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Biol Lett. 2011 Dec 23;7(6):892-5. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0454. Epub 2011 Jun 22.

Experimental evidence that women's mate preferences are directly influenced by cues of pathogen prevalence and resource scarcity.

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School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Saint Lucia, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


When choosing a mate, women are thought to face a trade-off between genetic and parental quality. Recent research suggests that this trade-off is influenced by environmental factors such as pathogen prevalence and resource scarcity, which affect the relative value of genetic and parental quality to offspring fitness. To further investigate these findings, the current study primed 60 women with pathogen prevalence, resource scarcity or an irrelevant threat, before administering a forced trade-off task that assessed mate preferences for traits thought to be indicative of genetic or parental quality. Women primed with pathogen prevalence revealed greater preferences for traits indicative of genetic quality at the expense of traits indicative of parental quality. The reverse was found for women primed with resource scarcity. These findings suggest that environmental factors may directly influence women's mate preferences owing to evolved plasticity, such that mate preferences are flexible in response to environmental factors.

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