Study: Stressed Men Seek Larger Women

The characteristics we find physically attractive can be influenced by our immediate environmental context.

cloudloveMAIN.jpg
Kalyan02/Flickr

PROBLEM: In times and places where few resources are readily available, having a large body size is widely envied and desired as it signifies wealth and security. Some research has also suggested that threatening situations have a similar effect on our perception of physical attractiveness, with larger, "mature" bodies representing strength, control and independence. This study looked more closely at this second phenomenon, testing to see whether stress-inducing situations influence the female body sizes that men find attractive.

METHODOLOGY: Eighty-one heterosexual male college students were recruited as subjects, and half were subjected to one of the most stressful situations possible for a college student: a mock job interview. After their psychological stress levels had been increased by this and various other activities, they were asked to rate ten images of women who ranged in body size from emaciated to obese, on the basis of their physical attractiveness. To control for the resource-scarcity theory, they were also asked to assess how hungry they were during the experiment.

RESULTS: The largest woman considered physically attractive was, for the stressed group, significantly larger than the woman at the heavy end of the control group's threshold. The women with higher BMIs were, in general, received higher attractiveness ratings from members of the stress group than from members of the control group. The stressed subjects had a wide range of body types that they found attractive, but only because they skewed toward larger BMIs -- there was no difference between the groups in how attractive they found the thinnest women to be.

CONCLUSION: When stressed, British college boys find heavier women to be more attractive than they otherwise would. This suggests that our preferences in terms of physical attractiveness vary with our immediate emotional context.

The full study, " The Impact of Psychological Stress on Men's Judgments of Female Body Size," is published in the journal PLoS-ONE.


Presented by

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In