Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

What body region are you judged by most?

Posted in news by jenapincott on July 8, 2009

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Which do people fixate on most when assessing women’s physical attractiveness — the stomach or the hips?

As I discuss in BLONDES, weight, as estimated by body mass index (BMI), and curves, as measured by waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), are two major factors when assessing women’s bodily attractiveness. Which matters more is a point of contention between various experts.

A new study led by University of York psychologist Piers Cornelissen tries to settle the argument. Implementing a novel way of tracking eye movements, Cornelissen asked male and female volunteers to rate nearly 50 photos of women. The longer their gaze rested on a particular body region, the more that region counted.

There’s a strong argument that curves should matter more than weight when evaluating attractiveness. A low WHR — a relatively thin waist to hip ratio — suggests something about a woman’s hormonal status. Estrogen increases the deposition of body fat on the hips thighs, and bust. Higher estrogen is linked with higher fertility.

But those aren’t the body regions that people fixate on when they look at you, according to Cornellisen’s experiment. The stomach apparently has the most impact. When judging attractiveness, both sexes appear to settle their gaze on the central torso, an area that reveals much about a person’s overall body mass, and not the pelvic and hip areas. This outcome, according to the psychologists, suggests that body mass index is more important in assessing physical attractiveness than curviness.

The study is not conclusive. It’s possible that WHR is assessed more quickly than body mass, which could be why people fixate longer on the torso. Or perhaps the study participants, aware that their eye movements are tracked, are abashed to linger on the pelvic region of the models. The central torso is also quite close to the bust.

Still, it’s another study that falls definitively in the body mass-over-curves camp. And perhaps it helps explain the new rage in stomach-cinchers.

One Response

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  1. DarkLayers said, on August 2, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    The notion that people might assess WHR more quickly would seem to be contradicted by the fact that male judges were not particularly accurate when judging WHR argues against it. You don’t really discuss the rationale for why the central torso is important for body fat judgments.

    The authors asked 3 groups to make judgments of women’s bodies. One group was asked to judge WHR, one was asked to judge fat, and one was asked to rate attractiveness. The groups that fixated on attractiveness and fat tended to look at the same regions, whereas the WHR looked at another area. Also, as far as the possibility that people might not look at the pelvic regions when they’re knowingly being watched, they did when judging WHR.


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