Does true beauty lie within, or are looks more important in the eye of the beholder? When it comes to health and attractiveness, new research has shown that actual healthiness does not play a major role in attractiveness, but the appearance of health causes people to be perceived as more attractive.
Published in Behavioral Ecology, the recent research on this topic shows that someone who looks healthy is perceived as a more desirable mate than one who doesn’t appear to be healthy, even though they could indeed be healthy according to nutrition and fitness standards. The research was based on the presence of beta-carotene, a pigmentation found in fruits and vegetables, most notably known to produce the bright orange hue found in carrots. While supplementation of beta-carotene resulted in a more red or yellow skin tone, it did not alter the actual health of the individual.
In a multitude of species, such as birds, fish and now humans, females are generally attracted to the more colorful males. This vibrant coloring contributes to the perception that the male is healthier, has greater fertility, and has good genes to provide for potential offspring. While it is quite animalistic in nature, these qualities translate to human attraction as well. The healthier-looking male is more likely to survive in nature, and would therefore make a more suitable mate.
In the study, 43 white males were given beta-carotene supplements and tested for improvements in complexion, hair, immune function, oxidative stress, and other health indicators. Twenty white males were given “dummy pills” and administered the same tests. After 12 weeks of beta-carotene supplementation, photographs of the subjects were shown to a group of female participants. The men in the beta-carotene group were 50 percent more likely to be perceived as attractive than their counterparts, due to their healthy coloring.
However, while their coloring exuded a healthy glow, it was found that the supplementation did not actually cause an improvement in their bodily health and functions. The perception of attractiveness was based solely on looks, rather than the actual presence of an improvement in health. Beta-carotene has been thought in the past to improve health through its action as an antioxidant, but this study could not find evidence supporting this theory.
“Carotenoids are known to be responsible for the striking mating displays in many animal species,” said Yong Zhi Foo, one of the authors and postgraduate student at The University of Western Australia. “Our study is one of the first to causally demonstrate that carotenoids can affect attractiveness in humans as well. It also reaffirms the results of previous studies showing that what we eat can affect how we look.”