Top male athletes the most attractive, but the opposite is true of women, study finds

Henry Bodkin
People were asked to rate mugshots of male and female biathletes - Lisi Niesner

Top male athletes are more likely to be attractive than less successful rivals, however the opposite is true for women, a study has found.

A new analysis reveals links between sporting success and perceived attractiveness that appear to differ between the sexes.

Scientists at the universities of Exeter and Bristol asked people to rate the passport-style photographs of 156 men and women taking part in the biathlon World Cup.

A combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, the sport is considered a testing examination of a person’s stamina and coordination.

Male biathletes with a higher career-best score tended to be judged as physically more attractive by the opposite sex, confirming a trend seen in previous studies looking at football, American Football League, and ice hockey.

No comparable research has taken place before on women, however.

In the new paper, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, women’s attractiveness rating went down as their World Cup scores increased.

The research team cannot say for sure what explains the difference, however they wrote that the “sex difference is predicted by evolutionary theories, based on the idea that in ancestral populations it was probably men who did most of the hunting”.

Dr Tim Fawcett, who led the research, said: “Although a preference for more athletic men doesn’t have the same relevance in today’s society, it’s fascinating to discover how sensitive we are to subtle differences in the way people look, and how this might be linked to their abilities and success.”

Previous research has suggested that physically dominant men tend to have broader faces and that women find this more attractive, however this trait did not apply to the more successful biathletes in the new study.

Those  rated as most attractive were US Olympian Lowell Bailey and Czech Olympian Eva Puskarčíková.