Do Men Really Prefer Thin Women? Depends on How Stressed out They Are

We all know that being under a lot of stress can change the way we see things—and the way we respond to life’s little challenges (like that jerk who cut us off in traffic or the waitress who just can’t seem to get our order right). But now there’s evidence that stress can actually change men’s preferences in women.

Researchers at London’s University of Westminster got a group of 81 heterosexual guys together. They subjected 41 to an extremely stressful task—a mock job interview where they were required to sell themselves for five minutes to four interviewers. After that, they had to solve a bunch of math problems. The remaining 40 were left alone. Researchers then asked the men to look at images of 10 women, ranging from too thin to too fat, and rate their attractiveness.

While these results surprised me, they didn’t faze study co-author Martin Tovée at all. In previous studies Tovee found that in environments where resources are scarce or unpredictable, people in general prefer heavier partners. “If you live in an environment where food is scarce, being heavier means that you have fat stored up as a buffer and that you must be higher social status to afford the food in the first place,” Tovee said. “Both of these are attractive qualities in a partner in those circumstances.”

What it comes down to is some kind of biologically hard-wired reaction that says in tough times, thin women may be less hardy than heavier ones, so if we want to keep the species going, the large woman is a better candidate.

But in the US (and most industrialized countries), food resources aren’t scarce, it’s a little less clear about why stress would change our perceptions. Something to think about…

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