Stressed Men Prefer Chubby Chicks

Here’s a title for you, “BMI Not WHR Modulates BOLD fMRI Responses in a Sub-Cortical Reward Network When Participants Judge the Attractiveness of Human Female Bodies.” How about that? I had my money on WHR.

What? Waist-to-hip ratio, of course. The preferred marker of attractiveness for many men. I myself like to reward my sub-cortical network with larger WHR and not higher BMI. But that’s just me, and I’ve been under a lot of stress.

Which makes my proclivity even stranger when you consider that one of the same authors of this paper, Martin J Tov&eactue;e, also wrote this one: “The Impact of Psychological Stress on Men’s Judgements of Female Body Size.” It says that men under stress reach for more.

Men just shy of freaking out rate “significantly heavier female body size as maximally attractive”, while fellows who swim in more placid waters like ’em thin. This is what science says, this is therefore what is so.

What happened was that Swami and Tov&eactue;e gathered 81 British white WEIRD men and split them asunder, half-plus-one (rounding down) undergoing a stressful trial, and half allowed not to fret. WEIRD equals “Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.” I.e., college students; white ones here to acknowledge that different races like different kinds of womenfolk.

The stress group got the TSST (say it) “a 15-minute laboratory stressor that has been reliably shown to increase levels of acute psychological stress.” Apparently this is 10 minutes of chatting followed by an abrupt requirement to “serially subtract the number 13 from 1,022 as fast and accurately as possible.” Watch them free cortisol levels soar! At least it wasn’t adding fractions.

After allowing the math challenged students—no calculators!—to cool their heels for twenty minutes, they ushered them aside and asked them questions about pretty girls. The control group just had to sit in a room “where they waited quietly” and then had to answer the same questions. All 81 men had their weight and height measured. “[W]ithout shoes and in light clothing.” Naturally.

The men then ogled “10 photographic and standardized images of women in front view. The women depicted in the PFRS represent the full range of established BMI categories, from emaciated to obese.” Then they “rated each of the 10 images for physical attractiveness on a 9-point Likert-type scale (1 = Very unattractive, 9 = Very attractive).”

I bet that not one of those men, before they came to this experiment, knew they were employing the scientifically validated Likert-scale when they previously engaged in the very popular hobby of rating looks. Here, however, we must wonder how the men dealt with the rescaling; I mean the missing “10”.

Oh yes, then the men were asked whether they agreed with statements like “I have never been more hungry.”

Turns out that the stressed and calm men liked the Emaciated and Obese pictures least (the labels are so given in the paper). Both groups thought the same about the Underweight, but the stressed gave slightly higher mean marks to Normal and Overweight pictures. The variance of the marks of the stressed men was almost everywhere higher (except for the Emaciated group).

From this they conclude “that participants experiencing psychological stress selected a significantly heavier female body size as maximally attractive compared to the control group.” The “significantly” meant statistically significantly (thank you p-values!) and not in size because, as the authors admit, “the shift in preferences may appear small from a practical point-of-view,” but they still got a paper out of it.

They were however able to theorize that “human mate choice preferences are likely context-specific and recalibrate as local conditions and experiences change, the end result being mate preferences that remain adaptive regardless of the environmental landscape.” Also, some men “may idealise larger body sizes because such body types are associated with better ability to handle environmental threat.” Get a big one in case a famine hits!

The real good news is that “future work” is needed, figuring whether or how “the experience of stress impacted on state self-esteem, empathy, or related constructs…may have impacted on body size perceptions.”


Thanks to Al Perrella for the tip.


  1. harrywr2

    What’s new about ‘Built for comfort, not for speed’?

  2. george kaplan

    did the stressed guys want low scores on the math test?

  3. Using this no-doubt brilliant research as a starting point, I have now, via a long chain of logically unimpeachable steps, proven that Kate Upton will be even more popular in 2013. But more research is necessary, and I am off to do it.

  4. Can you help with American-English spelling of authors’ names – I want to be in the control group for the next study. Few opportunities, here, for quiet and un-stressed sitting.

  5. Noblesse Oblige

    Who paid for this?

  6. I wonder if the researchers selected only those men who like big butts since we know they cannot lie.

  7. L.W. Dickel

    “I dig fat chicks too, even though I’m totally gay.”–Jesus H. Christ, up in the sky.

  8. Apparently nobody else sees the disconnect of using this particular test group against limiting the photographic and standardized viewed gender to female, but maybe I merely watch too much BBCA. WEIRD indeed.

  9. Katie

    If model C is the most desired—note that the smaller waist does two things: emphasizes the bust and hips (which doesn’t necessary make them fatter when compared to the other models) and indicates that the female in question is less likely to have borne children.

  10. Uncle Mike

    The major, most quantities sold, over-the-counter stress reliever is well known to distort judgment vis women, and vis men if the gal is also drunk. So relief of stress is not necessarily something to be indulged in. It can lead to increased stress later on, consequences being what they are.

  11. Rich

    “The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.” Damn right!

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