Microbes and masculinity: does exposure to pathogenic cues alter women's preferences for male facial masculinity and beardedness?

McIntosh, Toneya L., Lee, Anthony J., Sidari, Morgan J., Stower, Rebecca E., Sherlock, James M. and Dixson, Barnaby J. W. (2017) Microbes and masculinity: does exposure to pathogenic cues alter women's preferences for male facial masculinity and beardedness?. PLoS One, 12 6: e0178206-e0178206. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0178206

Author McIntosh, Toneya L.
Lee, Anthony J.
Sidari, Morgan J.
Stower, Rebecca E.
Sherlock, James M.
Dixson, Barnaby J. W.
Title Microbes and masculinity: does exposure to pathogenic cues alter women's preferences for male facial masculinity and beardedness?
Journal name PLoS One   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1932-6203
Publication date 2017-06-01
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0178206
Open Access Status DOI
Volume 12
Issue 6
Start page e0178206
End page e0178206
Total pages 19
Place of publication San Francisco, CA, United States
Publisher Public Library of Science
Language eng
Subject 1300 Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
1100 Agricultural and Biological Sciences
Abstract Women's preferences for men's androgen dependent secondary sexual traits are proposed to be phenotypically plastic in response to exposure to pathogens and pathogen disgust. While previous studies report that masculinity in facial shape is more attractive to women who have recently been exposed to pathogenic cues and who are high in self-reported pathogen disgust, facial hair may reduce male attractiveness under conditions of high pathogens as beards are a possible breeding ground for disease carrying ectoparasites. In the present study, we test whether women's preferences for beardedness and facial masculinity vary due to exposure to different pathogenic cues. Participants (N = 688, mean age + 1SD = 31.94 years, SD = 6.69, range = 18-67) rated the attractiveness of facial composite stimuli of men when they were clean-shaven or fully bearded. These stimuli were also manipulated in order to vary sexual dimorphism by ±50%. Ratings were conducted before and after exposure to one of four experimental treatments in which participants were primed to either high pathogens (e.g. infected cuts), ectoparasites (e.g. body lice), a mixture of pathogens and ectoparasites, or a control condition (e.g. innocuous liquids). Participants then completed the threedomain disgust scale measuring attitudes to moral, sexual and pathogen disgust. We predicted that women would prefer facial masculinity following exposure to pathogenic cues, but would show reduced preferences for facial hair following exposure to ectoparasites. Women preferred full beards over clean-shaven faces and masculinised over feminised faces. However, none of the experimental treatments influenced the direction of preferences for facial masculinity or beardedness. We also found no association between women's self-reported pathogen disgust and their preferences for facial masculinity. However, there was a weak positive association between moral disgust scores and preferences for facial masculinity, which might reflect conservatism and preferences for gender typicality in faces. Women's preferences for beards were positively associated with their pathogen disgust, which runs contrary to our predictions and may reflect preferences for high quality individuals who can withstand any costs of beardedness, although further replications are necessary before firm conclusions can be made. We conclude that there is little support for pathogenic exposure being a mechanism that underpins women's directional preferences for masculine traits.
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
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School of Psychology Publications
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