Learning Outcomes. zAt the end of this session you should be able to: z1. Review the evidence concerning the role of WHR in female attractiveness. z2. Carry out a small-scale assessment of female body shape preferences, collate and discuss the results. z3. Critically evaluate the methodology used. zKey Skills: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 2.1, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 4.2, 5.1, 6.1.
Background. zSingh (1993) proposed that WHR served as an 'honest' marker of female age / reproductive status / health. zHe asked participants to examine 12 randomly arranged line drawings representing four levels of WHR at three levels of body weight and rank them in order of attractiveness. zIn all weight categories, males and females rated the figure with the lowest WHR (0.7) as being more youthful, healthy, reproductively capable and attractive. zParticipants rated the figure of normal weight with the WHR of 0.7 as being the most attractive. zThe underweight figure with a WHR of 0.7 was rated as being the most youthful but not as attractive or reproductively capable.
Stimulus Figures (Singh, 1993) Ranked as most attractive
Singh & Young (1995). zA new set of stimuli was devised in which all of the figures had a WHR of 0.7 but they differed only in terms of breast size and hip size. zFigures with large breasts and small hips were rated as significantly more attractive than figures with small breasts and small hips. zThe figures with large hips were rated as being unattractive irrespective of breast size. zWHR, hip and breast size also influenced a range of other preferences.
Study 1 Stimuli (Singh & Young, 1995) Most attractive
Study 2 Stimuli (Singh & Young, 1995). Most attractive
Singh & Young (1995) Results.
Singh & Young (1995) Results (continued):
Other Studies. zHenss (1995) replicated the Singh (1993) study but also included male figures. The female figure with a WHR of 0.8 was considered to be most attractive, but for the male figures the ratio of 0.9 was the most attractive. Underweight figures were thought to be more attractive than overweight ones.
Other Studies (continued). zFurnham et al., (1997) asked participants to rate each figure on a 7-point bipolar scale. Their results echoed those of the previous studies. zHowever, they did not find that the figures with a WHR of 0.7 were considered to be more healthy or more youthful. zNor did they find that figures with a high WHR were considered as being more unhealthy. zTassinary & Hansen (1998) criticised the fact that the findings from WHR research was based on sets of line drawings and thus lack ecological validity; rather strangely their study also using line drawings. Henss (2001) rectified this by using morphed photographs displaying the same female body with a different WHR and again found that a lower ratio was associated with higher ratings of attractiveness.
Ecological Considerations. zAll the evidence discussed so far has been conducted in Western industrialised societies. Yu & Shepard (1998) reported that WHR preferences were not universal, but rather altered depending upon the degree of Westernisation, preference for a low WHR increased in tribal cultures as the degree of Westernisation increased. zMarlowe & Wetsman (2001) tested males in a foraging society and found that they preferred the figures with a higher WHR (0.8, 0.9). They argued that among subsistence societies, thinness is a sign of ill health, poor nutrition, and low reproductive capability. In societies where calories are easily available then the same would be true of overweight females and the male preference should shift accordingly.
Is ‘Body Mass Index’ (BMI) Better? zBMI (weight in kg divided by height in m²) is also an honest signal as it is closely correlated with health and fertility. zA BMI of 18-20 is associated with better health and higher reproductive capability. zTovée et al., (1998) point out that previous studies have supposedly held BMI constant while varying WHR by narrowing the waist. zIn fact, when line figures are modified by altering the waist this also alters perceived BMI. zThey used real pictures of women manipulated to control for WHR and BMI. zSmall alterations in BMI had a large influence on attractiveness, and this was of greater impact than alterations in WHR.
Tovée et al (1999) Stimuli
Tovée & Cornelissen, (2001). zThey pointed out that all previous studies have used stimuli from a front-view perspective only. zThe pattern of fat deposition in the lower body (hips, waist, and buttocks) is potentially more salient in profile. zThey showed images of women controlled for WHR and BMI in front and profile to males and females and asked them to rate their attractiveness. zAs in their previous study small alterations in BMI either side of the 18-20 range significantly altered attractiveness ratings. zThey argue that BMI is a more salient cue to reproductive potential as anorexic women show normal WHR’s but are infertile.
References. zFurnham, A., Tan, T., & McManus, C. (1997). Waist-to-hip ratio and preferences for body shape: a replication and extension. Personality and Individual Differences, 22: 539-549. zHenss, R. (1995). Waist-to-hip ratio and attractiveness. Replication and extension. Personality and Individual Differences, 19: 479-488. zHenss, R. (2000). Waist-to-hip ratio and female attractiveness. Evidence from photographic stimuli and methodological considerations. Personality and Individual Differences, 28: 501- 513. zSingh, D. (1993). Body shape and women's attractiveness: the critical role of the waist-to-hip ratio. Human Nature, 4: 297-321. zSingh, D., & Young, R.K. (1995). Body weight, waist-to-hip ratio, breasts, and hips: role in judgements of female attractiveness and desirability for relationships. Ethology and Sociobiology, 16: 483- 507.
References continued. zTassinary, L.G., & Hansen, K.A. (1998). A critical test of the waist- to-hip ratio hypothesis of female physical attractiveness. Psychological Science, 9: 150-155. zTovée, M.J., & Cornelissen, P.L. (2001). Female and male perceptions of female physical attractiveness in front-view and profile. British Journal of Psychology, 92: 391-402. zTovée, M.J., Maisey, D.S., Emery, J.L., & Cornelissen, P.L. (1999). Visual cues to female physical attractiveness. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 266: 211-218. zMarlowe, F., & Wetsman, A. (2001). Preferred waist-to-hip ratio and ecology. Personality and Individual Differences, 30: 481-489. Yu, D.W., & Shepard, G.H.Jr. (1998). Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Nature, 396: 321-322.