Re-evaluating the relationship between pathogen avoidance and preferences for facial symmetry and sexual dimorphism: a registered report

Joshua M. Tybur, Lei Fan, Benedict C. Jones, Iris J. Holzleitner, Anthony J. Lee, Lisa M. DeBruine

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Abstract

Over the past decade, a small literature has tested how trait-level pathogen-avoidance motives (e.g., disgust sensitivity) and exposure to pathogen cues relate to preferences for facial symmetry and sexual dimorphism. Results have largely been interpreted as suggesting that the behavioral immune system influences preferences for these features in potential mates. However, findings are limited by small sample sizes among studies reporting supportive evidence, the use of small stimulus sets to assess preferences for symmetry and dimorphism, and design features that render implications for theory ambiguous (namely, largely only investigating women's preferences for male faces). Using a sample of 954 White young adult UK participants and a pool of 100 White young adult stimuli, the current registered report applied a standard two-alternative forced-choice approach to evaluate both men's and women's preferences for both facial symmetry and dimorphism in both same- and opposite-sex targets. Participants were randomly assigned to either a pathogen prime or a control prime, and they completed instruments assessing individual differences in pathogen avoidance (disgust sensitivity and contamination sensitivity). Results revealed overall preferences for both facial symmetry and dimorphism. However, they did not reveal a relation between these preferences and disgust sensitivity or contamination sensitivity, nor did they reveal differences in these preferences across control and pathogen prime conditions. Null results of pathogen-avoidance variables were consistent across participant sex, target sex, and interactions between participant sex and target sex. Overall, findings cast doubt on the hypothesis that pathogen-avoidance motives influence preferences for facial symmetry or dimorphism.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Early online date21 Feb 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Feb 2022

Keywords

  • behavioral immune system
  • disgust
  • health
  • masculinity
  • mate preferences
  • symmetry

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