Are longer legs really more attractive?
How long are your legs? Because a paper out this week has shown that women like their men a little bit on the lanky side, after researchers asked women to rate hundreds of photos of men with adjusted arm and leg lengths. Katie Haylor spoke to researcher Tom Versluys, who did this work whilst at Cambridge University...
Tom - We looked at the relationship between limb proportions and attractiveness in men as judged by females. We took computer generated human models of men, we manipulated their limb proportions based on the natural variation in a database of American military personnel, and we had them rated for attractiveness by a sample of online women.
Katie - Okay. So what did you find then?
Tom - We found that legs - I should emphasise first that it’s relative limb proportions so we held height constant for all our models. We found that relative leg length was slightly more appealing when it was just above the average. And that arm length had no effect on attractiveness it seemed. And that the intralimb ratio, so the ratio of the lower limb segment to the upper was preferred when it was average.
Chris - Can I just clarify; is this women rating men and these women are straight women?
Tom - Yes.
Chris - So what happens if you ask men who are gay men to rate men’s leg lengths? Does the same thing hold?
Tom - Well, we didn’t explore that. Homosexual attraction and mate preference in general is very poorly understood; that’s a huge gap in the literature which will be explored in the coming years.
Katie - So, is it fair to say women do find male longer legs more attractive?
Tom - Yes. Our results were quite robust in that respect - only slightly.
Katie - But why is this the case?
Tom - Well, there are a few reasons why it might be the case. For one it’s important to note that there’s preference only for slightly longer legs, and so we’d expect preferences to orientate around the average because that’s supposed to indicate genetic diversity and, therefore, strong immune systems, so resistance to disease.
Katie - Oh okay. So you mean it might be a better potential mate potentially?
Tom, Yeah, exactly. It’s all based around mate value so you’d expect something close to the average. But the reason that there’s a preference for slightly longer legs is probably because during development this indicates developmental stability, good nutrition. It also, arguably, indicates biomechanical efficiency which would have been good in ancestral populations for walking, running, etc.
Katie - Okay. By biomechanical efficiency you mean being fitter?
Tom - Biomechanical efficiency basically means it costs less energy to move around.
Katie - Ah okay. Hang on, what about really long legs?
Tom - Really long legs are almost universally unappealing it would appear because they are often associated with harmful genetic conditions.
Chris - What about if you were a daddy long legs?
Tom - Well, I don’t know. We’d have to -
Katie - Excluded from the study!
Tom - Suddenly this is a different kind of study.
Chris - What I was getting at is do animals do this?
Tom - There'll be a similar kind of process. In fact it’ll probably be more acute in a certain sense because it won’t interact with social factors and socialisation. Animals will make attractiveness judgements based on mate value of the individual in question.
Katie - Now, I think studies like this have been done before, am I right?
Tom - Yeah, they have yeah.
Katie - So what makes your one, this new one different?
Tom - Well, although the previous literature is valuable, it had several problems. They were generally to do with the methods that were used. In particular the stimuli, which are the male models or the female models, whichever sex one was looking at, they tended to be non anatomical. So they were made in a fairly arbitrary way without reference to a reliable database, their limb proportions were manipulated often in an arbitrary manner and sometimes to the point where the fell outside the natural distribution, which means they could be testing people who you might never see in real life.
Katie - And very quickly; why do you think that legs but not arms had an effect?
Tom - This is a difficult one. We hypothesised that both would have an effect, so we can make some conjectures. So arms are less variable during development in response to harmful forces such as malnutrition, so you would think that legs would be a stronger signal so there’d be a stronger evolutionary pressure for that to happen. Legs: also the biomechanical efficiency in terms of walking and running efficiency, legs would be a more important signal. Arms don’t signal that.