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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Psychology Today apparently retracts Kanazawa piece on why black women are “rated less physically attractive”

with 3 comments

Psychology Today has apparently yanked a blog post by London School of Economics evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa that wondered why black women were considered less attractive than other women.

The post, titled “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?” was posted yesterday and available here, but that page now returns a 503 error.

A number of people have archived the post, however, including a communications and media professional who blogs at Chic.Seven. Her pdf is available here.

The post uses data from Add Health, a federally funded study:

Add Health was developed in response to a mandate from the U.S. Congress to fund a study of adolescent health, and Waves I and II focus on the forces that may influence adolescents’ health and risk behaviors, including personal traits, families, friendships, romantic relationships, peer groups, schools, neighborhoods, and communities. As participants have aged into adulthood, however, the scientific goals of the study have expanded and evolved. Wave III, conducted when respondents were between 18 and 26 years old, focuses on how adolescent experiences and behaviors are related to decisions, behavior, and health outcomes in the transition to adulthood.

Excerpts of the post, which really needs the graphs Kanazawa included — available at Chic.Seven’s blog — to be remotely comprehensible:

There are marked race differences in physical attractiveness among women, but not among men. Why?

[snip]

As the following graph shows, black women are statistically no different from the “average” Add Health respondent, and far less attractive than white, Asian, and Native American women.In contrast, races do not differ in physical attractiveness among men, as the following graph shows. Men of all races are more or less equally less physically attractive than the “average” Add Health respondent.

[snip]

It is very interesting to note that, even though black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women, black women (and men) subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others. In Wave III, Add Health asks its respondents to rate their own physical attractiveness subjectively on the following four-point scale: 1 = not at all, 2 = slightly, 3 = moderately, 4 = very. As you can see in the following graphs, both black women and black men rate themselves to be far more physically attractive than individuals of other races.

What accounts for the markedly lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women? Black women are on average much heavier than nonblack women. The mean body-mass index (BMI) at Wave III is 28.5 among black women and 26.1 among nonblack women. (Black and nonblack men do not differ in BMI: 27.0 vs. 26.9.) However, this is not the reason black women are less physically attractive than nonblack women. Black women have lower average level of physical attractiveness net of BMI. Nor can the race difference in intelligence (and the positive association between intelligence and physical attractiveness) account for the race difference in physical attractiveness among women. Black women are still less physically attractive than nonblack women net of BMI and intelligence. Net of intelligence, black men are significantly more physically attractive than nonblack men.

There are many biological and genetic differences between the races. However, such race differences usually exist in equal measure for both men and women. For example, because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races. And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health). But since both black women and black men have higher mutation loads, it cannot explain why only black women are less physically attractive, while black men are, if anything, more attractive.

The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently. Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive. In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races.

We don’t have the scientific background to vet this research properly, but let’s just say we’re more than a bit skeptical. Others have done so, though, including Marianne Kirby.

Kanazawa is no stranger to controversy. Last year, he published a study claiming that liberals and athiests were smarter than conservatives and believers. And yet P.Z. Myers, an avowed “godless liberal,” called him the “great idiot of social science,” according to a story in AlterNet.

We’ve tried to contact Psychology Today and Kanazawa for comment, and will update with anything we hear back.

Update, 4:10 p.m. Eastern, 5/16/11: Here’s a piece from Jezebel deconstructing Kanazawa’s earlier work, thanks to Princess Ojiaku via Bora Zivkovic.

Hat tip: Everyone on this Twitter search

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Written by Ivan Oransky

May 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm

3 Responses

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  1. We just completed a reanalysis of the Add Health data and Kanazawa’s results do not hold up to scrutiny:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201105/black-women-are-not-rated-less-attractive-our-independent-analysis-the-a

    Jelte Wicherts

    May 22, 2011 at 2:01 am

    • That re-analysis is at odds with reality. ‘Beauty is objective’ has been proven several times over, just google “.7 waist hip ratio”. The second counterargument is trying to argue 13+ year olds don’t think about sex, which is like …uh what? boys going through puberty are the biggest porn users. Even after trying to cover up satoshi’s findings with statistical manipulation, their graph shows a difference among races, i.e. native americans have 52% of people rated as ‘about average’, while only ~40% of asians were rated as such. They did the same nonsense for men, and found that african american men were in general more attractive then other races as well.

      jeffy boy

      March 6, 2013 at 5:42 pm

  2. “Evolutionary psychologists turn on controversial peer” from Times Higher Education:

    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=416360&c=1

    “An international group of more than 60 academics has accused a controversial evolutionary psychologist of refusing to engage in scientific dialogue, highlighting long-standing criticism of his work in an attempt to protect their discipline from further attack”.

    fernando pessoa

    June 3, 2011 at 8:02 am


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