The study, “The Impact of Psychological Stress on Men’s Judgements of Female Body Size,” falls in line with evolutionary wisdom that thought men preferred larger women when resources were scare because they were seen as better able to handle tough times. But few modern studies took a look at whether or not emotional stress affects how we view potential mates until now.
Using a very limited sampling of just 81 men, psychologists Viren Swami and Martin Tovee aimed to figure out how stress affects how men view women.
To find out, Swami of the University of Westminster in London and his colleague Tovee of Newcastle University randomly assigned men to either a stressfulsituation that mimicked a job interview or a relaxing condition in which they waited quietly in a room. A total of 81 British white men took part in the experiment.
After the stressful faux interview or quiet waiting period, the men rated the attractiveness of photos of women who ranged in weight from emaciated to obese.
The results revealed that the stressed-out men rated heavier bodies more positively than did men who hadn’t experienced stress. Stressed men also rated normal-weight women as more attractive than did their relaxed counterparts.
“These results are consistent with previous experimental work indicating that the experience of stress leads participants to prefer more mature physical characteristics, but extends earlier studies in showing that the stress also impacts on body size judgments,” the researchers wrote in the journal PLoS ONE.
The findings suggest that context matters a lot in who we find attractive, the researchers added. The findings could help explain why beauty standards vary from culture to culture and even within cultures, they wrote.
Although it’s impossible to say if the views of such a limited group of men truly signal whether or not men in general prefer larger mates when times are tough, it does provide an interesting look into how our instincts play into our attraction for others.