Do we have a ‘type’?

As the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And while it’s true that research has shown that there are universally attractive traits that appeal to pretty much everyone, we do know differences in the people making the evaluations — or the beholders — are important too.

What we don’t yet know is how stable a person’s preferences are. As a person’s circumstances change over time, do their preferences follow suit?

Kristof Kościński recently published the results of a study that aimed to test this very question. He recruited around 200 women and had them rank photographs of 30 men in order of attractiveness three times: first for their attractiveness as a short-term partner, then as a long-term partner, and finally as a friend. Half of the women returned to the laboratory one month later to repeat the process. The second half of the women instead returned to the lab a full 12 months after the first session.

Kościński found that that the rankings changed slightly after a month, but the amount they changed after a whole year was no greater. Women’s preferences seem to be pretty constant, at least over this mid-range timescale.

The men’s faces were classified as having a friendly or unfriendly appearance, and Kościński did find that women who had broken up with a partner during the year tended to express a stronger preference for friendly-looking men after their break up than they did before.

This could be because being single refocuses a person’s mating priorities in favour of seeking out a new long-term mate, because we know that women tend to prefer friendly men for a long-term relationship.

So you can rest assured that the man you started dating this week will probably still be attractive in a year’s time. Unless, of course, if you’ve broken up with him. Now that’s my kind of logic.

Kościński, K. (2010). Do they know what they like? Intra-individual variation of female facial preferences. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 8(1), 23–55. Read summary

The content of this post first appeared in the May 2010 episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast.