Stumpies are fugly?

i-99e0883f9492045fa18a853d223975e7-dorf.jpgWhy men and women find longer legs more attractive:

While all of the people were the same height, the length of their legs was altered to make them equal to the Polish average or longer by 5%, 10% or 15%.

The team found that regardless of the volunteers' own body shape and leg length, people whose legs were 5% longer than average were rated as the most attractive. The next most appealing was an average leg length, or those that were 10% longer than normal.

There's plenty of research on leg-length and its correlates to attractiveness. But the more important insight here is the rank order, and confirmation that higher than typical phenotypic values are more attractive, but not the highest. In other words, the peacock effect has limits, and attractiveness tends to decrease beyond a certain point. I couldn't find leg length data, but the average American man is 69 inches tall with 1 standard deviation ~ 3 inches. This means that a male who is 6 feet tall is around the top 15th percentile. A man who is "5% taller" than average in absolute terms, that is 69 inches + 1/20 X 69 inches, is about 6 and 1/2 inches tall. A man who is "10% taller" is nearly 6 feet and 4 inches tall.

Attractiveness is intuitively clear in some ways, but decomposing it can be dicey. Exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics are often noted of beautiful people. But so are more "average" features (probably a proxy for symmetry). That is, one dimension requires deviation from the population norm to signal elevated fitness (more testosterone or estrogen), while another dimension emphasizes typicality presumably to highlight the lack of notable physical abnormalities. In other words, some traits advertise the existence of "good genes," while lack of other traits show off the lack of "bad genes."

Note: I focused on male height because associations with attractiveness are pretty strong here. On the other hand, short women don't seem to suffer much of a penalty, at least compared to short men.


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There's a typo in there that will throw off the innumerates: for 5% taller, you multiplied by 1/5 instead of 1/20.

When I read books or articles on what types of clothes work for what body types, there's always a section devoted to helping tall men look shorter. At first I thought it was pure manipulation by some short or average advice-giver, to weaken the competition (as most free, widely disseminated advice is).

But I guess if the guy is 6'3 or taller, there may be some detriment after all, and appearing 6' to 6'2 would be better.

...the average American man is 59 inches tall with 1 standard deviation ~ 3 inches.

The average American man is less than 5 feet tall?

So I and most of my adult male (and female) friends are actually towering over the rest of the US population by a head? Or does "man" in this context mean "over 9 years old"?

A man who is "5% taller" than average in absolute terms ... is about 6 and 1/2 inches tall.

5% taller than average = the height of Barbie's navel, if she had one?

I hope what we have here is a failure to ... proofread.

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 16 Jan 2008 #permalink

re: taller = smarter, i think sibling comparisons so that there isn't a height effect (i.e., the taller siblings aren't smarter). so height is confounded with other variables.

There's been some suggestion that the "average faces are more attractive" finding isn't actually a function of "averageness" per se. Instead, it appears that averaging eliminates a set of features associated with aging, developmental disruption and/or poor immune response. Specifically, averaging reduces structural asymmetries and blurs the skin to make it look smoother, unwrinkled and unblemished.

By stephen shepherd (not verified) on 17 Jan 2008 #permalink

^^ that seems plausible to me

however there is more than one "averageness" in the research. one is the averaged face generated via image manipulation and the other is what researchers imagine is a function of what the brain does with repeated experience of faces

the latter is how some attempt to explain the differences in preferences between races. another example is this recent study:

however, I don't think it necessarily supports the second averageness hypothesis (the authors conclude with a weaker hypothesis that preferences are socially organized), or isn't the only relevant process. maybe (a) like attracts like in friendship, is incidental in siblings and there is similarity in judgement because psychological variables like attainability (b) a collective effect of homophily. perhaps there is an internalization of other-friend preferences because choosing a mate is also a status altering choice. if those possibilities haven't already been addressed, perhaps future research could further separate "average" experience from relations like friend or sibling