CHICAGO – Women looking for a long-term relationship like men who like children — and they can tell which guys might be interested in becoming fathers just by looking at their faces. Those are among the findings of a study of college students published Wednesday in a British scientific journal.
"This study suggests that women are picking up on facial cues that are perhaps related to paternal qualities," said James Roney, a University of California at Santa Barbara psychologist and lead author of the study. "The more they perceived the men as liking kids, the more likely they could see having a longer-term relationship."
Experts said evolution has apparently programmed women to recognize men who might be interested in propagating the species by raising a family.
The study wasn't all bad news for men not interested in settling down. It found that women can look at men's faces and figure out which of them have the highest testosterone levels. Those men — rated the most masculine by the women — turn out to be just the kind of guys they would want for a fling.
"Women make very good use of any information they get from a man's face," said co-author Dario Maestripieri, an associate professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago. "Depending on what they want and where they are in their lives, they use this information differently."
In the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, researchers looked at a group of 39 men, ages 18 to 33, at the University of Chicago.
Each man was shown 10 pairs of photographs and silhouettes, one of an adult and the other of an infant, and asked to rate their preferences. Meanwhile, their saliva was tested to determine testosterone levels.
Photographs of the men's faces were then shown to 29 women, ages 18 to 20, at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
The women were asked to rate the men on four qualities: "likes children," "masculine," "physically attractive" and "kind." Then they were asked to rate how attractive they found each man for short-term and long-term romance.
The study found women did well at rating men on their interest in babies, and those they rated masculine generally had higher testosterone levels than the others.
For example, the men who indicated they liked children the most were rated as above average in liking children by 20 of the 29 women. The men who showed no interest in children were correctly rated as below average in that category by 19 of the women.
The higher the women rated the men for masculinity, the higher they were rated as potential short-term romantic partners. The higher they rated men for their interest in children, the higher they were rated for long-term romance.
The features that research has suggested denote high testosterone levels include a prominent jaw and a heavy beard.
The findings came as no surprise to those in the business of studying human behavior — and love.
"What this study illustrates is that there are genetic programs that increase survival of the species because there are hormones in women that are cuing their reactions to the hormones of the men," said Dr. Daniel Alkon, scientific director of the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute in Morgantown, W.Va., and Washington.
Or as Kristin Kelly, a spokeswoman for the online dating service Match.com, put it: "They call it `love at first sight' for a reason. They don't say 'love at first sentence,' 'love at first word.'"
It is unclear just what about the men's faces tipped the women off about their interest in children.
While Maestripieri guessed it might have something to do with "a more rounded face, a gentler face," Roney said the answer might be found in the expressions on the men's faces.
He explained that after the study was completed, five graduate students were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 whether the men looked angry or happy. Though the men were instructed to have a neutral look on their faces when photographed, some apparently looked happier than others.
"It seemed that the men who picked more infants in that test had a happier or more content look on their face," he said.