This is the first time that I have spotted a paper after I had seen it presented at a conference. This work was presented at ISBE in Lund 2012, and was probably the most highly attended talk that I went to (people were sitting on the floor). The paper seeks to ask the question, in humans, of whether a males ability is correlated with his attractiveness. It is trying to get at mate selection in humans and whether females may choose males that have better 'fitness'.
The results of the study show that women rated the faces of male cyclists who performed better in the Tour de France as more attractive as those that performed worse. The author suggests that as endurance may be beneficial to humans that the work hints that endurance capacity may have been subject to sexual selection. The work is interesting because it brings much of what is known from work on animals, such as that by Peterson & Husak (2006), that show that females prefer males who perform better in whole organism performance traits. Interestingly, females rating of attractiveness depended on which stage of their reproductive cycle they were in and whether they were on the pill. With women on the pill and men having a weaker preference for better performing male faces. The author also investigated masculinity and likeability, finding that there was no association between masculinity and performance, which may be surprising considering the proposed benefits of testosterone on strength. However, there was a strong association between likeability and performance.
It's an interesting paper that brings together work on animals that is fairly well known and understood in different animal taxa with sexual selection in humans, providing a new perspective on male facial attract
Postma (2014) A relationship between attractiveness and performance in professional cyclists. Biology Letters, 10:20130966
Females often prefer to mate with high quality males, and one aspect of quality is physical performance. Although a preference for physically fitter males is therefore predicted, the relationship between attractiveness and performance has rarely been quantified. Here, I test for such a relationship in humans and ask whether variation in (endurance) performance is associated with variation in facial attractiveness within elite professional cyclists that finished the 2012 Tour de France. I show that riders that performed better were more attractive, and that this preference was strongest in women not using a hormonal contraceptive. Thereby, I show that, within this preselected but relatively homogeneous sample of the male population, facial attractiveness signals endurance performance. Provided that there is a relationship between performance-mediated attractiveness and reproductive success, this suggests that human endurance capacity has been subject to sexual selection in our evolutionary past.20130966
It's a pretty sexy topic and so has received press on the BBC new website and probably many others too.
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I am a behavioural ecologist, my main interests revolve around familial conflicts and their resolutions. However, my scientific interests are fairly broad.