Mark Prokosch research links brains with sex appeal

Attention men. Drop the dumbbells and hit the books. Your brain may be your most attractive body part. Mark Prokosch, an Elon University adjunct assistant professor, shows in new research due to be published this winter in Evolution and Human Behavior that intelligence is important when it comes to attracting a woman.

“We know that physical attractiveness is still the best predictor of appeal, but I wanted to understand if once you get past this hurdle of physical attractiveness, does intelligence help?” said Mark Prokosch, an adjunct professor whose research has been covered in recent months by international media.

While earning his doctoral degree at the University of California, Davis, Prokosch and his team of student researchers filmed 15 college men reading news reports, explaining why they would be good mates, discussing implications of life on Mars and throwing a Frisbee, after completing an IQ sub-test.

More than 200 college women then watched the videos and rated each guy’s intelligence, attractiveness, creativity and appeal for short-term and long-term relationships.

“The smarter guys were better able to answer the questions, be more charismatic, while showing interest and enthusiasm. Those were traits the women were picking up on,” said Prokosch, who is in his first year with the university. “This study showed there are a lot of positive attributes that are related to intelligence.” 

The study found that women may even pick smarter guys for one-night-stands. Prokosch, an evolutionary psychologist, explained that intelligence is a very heritable trait. Theoretically, he said, women prefer men with attractive characteristics that could be passed along to children, even for a brief fling.

In the past, studies on mate preference have primarily relied on questionnaires and ratings. Prokosch chose audiovisual samples to engage the women and find out what the girls liked most about the guys.

“Mate preferences and dynamics are very complex. It is very complex just to think about and even more complex to analyze,” he said. “We wanted real men to be saying real things and wanted to know their real IQ scores.”

The success of the study that started six years ago is being recognized in the media. It was first picked up in the New Scientist. The Economist, Science, Men’s Health, Women’s Health and ABC News have also publicized the Elon newcomer’s research.

“Mark’s expertise in evolutionary psychology is an increasingly important perspective in many sub-disciplines within psychology,” said professor Maurice Levesque, chair of the psychology department at Elon. “The evolutionary framework is fast becoming the dominant perspective for understanding desired qualities in a mate. Mark is just beginning his career but is already well published and his work has great promise.”

The project started because of Prokosch’s interests in how physical traits attract women to men. He discovered a “gaping hole” in the research about psychological characteristics.

“I have always been interested in human intelligence, creativity and social interaction. I wanted to understand whether intelligence and creativity are in fact attractive in the long-term and short-term context,” said Prokosch. “We know that physical attractiveness is still the best predictor of appeal, but I wanted to understand if once you get past this hurdle of physical attractiveness, does intelligence help?”

Prokosch will now be turning his time and research to studying the creativity aspect of mate preference. He will also look at speed dating dynamics to try and discern if they are truly effective.

“Everybody has some fascination about these topics,” Prokosch pointed out. “This is what we all go through – this process of joining up with others.”

Prokosch came to Elon to focus on undergraduate teaching at a university he says also values undergraduate research. His wife is pursuing advanced training in Developmental Science at UNC-Chapel Hill. Outside of work, Prokosch enjoys reading, playing tennis, and is a self-declared avid table tennis player.

– Megan Kirkpatrick ’09

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