Most people seem to have a “type” of look or attractiveness that they prefer in a mate. Some heterosexual men may prefer thin or lean women while others prefer athletic or muscular women. Others still may prefer women with a few extra pounds of fat or more noticeable curves.
Despite the fact that media and popular culture often portray extremely thin women as the ideal, that is not always what a man prefers, especially if he is under stress. Recent research has begun to provide some support for the Environmental Security Hypothesis, which suggests that when resources are scarce, people are attracted to individuals with more body fat.
It is theorized that body fat represents access to food and for women, a higher likelihood for conception and childbearing. Based on this hypothesis, when people are under stress, they will actually shift their preference for ideal body types from thin to heavy.
Viren Swami of the Department of Psychology at the University of Westminster in London wanted to test this theory. Using a sample of 81 adult men, Swami enlisted half of them into a control condition while the other half participated in a stress-inducing experiment. After the experiment, all the men were asked to view pictures of women with varying body types and body mass index levels.
Swami found that the men in the stress induction condition chose heavier women than the control participants. They were more likely than the control men to rate heavy and even mildly obese women as attractive. Finally, the men in the stress condition gave attractive ratings to a much larger number of women than the control participants did.
Overall, these findings support the recent research into the Environmental Security Hypothesis. The men in this study had a shift from thin to heavy body preference when they were subjected to stressful cues. Swami believes that the presence of stress and the experience of threat or fear could cause men to be drawn to individuals who appear more equipped to overcome environmental stress. Swami added that the results found from this study seem to indicate that our judgments toward human attractiveness have a sensitivity “to variations in local ecologies and reflect adaptive strategies for dealing with changing environmental conditions.”
Swami, V., Tovée, M.J. (2012). The impact of psychological stress on men’s judgments of female body size. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42593. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042593
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