Wake Forest University psychologist Dustin Wood and study co-author Claudia Brumbaugh of Queens College had more than 4,000 participants in the study rate photographs of men and women -- ages 18-25 -- for attractiveness on a 10-point scale ranging from "not at all" to "very." The raters ranged in age from 18-70.
Before the participants judged the photographs for attractiveness, the members of the research team rated the images for how seductive, confident, thin, sensitive, stylish, curvaceous the women looked, and how muscular the men looked. The images were also rated for traditional, masculine/feminine, classy, well-groomed, or upbeat characteristics.
Men's judgments of women's attractiveness were based primarily on physical features and they rated highly those who looked thin and seductive. Most of the men in the study also rated photographs of women who looked confident as more attractive.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that as a group, the women rating men showed some preference for thin, muscular subjects, but disagreed on how attractive many men in the study were. Some women gave high attractiveness ratings to the men, while other women said they were not attractive at all.
Wood said the study results have implications for eating disorders and how expectations regarding attractiveness affect behavior.
"The study helps explain why women experience stronger norms than men to obtain or maintain certain physical characteristics," Wood said.