THURSDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that stress makes men more likely to be attracted to slightly heavier women, possibly because evolution has programmed them that way.
The study is small -- it tracked just 81 male college students -- and far from definitive. Still, it "suggests that stress alters what you find attractive in a potential partner," said study co-author Martin Tovee, of Newcastle University's School of Psychology in the United Kingdom.
At issue is how men figure out whom they're most attracted to. According to Tovee, standards of beauty don't just change over time but also from place to place.
"For example, our work in parts of Malaysia and Africa has shown that in poorer environments where resources are scarce, people prefer a heavy body in a potential partner," he said. "If you live in an environment where food is scarce, being heavier means that you have fat stored up as a buffer against a potential reduction in food in the future and that you must be higher social status to afford the food in the first place."
But people in richer countries, such as the United States, have different preferences about their mates, he said. "This suggests that our body size preferences are not innate but are flexible and can be changed by environment and circumstance."
In a previous study, Tovee and colleagues found that hungry students are more attracted to heavier people. In the new study, researchers looked at stress, "another factor that is likely to be high in a poorer environment," he said.
The researchers recruited 81 white males for their study. They were all white. because ethnicity can throw off the results, and aged 18 to 42. Of the 81 participants, the researchers exposed 41 to stress: they had to act like they were in a job interview in front of teams of men and women, then they were told to continually subtract 13 from 1,0
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