Sexy dads: The allure of men who like babies
© 2009 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved
Experiments suggest that women can read a man’s affinity for babies in his face.
What’s more, men with “baby-friendly” faces are more attractive to women.
Good genes, good dads: What makes men sexy
Mention the evolutionary psychology of women’s mate preferences, and people think of
• Physical attractiveness and masculinity (evidence of “good genes”)
• Wealth and kindness (signals of an ability and willingness to invest in offspring)
these signals reliable? It’s easy to imagine how physical
attractiveness might indicate good genes. Beauty depends, in part, on
good health, and some genes may make men more resistant to disease.
masculinity may be a marker of good health, too, because testosterone,
which makes faces look more masculine, also suppresses the immune
system. As a result, only the healthiest males can “handicap” themselves
by producing high levels of testosterone.
But wealth and kindness
don’t always indicate that a man wants to be a father. What about more
direct markers of a man’s paternal qualities--his affinity for babies?
Researcher James Roney and colleagues wondered if being interested in babies makes a man sexier (Roney et al 2006).
answer this question, they gave a group of young, American men (aged
18-30) with a visual preference test. The test presented men with a
series of paired images. In each pair, one depicted an infant, the other
Men were asked to indicate which image in each pair they preferred. Researchers also measured the men’s testosterone levels.
Next, the researchers photographed the men’s faces and presented the photographs to a group of young women (aged 18-20).
On the basis of photographs alone, women were asked to rate each man for four traits:
• “likes children”
• “physically attractive”
on previous studies, the researchers predicted that women would regard
the men with higher testosterone levels as more masculine-looking. But
could women tell that a man liked babies from a mere photograph?
Women could accurately judge a man’s affinity for babies
As predicted, women rated the men with higher testosterone levels as more masculine.
even more interesting, there was a significant correlation between
women’s perceptions of a man as “baby-friendly” and his score on the
visual preference test.
And that’s not all. Women were also asked to rate each man’s overall attractiveness as a
• Short-term romantic partner (e.g., for a brief affair)
and as a
• Long-term romantic partner (e.g., for a committed relationship such as marriage)
The results bear out the notion that good dads are sexy.
A man’s affinity for infants had a positive effect on his overall attractiveness.
This was true for both short-term and long-term mate attractiveness.
when the researchers held other traits constant--like physical
attractiveness and general kindness--the effect of an affinity for
babies was significant only for a man’s appeal as a long-term mate.
In other words, being “baby-friendly” made men especially attractive as potential husbands.
How can woman infer “baby-friendliness” from a face?
The clue might be a more pleasant facial expression. Although the men
were instructed to adopt neutral expressions in the photographs,
impartial observers tended to rate the “baby-friendly” men as happier.
It’s also possible that men who like babies have distinctive facial
features. However, it’s not clear what these would be.
What about masculinity?
Previous studies have reported a trade-off between looking masculine
and looking paternal. When male faces have been computer “morphed” to
look hyper-masculine, viewers score these faces lower on such dimensions
as “good father” and “quality parent” (Johnston et al 2001; Perrett et
In this study, which used unaltered photographs of real men, researchers failed to find evidence of a trade-off. There was no correlation between a man’s testosterone levels and his affinity for babies.
the results might be culture-specific. Studies report that Japanese
people interpret smiling faces as less masculine (Kawamura et al 2008).
So perhaps happier-looking, more “baby-friendly” males would be
perceived as less masculine in Japan.
References: Sexy dads
Johnston VS, Hagel R, Franklin M, Fink B and Grammer K. 2001. Male
facial attractiveness: evidence for hormone-mediated adaptive design.
Evol. Hum. Behav. 22: 251-267.
Kawamura S, Komori M, and
Miyamoto Y. 2008. Smiling reduces masculinity: principal component
analysis applied to facial images. Perception. 37(11):1637-48.
DI, Lee KJ, Penton-Voak IS, Rowland D, Yoshikawa S, Burt DM, Henzi SP,
Castles DL and Akamatsu S. 1998. Effects of sexual dimorphism on facial
attractiveness. Nature 394: 884-887.
Roney JR Hanon KN,
Durante KM, and Maestripieri D. 2006. Reading mens’ faces: women’s mate
attractiveness judgements track men’s testosterone and interest in
infants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 273: 2169-2175.