Attractiveness is positively related to World Cup performance in male, but not female, biathletes

Tim W. Fawcett*, Jack Ewans, Alice Lawrence, Andrew N. Radford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Whole-organism performance capacity is thought to play a key role in sexual selection, through its impacts on both intrasexual competition and intersexual mate choice. Based on data from elite sports, several studies have reported a positive association between facial attractiveness and athletic performance in humans, leading to claims that facial correlates of sporting prowess in men reveal heritable or nonheritable mate quality. However, for most of the sports studied (soccer, ice hockey, American football, and cycling), it is not possible to separate individual performance from team performance. Here, using photographs of athletes who compete annually in a multi-event World Cup, we examine the relationship between facial attractiveness and individual career-best performance metrics in the biathlon, a multidisciplinary sport that combines target shooting and cross-country skiing. Unlike all previous studies, which considered only male athletes, we report relationships for both sportsmen and sportswomen. As predicted by evolutionary arguments, we found that male biathletes were judged more attractive if (unknown to the raters) they had achieved a higher peak performance (World Cup points score) in their career, whereas there was no significant relationship for female biathletes. Our findings show that elite male athletes display visible, attractive cues that reliably reflect their athletic performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1436-1442
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number5
Early online date10 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sep 2019


  • endurance
  • evolutionary sports science
  • fWHR
  • mouth curvature
  • sexual signaling
  • whole-organism performance

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