The internet influences what people think is attractive in others, according to new research

July 11, 2014, University of St Andrews

A new study, by scientists at the University of St Andrews, found that people with access to the internet preferred more masculine men, and more feminine and thinner women.

This is the first time that researchers have compared the facial preferences of people with internet access to those without access in the same country.

As a result, the new findings suggest that the internet – and most likely media portrayals of certain 'types' – is associated with what people think is attractive.

The research, published this week by the journal PLOS ONE, was carried out by psychologists Carlota Batres and Professor David Perrett of the Perception Lab at St Andrews.

Carlota Batres, who led the study, commented, "One possibility for the difference is the level of media exposure: people with internet access are more exposed to the media (adverts or websites), which promotes the beauty ideals of muscly men and thin ."

As a recent example, the researchers cite the Hollywood blockbuster movie, 'Noah', in which the male lead is played by the masculine actor Russell Crowe and the female lead is played by the feminine and thin actress Jennifer Connelly.

The research was carried out in person in the Latin American country of El Salvador, where a substantial percentage (74%) of the population does not have access to the internet.

Miss Batres continued, "Our findings suggest that existing online studies may provide a distorted perspective of the populations in developing countries. Our data provide evidence that, even within a small country, sub-sectors of the population have different preferences.

"Future research should take this into account when studies are made in countries where a substantial portion of the population does not have internet access."

The study involved participants choosing between pictures of people higher or lower in weight, or higher or lower in masculinity and femininity. Testing was done in person in communities where internet use was common or rare.

The researchers found that there was no difference at all in the preferences of those with access to the internet, whether they were tested online or in person. Almost exclusively, they preferred the faces that the internet might suggest are more 'attractive'. However, non-internet users found feminine men and masculine, heavier women more attractive.

The study found that participants with were more likely to have a television in their home, which exposes them even further to the media through commercials, television shows, and movies.

The researchers say that there are several explanations for their findings, including economic circumstances influencing perceived attractiveness.

Professor Perrett explained, "One possibility is that the harshness of the environment may influence face preferences. People without internet in the El Salvador study had fewer resources – such as no running water - and such harshness may be responsible for what they find attractive.

"When income and access to food is uncertain, heavier women may be better equipped to survive and reproduce and therefore preferences for heavier women could be adaptive. Our findings are consistent with previous literature that has found that heavier figures are considered more attractive in poorer and rural areas."

Professor Perrett, who runs the Perception Lab at St Andrews, added, "We take the internet for granted, yet in much of the world there is a "digital divide" that separates people living with and without luxuries, so it should not be surprising that people in very different circumstances have different priorities for qualities in a spouse."

Take part in similar experiments online.

Explore further: Study shows men find women with more feminine faces more attractive, but less so in harsh environments

More information: Batres C, Perrett DI (2014) "The Influence of the Digital Divide on Face Preferences in El Salvador: People without Internet Access Prefer More Feminine Men, More Masculine Women, and Women with Higher Adiposity." PLoS ONE 9(7): e100966. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0100966

Related Stories

Study shows men find women with more feminine faces more attractive, but less so in harsh environments

April 30, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A large team made up of researchers from around the globe has found that men are less attracted to a feminine female face if they are living in under harsh conditions. In their paper published in the journal ...

The color of attraction? Pink, researchers find

October 9, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Red-faced men are feeling flush with the revelation that women find rosy cheeks attractive.

Stress makes men appreciate heavier women: study

August 8, 2012
(Phys.org) -- Increased stress in men is associated with a preference for heavier women, according to a study at Newcastle University.

People prefer leaders with more masculine voices, even in feminine leadership roles

December 12, 2012
Male and female leaders with masculine voices are preferred by both men and women. However, even in leadership roles that are typically held by women, both sexes prefer women leaders with low-pitched voices, according to ...

Recommended for you

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

Reducing sessions of trauma-focused psychotherapy does not affect effectiveness

January 17, 2018
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients treated with as few as five sessions of trauma-focused psychotherapy find it equally effective as receiving 12 sessions.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.