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Stressed men prefer heavier women, study says

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 15 2012 12:02 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Attractiveness can change based upon the environment and circumstances, a new study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, found.

Researchers from the University of Westminster in London gathered 81 heterosexual male university students, ages 18 to 42, and divided them into two groups, the Los Angeles Times reported. Each participant in the stress group was placed in a mock job-interview where he was asked to make a five-minute pitch for himself before a panel of four judges. These students were then asked to count backward from 1,022 by factors of 13.

Each of these individuals were asked to identify their preferred body shape from a slew of photographic and standardized images of women, ranging from skinny to obese.

"In the wake of those trials, the average 'ideal' body shape identified by the stressed men was larger than that identified by men who had not experienced the combined pressures of a job interview and arithmetic gymnastics."

“This suggests that our body size preferences are not innate, but are flexible,” said study co-author Martin Tovée of Newcastle University in the U.K. in an email to TIME, noting also that environment and resources may also be a factor.

Tovée said the findings complement evolutionary theories that indicate that a physically emaciated woman may indicate frailty, illness and an inability to reproduce when resources are scarce.

“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,” Tovée and colleague Viren Swami of the University of Westminster in London told TIME. “If you live in an environment where food is scarce, being heavier means you have fat stored up as a buffer against a potential food reduction in the future, and that you must be higher social status to afford the food in the first place. Both of these are attractive qualities in a partner in those circumstances.”

This study represents the first scientific experiment to demonstrate that psychological stress influences men’s judgments of women’s body sizes, the study authors told the Washington Post.

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at rachel.lowry@gmail.com or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.

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