A man's image of the perfect romantic partner varies depending upon whether he is feeling hungry. That's the conclusion of a newly published study, which finds peckish males prefer females who are heavier, taller and older.
The research, published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology, confirms and expands upon two previous papers: a 2005 study that concluded heavier women are preferred in cultures with scarce resources, and a 2006 British study that found hunger influences judgments of female physical attractiveness.
The latter report, in the British Journal of Psychology, concluded that males with empty stomachs preferred heavier females. The new study refines that earlier research, suggesting that what hungry men find appealing isn't stored fat per se, but rather the aura of maturity that larger, taller and older women embody.
A research team led by psychologist Terry F. Pettijohn II of Coastal Carolina University conducted two surveys of 162 and 166 undergraduates, respectively. The students were approached just before or after eating dinner at a campus dining hall, and asked to assess their hunger level on a scale of one to 10.
The undergrads were asked specific questions about their ideal romantic partner, including the fantasy figure's height, weight and age. They were also asked to choose between two sets of personality traits: One that included words such as "strong, mature, independent, competent," and another that featured such terms as "warm, naïve, kind, agreeable."
Ravenous males described a perfect partner who was relatively older, taller and heavier. The differences between their perfect 10 and that of satiated men were relatively small — less than one year in age, and less than 1 inch in height — but they were statistically significant and consistent across the two surveys.
The women's description of their ideal hunk did not vary significantly depending upon their hunger level. "However, hungry females preferred males with mature personality characteristics over non-mature characteristics," the researchers write.
The researchers explain this using evolutionary psychology. According to the "environmental security hypothesis," a term Pettijohn introduced in a 1999 paper, "interpersonal preferences may partially depend on how secure or insecure individuals feel regarding their surroundings at any given time." They note that earlier research found Playboy centerfold models tend to be older, heavier and taller "during historical periods of threat."
Hunger is, of course, an indicator of threat: The body needs food! "Hunger signals the need for nutritional input, which is a signal of resource scarcity," the researchers write, "and should lead the individual to engage in behaviors and show preferences in line with that state of scarcity or threat."
So hungry men are attracted to women who look physically mature, and thus appear more capable of acting as providers. Hungry women appear to share the same bias but show it in a different way, preferring "male partners with more mature personality profiles," the researchers conclude.
They leave unsaid what this indicates regarding men and women's relative level of sophistication in sizing up potential partners.
The research is a reminder of the way physical cues influence our preferences and desires. It also confirms a truism: The way to a man's heart may indeed be through his stomach.
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