In the sex game, stressed men choose dissimilar mates

Mar 09, 2010
If you thought the mating business was already a jungle, where the pitfalls are looks, social rank, purchasing power, verbal skills and even subconscious smells, get ready to be dismayed for it is even more complex than thought.

If you thought the mating business was already a jungle, where the pitfalls are looks, social rank, purchasing power, verbal skills and even subconscious smells, get ready to be dismayed for it is even more complex than thought.

Scientists in Germany have discovered that who are stressed make an unconventional choice in sexual preference, says a report on Wednesday in the journal , published by Britain's Academy of Sciences.

Previous studies have found piles of evidence that men and women who fall in love tend to resemble each other in many ways, especially in facial characteristics.

Acting on a hunch gained from experience with lab animals, psychobiologists led by Johanna Lass-Hennemann at the University of Trier explored whether a man responded differently to a woman when he was stressed.

They recruited 50 local students, all slim and healthy, and divided them into two groups.

One group was subjected to stress, in which they had to immerse their hand in icy water, while the other was unstressed, immersing their hand in water that was body temperature.

Saliva tests, monitoring for a hormone called cortisol, afterwards confirmed that the treatments resulted in different stress levels.

All the students were hooked up to electrodes measuring tiny muscle movements around the eye, known as the "startle reflex" that we give when we look at an object of interest.

They were then asked to look at 40 computer images of young women -- 30 of them erotic nudes of girls gazing at the observer, and 10 of them neutral -- while the "startle reflex" spies did their job.

What the scientists had done was to use a computer programme to morph the faces of 10 of the nudes so that these girls bore a subtle resemblance to that particular volunteer.

Men who had not been stressed showed, as was already known, a marked preference to women whose faces most resembled their own.

But men in the stressed group bypassed the close-resembling women and showed a preference for women who were dissimilar to themselves.

The study points out that in everyday life, a stressed man may not necessarily shoot for a dissimilar partner after this first, split-second encounter. But it may increase the probability.

Lass-Hennemann's team speculates that the reason for this counter-intuitive male behaviour is Darwinian -- the drive to maximise reproduction.

Past studies suggest that people tend to find self-resembling faces more trustworthy than dissimilar faces. This would explain why men who pursue a long-term relationship plump for who look like them.

But there is also evidence that people who are stressed have more short-term relationships than unstressed counterparts. The more sexual partners you have, the more chances you have of extending your genetic lineage, which would explain why stressed men buck the trend.

Explore further: How children categorize living things

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Gender affects perceptions of infidelity

Oct 29, 2008

A new study in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy explored how men and women perceive online and offline sexual and emotional infidelity. Results show that men felt sexual infidelity was more upsetting and women felt e ...

Daddies' girls choose men just like their fathers

Jun 13, 2007

Women who enjoy good childhood relationships with their fathers are more likely to select partners who resemble their dads research suggests. In contrast, the team of psychologists from Durham University and two Polish institutions ...

Testosterone levels dictate attraction

Sep 15, 2008

Women with higher levels of testosterone are more attracted to masculine looking men like celebrity beefcakes Russell Crowe and Daniel Craig.

Recommended for you

How children categorize living things

1 hour ago

How would a child respond to this question? Would his or her list be full of relatives, animals from movies and books, or perhaps neighborhood pets? Would the poppies blooming on the front steps make the list or the oak tree ...

Preschoolers can reflect on what they don't know

1 hour ago

Contrary to previous assumptions, researchers find that preschoolers are able to gauge the strength of their memories and make decisions based on their self-assessments. The study findings are published in ...

User comments : 10

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

nada
1.4 / 5 (9) Mar 09, 2010
Stress = not getting what you want. If men can't get what they want, they take what they can get. Wow, any drunk at any bar could have told these people that for free.
voiceofuruguay
5 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2010
right, cause that would explain how these guys actually had a preference for different faces. maybe its not so simple buddy.
SincerelyTwo
not rated yet Mar 10, 2010
I think people tend to make more sacrifices than 'usual' under stress in basically every aspect of life, not just with relationships.

Nada, that's not really a good criticism as you're not stressed out when you're drunk. When you're drunk you just don't care, haha. When you're stressed you care but you just can't mentally handle the pressure of working through all the thinking, so you just make bad decisions. I can see how you'd relate the two as you'd make 'bad' decisions in both situations, but they're different still. At least I don't make bad choices when I'm drunk because I can't work through the thinking, it's that I just don't care to think in the first place. Lulz
Simonsez
not rated yet Mar 10, 2010
Why is choosing a partner who has dissimilar features being considered as a negative for this study? Understandably, if one considers their own features to be optimal, they would desire to increase the likelihood of those genes being passed on by choosing a mate with similar characteristics. However, if one considers their genetic features to be less than optimal, would they not then seek out a mate with dissimilar characteristics in the hope of increasing the chance for their descendents to bear the more desirable (as perceived) characteristics of that mate? To use a blunt example, would a man who considers himself to be aesthetically or physically undesirable want to partner with a woman he considers the same, or one he considers to be attractive/desirable, so that his children could be more attractive than he considers himself?
Rdavid
not rated yet Mar 10, 2010
The test would appear flawed, for, among other things, there appears to be no control of the cortisol; perhpas some subjects had abnormal hormone levels to begin with.
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2010
I notice the study was in Germany. I have observed that many men of northern European background have an attraction to oriental women.
The infamous Simon Cowell seems attracted to dark, slender women.
If stress is the issue, maybe these men were stressed by their mothers and are attracted to women who do not look like their relatives.
That trait seems would seem to increase genetic diversity and survival.
SincerelyTwo
not rated yet Mar 10, 2010
Simonsez,

I think the focus is making a choice you're likely not to normally make. Not that it's truly negative or not, it's just an easy/lazy way to speak about it.
Caliban
not rated yet Mar 14, 2010
How about this-
Under normal, relatively unstressed conditions, a man seeks a woman with similar features, because she in some way conforms to the optimum in evolutionary terms- at least in reference reproductive partner choice, as evidenced by her similarity. In this sense, I'm equating low or no stress to a presumed genetic/evolutionary optimum of adaptation. So, when a male is under stress, and hence in a presumed less than optimal adaptive situation, he picks a dissimilar mate to increase genetic variablity in an instinctive effort to propagate his genes through whatever pressures seem to be deselecting his genes as presently constituted. In other words, instinctively introducing variability to possibly enhance survivability or offspring.
paulthebassguy
5 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2010
I think that they should have assessed the state of 'stressed' differently. They should have looked at males that were stressed in their lives (from workload or personal circumstances etc) instead of just putting their hands in cold water.
Caliban
not rated yet Mar 14, 2010
I think that they should have assessed the state of 'stressed' differently. They should have looked at males that were stressed in their lives (from workload or personal circumstances etc) instead of just putting their hands in cold water.


Agreed- that would probably provide better "real life" information. I imagine they resorted to ice water because it is a pretty uniform, duplicable way of inducing stress.