Surprising traits men find attractive

They say that beauty is only skin deep, but there's no denying that those first impressions are important ones. Ever wonder what men are really noticing, and what they really, honestly find the most attractive? Fortunately, there have been at least a handful of studies that have tried to find out just what men (and women) find attractive in their prospective partners, and it turns out that sometimes, it's so hardwired into us that we don't even realize what we're looking for — until we find it.

Blue eyes (but only sometimes)

Blondes have more fun, and what's more wholesome than a blue-eyed blonde? Brown-eyed girls shouldn't despair, though, as a study from the University of Tromso in Norway suggests that when it comes to potential mates, it's only blue-eyed men that show a preference for blue-eyed women.

Researchers asked 443 individuals a series of questions based on the hair and eye color of their current and past partners. They also presented participants with a series of photos in which the models' eyes had been manipulated to change color, while leaving the rest of their appearance the same. They found that while women and brown-eyed men showed no preference to any particular eye color, they also found that blue-eyed men overwhelmingly chose (and were attracted to) blue-eyed women.

The study also suggests there's a very practical reason for this, and it's all down to genetics. The only way a child can have blue eyes is to be born to two blue-eyed parents, or to two people who each carry part of the recessive gene for blue eyes. When two blue-eyed parents have a brown-eyed child, there could be something fishy going on. Blue-eyed people don't carry the genes for brown eyes (they'd have brown eyes themselves), so the reasoning goes that a blue-eyed man will be more attracted to a blue-eyed woman. The study's authors say that, conscious or subconscious, blue-eyed men's preference for blue-eyed women might be linked to one extra layer of paternity protection.

An "older" appearance

It can be tough when those first few gray hairs show up, or when you realize that you're suddenly in the next higher age bracket. But according to a joint study between psychologists from the University of St. Andrews and the University of Liverpool, a more mature appearance is exactly what some men find the most attractive.

Generally, cultures have a set of norms about what they consider attractive — that's what makes a movie star universally admired, for example. Researchers wanted to find out how our personal experiences helped shape what we as individuals find attractive, so they looked at whether or not the faces we're exposed to as children impact what we're attracted to as adults. They found that it absolutely does, at least, when men are looking for a long-term partner.

The study found that men who were born to "older" mothers (those over 30) were more likely to find older women more attractive when they were looking for long-term relationships. While men who were only thinking in the short term didn't show the same preferences, there was a definite correlation between the age of a man's parents and his choice in women. While the mechanism that's at work here isn't entirely understood, it's suggested that when looking for a long-term partner, there's something about the influence of the first committed, long-term relationship we're in (the parent-child relationship) that helps provide us with feelings of security as adults.

Similar characteristics to parents

Other studies suggest that parents' influence on what characteristics men find attractive goes even beyond age. Another study from the University of St. Andrews looked at a phenomenon known as imprinting, well known to exist in the animal world and, until recently, largely unexplored in humans.

The study looked at how likely men (and women) are to be attracted to certain hair and eye color in their chosen partners, and they found that for men, the best indicator of preferences was the hair and eye color of their mothers. When nearly 700 volunteer participants (including 394 men) were asked about the hair and eye color of themselves, their parents, and their partners, they found that overwhelmingly, men were attracted to the same coloring that their mothers had. The same correlation didn't appear when comparing their father's hair and eye color, and while researchers aren't entirely sure what's going on here, they did suggest that it's possible that the early connection between mother and son formed a sort of subconscious bond that suggests safety, familiarity, and comfort linked to the eye and hair color they knew first.

Another study, this one done by the University of Tokyo, found that men showed significant preference for women who shared something else with their mother: height. When they looked at volunteers who reported their own heights, along with their parents' and their partners' heights, they found that men were much more likely to be attracted to a woman of similar height to their mother.

The right sense of humor

A sense of humor is high on the list of traits that everyone says they look for in potential partners, but according to a study published in Evolution and Human Behavior, the sort of humor men and women find attractive is surprisingly different.

When both men and women were asked about the traits they looked for in a partner, both groups reported a sense of humor was equally important. But when the study looked a little further, they found that while women valued both the ability to be funny and to appreciate the same sort of things they found funny, men were a little more one-sided with what they found attractive. The men surveyed didn't rate funny women as any more desirable, and instead, it was receptiveness to their own sense of humor that they valued. In other words, men want someone who's going to laugh at their jokes. For men, it wasn't as necessary that women be able to make them laugh. They were looking for someone who appreciated their capacity for what the study called their production of humor.

When men's responses were broken down by the type of relationship they were talking about, the results were even more drastic. When it came to dating and long-term relationships, it was even more important for men to find someone who appreciated their sense of humor, while funny females were better for friendship and short-term relationships.

The right head tilt

According to a pair of Australian researchers, one thing that men find surprisingly attractive is a simple one that anyone can do — just tilt your head the right way.

They took a series of faces that were manipulated to appear as they were being viewed from different angles, and volunteers were then asked to rate the attractiveness of those faces, along with how feminine or masculine they were. They found that men were most attracted to faces when women tilted their heads forward enough that they were looking slightly up.

The results were significant and suggested that nothing more than a simple adjustment to the way we carry ourselves could make someone measurably more attractive. They suggested that it has something to do with height, and that when a man sees a woman who tilts her head forward and looks up at him, she's presenting herself in such a way that accents height differences and, in turn, traditional ideas about masculinity and femininity.

Taking hunter-gatherer risks

This one goes both ways, and it turns out that both men and women find certain risk-taking behaviors incredibly attractive in potential mates. Personality traits that include being open to certain risks were rated as highly attractive to women, but surprisingly, men were attracted to women who were a certain kind of adventurous.

According to a study done by the University of Alaska Anchorage, men (and women) were attracted to those with personality traits that allowed them to take part in and enjoy what they called hunter-gatherer risks. That includes activities and dangers similar to what our ancient ancestors would have faced, like skiing, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, and other outdoor activities. While those are things we usually think of as being attractive when a man does them, the study found that men are also attracted to the same behaviors in women.

Being attracted to risk-taking behaviors only went so far, through, and it was only ancient risks that were found attractive. Taking modern risks were definitely seen as less attractive, and that meant everything from driving without a seat belt to dabbling in drugs.

A high-pitched voice

While you might think that a husky voice would be a sexy one, studies have shown that what men are really attracted to is a higher-pitched voice. According to one study done by University College London, high-pitched voices were found to be almost universally more attractive to men, mostly because of the features, figure, and youth they imagined to go along with that voice. Volunteers were asked to listen to a series of voices and then rate them based on their appeal, and researchers found that there was sort of a sweet spot in pitch. Men rated high-pitched voices more attractive, but only to a certain point. When the voice got too high-pitched, the attractiveness declined. By the end of the study, they concluded that in order to be most attractive, a voice should be moderately high-pitched and slightly breathy, all which reportedly signaled that the speaker had a small frame.

Weirdly, they were also able to draw comparisons between their results and results that had been already found in the animal kingdom. There, males and females often have different pitch and tone to their voice, as they're used for different reasons. That further led the team to the conclusion that men prefer moderately high-pitched voices not only because of the physical qualities they imply, but also because they impart the idea of submissiveness and make confrontation seem unlikely.

If your voice doesn't fall into the realm of "moderately high-pitched," there's no need to fear. According to a study from the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, women who are talking to a man they're attracted to tend to speak in a higher pitch without even realizing they're doing it.

Ovulation

The science behind this one is pretty fascinating, and while ovulation might not be a specific trait, it is linked to some traits that men find attractive. According to a study in the journal Hormones and Behavior, men were more likely to rate women as being the most attractive when they were at the most fertile point in their menstrual cycle.

There have been a huge number of studies done on this, and there have been some fascinating discoveries. As women approach peak fertility, voices get higher in pitch, body odor changes and becomes more desirable, and it's even suspected there might be some sort of incredibly discreet change in skin or lip color — all things men have traditionally found more attractive.

In 2007, a University of New Mexico study found that fertility even seemed to impact the tips made by professional lap dancers, and another study done by researchers from the University of Gottingen in Germany got similar results. Men were asked to watch silhouettes of women dancing and to pick out the more attractive women based only on their movements. Overwhelmingly, they choose the women who were at their most fertile, and they did the same thing when they were asked to choose the most attractive silhouettes of women simply walking. Researchers suspect that hormonal changes that happen in the body at times of peak fertility change some things to appeal even more to men, allowing them to pick up on fertility unconsciously.

The perfect WHR

When it comes to overall body shapes, we always hear that it's the hourglass figure that's most attractive. That might not be entirely true, though, and according to research done by professors at the University of Texas, it's only the last part of the traditional trio of measurements that really matters.

Professor Devendra Singh took a look at the differences in how male and female bodies store fat, coupled with indicators of health and fertility. She found that when women have a waist to hip ratio (WHR) of between .67 and .8, they're thought to be the most attractive to men. She conducted a series of experiments that not only surveyed men as to what shape they found most attractive, but also looked back through the last few decades at everything from Miss America contestants to Playboy models. The overwhelming majority of the men she surveyed agreed that the most attractive shape had to do with that magic WHR number, no matter what their age group was.

Other studies show that no matter what the actual size of a woman is, it's the ratio that's more important than the weight or build. From women like Beyonce to Kate Moss, it didn't matter how much they weighed. It was the ratio that men found most attractive.

Personality really does matter

When it comes to figuring out which traits are going to be most attractive to potential partners, it's easy to focus on the physical. But studies have shown that personality traits like kindness really, truly do make a person more attractive. 

One study done at the University of Westminster polled 2,157 male students to find out what they found most attractive. There was no body type or shape they found to be more universally attractive than any other. When men were supplied with personality traits, though, those traits made them select a wider range of body types and sizes that they said were attractive, compared to the selections they made on physical appearance alone.

Another study from a group of Chinese universities found similar results. They took both men and women and asked them to rate the attractiveness of a series of faces based only on appearance. Two weeks later, the same group was given personality traits along with the faces, and positive traits made faces more attractive. They even gave it a name: the halo effect.

So what are some of the traits connected with an increase in physical attraction? Honesty, respectfulness, and a positive attitude. Almost all positive personality traits have been shown to have a positive impact on what men think and how attractive they view potential partners, leading some psychologists to suggest as much effort should be put into the personality component of first impressions as the physical one.

Average features

When it comes to facial features, there is a certain set of characteristics that seems to hold universal appeal. According to the book Falling in Love: Why We Choose the Lovers We Choose, cross-cultural studies have shown a decided preference for women who have big eyes, small noses, and full lips. Another study where men looked at pictures of women from beauty pageants and college yearbooks found that women with baby faces (small eyes, nose, and chin) and stereotypically "sexy" women (high cheekbones, brows, wide pupils, and a broad smile) were consistently ranked as the most attractive regardless of race.

While cultural standards of beauty are constantly shifting, Nancy Etcoff, a Harvard brain researcher, said that our perception of what is attractive is rooted in biology, not the media. Women with "baby" features trigger a man's protective instinct, which served as an advantage in evolution. According to Etcoff, people find "average features" the most attractive. One study mixed hundreds of photos to create a composite. As more pictures were added to the composite, the woman became more attractive to men. 

A "medium" bust line

While it's often thought that bigger is better when it comes to breasts, studies have found that this isn't actually the case. It turns out that men are like Goldilocks when it comes to busts: They like them neither too big nor too small. Instead, women with the most attractive bodies are those who have medium sized breasts.

This doesn't mean that men aren't attracted to larger breasts, though. A study from the 1960s had men rate 105 nude silhouettes. Most of them ranked the ones with medium bust lines as more attractive than those with small or large breasts. In spite of this, those same men still idealized women with larger chests, a find that was backed up by two more studies in the 1970s.

Fashion runways are dominated by slim women with small breasts, but society still seems to prefer more curves. The bra industry supports the notion that bigger is better, which is perhaps a driving force in men idealizing larger breasts in spite of an underlying preference for medium breasts. It wasn't too long after the modern bra debuted in the early 20th century that padded bras hit the scene. By 1948, push-up bras, which further accentuated the breasts, became popular. The average bra size has gone up in America and England since the 1990s, largely thanks to breast implants. 

Good hair

Thanks to a 2013 survey conducted by dating website Zoosk.com, which was detailed in HuffPost, we have a lot of insight into what makes men tick — at least when it comes to hair. Out of the men surveyed, 89 percent said that hair is the first thing that men notice in a woman!

This find is particularly interesting since 71 percent of women surveyed said that they don't expect potential love interests to even notice their hair. According to the survey, most men prefer women to wear their hair down, and 29 percent said that they want the "sock bun" hair trend to die out.

Men said that they are turned off by greasy hair, hair that has too much product in it, and hair that is dyed an unnatural color. This backs up scientific findings, which have shown that men (at least on a subconscious level) look at hair as an indicator of health. Healthy women typically have lustrous hair, which from a biological standpoint indicates the ability to nurse potential offspring. Good hair provided an evolutionary advantage, and that preference still carries over today.

Tattoos and piercings

While the typical man is not a fan of unnatural hair colors, their aversion to body modifications does not extend to tattoos and piercings. A survey conducted by AskMen.com and HuffPost asked men what they thought about tattoos and piercings on women. More than 1,300 men were surveyed. Out of them, 69 percent said they would be attracted to a woman with a tattoo, and 55 percent said they would be attracted to a woman with a piercing.

Men said that the most attractive tattoos are on the shoulder/upper back, while the most attractive piercing by far, with 61 percent of the vote, is a belly button piercing. The preference for tattoos and piercings didn't reflect the body modifications of the men surveyed. Interestingly, only 32 percent of the surveyed men had tattoos, while only 13 percent had piercings.

A study conducted by Nicolas Guéguen of the Université Bretagne-Sud found that men often perceive women who have tattoos and piercings to be more promiscuous. In the study, women with tattoos were approached more than twice as much than those without visible tattoos, and also made contact much faster with tattooed women. 

While the study was conducted in France, where women have fewer tattoos than women in America — which influences how they are perceived — his findings seem to indicate that men think their chances of getting a date with a woman with a tattoo are higher.

Long legs

When it comes to legs, it's all about the length. Studies show that men prefer women who have a longer leg-to-body ratio, which might explain the popularity of high heels. The most attractive women, according to men, are those who are short but have long legs. Women with this body type include Scarlett Johansson and Marilyn Monroe. 

A study at Poland's University of Wroclaw found that legs that are 5 percent longer than the average were the most attractive. Psychologist Boguslaw Pawlowski, the lead researcher on the team, told New Scientist (via The Guardian) that "long legs are a sign of health."

Martin Tovee of Newcastle University said that long legs do not just indicate good health but also good childhood nutrition. Since women's legs stop growing when they hit puberty, "if a woman has long legs it suggests she grew up in a good environment and that has a positive effect on fertility," said Tovee.

Shorter than them

In general, taller people tend to be viewed as more authoritative and successful. The idea that taller people are more powerful dates back to ancient times. Ancient Egyptian wall paintings clearly equate height with power, while prehistoric tombs have been found where skeletons of taller people are placed in crypts while those of shorter people were buried in mass graves.

In spite of this, men seem to prefer shorter women, or at least prefer women who are shorter than they are. Even more paradoxically, one study found that in the Western world the women who have the most children are those who are of below average height — a pattern that surprised evolutionary scientists. 

Rebecca Sear, an evolutionary ecologist quoted in The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life from on High said that "tall women have wider pelvises than shorter women, which allow them to have easier births and higher-birth-weight babies, both factors that reduce infant and maternal mortality."

There might be evolutionary advantages to picking a taller woman as a mate, but both men and women seem to prefer for the male partner to be taller than the women. Sear speculated that this could be due to social norms, which expect that the man will be larger than the woman, but also could be due to men wanting to appear to be more dominant in the relationship. 

The right kind of walk

It's not enough to have the right kind of legs or be just the right height. According to some studies, men want women to walk the walk, too. A swinging gait reels men in. Researcher Nicolas Guéguen found that women who are menstruating have a tendency to subconsciously change how they walk, slowing their gait in a way that men seemed to find more alluring.

The way a person walks is unique to them, and can convey a lot more than simply getting from point a to point b. One of the advantages of a person's gait being used as a measure of attractiveness is that it can be spotted from a distance. 

Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher told Cosmopolitan that "The Walk" is just one of the ways human women have developed "to get and keep a man's attention as we've evolved." This particular gait is similar to the way a  model struts down the runway: head up, shoulders back, arms swinging loosely with swiveling hips.

The color red

One of the stranger things that attracts men is the color red. The color has long been associated with love and passion and is considered to be an alluring color. For a long time, scientists thought that this was because the color red subconsciously made men think of a woman's genitals, leading to sexual arousal. 

A study from the University of Kent in the U.K. debunked that theory, however, by showing 40 men pictures of the female vulva which had been manipulated to be different shades of pink and red. The men rated the reddest shade to be less attractive than the pink shades.

While this disproves the theory of why men are attracted to the color red, men are still drawn to the hue. Researcher Dr. Sarah E. Johns, a University of Kent professor of Evolutionary Anthropology, hypothesized that the color red may trigger a competitive edge in men, "so maybe men are more competitive about women in red and therefore desire them more."

The perfect smile

It's no great revelation that a winning smile can attract a man, but women who are going to employ this tactic might be surprised to learn that their smile has to be a big one. Specifically, you need to bare those teeth. 

But it's not just men who are attracted to women with a toothy grin — women also said that they place a high importance on teeth. MarketTools Inc. conducted an online survey of 5,481 for Match.com (via USA Today). Both men and women said that the first thing they notice in a potential love interest is their teeth, followed by their grammar.

Since teeth are the result of both genetics and environmental factors, getting a peek into someone's mouth can give you an idea of their general health. In women, this is linked to their reproductive value. Healthy teeth indicate a healthy person who is capable of childbearing, which explains — at least from a biological standpoint — why teeth play such a major role in human attraction.

Small feet

Small feet have been associated with femininity and beauty for centuries. The Chinese practice of foot binding goes back to the 10th century and endured for a thousand years. Young girls would have their feet broken and bound so that their feet would be tiny, and therefore attractive. This would permanently cripple them, preventing them from walking comfortably for the rest of their lives.

While people don't go to such extremes for small feet in modern times, dainty feet are still considered to be attractive by men, at least indirectly.  A study conducted by the University at Albany in New York showed men a composite face made of the faces of women with small feet. They found it to be more attractive than the composite made of the faces of eight women with large feet. The men didn't just overwhelmingly pick the composite of the small-footed women as more attractive, but were also staggeringly more likely to say it was more feminine.

Evolutionary Jeremy Atkinson, who conducted the study with colleague Michelle Rowe, said men might find the features of the women with small-feet more attractive because they indicate a healthy childhood. Women who have had a healthy childhood don't reach puberty as early, and end up growing for longer and developing more typically feminine features.