Monday 12 October 2015

Male intelligence and what women really want


Although not yet published, Lars Penke has kindly let me see his full presentation about whether women find bright men sexy.

Not much, these experiments show. Yes, they are experiments, and these are always at some distance from real life. One day people may record every stage of courtship, but until then some manipulations are required.

The researchers have given the guys every chance to reveal their intellects and, crucially, the women making the judgments are able to hazard guesses as to how bright the guys are, which correlate 0.34 with tested intelligence. This is interesting in itself. I never claim to be able to judge intelligence immediately, but these women seem to do so at better than chance level.

The researcher’s conclusions are as follows:

  1. Physical attractiveness is still the strongest predictor of initial attraction, for both long- and short-term mating
  2. Intelligence can be accurately perceived at first sight
  3. g has small positive effect on female long-term attraction
  4. g hardly increases female short-term attraction
  5. Intelligence has likely not been “genetically captured” by sexual selection as a genetic fitness indicator

My conclusion: Women can somewhat predict male intelligence, and would probably do better in a real conversation. Physical attraction is what they want, at least on this controlled presentation, and before they can carry out more extensive enquiries (which may or may not lead to investigations of penile girth, supposedly another important matter).

Finally, the slides say of the women judges that they were “unacquainted with men”. If true, this would be a major methodological flaw. What would virgins know about the attractions of intelligent men?  How is a bright guy expected to impress a woman unless he can follow up his humorous introductions with a highly crafted and intelligent sexual performance?

Perhaps it means “not acquainted with these particular men” but surely the researchers would do the decent thing, and pass on the young men the telephone numbers of those young women who, upon hearing them tell their jokes, found themselves overcome by lust?


  1. If I'm reading the Accuracy of first impressions table right, the ladies and gentlemen had minimal agreement on 4 of 5 of the men's personality traits, the only exception being Extraversion (.50). Interesting that they predicted the IQ test better.

    Regarding the low correlations of LT attraction with g, what I'm wondering is: how did Physical attractiveness correlate with g? I can't find that in the paper. If that correlation is negative, then the low LT,g correlations could be explained as a compromise between lust and income expectation. Smartness compensates for being ugly?

  2. Some questions.

    1. Did the researchers compare the correlations of LT attraction with both measured and estimated intelligence?
    2. Was there any variation in the attractiveness of intelligence in men by the IQ of the women?
    3. What were the IQ ranges for the men and women involved?

  3. Lars has prepared some notes which I will post up in a day or two giving additional explanations to these points and others.

  4. There are, though you may not readily believe it, men who suspect that women are attracted by wealth or high income. If those suspicions are true, and either of those tend to correlate with g, I'm mildly surprised that there is no correlation of attractiveness with g. Unless, of course, the effect was wiped away by trying to "correct" for the moolah.

  5. If 67% of the men had passed the Abitur, how wide was the range of intelligence among the men? Only 30% of German students are enrolled in the academic track. Thus, one could assume 67% of the men were at least above normal in intelligence. A choice between bright and brighter is not the same as a choice between dull, normal, or bright.

    It could be that intelligence is a must-have, but that once a certain level has been reached, but that beyond that level other characteristics take precedence.

    As intelligence tends to correlate with smaller families in industrialized societies, it would not be a sign of reproductive fitness. A man with normal intelligence is more likely to produce children and grandchildren. If the choice is between a) a child with a graduate degree, no grandchildren (and a BMW) and b) three children and six grandchildren (but no graduate degrees among them), in terms of evolution the choice with the 9 descendants wins.

    Thus, I would not expect women to select for intelligence. Where it would be truly interesting would be if more intelligent women gave higher marks to the more intelligent men.