Creativity, a mating boost for the less attractive male

In the ruthless world of the mating game, plain-looking men instinctively know that being funny, smart or poetic helps to compensate for a less-than-stellar exterior.

That gut feeling has now gained scientific validation from an unusual study published recently.

Average-looking men become more alluring when women sense the man has an imaginative spark, it found.

But for women, sadly, there may not be the same boost. Indeed, one experiment suggests that less attractive women even worsen their mating chances if they show mental zing.

"Creative women with less attractive faces seem to be perhaps penalised in some way," said Dr Christopher Watkins, a psychologist at Abertay University in Scotland, who carried out the research.

In the study, volunteers rated pictures of men and women on the basis of their physical looks alone. These pictures were then submitted to another group of volunteers - this time attached with creative exercises.

One test had a 100-word text based on The Lovers, a surrealist painting by Rene Magritte, in which two lovers kiss, their heads strangely covered in white cloths.

Half of these texts, attributed to the persons pictured, were dull or factual ("Are they being held hostage?"), and the other half were inspired or conceptual ("It is perhaps an indicator that looks fade and in the end it does not matter as you will always be left with the personality of someone").

The results showed that men with less attractive faces get a big boost in the popularity contest if they show a creative touch - almost identical in attractiveness to good-looking men who were not as creative.

The top-ranked men were those considered to be both physically attractive and creative.

For women, though, the news is not so good. Looks remain paramount. In one experiment, creativeness did nothing to boost the allure of attractive women - and it even reduced the appeal of less attractive women.

However, another experiment on similar lines had conflicting findings: creativity showed an equally boosting effect for average-looking women and their male counterparts.

Why would women rate creativity among men so highly?

Dr Watkins pointed to evolutionary biology - the hidden criteria that drive us to seek the best mate for ensuring healthy offspring and their survival.

"Women on average are a more selective sex when it comes to choosing romantic partners," he said.

Imagination and inspiration may be "a proxy for intelligence", he suggested. "Creativity is thought to be a signal that an individual can invest time and effort into a particular task or can see things in novel ways that may be useful for survival."

That means nerds and poets are at a big disadvantage in online dating, where decisions to shun or show interest are often based on just a glance.

The allure of creativity may not be limited to potential romantic partners, but extend to potential friends too, the study found.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2017, with the headline 'Creativity, a mating boost for the less attractive male'. Print Edition | Subscribe