Watkins CD, DeBruine LM, Little AC & Jones BC (2012). Social support influences preferences for feminine facial cues in potential social partners. Experimental Psychology, 59(6): 340-347.

Most previous studies of individual differences in women’s and men’s preferences for sexually dimorphic physical characteristics have focused on the importance of mating-related factors for judgments of opposite-sex individuals. Although studies have suggested that people may show stronger preferences for feminine individuals of both sexes under conditions where social support may be at a premium (e.g., during phases of the menstrual cycle where raised progesterone prepares women’s bodies for pregnancy), these studies have not demonstrated that perceptions of available social support directly influence femininity preferences. Here we found that (1) women and men randomly allocated to low social support priming conditions demonstrated stronger preferences for feminine shape cues in own- and opposite-sex faces than did individuals randomly allocated to high social support priming conditions and (2) that people perceived men and women displaying feminine characteristics as more likely to provide them with high-quality social support than those displaying relatively masculine characteristics. Together, these findings suggest that social support influences face preferences directly, potentially implicating facultative responses whereby people increase their preferences for pro-social individuals under conditions of low social support.

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