Men and Women Misperceive What the Opposite Sex Finds Attractive

By Ross Pomeroy - RCP Staff
June 01, 2020
Men and Women Misperceive What the Opposite Sex Finds Attractive
AP Photo/David Goldman
Men and Women Misperceive What the Opposite Sex Finds Attractive
AP Photo/David Goldman
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What body type does the opposite sex find attractive? It's a question that frustrates a great many young, heterosexual people and fuels their actions.

In Western countries, stereotypes and media representations suggest that men idealize thinness in women while women prefer muscularity in men. Scientific studies broadly bear this out.

But is there a discrepancy between the body shape that men and women think the opposite sex desires versus what they actually do? Psychologists Xue Lei and David Perrett recently explored that question, publishing their findings in the British Journal of Psychology.

"We aimed to find out whether or not men and women have accurate perceptions of opposite-sex preferences of body size and body composition," they wrote. "Specifically, we predict women think men desire thinner and less fat female bodies than men actually do; conversely, men think women desire heavier and more muscular male bodies than women actually do."

Xue and Perrett recruited hundreds of European males and females, whose ages ranged between 17 and 26, to participate in the study. Each was surveyed using a mobile phone app that depicted different bodies which varied based on fat percentage and body-mass index.

"Participants were... presented with an image of the same-sex body and were asked to adjust BMI and body fat percentage to reflect their own body shape, their ideal body shape, and the body shape that a heterosexual opposite-sex individual would find most attractive for short-term and long-term relationships," the researchers described. "When presented with opposite-sex bodies, participants were asked to, again, adjust BMI and body fat percentage to reflect their own preferences in an opposite-sex body for short-term and long-term partners."

Body shape preferred for short- and long-term relationships. The first number represents BMI and the second number represents Fat%. Panel (A) shows the female bodies that men actually preferred (left column) and those that women think men preferred (right column) for short-term (top row) and long-term (bottom row) relationships. Panel (B) shows the male bodies that women actually preferred (left column) and those that men think women preferred (right column) for short-term (top row) and long-term (bottom row) relationships.

Xue and Perrett found that women overestimated men's preference for thinness in female partners. At the same time, men overestimated women's preference for muscularity in male partners. (See figure above.)

Though the differences were slight, this is still good news. It suggests that men and women cultured to Western norms of ideal bodies do not desire as stringent a standard of attractiveness as most of us think.

"Men's and women's body dissatisfaction is associated with what they perceive the opposite-sex prefer. Therefore, correcting misperceptions of opposite-sex preferences might help to prevent and treat eating disorders or body dissatisfaction among young men and women," the authors write.

Source: Xue Lei & David Perrett. Misperceptions of opposite‐sex preferences for thinness and muscularity. British Journal of Psychology (2020) https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12451


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