Environmental factors can affect who people pick as a partner, according to a study.
A team at Stirling University found people are more attracted to healthy-looking people if surrounded by dirt and disease.
Researchers explored the idea by asking participants to rate the attractiveness of faces after exposing them to a series of “disgusting” images. They included a used handkerchief, an open wound and a crowded carriage on an underground train.
Scientists found men and women preferred the healthier-looking faces of the opposite sex after they viewed the pictures.
Women were much more likely to opt for very masculine men with symmetrical faces, and men chose the more feminine women, than when they were shown more neutral images of a handkerchief stained with blue dye, an older wound and an empty Tube carriage.
The study builds on previous research which has shown that in countries where disease is more common, women and men are more attracted to healthy-looking partners.
This contrasts with more developed countries where healthy appearance is not such an important factor, and the instance of female attraction to males with feminine characteristics for example is higher. The environmental “cues” had no significant effect on preferences for same-sex faces.
The study suggests that in choosing a healthy-looking partner in an unhealthy environment we are seeking good “gene-makers” to increase the survival chances of any offspring.
Psychologist Dr Anthony Little said: “The exposure to these kind of visual examples of disease can increase people’s preference for healthy-appearing partners. If you see potential for disease around you, your valuing of a healthy partner adapts as a result. People are very sensitive to the cues that they see. We have shown the cues in the environment can impact your preference for a partner.”
The paper, Exposure to visual cues of pathogen contagion changes preferences for masculinity and symmetry in opposite-sex faces, is published in the Proceedings of Royal Society B. To take part in one of Dr Little’s studies, go online to www.alittlelab.com.