, social constructivists doggedly hang on to the position that our preferences are due to arbitrary socialization (e.g., advertising teaches men to prefer a particular body type). Well, in today's post, I discuss a new study that yet again kills the apparently immortal socialization dragon!

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In a recent paper published in Evolution and Human Behavior, Johan C. Karremans, Willem, E. Frankenhuis, and Sander Arons explored men's WHR preferences with one twist: the men in question were congenitally blind! Needless to say, this largely removes the possibility that these men were taught via media images to prefer a particular female body type. You might wonder how one would go about eliciting such preferences from blind men...via touch of course! The researchers had two mannequins dressed in exactly the same way but who varied in terms of their WHR (0.70 or 0.84). The blind men touched both mannequins subsequent to which they provided attractiveness scores on a 1-10 attractiveness scale (higher meant more attractive). This task is quite reasonable in terms of its mundane realism, as we know that blind people use their haptic sense to evaluate numerous stimuli (e.g., facial features).

I should add that the researchers also conducted the study with sighted men, as well as blindfolded men (who otherwise had vision). The goal here was to gauge the strength of the preference across the three groups, namely blind, sighted, and blindfolded men. For all three groups, the mannequin with the 0.70 WHR was preferred to the one with a WHR of 0.84 (p < .02, p < .001, and p < .05 for the blind, sighted, and blindfolded groups respectively). That said, the strength of the effect, which is captured by a metric known as Cohen's d, was strongest for the sighted group (d = 1.33) followed by the blind group (d = 0.68), and finally the blindfolded group (d = 0.54). In other words, whereas all three groups displayed the preference for the hourglass figure, sighted individuals exhibited the preference most staunchly. In this sense, it is conceivable that media images could serve to accentuate an otherwise innate preference (I am being charitable to the social constructivist position here!).

I can already hear the social constructivists coming up with the next argument: "OK, but the blind men were socialized auditorily." I see. I suppose that we should next conduct a study on men who are both blind and deaf, in the never-ending attempt to convince some folks that it is a rather banal truth that humans do exhibit biological-based mating preferences!

Ciao for now.

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Gad Saad is Professor of Marketing at Concordia University and author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct.


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