Pathogen and disease threat are known to trigger avoidant behaviors in humans, which aids in stopping the spread of infection. However, might pathogen prevalence also influence specific approach behaviors as well, such as who might get asked out on a date? Drawing on Strategic Pluralism Theory, three preliminary experiments test hypotheses specifying the effect of perceived pathogen prevalence on preferences for physically attractive mates. Experiments 1 and 2 reveal that when pathogen prevalence is temporarily salient, women (but not men) exhibit an exaggerated preference for physically attractive mates. Experiment 3 reveals implications for functionally adaptive behavioral responses: When pathogen prevalence is salient, women (but not men) exhibit faster approach-oriented muscle movements in response to highly physically attractive members of the opposite sex. Finally, the current study aims to tease apart why women prefer physically attractive mates after being primed with the threat of pathogens. I hypothesize that women specifically prefer attractive men as short-term partners, particularly when women are at a high fertility point in their ovulatory cycle. These findings suggest that women place an especially high priority on attractiveness under conditions of pathogen prevalence and do so because physical attractiveness serves as a signal of genetic fitness.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2013. Major: Psychology. Advisor: Jeffry A. Simpson. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 72 pages, appendices A-E.
When are women especially attracted to attractive men?: Human mate preferences in a pathogen prevalent ecology.
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