, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 205-235

Sexual selection and physical attractiveness

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Sexual selection processes have received much attention in recent years, attention reflected in interest in human mate preferences. Among these mate preferences are preferences for physical attractiveness. Preferences in and of themselves, however, do not fully explain the nature of the relationships that individuals attain. A tacit negotiation process underlies relationship formation and maintenance. The notion that preferences for physical attractiveness evolved under parasite-driven “good genes” sexual selection leads to predictions about the nature of trade-offs that individuals make between mates’ physical attractiveness and investment potential. These predictions and relevant data are explored, with a primary emphasis on women’s preferences for men’s qualities. In addition, further implications of trade-offs are examined, most notably (a) the impact of environmental variations on the nature of mating and (b) some effects of trade-offs on infidelity and male attempts to control women.

The ideas in this paper were substantially influenced by discussions with Kim Hill and Hilly Kaplan following a preliminary presentation of work contained herein at a UNM Human Evolutionary Ecology Program colloquium.
Steven W. Gangestad is an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico. His recent research includes work focused on sexual selection in humans and its implications for general relationship phenomena. His other recent research concerns the impact of developmental instability on functional asymmetries, interpersonal orientations, and individual differences in the control of emotional expression.