Categorical perception of human female physical attractiveness and health

Martin J. Tovée*, Laura Edmonds, Quoc C. Vuong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Using realistic three-dimensional female body models, we found evidence for a categorical perception of female physical attractiveness and health in male and female Caucasian observers. In a rating task, we showed that these bodies were rated for attractiveness or health in the same way as real bodies. In a two-alternative forced-choice task, we showed that these bodies were categorized into attractive vs. unattractive or healthy vs. unhealthy nonlinearly, which allowed us to estimate the position of a categorical boundary between attractive and unattractive or healthy and unhealthy bodies. In a delayed match-to-sample task, we measured the sensitivity of discrimination between pairs of bodies. We found significantly better discrimination for pairs that crossed the attractive/unattractive or healthy/unhealthy boundary than pairs that did not, even though the physical changes in both conditions were identical. Thus, categorical perception enhances the perception of physical changes that cross the boundary between discrete perceptual categories of important judgments such as attractiveness or health, which can be a cue for mate selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-93
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number2
Early online date16 Aug 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


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