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Viewing attractive or unattractive same-sex individuals changes self-rated attractiveness and face preferences in women

Animal Behaviour
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2006.01.026


Condition-dependent mate choice in females, whereby condition or attractiveness influences preferences for markers of male quality, is seen in both fish and humans. Such effects may be explained by (1) genetic linkage between trait and preference, (2) poor-condition females having energetic constraints limiting their choosiness, and (3) females of low mate value benefiting from avoiding high-quality males, based on the differential behaviour of high-quality males towards mates of low and high value. We used a contrast effect in women, showing attractive and unattractive same-sex individuals to induce a change in self-rated attractiveness as seen in previous studies, to test the validity of the last explanation. The first two explanations predict that preferences should remain constant across manipulations of self-perceptions of attractiveness, whereas the last predicts preferences should change in line with an individual's perceived mate value. Exposure to attractive same-sex images resulted in lower self-rated attractiveness and preferences for male facial masculinity, whereas exposure to unattractive images resulted in higher self-rated attractiveness and preferences for masculinity. As facial masculinity may be an attractive trait, these results imply that, at least in humans, condition-dependent mate choice may be better conceived as ‘market-value-dependent mate choice’.

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