TK Saxton, LM DeBruine, BC Jones, AC Little & SC Roberts (2007). The development during adolescence of perceptions of attractiveness in faces and voices. European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association in London School of Economics, UK. March 2007.

Perceptions of physical attractiveness are thought to exist primarily or exclusively to enable the adaptive identification of optimal sexual partners. Human adults tend to agree on which physical traits are most attractive in a sexual partner. Symmetry, averageness and sexual dimorphism in faces, and pitch and formant frequencies in voices, all affect adults’ attractiveness judgments. However, although neonates tend to show preferential attraction to the types of faces broadly judged by adults to be attractive, it is likely that their judgments use different algorithms; it is not known which criteria they share with adults and which differ. Furthermore, judgments of vocal attractiveness differ between adults and children: adult females prefer lower-pitched voices in males while children prefer higher-pitched voices.

We investigate the development of adult-like preferences for faces and voices across adolescence, when mate choice becomes relevant, contrasting chronological and pubertal development to attempt to parse the influences of more biologically-mediated preference development from that of social and peer effects. Research on facial judgments has demonstrated that the visual system quickly adjusts its parameters in response to experience, and so we also compare the development of facial and vocal attractiveness judgments in environments with sparse access to opposite-sex stimuli (single-sex schools), to determine whether facial and vocal attraction are sufficiently canalised to withstand deficits of experience. We present data from year one of a two-year longitudinal preference study of forced-choice attractiveness judgments made by 11 – 15 year olds. Stimuli consist of age-matched same- and opposite-sex faces manipulated for symmetry, averageness and sexual dimorphism; and opposite-sex voice stimuli manipulated for pitch and formant frequencies.

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