PARIS: Just having a few women smile at a man in public is enough to make other women consider him much more desirable, according to researchers.
British psychologists, led by Benedict Jones of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, have discovered that, when sizing up a man, a woman takes her cues from other women around him. The more females she sees smiling at a man, the likelier she is to consider the guy a good catch.
The ‘copycat reflex’ is the result of Darwinian pressures, according to experts on evolution. If a female faces lots of potential mates but has difficulties in choosing the best one, or if to do so would cost too much time or energy, she can help herself by taking a steer from how rival females behave.
The research team, which reports their results tomorrow in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, recruited 28 female volunteers averaging about 24 years old. The volunteers looked at photographs of four young men wearing neutral expressions and looking directly at the camera. The men were shown in pairs, and the women were asked to choose the more attractive man, and assign him a score on an eight-point scale.
The same faces were then shown individually to the volunteers, each male face flanked by a female face shown in profile. The female either looked neutrally at the man or smiled at him. The volunteers then took another look at the paired faces, and were asked to give another attractiveness rating.
Where the female faces wore neutral expressions, many of the volunteers revised sharply downward their initial grading of the man, by more than 10 per cent on average. But they sharply revised upwards their grading – finding the man more attractive by an average of at least 15 per cent – if the woman looking at him had a smile on her face.
The reverse was true for men: 28 young male volunteers took part in the same experiment, and their rating of the likeability of the male faces plummeted if the man in the picture was being smiled at by a woman. But if the woman had a neutral look, the likeability rating improved.
The findings tell us a lot about how sexual competition affects our views, the study said. ‘Desired’ men are more attractive to women but pose more of a threat to other males.
Among females in other species, “mate choice copying” has already been spotted among guppies, Japanese quail and zebra finches, but this is the first time the phenomenon has been confirmed among humans.