By Michael Hanlon 1:45PM GMT 14 Feb 201
Men and women may know what they like, but is their behaviour governed by emotions or chemicals? Michael Hanlon finds out.
Women are turned on by strong, silent types. Men think about sex every seven seconds. Women go for alpha males, but men avoid successful women. So we’re told, at any rate – but is it true? Is love dictated purely by biology, or can we still believe in the magic of romance? ThisValentine’s Day, we sort the science from the clichés.
Gentlemen prefer blondes
FALSE Last month, researchers from the University of Westminster sent a woman to three different nightclubs with her hair dyed brunette, blonde and red, and recorded how many men approached her, and how they rated pictures of her. The study found that although the “blonde” received far more offers on the dance floor, the “brunette” was rated higher for perceived attractiveness and intelligence.
Does this tell us anything? In most societies, blondes are much rarer than brunettes (more than 90 per cent of us have dark hair), so it may simply be that in a dark, noisy environment, blondes stand out. In fact, most evidence shows that men’s preference is swayed more by fashion than biology. In the Sixties, brunettes took over as the epitome of beauty when Jackie Kennedy supplanted Marilyn Monroe. In the Eighties, blondes reasserted themselves – the Diana effect.
Women prefer gloomy men
Ever wondered why the life and soul of the party usually goes home alone? It’s because women prefer men who glower rather than smile, according to Canadian scientists. They showed about 1,000 men and women several hundred pictures of both sexes in various states of cheerfulness, and asked them to rate them in terms of their “gut feelings” of lust and desire. “Men who smile,” says Professor Jessica Tracy, “were considered fairly unattractive by women.” Psychologists believe that what attracts women is not so much gloominess but pride – a puffed-out chest, a jutting chin, a look of steely determination and mild aggression. Men, however, prefer women who looked happy, and are least attracted to those who seem proud and confident.
In Swedish folklore, to capture someone’s love, you should carry an apple in your armpit for a day then give it to your intended. There could be a grain of truth here: “We humans have very smelly armpit regions capable of producing molecules that it is difficult to see the function of, other than sexual signalling,” says Dr Peter Brennan, an expert in olfactory processing at Bristol University. A 1998 study from the University of New Mexico also showed that during their fertile periods, women prefer the smell of “symmetrical” men (see below).
Also see Should We Blame a Man’s Midlife Crisis on the End of his Wife’s Reproductive Career?, The Secret World of Pheromones, Why Don’t Fertile Women Want George Clooney? and Do Men in Relationships Convince Themselves that Other Fertile Women Aren’t that Hot Anyway?