Welling LLM, Jones BC, DeBruine LM, Little AC & Smith FG (2008). Exposure to sexually attractive men decreases women’s preferences for feminine faces. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 6(3): 219-230. doi: 10.1556/JEP.6.2008.3.5

Here we show that women’s preferences for femininity (vs. masculinity) in men’s faces are decreased after viewing a slideshow of images of highly attractive men, but not after viewing a slideshow of relatively unattractive men. As masculinity is thought to be a cue of men’s heritable fitness and viewing images of highly attractive opposite-sex individuals increases sexual motivation, this may indicate that women increase their preferences for male cues of heritable fitness in circumstances where mating is likely to occur. This context-sensitivity in women’s face preferences may, therefore, be adaptive, since decreased preferences for feminine men (i.e. increased preferences for masculine men) when sexual motivation is enhanced may increase offspring viability. Interestingly, we found that viewing images of highly attractive men also decreased women’s preferences for femininity in female faces. This latter finding could either reflect increased derogation of attractive (i.e. feminine) same-sex competitors when sexual motivation is enhanced or be a low-cost functionless by-product of a mechanism for increasing preferences for cues of men’s heritable fitness when sexual motivation is high. Collectively, our findings demonstrate that recent visual experience with highly attractive opposite-sex individuals influences attractiveness judgments, and present novel evidence for potentially adaptive context-sensitivity in attractiveness judgments.

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