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Evolution has programmed us to spot physically talented people and find them attractive, says boffin

Research published in the Royal Society’s journal Biology Letters says that both women and men rate successful Tour de France cyclists as more attractive, even when they don’t know who they are.

Erik Postma of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, at the University of Zürich, Switzerland wanted to know if variation in endurance performance was associated with variation in facial attractiveness.

To find out, he used an online survey to show photos of riders from the 2012 Tour de France to  816 people, 72% of whom were female, and asked them to rate the riders for attractiveness, masculinity and likeability. Their scores were excluded if they recognised the rider.

Dr Postma said: “I found it indeed is the handsome guys who finish first.”

There was a significant correlation between riders being rated as handsome and their success in the Tour.

"To my initial surprise, I found a positive relationship between the two and it was actually quite strong," he told BBC News.

"If we took the 10% best riders and compared their performance to the 10% worst, we found the best were on average 25% more attractive than the worst ones."

"We don't know what people are picking up in the faces that is signalling the riders' performance."

However, that year’s winner, Bradley Wiggins, was not included among the 80 riders people were asked to rate because he was wearing sunglasses in his race portrait.

“This association between looks and performance is in line with human endurance performance having been shaped by selection in our evolutionary past,” Dr Postma said.

“Across cultures, women place a lot of value on the provisioning ability of their prospective partner.”

The implication is that women have been programmed by evolution to find attractive men who are physically talented. And not just women. When Dr Postma pulicised the survey and asked veryone he knew to pass it on, some men said they couldn’t do it.

“I got lots of emails from men that were almost offended,” Dr Postma told NBC News. “They said ‘No way I can judge the attractiveness of other men’.”

But he a couple of hundred men took part anyway. “It turned out they know very well what women find attractive,” he said. “If you think about it, it is probably not so surprising.”

Not only do men need to know who the competition is, but it’s useful for the survival to know who to help catch dinner.

However, the correlation between success and attractiveness isn’t a hard and fast one. The rider rated best-looking among the 80 in Dr Postma’s sample was Amael Moinard of the BMC team, who finished 45th in the 2012 Tour.

The paper, 'A relationship between attractiveness and performance in professional cyclists' is available in full on line. 

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

24 comments

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James Warrener [1082 posts] 2 years ago
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As I suspected...  1

Just need to get quick now.

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md6 [181 posts] 2 years ago
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um, has anyone looked at wiggins or froome? They aren't exactly attractive looking blokes. What about Cadel, i'm not sure the massive chinned wonder would be deemed attractive.

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Ush [692 posts] 2 years ago
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"men rated faster cyclists as more attractive."

I knew all the sexual expletives shouted at me by motorists mask a deeper motive.

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jasecd [394 posts] 2 years ago
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Not so sure about this. I love Froomies style but I'm always reminded of this guy:

//starsmedia.ign.com/stars/image/object/142/14257330/kif-kroker_pictureboxart_160w.jpg)

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AWPeleton [3316 posts] 2 years ago
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Godammit, with my chiselled looks and handsome features i should be the worlds greatest grand tour rider  24 24 24

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movingtarget [144 posts] 2 years ago
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I must admit neither Wiggo nor Froome do it for me. Now Cancellara ....

As for the macho, I'm-too-oozing-with-testosterone-to-tell-if-another-guy-is-good-looking argument (yes, despite having ovaries I'm going to tackle this one  3 ) even my hubby admits that he can tell when another guy is attractive/would do well with the opposite sex. Being straight doesn't mean that you're legally blind, just color coordination challenged  3

Seriously though, I rather question this highly scientific theory. Eddy Merckx was totally dominant but that didn't translate into his appearance. Just goes to show, beauty is in the eye of the hypothesis generator.

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Nick T [913 posts] 2 years ago
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I think Cadel Evans funded this research.

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sneakerfrfeak [101 posts] 2 years ago
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I know he was later stripped of his title but Floyd Landis???

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bikebot [1919 posts] 2 years ago
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Interesting research, but I feel it should be been completed for both genders. And that all reports on said research should be illustrated with pictures of Emily Batty.

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Ghedebrav [1100 posts] 2 years ago
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I don't think Wiggins is a bad looking fella. I know a fair few people who find him attractive. Froome and Cadel are a bit more 'niche interest' however.

+1 on Cancellara though. Huuuuunk  103

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Konstantine [33 posts] 2 years ago
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I knew I was slow  2 - Does this now make me ugly too?  17

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userfriendly [562 posts] 2 years ago
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Konstantine wrote:

I knew I was slow  2 - Does this now make me ugly too?  17

It does. Though on the flip side, you get prettier the faster you go. Science!

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Leviathan [1980 posts] 2 years ago
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I am not sure how they defined who 'won' the TDF between 1995 and 2010. That would be more interesting research.

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Ducci [90 posts] 2 years ago
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So they excluded the team Sky riders because they were wearing sunglasses. Yeah, that's the reason  3

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antonio [1124 posts] 2 years ago
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Wow I must be faster than I thought!

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DaveE128 [536 posts] 2 years ago
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Surprised no-one's suggested that this research means you can tell if people must be taking drugs by how ugly they are!  3

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Spoke and hub [1 post] 2 years ago
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Not sure that the good Dr Potsma quite understands bike racing. In fact I seem to have gone on a bit of a rant about the subject...

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MrsK [43 posts] 2 years ago
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There are definitely a few mooses in the mix though. And what about Hinault?

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blinddrew [44 posts] 2 years ago
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Think cause and effect might be a bit back to front here. More attractive people tend to have more confidence (on account of their lives being slightly, shall we say, charmed) and this could lead to them being given opportunities and taking chances that other people don't.

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Cooks [491 posts] 2 years ago
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Seems that I'm not alone in my Fabian mancrush. And Kittel, he's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Makes me weep.

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tendecimalplaces [6 posts] 2 years ago
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The conclusions of this reseach do strike me as a wonderful example of putting 2 and 2 together and getting some good headlines.

A more logical conclusion might be based on the following postulates;

1) Confidence is attractive
2) Confidence is apparent in people's faces (and the way they carry themselves, act.....)
3) People in the process of placing highly on GC in the TDF are likely to be confident (not least becuase if they're not confident in themselves, they won't be placing highly on GC.

Therefore, whilst there may well be a relationship between confidence, attraciveness and success, this does not mean there is a causal relationship between attractiveness and success.

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PhilRuss [388 posts] 2 years ago
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[[[[[ Does this theory extend to other sports? I'm thinking Mike Tyson, John Terry, Wayne Rooney...
P.R.

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farrell [1950 posts] 2 years ago
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PhilRuss wrote:

[[[[[ Does this theory extend to other sports?

Apparently so.....
http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Football/Pix/pictures/2011/6/30/1309...

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PhilRuss [388 posts] 2 years ago
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farrell wrote:
PhilRuss wrote:

[[[[[ Does this theory extend to other sports?

Apparently so.....
http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Football/Pix/pictures/2011/6/30/1309...

[[[[[ Yes, FARRELL, I did think of him---but couldn't remember his name, and still can't, since he disappeared....
P.R.