Men who look at beautiful women are not perverts. Scientific research from Amsterdam has this week confirmed that such men are simply behaving naturally. Nature works differently in women. They are certainly not blind to masculine beauty, but it’s not the first thing they look for.
We are talking about the first half-second that a beautiful person comes into a man’s range of vision. Men without exception will take a look. Behavioural scientist Hannie van Hooff of Amsterdam’s Free University has discovered that this happens completely without thinking:
“Looking at an attractive person is important for a man, because it provides him with information: is this person young? Is this person healthy? If the answers are ‘yes’, then the woman concerned should be able to provide numerous offspring.”
In other words, men’s Pavlovian response is decided by evolution. It serves the survival of the human species. That’s the reason why men can do nothing about that half-second of gawping at a person’s good looks.
The other side
Women’s behaviour is also decided by evolution, but for them the effect is different:
“According to the same evolutionary theory, it's more important for a woman to determine whether a person will be able look after her and any children she may have. That’s why, for her, the more important questions are: has he got status? Has he got ambition? Has he got money?”
Vera Pauw served as coach of the national Dutch women’s football team from 2004 to 2010. She’s now involved with the organisation of the football World Cup for women under 20. She knows precisely how ‘her girls’ look at professional footballers, and she has a few things to say about Dr Van Hooff’s research.
It’s hard, for example, for her to accept that the young women judge their football heroes primarily on their capacities as potential protectors and fathers.
“I think the girls who choose football do that because of the sport, so the first thing they look at is the game, how skilled the player is. Of course, there’s talk about whether someone’s good-looking… but that’s not the main thing. I think that’s more the case with girls who don’t do football.”
Dr Van Hooff has thoroughly researched the issue. In tests, she asked numerous subjects to fulfil tasks which had nothing to do with beauty or ugliness. Their brain activity was measured using EEG.
They were then shown pictures of beautiful and ugly members of the opposite sex. Men displayed a noticeable peak in brain activity when shown a good-looking woman.
Even though Ms Pauw has her misgivings regarding the female side of the research. She readily acknowledges that men – if only for an instant – have to look at a beautiful woman:
“No, I don’t find that at all surprising. I’m 47 and for me it’s getting more peaceful now that I’m beyond the child-bearing age. I really do notice that men look at me in a completely different way. I find it very pleasant that I’m no longer continually subjected to a kind of meat inspection.”
She’s got it spot on - the meat inspection. Even though men cannot control their spontaneous response to the sight of a pretty woman, they can choose to control their behaviour almost immediately. After half a second, Darwin can no longer be given the blame.