Teenage kicks

Monday 14 September 2009

The latest study carried out by the University of St Andrews helps show how judgements about what we find attractive in the faces and voices of the people around us change during our teenage years.

Researchers found that older girls had clearer preferences for boys with deeper voices. Boys who were further through puberty had stronger preferences for more masculine faces in other boys, while the more developed girls had the strongest preferences for low-pitched male voices.

Psychologists believe that the preference changes might help guide teenagers as they begin their first dating relationships.

The research used digital techniques to manipulate faces and voices. Faces were made to look more or less masculine, symmetrical, and average, while voices were made to sound lower or higher in pitch. Adolescents between the ages of 11 and 15 then rated the faces and voices for attractiveness.

The older girls preferred low-pitched boys’ voices, but for the younger girls the deeper voices might have sounded intimidating. One girl commented that the low voices reminded her of Darth Vader, but for the older girls, they were more attractive: think Barry White.

The new study was carried out by lead researcher Tamsin Saxton, a postdoctoral research fellow based at the University’s School of Psychology and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) . She commented, “People start trying out adult relationships during their teenage years, and during this time we see changes in perceptions of what’s most attractive. It’s then that you’re learning about what’s attractive in a partner. It’s also a time when your peers are changing a lot in their appearance – for example, boys’ faces become more masculine, and their voices deepen in pitch – so maybe teens are responding to the changes they see around them.”

The paper ‘Face and voice attractiveness judgments change during adolescence’ by Tamsin Saxton, Lisa DeBruine, Benedict Jones, Anthony Little and Craig Roberts will be published shortly in the scientific journal Evolution and Human Behavior.


NOTE TO EDITORS: Tamsin Saxton is available for interview on 01334 463044

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

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