Study finds better immune system doesn't make women more attractive to men

May 22, 2013 by Bob Yirka report

( —A diverse team of international researchers has found that women with stronger immune systems don't necessarily have prettier faces than women whose immune system is not so strong. In their paper published in the journal Biology Letters, the team describes how they used photographs of women that had been vaccinated against hepatitis B to compare facial beauty.

Recent studies have shown that a strong in men bolstered their attractiveness to women. To find out if the reverse is true, the researchers enlisted the assistance of 52 young Latvian women. Each was photographed a month before and a month after receiving a hepatitis B vaccination—while also providing a for testing hormone and antibody levels. Facial portraits were also taken during different times of each woman's menstrual cycle. After the testing was completed, the photographs of the women were shown to 18 young male volunteers who were asked to judge each woman on how attractive or pretty they found her to be, based on a scale of 0 to 11.

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that higher antibody levels (induced by the vaccine) did not result in any of the women being judged more attractive. Instead, they found that women with higher (an indicator of level of stress) were judged to be less attractive. They also found that women that were seen as overweight or underweight were also deemed less attractive.

The researchers suggest their results show an evolutionary process is at play that is different for men and women. High stress and excess or too little body fat are all associated with . Thus for men looking to procreate, their best chance lies with tranquil women of average weight. Women on the other hand, appear to have evolved an attraction for males with healthy immune systems, which will hopefully be passed on to their offspring.

The researchers acknowledge that are just one measure of immunity strength. Because of that they suggest it was possible that the women judged prettier in the study may have had other immunity advantages that were not measured. More research will have to be conducted to find out for sure.

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More information: Facial attractiveness is related to women's cortisol and body fat, but not with immune responsiveness, Published 22 May 2013. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0255

Recent studies suggest that facial attractiveness indicates immune responsiveness in men and that this relationship is moderated by stress hormones which interact with testosterone levels. However, studies testing whether facial attractiveness in women signals their immune responsiveness are lacking. Here, we photographed young Latvian women, vaccinated them against hepatitis B and measured the amount of specific antibodies produced, cortisol levels and percentage body fat. Latvian men rated the attractiveness of the women's faces. Interestingly, in women, immune responsiveness (amount of antibodies produced) did not predict facial attractiveness. Instead, plasma cortisol level was negatively associated with attractiveness, indicating that stressed women look less attractive. Fat percentage was curvilinearly associated with facial attractiveness, indicating that being too thin or too fat reduces attractiveness. Our study suggests that in contrast to men, facial attractiveness in women does not indicate immune responsiveness against hepatitis B, but is associated with two other aspects of long-term health and fertility: circulating levels of the stress hormone cortisol and percentage body fat.

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User comments : 8

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3 / 5 (3) May 22, 2013
They should be looking at genetic signs of a strong immune system, not vaccination. A vaccination makes your immune system stronger, but it doesn't magically morph your facial shape. Your skin might be healthier, but it's the overall facial shape and body shape that would show how feminine (and thus attractive) a woman is in totality.
3 / 5 (4) May 22, 2013
Was somebody *really* testing the hypothesis that getting a vaccination for a viral disease could make a woman prettier? The experimental design for that one must have been worked out on a heavily used beer coaster.
1 / 5 (7) May 22, 2013
From the abstract , printed at the end of the article :
Here, we photographed young Latvian women, vaccinated them against hepatitis B and measured the amount of specific antibodies produced, cortisol levels and percentage body fat.

So, no, they weren't "testing the hypothesis that getting a vaccination for a viral disease could make a woman prettier?" As stated in the article, they were testing how the health of a woman's immune system might affect the degree to which men may find her attractive.
The researchers used the Hep-B vaccine to induce an immune response and then measured that response. The subject's responses to the vaccine were based on the preexisting condition of their immune systems. For this study more antibodies produced = healthier immune system.
1 / 5 (1) May 22, 2013
Why are they rating attractiveness to men based on how pretty their face looks? That's at best an incomplete picture.
2.5 / 5 (4) May 22, 2013
A good woman, is any woman who is NOT crazy!! That's it!!!
1 / 5 (1) May 22, 2013
Supposed to be attraction based on pheromones, naturally attracted to those with complimentary immune systems.... but all the deodorants and perfume get in the way!
1 / 5 (3) May 22, 2013
This whole experiment sounds like a throwback to the Stalinist era.
1.8 / 5 (5) May 25, 2013
I volunteer to cover the attractive women part of this valuable research. You're welcome. :)

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