Faster Cyclists Are More Handsome

Biology Letters at the Royal Society:

Females often prefer to mate with high quality males, and one aspect of quality is physical performance. Although a preference for physically fitter males is therefore predicted, the relationship between attractiveness and performance has rarely been quantified. Here, I test for such a relationship in humans and ask whether variation in (endurance) performance is associated with variation in facial attractiveness within elite professional cyclists that finished the 2012 Tour de France. I show that riders that performed better were more attractive, and that this preference was strongest in women not using a hormonal contraceptive. Thereby, I show that, within this preselected but relatively homogeneous sample of the male population, facial attractiveness signals endurance performance. Provided that there is a relationship between performance-mediated attractiveness and reproductive success, this suggests that human endurance capacity has been subject to sexual selection in our evolutionary past.

Discover Magazine summarises:

As the paper’s abstract explains, “Females often prefer to mate with high quality males, and one aspect of quality is physical performance.” So the more physically fit a human male is, the more human females might want to bang him. But how to test for this — and, specifically, how to test for this with the measure of physical performance being endurance, a trait not easily quantified?

Simple. Just get headshots of 80 male cyclists who finished the grueling Tour de France, put them up on www.fluidsurveys.com, and have people rate them on a scale of 1–5 (5 being the dreamiest). Then, compare the cyclists’ hot-or-not ratings with how they did in the race. Sole author Erik Postma also asked the participants to rate the man’s masculinity and likeability, and asked whether the rater, if female, was on hormonal contraception.

The results were clear. The most attractive men were also, unbeknownst to raters, the riders that performed best. This correlation was strongest in women not on the pill. (The effect was about the same for women on it and men, interestingly enough.) A rider’s perceived masculinity didn’t seem to have anything to do with his performance; there was a positive relationship between performance and likeability but it, too, was mostly dependent on the guy’s looks.