By Margarita Nahapetyan
It turns out that, when under stress, men tend to be attracted to women with a more curvaceous body type, found a new research, according to which stress-inducing situations can actually affect the way males perceive body sizes of their potential partners.
Previous studies have found that the experience of psychological stress may have an impact on physical attractiveness ideals, but most evidence supporting this hypothesis at this point remains archival. In this new work, British scientists from London and Newcastle decided to experimentally figure out how stress affects men's judgments of female body size.
For the study purposes 81 heterosexual white men between the ages of 18 and 42 years were invited as subjects. The men were divided into two different groups. The participants in one group had to undergo the Trier Social Stress Test, in which they needed to take a part in an impromptu job interview in front of four interviewers. The experts asked them to talk for about five minutes and try to "sell" themselves after which the participants had to calculate answers to simple math problems under time pressure. Men in the second group just needed to sit in quiet waiting room. Later, the participants in both groups were shown photographic images of 10 women with different body types, ranging from skinny to obese, and were asked to rate the women's attractiveness on a scale of one to nine based on the women's body mass index (BMI), with one representing very thin and nine obese.
The results revealed that the largest woman considered physically attractive by the stressed-out men was significantly larger than the one rated by the control group's threshold. In particular, the largest body size rated as attractive by the men in the stress group was 7.17, which was considered overweight, and the largest body type found attractive by unstressed males was 6.25, which fell in the normal category on the BMI scale. In addition, not only stressed-out men rated overweight women as more attractive, but they also rated higher a wider range of body types overall.
According to Martin Tovée, a co-author of the study from the Newcastle University, the new results suggest that our body size preferences are not innate, but are flexible. He noted that a specific environment and resources could be influencing such preferences. For example, in countries such as Malaysia and Africa people prefer a curvier body in a potential partner. Overweight people in these countries are viewed as higher social status who can afford the food in the first place. On the contrary, people in richer countries, including the United States, have different preferences about their partners, Tovée said.
The findings also fall in line with evolutionary theories which claim that when resources are scarce or unpredictable, a woman's thin body may be viewed as not quite healthy and not being able to reproduce. In addition, the investigators suggest that underlying biological mechanisms, such as levels of blood sugar and hormone levels, play extremely important role in how people perceive their surroundings.
Steve Gangestad, a professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, provided another possible explanation for the effect found in the study. According to him, the stressed-out men could have experienced a temporary blow to social self-esteem. Maybe for this reason, Gangestad said, men in that condition were more likely to opt for body types which in Western society are generally less preferred. Gangestad said that more studies are needed on the matter in order to provide better insight into what is going on.
The findings of the research are published in the journal PLoS ONE.