A new study has found that the Karo Batak, who mostly live in scattered rural villages in the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, deem women with big feet as more appealing.

Geoff Kushnick, a University of Washington anthropologist, who studies the evolution of human reproductive strategies, suggests that culture - not just genetics - plays a role in deciding what makes a mate attractive. The Karo Batak predilection for big feet is linked to the society's ecological context - that is, being rural and agricultural - and limited exposure to Western media, he found.

"Universal features of physical attractiveness are typically thought to suggest that mate choice criteria are hard-wired in humans and that they evolved tens of thousands of years ago," Kushnick said. "This new research supports that idea that cultural transmission of mate preferences allows humans to adapt to local environments, and this may trump hard-wired preferences," he added.

Kushnick showed 159 Karo Batak adults five drawings of a barefoot woman with her long hair pulled back and dressed in a shirt and a skirt reaching her mid-calf. The drawings were the same except for subtle differences in foot size.

Both male and female participants judged the drawing of the woman with the largest feet most attractive and the woman with the smallest feet least attractive. An earlier study across societies found an overall preference for women with small feet.

Respondents from Iran, Lithuania, Brazil, the United States and India rated women with small feet more attractive , but those from Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania preferred women with big feet.


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