Mate preferences are context-dependent and may vary with different ecological conditions and raters. The present study investigated whether sociosexual orientation influenced men’s rating of attractiveness of female breast size. Participants (N = 128) rated female breast attractiveness as a function of size (five levels) and viewing angles (front view, oblique view, and side view). Men were divided into two groups (restricted and unrestricted), based on their responses to the Revised Sociosexual Orientation Inventory (SOI-R). As predicted, men with higher SOI-R scores (unrestricted) generally gave higher ratings than did men who scored lower on the SOI-R (restricted), but the difference was significant only at larger breast sizes. We also found that medium to large sizes were rated as the most attractive by both male groups and that viewing angle changed rating of female attractiveness and breast presented in oblique view were rated generally higher than in side view. The results of the study indicate that sociosexuality influences male perception of female breast attractiveness and confirm that accentuation of female-specific physical traits produces a stronger response in unrestricted than in restricted men.
Keywords: Sociosexuality, Breast attractiveness, Breast size, Mate preferences, Attraction perception, Mating strategy
Attractiveness is judged by means of adaptive psychological mechanisms that have evolved to identify prospective mates who will increase reproductive success above the level expected in random mating (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Men are attracted to a number of physical characteristics in women, including youth cues, face shape, symmetry, waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), distribution of fat reserves, and other secondary sexual traits (Barber, 1995; Buss, 1989; Singh, 1993, 1995). Most of these visual cues have been recognized as markers of female fertility and good genes (Barber, 1995; Thornhill & Gangestad, 1999) and correlate with health or fertility, as reflected by sex hormones level (e.g., Henderson & Anglin, 2003; Jasienska, Lipson, Ellison, Thune, & Ziomkiewicz, 2006; Scheib, Gangestad, & Thornhill, 1999; Shackelford & Larsen, 1999; Thornhill & Grammer, 1999).
Female breasts are one of the secondary sexual traits that attract male attention and influence male judgments of attractiveness. Furnham and Swami (2007) showed that attractiveness ratings were even more strongly influenced by breast size than by buttock size (and hence WHR) when the female figure was presented in side view. Several characteristics may affect breast attractiveness, such as shape, asymmetry (Manning, Scutt, Whitehouse, & Leinster, 1997), areola size and pigmentation (Dixson et al., 2010), but size is one of the most visible and possibly most “eye-catching,” especially in cultures where clothing conceals breast shape. This appears to have been confirmed by Lynn (2009), who showed experimentally, for an American sample, that breast size matters more than breast shape in attractiveness rating.
As breasts’ morphology changes with age and reproductive status, it is possible that those changes may affect female attractiveness and that different aspects of breast morphology may convey different signals to a potential mate (Symons, 1979). Breast shape, areola size, and color may provide men with a signal of women’s age (Dixson et al., 2010) whereas size, as it increases with age and correlates with estrogen level, may be related both to age and fecundity (Jasienska, Ziomkiewicz, Ellison, Lipson, & Thune, 2004). Previous research suggested that men across cultures may have a profound preference toward female morphology that signals nulliparity (Jones, 1996); therefore, if breast size is a strong cue of female age and as it increases after pregnancy, men should prefer breasts of smaller size. Most of the previous research, however, has shown that greater attractiveness ratings are associated with larger (Furnham, Dias, & McClelland, 1998; Lynn, 2009; Singh & Young, 1995) or average (Horvath, 1981; Tantleff-Dunn, 2002) female breast size. Some studies, however, failed to find any influence of breast size on attractiveness (Furnham, Swami, & Shah, 2006) or have found preference for smaller breasts when presented in side view (Furnham & Swami, 2007). Cross-cultural studies showed that men from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa, despite the difference in preference for areola color, equally prefer medium and large breast sizes over small ones (Dixson et al., 2010).
One explanation for these contradictory findings is that human mate preferences are context-dependent, influenced by different socioecological factors (Anderson, Crawford, Nadeau, & Lindberg, 1992). Judgments of potential mate value can vary with ecological conditions (Swami & Tovee, 2005; Westman & Marlowe, 1999). For instance, men in developing societies and working class backgrounds have a preference for plumper women (Anderson et al., 1992). Judgments of potential mate value can also vary with the rater’s characteristics, like attractiveness (Brase & Walker, 2004), age or height (Pawlowski & Jasienska, 2008; Waynforth & Dunbar, 1995) or self-perceived value (Jones et al., 2005; Little, Burt, Penton-Voak, & Perret, 2001) and markedly in relation to the rater’s sexual strategy (Buss, 1989; Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Gangestad & Simpson, 2000; Provost, Troje, & Quinsey, 2008; Swami, Miller, Furnham, Penke, & Tovee, 2008).
Human sexual strategies are integrated sets of adaptations that drive reproductive effort in the direction of higher fitness. Fitness is notably influenced by a mate’s genetic quality, by the capability to invest in offspring, and by female sexual exclusivity if the male contributes substantially to raising his offspring. Because all three criteria are probably difficult to meet in a single mate, individuals tend to focus on one of them, according to their sexual strategy (Simpson & Gangestad, 1992). Men with a short-term mating strategy tend to pursue temporary, low-commitment sexual relationships with multiple partners. They should thus be strongly interested in cues that signal, in a prospective mate, fertility and health, but also willing to engage in short-term mating. By contrast, men with a long-term mating strategy tend to seek durable, high-investment relationships. They value not only reproductive potential and physical attractiveness but also non-physical traits, like interpersonal responsiveness, loyalty, chastity, commitment, and parental skills (Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Simpson & Gangestad, 1992). Sexual strategy may be reflected in sociosexuality, which is defined as a willingness to engage in sex without commitment. To measure this factor, Simpson and Gangestad (1991) used a short, self-report questionnaire, the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory (SOI). Individuals who scored low on SOI, and thus pursue a long-term mating strategy, were described as sociosexually restricted. Those who scored high, and thus pursue a short-term mating strategy, were described as sociosexually unrestricted.
Previous research reported that sexually unrestricted men, in comparison to sexually restricted men, valued physically attractive females more highly (Simpson & Gangestad, 1992) and show greater sensitivity to female facial cues (Sacco, Hugenberg, & Sefeck, 2009). They likewise give females with low WHR and low BMI a higher attractiveness rating (Swami, Jones, Einon, & Furnham, 2009). Both traits are known to be highly attractive and related to female fertility (e.g., Singh, 1993; Tovee, Maisey, Emery, & Cornelissen, 1999). Li and Kenrick (2006) showed that men prioritized physical attractiveness even more for short -term than for long-term mates. As reproductive gains from short-term mating would be largely eliminated if a female was not fertile, it is possible that ancestral men may have had an adaptive need to identify and pursue short-term partners who were healthy and fertile (Symons, 1979). Instead, individuals seem to compromise on physical attractiveness when seeking a long-term partner and emphasize interpersonal and emotional responsiveness (Kenrick, Sadalla, Groth, & Trost, 1990; Regan, 1998) and tend to evaluate women’s attractiveness more conservatively (Brase & Walker, 2004).
In this study, we predicted, that male sociosexual orientation may also influence ratings of female breast attractiveness as a function of size. By studying individual differences in male preference for breast size as a function of male sexual strategy, we may better understand the contribution of female breasts size to sexual signaling and their role in the rating of female attractiveness (Furnham & Swami, 2007). We predicted that, if large breasts are more attractive than small ones, and convey information on women’s fertility, they should receive the highest ratings for both restricted and unrestricted men, with the highest ratings coming from the unrestricted ones, similar to difference in WHR attractiveness rating found by Swami et al. (2008).
We recruited 128 heterosexual men from Wroclaw University of Technology, from Wroclaw University, from sports clubs in Wroclaw, and through the Polish social networking webpage www.nasza-klasa.pl. All men agreed to participate in the study. The mean age of participants was 23.42 years (SD = 2.45) with an age range of 19–29. To check whether attractiveness rating and SOI-R scores differed in relation to the way the data were collected, we compared men who completed the web-based survey (N = 48) with those who completed it on paper (N = 80). We found no significant difference between the two groups both in breast attractiveness ratings and in SOI-R scores p > .10. Therefore, in all further analyses, the two sets of scores were combined.
The survey was anonymous and had questions on demographics, sexual orientation, relationship status, height, and weight. All participants completed the SOI-R; Penke & Asendorpf, 2008) and assessed attractiveness on a 9- point scale, where 1 = very unattractive and 9 = very attractive of female breasts as a function of size (5 levels) from three different angles (front view, oblique view, and side view; see Fig. 1). All participants assessed all 15 photographs of female breasts.
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Mean attractiveness ratings (1 = low, 9 = high) as a function of breast size and for restricted and unrestricted. a front view, b oblique view, and c side view. *p < .001
The SOI-R provides the participant’s overall sociosexual orientation, which is based on three components: past sociosexual behavior (e.g., “With how many different partners have you had sex within the past 12 months?” or “With how many different partners have you had sexual intercourse on one and only one occasion?”), attitudes toward uncommitted sex (e.g., “Sex without love is ok” or “I can imagine myself being comfortable and enjoying ‘casual’ sex with different partners”); and desires (e.g., “How often do you have fantasies about having sex with someone you are not in a committed romantic relationship with?”) (Penke & Asendorpf, 2008). The SOI-R consists of 9 items (3 items per component). Responses were scored on a 9 point scale and summed to a total SOI-R score ranging from 9 to 81. A low score means restricted sociosexual orientation and a high score unrestricted sociosexual orientation. Because there was no difference in statistical results from all three facets, we focused on the overall sociosexual orientation.
We used photographs of female breasts before (B size) and after surgical enlargement (D size). In comparison with line drawings, photographs allow for more authentic rating of perception of attractiveness (Swami et al., 2008; Tovee & Cornelissen, 2001). Breasts were enlarged from 70B to 70D, witho
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