Eight teams of interviewers, one male and one female, were faced with that seemingly daunting task. But it's not as hard as it seems, Buss said. There's much agreement on what makes a woman attractive, such as youth and health, although some prefer blondes over brunettes. So, by applying standards that are widely accepted in the world of psychology, each interviewer rated each participant.
The opinions of each of the interviewers were combined, or averaged, yielding a "reliable and less idiosyncratic assay," Buss added.
So he's satisfied that the women judged to be beautiful were indeed beauties, and those judged less beautiful were less attractive. And the researchers found a clear correlation between personal beauty and what they wanted in a mate. (We're ignoring the men here because there was no clear correlation.) Here are some of the findings:
The results showed that the most attractive women consistently had the highest standards, except for one peculiar exception.
When it came to evaluating intelligence as a "good gene indicator," being intelligent was at the very bottom of the list for both the beauties and the plain Janes.
Buss explained that although "intelligence is one of the most highly valued traits in a mate, attractive women do not desire it any more (or any less) than less attractive women." His study, however, described the finding as a "puzzle."
Attractive women should value intelligence more, if their personal attractiveness elevates their overall standards, but they do not.
Of course, the researchers concede that beauty is not the only force working here. Personality, talent, kindness, and maybe even quirkiness, may tip the scales. And for the romantics among us, maybe sometimes we're just lucky enough to fall in love with the right person, regardless or perhaps unaware of "mate value."
Lee Dye is a former science writer for the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in Juneau, Alaska.