Waist-to-hip ratio affects female body attractiveness and modulates early brain responses

Eur J Neurosci. 2020 Dec;52(11):4490-4498. doi: 10.1111/ejn.14209. Epub 2018 Nov 15.


This investigation examined the electrophysiological response underlying the visual processing of waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) in female bodies, a characteristic known to affect perceived attractiveness. WHRs of female bodies were artificially adjusted to values of 0.6, 0.7, 0.8 or 0.9. Behavioural ratings of attractiveness of the bodies revealed a preference for WHRs of 0.7 in the overall group of participants, which included both male and female heterosexual individuals. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were then recorded while participants performed a selective attention task involving photographs of female models and scrambled images. Results showed that the P1 (80-120 ms) and N1 (130-170 ms) components situated over posterior brain regions were the earliest components to be modulated by attention and bodies. Interestingly, the vertex-positive potential, occurring between 120-180 ms, produced a greater positivity for WHRs of 0.7 compared to the other ratios. However, this increase was only observed when the body stimuli were attended, while no effect was observed for unattended bodies. These findings provide evidence of an early brain sensitivity to visual attributes that constitute secondary sexual characteristics. Although they are relatively discrete from the point of view of their physical quality, these signs possess strong behavioural significance, producing greater reported attractiveness, likely by conveying the biological meaning that signals good health and greater reproductive success. Our results therefore reveal that attributes associated with sexual attractiveness in female bodies are processed rapidly in the stream of visual processing.

Keywords: N170; attractiveness; event-related potentials; sexual behaviour; vertex-positive potential; waist-to-hip ratio.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain*
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Visual Perception*
  • Waist-Hip Ratio