15:46 09 August 2012
New research has revealed a surprising tendency in stressed out men: they are often attracted to heavier women.
When placed under stressful conditions, men in the study frequently rated larger ladies as more physically attractive which leads some theories to believe that the men were seeking the comfort of a "motherly" figure when under pressure.
The British study by a team from London and Newcastle was published in open access journal Plos One.
Co-author Dr Martin Tovee, from Newcastle University, told BBC News: "There's a lot of literature suggesting that our BMI (body mass index) preferences are hard-wired, but that's probably not true.
"If you look at environments where food is scarce, people's preferences for body size in a potential partner are shifted. [The preference] appears to be much heavier compared to environments where there's plenty of food and a much more relaxed atmosphere.
"If you're living a far more stressful, subsistence lifestyle, you're going to have higher stress levels."
The study simulated interview and public speaking conditions to make their subjects feel ill-at-ease as well as their BMI preferences as opposed to a control group of non-stressed males.
Changing these environmental conditions resulted in a noticeable shift in weight preference.
Previous studies have confirmed that perceptions of what and who we find attractive alters when economic and physiological stress is taken into account of a subject's lifestyle.
In addition, the idea of an 'ideal' or 'perfect' body changes thanks to lifestyle and media perception.
Dr Tovee continued: "There's a continual pushing down of the ideal, but this preference is flexible. Changing the media, changing your lifestyle, all these things can change what you think is the ideal body size.
"If you follow people moving from low-resource areas to higher resource-areas, you find their preferences shift over the course of about 18 months. In evolutionary psychology terms, you try to fit your preferences to what works best in a particular environment."
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