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Trade-offs between markers of absolute and relative quality in human facial preferences

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Saxton, T. K., Little, A. C., Rowland, H. M., Gao, T., & Roberts, S. C. (2009). Trade-offs between markers of absolute and relative quality in human facial preferences. Behavioral Ecology, 20(5), 1133-1137. doi:10.1093/beheco/arp107.

Individuals are attuned to cues of quality in potential mates. Mate quality is assessed on both an absolute scale, independent of the observer, and also on a relative scale, dependent on attributes of the observer. Much research has focused on how individuals respond to either absolute or relative quality in mate choice, but how these dimensions are weighted during mate-choice decisions is poorly understood and has recently attracted much theoretical interest. Here, we examine the interplay between women's facial preferences for a measure of absolute quality (sexual dimorphism) and one of relative quality (self-similarity). Women rated the attractiveness of male faces that had been simultaneously manipulated along the dimensions of masculinity and self-similarity in short-term and long-term relationship contexts. Sexual dimorphism had a greater positive effect on ratings than self-similarity, and masculinity and self-similarity had positive combinative effects on ratings of attractiveness. Women's coexpressed preferences for masculine faces combined with their lesser preference for subtly self-similar faces may reflect selection of good genes, promote optimal outbreeding, and give rise to directional selection, even in the presence of a general self-similarity preference.