Men and women hold inaccurate ideas of what the opposite sex finds attractive, research finds

Caroline Allen
Contributor
We place a lot of emphasis on what we think the opposite sex find attractive. (Getty Images)

New research has found that both men and women hold inaccurate perceptions of what the opposite sex finds attractive.

Women overestimate a man’s desire for thinness while men think a woman places more importance than she does on muscularity.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychology, found that these seemingly small misconceptions were more apparent in short-term relationships than they were in their long-term equivalents.

It’s not surprising that both genders would have these pre-conceived ideas of what the opposite sex looks for, given the emphasis on the two traits in everything from TV series to social media.

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Studies in the past have found that men and women who think their bodies don’t match these standards are more likely to develop unhealthy behaviours, whether that comes from under-eating or over-exercising.

It also depends just how much emphasis the person puts on this misconception. For example, if a woman really believes that a men only value thinness, she’s more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Researchers Xue Lei and David Perrett explain: “One study has shown that women’s misperception of men’s preference for thinness is associated with eating disorders (Bergstrom, Neighbors, & Lewis, 2004).

“Specifically, the higher the discrepancy between women’s estimate of men’s preference for women’s thinness and men’s actual preference, the more unhealthy eating attitudes women report.”

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169 heterosexual 17-26 year olds from the UK took part in the study. It was conducted over an app, which allowed the participants to manipulate images to represent their ideal body types in the opposite sex.

They had to change the body type to suit both a short-term and long-term relationship.

They were also asked to manipulate images of same-sex bodies to show what they believed the ideal body type to be and what their body type currently was.

The results showed some pretty big misconceptions.

For a start, men placed too much emphasis on the exact BMI a woman would be looking for in her ideal man. Similarly, women thought that men were looking for much thinner versions of themselves, which wasn’t accurate to what men were actually looking for.

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To sum it up, women placed too much emphasis on how thin they were and men placed too much emphasis on how muscular they were.

Interestingly, there wasn’t a huge difference in what men and women preferred whether it was for a short-term or long-term relationship. However, both men and women emphasised these thin and muscular traits for short-term relationships, assuming that’s what the opposite sex would want.

The study went some way to highlight how both sexes suffer from body dissatisfaction.

The authors said: “Correcting misperceptions of opposite-sex preferences might help to prevent and treat eating disorders or body dissatisfaction among young men and women.

“Future research on body image should evaluate the influence that misperceptions of opposite-sex preference have on body dissatisfaction and other body image related psychological problems.”