Can’t Fight the Feeling
A recent study (Karremans, et.al. 2010) that compared the preferences of blind and sighted men for the shape of adjustable dress forms with one of two WHRs (.70 and .84) has been getting some coverage in the popular press. Nineteen blind from birth adult males (aged 27-72 with a mean of 45.5) and 38 sighted males (with similar age range, variance, and means) were included in the study. Nineteen of the sighted men were randomly assigned to a blindfold condition and 19 were in a sighted condition. After feeling the mannequin with their hands, while paying special attention to the waist/hip area, all subjects rated the two dress forms on a 1-10 scale for attractiveness (only men in the sighted condition saw the mannequin). While the authors do not report combined means, the mannequin with the .70 whr averaged about a 7.5 rating while the mannequin with the .84 whr averaged a rating of about 6.5.
While there were no statistically significant differences between any of the group ratings (all 3 groups preferred the smaller whr), the authors emphasize that there were substantially different effect sizes between the blind and sighted subjects with regard to the strength of whr preference. A significant portion of the discussion section elaborates on the implications of these differences in effect size. Problematically, these sorts of effect sizes can readily result from chance in samples of this size, suggesting to me that the discussion of what these effect size differences might mean is superfluous (Fan, 1999).
The authors do reasonably conclude that, pending replication, the visual channel does not seem required to establish a preference in males for a smaller whr in females. This result suggests two interesting possibilities:
- arguments based on visual characteristics of the whr preference in males may require significant qualification
- since whr preference is not sensory channel specific (that is, it is not limited to the visual channel) it seems less likely that a specifically evolved mechanism is behind this preference
- the authors offer 3 possible classes of explanation for their data and do not overly emphasize the possibility of an evolved disposition
- Only two whrs were used: .70 (a reasonable optimal) and .84 (a “typical” higher value)
Karremans, J., Frankenhuis, W., & Arons, S. (2010). Blind men prefer a low waist-to-hip ratio Evolution and Human Behavior, 31 (3), 182-186 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.10.001