Park's team faced a similar problem in coming up with a reliable proxy for individual performance in a team sport.
"Our initial idea was that, across various team sports, some positions may be associated with greater athleticism, and hence greater genetic quality, than other positions," he says.
In previous work, they found that hockey goalies and forwards, and soccer strikers and goalkeepers, tended to be more attractive than their teammates. But that's based on the assumption that those positions demand more athleticism than others.
To test attractiveness within a single position, Park's new study focused on NFL quarterbacks, whose passer ratings are an objective, fairly independent gauge of performance. The rating is an amalgamation of several stats, including completed passes, yardage gained, touchdowns and interceptions, and it ranges between 0 and 158.3.
The team asked 60 female Dutch university students to rate the faces of 30 quarterbacks who played in the 1997 season and 58 who played in 2007 – the season Eli Manning's New York Giants shocked Tom Brady's New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Both studies turned up small but statistically significant correlations between good looks and passer rating, similar to New Scientist's findings with tennis players.
Park could not reveal the specific rankings, but Brady topped the passer rating list that season, well ahead of the next-best quarterback, Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisberger. Brady is also married to Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, so it doesn't seem unreasonable that Dutch university students would fancy his face as well.
Fun as these links are, Park's team – and New Scientist – didn't conduct these studies only to fuel pub banter. The results tie in with previous work suggesting that traits such as good looks and athleticism are genetically related.
"It's safe to say that there are probably many things that lie between 'good genes' and athletic prowess," Park says. "We really have no idea what physiological processes mediate the effect." Testosterone levels could be one factor.
"I think it's a really exciting paper and it's great to see 'good genes-mate choice' theory being applied in the real world like this," says Geoffrey Miller, a psychologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, whose work inspired Park's paper.
He says Park's results are impressive because all NFL quarterbacks are presumably far, far above average in their athletic ability, and the differences between the best and the worst are slight.
But athletic talent may not be the only explanation for the connection, says Miller, who also argues that intelligence also is an indicator of a healthy genetic makeup.
"Quarterback is the position that requires the highest amount of general intelligence," he says. "What might be happening is that the quarterback passing rating might be reflecting intelligence more strongly than physical athleticism."