The Scientific Fundamentalist

A look at the hard truths about human nature.

You Really CAN Judge a Book by its Cover

Women can tell which men make good fathers just by looking at them.

In an earlier post, I discuss the old adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover” as one of the very few stereotypes that are not empirically true (as virtually all other stereotypes are indeed empirically true).  Nice people look nice, and nasty people look nasty.  A recent study neatly illustrates this point and shows that women can tell which men would make good fathers just by looking at them.

In their 2006 article published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, James R. Roney, Katherine N. Hanson, Kristina M. Durante, and Dario Maestripieri first measure men’s interest in infants.  They show 10 pairs of pictures to 39 male students at the University of Chicago.  In each pair, one is a picture of an infant and the other is a picture of an adult.  For each pair, the men indicate which of the pictures they prefer.  The more pictures of infants they choose, the higher their level of interest in infants.

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Then the pictures of these 39 men are shown to female students halfway across the country in the University of California – Santa Barbara.  29 women rate each man’s picture on how much he is interested in children.  It turns out that their ratings are significantly positively correlated with men’s actual interest in infants, judged by their preference for pictures of infants to pictures of adults.  In other words, women can tell which men are interested in children and which men are not, simply by looking at them!

The women are then asked which men they find attractive as mates.  Women who are interested in long-term relationships find men who are interested in children as more attractive, whereas women who are interested in short-term relationships find men who have higher levels of testosterone as more attractive.  Yes, women can also tell which men have higher levels of testosterone simply by looking at them, but this is less surprising, because there are certain facial features, such as large jaws and strong brow ridges, that indicate higher levels of testosterone.

This latter finding is consistent with previous research in evolutionary psychology, which shows that women who are ovulating (and are thus at a higher risk of conception) find masculine men with higher levels of testosterone more attractive, whereas women who are not ovulating (and are thus at a lower risk of conception) find feminine men with lower levels of testosterone more attractive.  This shift in mate preference through the menstrual cycle aids in women’s overall evolutionary goal of marrying nice, resourceful men (“dads”), and cuckolding them with handsome, masculine men with higher levels of testosterone (“cads”).

At any rate, Roney et al.’s study is another indication that you can indeed judge a book by its cover.  Men who would make good fathers look like they do, and women can tell just by looking at them.

Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist at LSE and the coauthor (with the late Alan S. Miller) of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters.

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