Little AC, DeBruine LM & Jones BC (2013). Environment contingent preferences: exposure to visual cues of direct male-male competition and wealth increase women's preferences for masculinity in male faces. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(3): 193-200. doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2012.11.008

Previous studies show that parasite prevalence and mortality/health are related to cultural variation in women's preferences for attractive and masculine traits in men. Other studies have suggested that both male–male competition and wealth may also be important correlates of cross-cultural variation in women's masculinity preferences. Here we examined whether exposure to cues of direct male–male competition, violence, or wealth influenced women's face preferences. We showed women slideshows of images with cues of low and high direct male–male competition/violence or wealth and measured their visual preferences for masculine face traits. Recent visual experience changed women's preferences for facial masculinity, with women preferring more masculine male faces after exposure to images of men engaged in direct physical competition, images of weapons, or images depicting items of high monetary value. Recent visual experience had no significant effects on preferences for masculinity in same-sex faces. Given that high levels of direct physical competition and violence among males may increase the importance of direct intra-sexual competition, it may be adaptive for women to shift visual preferences in favor of males with face cues indicating physical strength and dominance over investment in such environments. Similarly, in wealthy environments investment may be less important than other aspects of quality and so it may be adaptive for women to shift visual preferences in favor of males with face cues indicating other aspects of quality over investment. Overall, our data demonstrate that preferences can be strategically flexible according to recent visual experience and support the notion of environment contingent preferences.

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