Testing a postulated case of intersexual selection in humans. The role of foot size in judgments of physical attractiveness and age

Daniel M.T. Fessler*, Stefan Stieger, Salomi S. Asaridou, Umeru Bahia, Mark Cravalho, Philip de Barros, Tiara Delgado, Maryanne L. Fisher, David Frederick, Paulina Geraldo Perez, Cari Goetz, Kevin Haley, Jenée Jackson, Geoff Kushnick, Kevin Lew, Elizabeth Pain, Patrícia Piexinho Florindo, Anne Pisor, Evi Sinaga, Lasma SinagaLisa Smolich, Dong Mei Sun, Martin Voracek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The constituents of attractiveness differ across the sexes. Many relevant traits are dimorphic, suggesting that they are the product of intersexual selection. However, direction of causality is generally difficult to determine, as aesthetic criteria can as readily result from, as cause, dimorphism. Women have proportionately smaller feet than men. Prior work on the role of foot size in attractiveness suggests an asymmetry across the sexes, as small feet enhance female appearance, yet average, rather than large, feet are preferred on men. Previous investigations employed crude stimuli and limited samples. Here, we report on multiple cross-cultural studies designed to overcome these limitations. With the exception of one rural society, we find that small foot size is preferred when judging women, yet no equivalent preference applies to men. Similarly, consonant with the thesis that a preference for youth underlies intersexual selection acting on women, we document an inverse relationship between foot size and perceived age. Examination of preferences regarding, and inferences from, feet viewed in isolation suggests different roles for proportionality and absolute size in judgments of female and male bodies. Although the majority of these results bolster the conclusion that pedal dimorphism is the product of intersexual selection, the picture is complicated by the reversal of the usual preference for small female feet found in one rural society. While possibly explicable in terms of greater emphasis on female economic productivity relative to beauty, the latter finding underscores the importance of employing diverse samples when exploring postulated evolved aesthetic preferences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-164
Number of pages18
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


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