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Fear of violence amongst Colombian women is associated with reduced preferences for high-BMI men

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Recent studies reveal that violence significantly contributes to explaining individual’s facial preferences. Women who feel at higher risk of violence prefer less-masculine male faces. Given the importance of violence, we explore its influence on people’s preferences for a different physical trait. Masculinity correlates positively with male strength and weight or body mass index (BMI). In fact, masculinity and BMI tend to load on the same component of trait perception. Therefore we predicted that individuals’ perceptions of danger from violence will relate to preferences for facial cues to low-BMI. In two studies in Colombia, men and women from Bogota, Medellin, and surrounding communities were shown pairs of faces transformed to epitomize the shape correlates of men with high or low-BMI. The images were of European, Salvadoran, or Colombian men. Participants were asked to choose the face they considered most attractive. Subsequently, participants answered a survey about their health (e.g., frequency of illnesses the past year), media access (e.g., frequency of Internet use), education level (e.g., graduating from high school), and experiences/perceptions of violence in study 1 and about specific types of violence (public and domestic) in study 2. Results from both studies showed that women who experienced/perceived higher levels of violence preferred faces of low-BMI Salvadoran men. Preferences for low-BMI facial cues were significantly explained by violence (public or domestic), even after controlling for all other variables (including age, education, health, and media access). These results may reflect women’s strategy to avoid male partners capable of inflicting harm.


Original languageEnglish
Article number341–369
Number of pages29
JournalHuman Nature
Early online date31 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2019

    Research areas

  • Violence, BMI, Mate choice, Intrasexual competition

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