The participants – 29 women and 36 men – were outfitted with the eye-tracking system, which measures in milliseconds how long the eyes are fixed on certain spots. Their gazes reacted to photographs of the same 10 women, each with three different digitally manipulated body shapes – curvaceous, much less curvaceous and in-between. (Only women’s bodies were viewed by study participants.) Both sexes fixed their gaze more on women’s chests and waists and less on faces. Those bodies with larger breasts, narrower waists and bigger hips often prompted longer looks.

The explanation may be partly evolutionary, Gervais says, since men may be drawn to more shapely women for childbearing — while women may be checking out their competition, she suggests.

And the study, published today in the journal Sex Roles, also finds that even when men are told to focus more on evaluating a woman’s expressions and personality, women with more curves get more positive personality ratings.