If you're hoping to increase your online appeal to the opposite sex, you might want to consider where on the screen you place your photo. A study that's in press at Social Cognition has shown that women rate men's photos as more attractive when they're placed near the top of the screen. By contrast, men rate women's photos as more attractive when they're located near the bottom of the screen.
Brian Meier and Sarah Dionne say their finding can be understood in terms of 'embodied' or 'grounded cognition', in this case our tendency to think about abstract power in terms of physical height. Powerful people are talked about as being 'high' up in the hierarchy whereas junior staff are described as being on the 'bottom rung'. By this account, women are more attracted to men's photos at the top of the screen because this position is associated with power, whereas men are more attracted to women in the lower screen position associated with powerlessness.
This pattern of findings may sound controversial but is actually consistent with evolutionary accounts of what men and women are looking for in a potential mate. According to evolutionary psychologists, both men and women have evolved to seek partners who will maximise their chances of reproductive success. For men, this means finding a mate who is powerless in the sense of being young and faithful. Women, by contrast, are attracted to mates who are powerful in the sense of having status and resources to support and protect their offspring.
The researchers obtained their results by asking 79 heterosexual students (29 were male) to rate the attractiveness of photos of men and women located either at the top or bottom of a nineteen inch computer screen. The participants were told that the location of the photos was programmed to change so as to help maintain interest in the task.
The researchers concluded: 'These findings support evolutionary theory, reveal that grounded theory has implications for common social judgments, and illustrate how grounded theory can be used as a tool to examine predictions made by theories outside the realm of basic and fundamental cognitive processes.'
Meier and Dionne also mentioned that their results could help explain why, in even more cases than you'd expect based on sex differences in height, the man in a heterosexual couple is taller than the female. 'Height could be a cue to power and hence attractiveness,' they said.
BP Meier, & S Dionne (2010). Downright sexy: Verticality, implicit power and attractiveness. Social Cognition, In Press.
Previous Digest posts on embodied cognition: here and here.