Reproductive strategy, sexual development and attraction to facial characteristics

R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Miriam J. Law Smith, Lynda G. Boothroyd, Fhionna R. Moore, Hasker P. Davis, Michael Stirrat, Bernard Tiddeman, David I. Perrett

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    42 Citations (Scopus)


    Sexual reproduction strategies vary both between and within species in the level of investment in offspring. Life-history theories suggest that the rate of sexual maturation is critically linked to reproductive strategy, with high investment being associated with few offspring and delayed maturation. For humans, age of puberty and age of first sex are two developmental milestones that have been associated with reproductive strategies. Stress during early development can retard or accelerate sexual maturation and reproduction. Early age of menarche is associated with absence of younger siblings, absence of a father figure during early life and increased weight. Father absence during early life is also associated with early marriage, pregnancy and divorce. Choice of partner characteristics is critical to successful implementation of sexual strategies. It has been suggested that sexually dimorphic traits (including those evident in the face) signal high-quality immune function and reproductive status. Masculinity in males has also been associated with low investment in mate and offspring. Thus, women's reproductive strategy should be matched to the probability of male investment, hence to male masculinity. Our review leads us to predict associations between the rate of sexual maturation and adult preferences for facial characteristics (enhanced sexual dimorphism and attractiveness). We find for men, engaging in sex at an early age is related to an increased preference for feminized female faces. Similarly, for women, the earlier the age of first sex the greater the preference for masculinity in opposite-sex faces. When we controlled sexual dimorphism in male faces, the speed of sexual development in women was not associated with differences in preference for male facial attractiveness. These developmental influences on partner choice were not mediated by self-rated attractiveness or parental relationships. We conclude that individuals assort in preferences based on the rapidity of their sexual development. Fast developing individuals prefer opposite-sex partners with an increased level of sexually dimorphic facial characteristics.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2143-54
    Number of pages12
    JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences
    Issue number1476
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


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