Nav: Home

Study finds that people are attracted to outward signs of health, not actual health

February 13, 2017

Findings published in the journal Behavioral Ecology reveal that skin with yellow and red pigments is perceived as more attractive in Caucasian males, but this skin coloring does not necessarily signal actual good health.

Some people are more attractive as mating partners than others. One trait that plays an important role in sexual selection is carotenoid-based coloration. Carotenoids are red and yellow plant pigments present in fruits and vegetables that animals consume. They're the reason carrots are orange. Previous research has found that in various species--of birds, fish, and reptiles--females are more attracted to their colorful male counterpart. Researchers have argued that carotenoid-based coloration is an honest signal of health, and is associated with acting as an antioxidant. One proposal is that people are attracted to signs of health in a desire to reproduce, and those who display signs of health have a greater chance of survival, greater fertility, and providing genes that promote good health in offspring.

Researchers investigated if there was any validity to the "signal of health" idea by experimentally testing the effect of carotenoid supplementation on facial appearance and actual health. Participants consisted of 43 heterosexual Caucasian men with a mean age of 21 years. 23 men were assigned to the treatment group and the other 20 to the placebo group.

Photographs of the participants at the start of the trial were taken in order to document changes in skin color. Participants were tested on their health, which included their level of oxidative stress, immune function, and semen quality. After the participants' health was reviewed, they were given a 12-week supplementation of beta-carotene for the treatment group or "dummy pills" for the placebo group. Participants returned after the 12 week period, where researchers repeated the photography and health tests. Sixty-six heterosexual Caucasian female raters with a mean age of 33 were recruited online to assess attractiveness of the pre- and post-supplementation faces of each male participant presented side by side on a computer screen.

Results indicated that, as predicted, beta-carotene supplementation increased overall yellowness and redness of the skin. Compared to the placebo group, post-supplementation faces in the beta-carotene group were more likely to be chosen as more attractive as well as healthier looking over the pre-supplementation faces. Therefore, beta-carotene significantly enhanced participants' attractiveness and appearance of health. Beta-carotene treatment did not, however, affect any health functions.

This study provides the first experimental evidence of beta-carotene's effect on attractiveness and health. The results suggest that carotenoid-based skin color may be sexually selected in humans, but there is no evidence to suggest that this is an honest signal of health. This study calls for further research on the influence of carotenoid coloration on mammals, in particular, if findings are replicated in women.

Yong Zhi Foo, author and postgraduate Animal Biology student at The University of Western Australia, says "Carotenoids are known to be responsible for the striking mating displays in many animal species. Our study is one of the first to causally demonstrate that carotenoids can affect attractiveness in humans as well. It also reaffirms the results of previous studies showing that what we eat can affect how we look"
-end-
Funding:

The study is supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CE110001021), ARC Professorial Fellowships to L.W.S. (DP110104594) and G.R. (DP0877379), an ARC Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award to G.R. (DP130102300) and student research grants awarded to Y.Z.F. by The Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behavior (ASSAB) and European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association (EHBEA).

The paper "The carotenoid beta-carotene enhances facial color, attractiveness and perceived health, but not actual health, in humans" is available at: DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arw188.

Direct correspondence to:

Yong Zhi Foo
PhD Student, Psychology
The University of Western Australia (M304)
35 Stirling Highway
CRAWLEY WA 6009
Australia
yong.foo@uwa.edu.au

To request a copy of the study, please contact:

Daniel Luzer
daniel.luzer@oup.com
212-743-6113

Sharing on social media? Find Oxford Journals online at @OxfordJournals

Oxford University Press USA

Related Attractiveness Articles:

Perceptions about body image linked to increased alcohol, tobacco use for teens
Virginia Ramseyer-Winter, assistant professor of social work, found negative body image is associated with increased tobacco and alcohol use, with implications for both young men and women.
There's more to attraction than what meets the eye
Attractiveness isn't just a matter of good looks, but also the right voice and scent, highlights a mini review in Frontiers in Psychology.
Are looks more important than personality when choosing a man?
When mothers and daughters have to choose potential partners, they do not look much further than skin deep.
Do you really get paid less if you're 'ugly'?
Do beautiful people earn more while those who are not so gorgeous are paid less?
Study finds that people are attracted to outward signs of health, not actual health
Findings published in the journal Behavioral Ecology reveal that skin with yellow and red pigments is perceived as more attractive in Caucasian males, but this skin coloring does not necessarily signal actual good health.
Voice appeal
In a study to be presented during the 172nd Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the 5th Joint Meeting with Acoustical Society of Japan, a Canadian researcher has new data about the vocal attractiveness of consonants.
New research shows men more aggressive on dating sites, women more self-conscious
When it comes to messaging users on dating websites, men tend to be more aggressive and contact users they are interested in, whereas women tend to be more conscious of their own attractiveness to other users, according to new research.
Opposites attract -- unless you're in a relationship
If we are in a relationship we are more likely to be attracted to faces resembling our own, but for single people, opposites attract.
Children less likely to trust ugly people
Is beauty only skin deep? Children don't seem to think so, like adults and babies, children think the uglier you are, the less trustworthy you are.
The art and science of promotional pricing
Normal rules of economic behavior would dictate that free upgrades to a particular product would move it out the door in record numbers.

Related Attractiveness Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#520 A Closer Look at Objectivism
This week we broach the topic of Objectivism. We'll be speaking with Keith Lockitch, senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, about the philosophy of Objectivism as it's taught through Ayn Rand's writings. Then we'll speak with Denise Cummins, cognitive scientist, author and fellow at the Association for Psychological Science, about the impact of Objectivist ideology on society. Related links: This is what happens when you take Ayn Rand seriously Another Critic Who Doesn’t Care What Rand Thought or Why She Thought It, Only That She’s Wrong Quote is from "A Companion to Ayn Rand"