On Beauty and Biking
Our recent podcast “Reasons to Not Be Ugly” examined the beauty premium, as well as the “downside of ugly.” A new paper by evolutionary biologist Erik Postma in Biology Letters highlights one more advantage of beauty: better endurance performance (in the form of faster cycling). Bill Andrews of Discover‘s D-brief blog summarizes the study’s setup:
As the paper’s abstract explains, “Females often prefer to mate with high quality males, and one aspect of quality is physical performance.” So the more physically fit a human male is, the more human females might want to bang him. But how to test for this — and, specifically, how to test for this with the measure of physical performance being endurance, a trait not easily quantified?
Simple. Just get headshots of 80 male cyclists who finished the grueling Tour de France, put them up on www.fluidsurveys.com, and have people rate them on a scale of 1–5 (5 being the dreamiest). Then, compare the cyclists’ hot-or-not ratings with how they did in the race. Sole author Erik Postma also asked the participants to rate the man’s masculinity and likeability, and asked whether the rater, if female, was on hormonal contraception.
The results were clear. The most attractive men were also, unbeknownst to raters, the riders that performed best. This correlation was strongest in women not on the pill. (The effect was about the same for women on it and men, interestingly enough.) A rider’s perceived masculinity didn’t seem to have anything to do with his performance; there was a positive relationship between performance and likeability but it, too, was mostly dependent on the guy’s looks.
Postma speculates the correlation may be due to an unobserved variable that affects both performance and looks, or that facial attractiveness may actually signal endurance performance:
Facial attractiveness may signal endurance performance in particular. Indeed, high endurance performance is thought to have been the target of selection in early hominids, as being able to efficiently cover large distances allowed for more efficient hunting, gathering and scavenging, resulting in a number of uniquely human adaptations.
(HT: The Daily Dish)