Although much research has been conducted to examine what makes faces and bodies appear attractive to the opposite sex, very little research has been conducted to examine which of these body parts is most important to one’s overall physical attractiveness.
This unanswered question lead Thomas E. Currie and Anthony C. Little to conduct a study using 127 men and 133 women.
Their study appeared in the scientific journal Evolution and Human Behavior in 2009.
The participants in Currie and Little’s study viewed and rated ten pictures of bodies of the opposite sex, then viewed and rated ten pictures of heads of the opposite sex, and finally viewed and rated ten pictures of both the body and head. For each participant, all of the ten pictures came from the same ten individuals, but the order in which they appeared was randomized for each viewing and rating session.
By comparing the ratings of the face and the ratings of the body to the ratings of the full picture, Currie and Little were able to discover whether the face or the body had a greater effect on the attractiveness of the model in the picture. .
In other words, if the rating of the face and the rating of the full picture were very similar, this would indicate that the face had a strong effect on the overall attractiveness of the picture. If, on the other hand, the rating of the face was very different from the rating of the full picture, this would indicate that the face had a weak effect.
“Ratings of facial attractiveness were a better predictor than ratings of bodily attractiveness of the rating given to images of the face and body combined,” as Currie and Little explain.
This finding was true of both male and female participants.
“This suggests that facial attractiveness is more important in people’s evaluation of overall physical attractiveness than body attractiveness and therefore implies that facial attractiveness is more important than body attractiveness in human mate choice decisions.”
Although this research helps answer the question of whether the face or the body is more important to overall physical attractiveness, Currie and Little note that further research is needed.
“By using photographs, only static physical traits are directly observable. In real life, pertinent information may also be conveyed by assessing the dynamic aspects of physical traits. For example, the way a person moves may convey information about his or her physical coordination, physical fitness, weight, or social dominance.”
Currie, T.E. & Little, A.C. (2009). The relative importance of the face and body in judgments of human physical attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 30: 409-416.