LLM Welling, CA Conway, LM DeBruine & BC Jones (2007). Perceived vulnerability to disease predicts variation in preferences for apparent health in faces. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 5: 131-139. doi: 10.1556/JEP.2007.1012

Previous studies have suggested that increased female attraction to healthy-looking faces during conditions where progesterone level is raised reflects a mechanism that compensates for increased vulnerability to disease during pregnancy. Vulnerability to disease may also predict individual differences in preferences for apparent health more generally, however, with people who are particularly vulnerable to disease minimizing the likelihood of contracting illnesses during social interactions by having particularly strong aversions to individuals who appear ill. Consistent with this proposal, here we show that men and women who perceive themselves to be vulnerable to disease have stronger preferences for apparent health in faces than individuals who perceive themselves to be less vulnerable to disease. This relationship was independent of possible effects of general disgust sensitivity and perceived vulnerability to disease was not related to preferences for other facial cues that are attractive but do not necessarily signal an individual's current health (i.e. perceiver-directed smiles). Collectively, these findings reveal a relatively domain-specific association between perceived vulnerability to disease and the strength of aversions to facial cues associated with illness and are further evidence that variation in attractiveness judgments is not arbitrary but reflects potentially adaptive individual differences.

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