Photographs of two attractive women were accompanied by dating adverts and male readers were asked to vote for the woman they felt most attracted to have a serious relationship with. One woman was selected beforehand to be slightly more attractive than the other and in edition A, both women described more or less the same holiday in the same language. In edition B, however, the slightly less attractive woman was given a wider vocabulary.
Readers of edition A favoured the more attractive woman by 63% to 37%. But in edition B the less attractive woman gained in popularity, shifting the voting balance to 57% against 43%. 1800 readers phoned in their opinions in the survey.
Raj Persaud, of the Maudsley Hospital, London, who devised the experiment, said the 6 percentage point shift was enough to be of statistical significance. "This is the first time that an experiment like this has been conducted and the first test of this controversial theory," he said. "It is a very interesting and counter-intuitive result because it suggests that men are influenced by issues beyond appearance. They are making an assessment of a person's mind.
"A lot of women spend a lot of time on their appearance before a date. This suggests that brushing up on their word power may also be helpful. Men are not as predictable as women think they are."
Dr Persaud designed the experiment to follow up the findings of a study published by psychologists Geoffrey Miller, of University College London, and Robin Dunbar, of Liverpool University, who suggested that sophisticated conversation is a sexual display of brain power, rather like a peacock's tail. Their theory may shed light on why it is that we can express almost anything with 850 words, yet the average person has a vocabulary of 60,000 words.