Human Nature

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 53–75 | Cite as

The Relative Importance of Sexual Dimorphism, Fluctuating Asymmetry, and Color Cues to Health during Evaluation of Potential Partners’ Facial Photographs

A Conjoint Analysis Study
  • Justin K. MogilskiEmail author
  • Lisa L. M. Welling


Sexual dimorphism, symmetry, and coloration in human faces putatively signal information relevant to mate selection and reproduction. Although the independent contributions of these characteristics to judgments of attractiveness are well established, relatively few studies have examined whether individuals prioritize certain features over others. Here, participants (N = 542, 315 female) ranked six sets of facial photographs (3 male, 3 female) by their preference for starting long- and short-term romantic relationships with each person depicted. Composite-based digital transformations were applied such that each image set contained 11 different versions of the same identity. Each photograph in each image set had a unique combination of three traits: sexual dimorphism, symmetry, and color cues to health. Using conjoint analysis to evaluate participants’ ranking decisions, we found that participants prioritized cues to sexual dimorphism over symmetry and color cues to health. Sexual dimorphism was also found to be relatively more important for the evaluation of male faces than for female faces, whereas symmetry and color cues to health were relatively more important for the evaluation of female faces than for male faces. Symmetry and color cues to health were more important for long-term versus short-term evaluations for female faces, but not male faces. Analyses of utility estimates reveal that our data are consistent with research showing that preferences for facial masculinity and femininity in male and female faces vary according to relationship context. These findings are interpreted in the context of previous work examining the influence of these facial attributes on romantic partner perception.


Sexual dimorphism Symmetry Health Conjoint analysis Faces Trade-offs 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyOakland UniversityRochesterUSA

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