Study of Tour de France links endurance performance to attractiveness.
Women are picky when it comes to choosing a partner. The reasoning goes as follows: men have a virtually unlimited supply of sperm cells, while women only possess a limited amount of egg cells. So, to maximize reproductive success, men should try to get as much offspring as possible. Women on the other hand should do what they can to rear fewer, but high quality kids. One way to do this, is to be selective in their partner choice. In other words, find a good potential dad for their children, preferably with good genes to pass on.
To make the best choice, however, it’s important that women are able to recognize such high quality males. Assessing physical performance might help them with this. A new study, published in Biology Letters, investigates the relationship between perceived attractiveness and endurance performance among 80 professional cyclists that participated in the 2012 Tour de France. The aim? To see whether the better performers were also perceived as being more attractive, thereby providing support for the idea that sexual selection might have acted on human endurance.
Over 800 people participated in the assessment of attractiveness of the cyclists’ headshots through online surveys. Almost three quarters of them were women, either in fertile or non-fertile periods of their menstrual cycle, or using birth control pills. The results were clear. Better performing cyclists were found to be more attractive by all groups of survey respondents. The correlation was strongest in women undergoing a normal menstrual cycle (regardless of whether they were in their fertile period or not), and weaker, but still present, in men and women taking birth control medication.
This finding strengthens the idea that performance and attractiveness are linked. But why is this? The author, from the University of Zurich, offers two alternative explanations. It could be that performance is correlated to certain traits (such general health, competitiveness,…) that, in turn, influence attractiveness. Or, attractiveness could be connected to endurance performance in particular, which might mean that high endurance has been the subject of sexual selection. Of course, these alternatives are not mutually exclusive and the evolutionary roots of man’s exceptional endurance among animals are probably a complex tangle.
Photo: Flickr, Jeroen Bosman
Postma E (2014). A relationship between attractiveness and performance in professional cyclists. Biology letters, 10 (2) PMID: 24501269
cycle, cyclists, tour de france, attractive, women, performance, mating, evolution