The Effects of Physical Attractiveness and Socioeconomic Status on Perceived Physical Health

Rania Kaoukis,
Phuong T. Do*,
Purdue University Calumet

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Abstract: Biocultural evolution suggests that humans place a stronger emphasis on socioemotional processes than biological factors in regard to sexual selection. Substantial evidence from past studies reinforces the proposition that mating preferences have a basis in one’s health and well-being. The indication that biological entities prefer to pass on favorable genes to their offspring can be traced back to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Consistent findings have been observed regarding the influence of development on facial symmetry. Research suggests that facial symmetry reflects developmental stability, indicating how successful one’s genes are in shaping a symmetric organism despite environmental assaults. In line with previous research, the current research proposal examined the effect of facial symmetry (i.e., a biological process) and socioeconomic status (i.e., a socioemotional process) on judgment of perceived health. It was hypothesized that women would judge a man’s health according to his facial features and annual income. Stimuli consisted of individual faces that were separated into two distinct groups based on the degrees of fluctuating asymmetry and then were counterbalanced with two levels of socioeconomic status (i.e., low and high income). Findings indicated the relative importance of both biological and socioeconomic processes in perceived health. Although the hypothetical results are preliminary, these findings suggest practical applications for understanding the biocultural evolutionary process and characteristics of natural selection in mankind.

Introduction: As early as the nineteenth century, evolutionary researchers (e.g., Charles Darwin) have been studying the direct association between physical attractiveness and health. Such a connection between the mind and body is imperative to the study of sexual selection. Recent studies have focused on the basis of physical attractiveness judgments, placing little emphasis on the relationship between physical attractiveness and health (Weeden & Sabini, 2005). Findings thus far have concentrated on morphological factors (e.g., body size and shape), overlooking the importance of health and non-physical factors, such as socioeconomic status and attraction. Based on the “good genes” sexual selection theory, Weeden and colleagues explored the importance of body and facial characteristics in relation to perceived health via the “good genes” theory. The “good genes” theory of sexual selection suggests that health is necessary for reproduction and thus genetic propagation. It can be inferred then that mating preferences have a basis in health, because individuals want to pass only “good genes” to their offspring. One such indication of “good genes” is the degree of symmetry of an organism. Symmetrical characteristics are thought to reflect the stability of an individual’s growth development, thereby modulating their perceived physical health judgment.

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