Unhealthy mates can transmit infectious diseases and produce unhealthy offspring—two costs that should be relevant to all people. However, the importance of health in mates may depend on environmental or personal factors that affect disease susceptibility. In this talk, I will present research from studies of between-region, between-individual, and within-individual variation in how disease-related factors are related to mate preferences. For example, across 30 countries and 50 US states, endemic infectious disease predicted women’s preferences for male facial masculinity, a putative health cue. Across eight studies, individual differences in pathogen disgust predicted women’s masculinity preferences and men’s femininity preferences, as well as current partner masculinity or femininity. Additionally, prospectively recorded childhood illness predicted rural Bangladeshi men’s and women’s face preferences, while experimental exposure to visual cues of disease increased preferences for facial health cues for opposite-sex, but not same-sex, faces. In summary, as disease-related factors increase, so does the importance of health cues for mate preferences.
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