Mind

The Evolutionary Psychology of Race, Beauty and Marriage

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticFeb 18, 2012 2:22 PM

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There are some papers that you can tell are going to be hot potatoes just from the titles. This is one of them: A Facial Attractiveness Account of Gender Asymmetries in Interracial Marriage.

Coming so soon after The Unconquered World, you'd be forgiven for thinking I am taking this blog in a more linkbaiting direction because I'm planning to introduce ads. I'm really not, it's just a coincidence.

The paper claims that white women are on average more attractive than black, while East Asians are prettier still. For men, however, the positions were reversed (and the effects were even stronger.)

Saying that black women are on average less attractive than others was what got evolutionary psychologist and blogger Satoshi Kanazawa into spot of bother last year. The current paper agrees with Kanazawa on that point (though doesn't cite him)... although it also declares Kanazawa to be part of the least attractive race for males, so I don't know how happy he'll be about it.

Author Michael B. Lewis of Cardiff University took 600 Facebook photos "from people who were members of groups associated with further and higher education bodies either in the UK (for White faces), sub-Saharan Africa (for Black faces) and East Asia (for Asian faces)."

Photos with a "weird expression" and people who "looked" under 18 or over 30 were excluded. The actual ages were not checked. Hmm.

A panel of 40 British students (half male) were asked to rate all of the opposite-sex faces for attractiveness from 1 to 10. The ethnicity of the rater made no difference to the results but there were only 5 black and 6 Asian students out of 40 though:

After this we get some models proposing how these data might relate to British and American inter-racial marriage patterns, and some evolutionary speculation regarding why this might have evolved - Asia was cold so men were in short supply, that kind of thing - but that's all assuming the basic data are solid.

There are many possible objections to the methodology here, some of which are addressed in the paper, but there's one [strike]massive[/strike] that isn't -

It's not stated how the Facebook images were gathered. All we're told is that "a research assistant" got the images from higher education institutions.[strike] Were they, consciously or subconsciously, picking photos that fitted the expected some pattern?[/strike]

[strike]We're not told whether or not this individual was aware of the hypothesis of the study when they chose the pics. If they were aware, it's a fatal confound;[/strike] (Edit - 19th Feb 2012 - The paper in fact says that the research assistant was "naive" i.e. that they were not aware of the hypothesis of the study, which is of course sound methodology. I missed this statement in the first version of this post.)

However, the broader point remains that they might have been selecting in line with their own preferences, or some other bias. Clearly, there's much room for cherry picking the examples, based on whether they "looked" too young or old, or had a "weird" expression...

Link: Also blogged about here.

Lewis, M. (2012). A Facial Attractiveness Account of Gender Asymmetries in Interracial Marriage PLoS ONE, 7 (2) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031703

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