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Hungry for Heavier Women?

Why men love heavy women in bad times.

by Matthew Hutson, Psychology Today News Editor and contributor for Brainstorm.

When men are hungry they’re more attracted to heavier women. Some evolutionary psychologists argue that in an environment where food is scarce, potential sires want to bank their sperm in a body that can provide for its offspring. What about when other resources are scarce? Can financial insolvency prompt desire for a plump mate?

Some evidence says yes. Viren Swami, Martin Tovée, and others have shown that in societies around the world, socioeconomic status negatively correlates with preferred mate weight: men in cultures with fat wallets want skinny women. Comparing populations is scientifically messy though; too many extraneous factors.

Psychologists Leif Nelson and Evan Morrison manipulated individual male participants’ financial satisfaction by asking them about personal savings in a way that made them feel either rich or poor, then asked them to name the ideal body weight of a potential partner. Feeling poor added a few pounds to that number. (They also demonstrated that hungry men want fat women by cornering undergrads on their way in or out of the dining hall.)

Swami and Tovée repeated Nelson and Morrison’s hunger study, confirming their results. But when they repeated the personal-savings study using purportedly more rigorous methods (subjects rated photographs of women), men induced to feel rich and men induced to feel poor each preferred women with a BMI between 20 and 21. And the groups had identical ratings of women with a BMI of 30. So financial insecurity did NOT arouse a preference for plus-sizes.

So what makes food special as a resource? It’s possible that money is too abstract and too recent an invention to tap into the same drives as physiological hunger. Or maybe hunger merely enhances aesthetic appreciation of any heavy object, whether a woman or a watermelon.

*****

Read more by Matthew Hutson on Psychology Today’s Brainstorm blog.

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