Distance runners may be more sexually desirable than other men

Recommended by Dr. Michael White, Updated on March 20th, 2016
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Provided by Fred Lewsey, University of Cambridge

Pre-birth exposure to high levels of the male sex hormone testosterone has already been shown to confer evolutionary advantages for men: strength of sex drive, sperm count, cardiovascular efficiency and spatial awareness, for example.

Now, latest research on marathon runners using finger length as a marker for hormone exposure shows that people who experienced higher testosterone in the womb are also better at distance running a correlation particularly strong in men, although also present in women.

Researchers say the finding that males with greater reproductive potential from an evolutionary standpoint are better distance runners suggests females may have selected for such athletic endurance when mating during our hunter-gatherer past, perhaps because persistence hunting exhausting prey by tirelessly tracking it was a vital way to get food.

Distance running may also have acted as a positive signal for females of desirable male genetics more generally, say researchers: good runners were likely to be better persistence hunters and consequently better providers. This increases the likelihood they would have other key traits of good providers such as intelligence and generosity.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridges Division of Biological Anthropology and is published today in the journalPLOS ONE.

The observation that endurance running ability is connected to reproductive potential in men suggests that women in our hunter-gatherer past were able to observe running as a signal for a good breeding partner, said the studys lead author Dr Danny Longman.

It was thought that a better hunter would have got more meat, and had a healthier and larger family as a consequence of providing more meat for his family. But hunter-gatherers may have used egalitarian systems with equal meat distribution as we see in remaining tribes today. In which case more meat is not a factor, but the ability to get meat would signal underlying traits of athletic endurance, as well as intelligence to track and outwit prey and generosity to contribute to tribal society. All traits you want passed on to your children, he said.

Using the largest sample of marathon runners of any study of its kind, Longman and colleagues tested for specific finger lengths known as the 2D:4D digit ratio. Previous studies have showed that those exposed to more prenatal testosterone have a longer ring finger (4th digit) in comparison to their index finger (2nd digit).

This is an example of a 'masculine' 2D:4D ratio. (Credit: Danny Longman)

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Distance runners may be more sexually desirable than other men

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