Stressed men drawn to heavy women

Couple Do men seek the comfort of a "motherly" figure when put under pressure?

Related Stories

When placed under stressful situations, men rate larger women as more attractive, new research has shown.

British researchers found that men exposed to tasks that were designed to put them under pressure preferred a wider range of female body sizes.

They conclude that stress can act to alter judgments of potential partners.

The work by a team from London and Newcastle is published in the open access journal Plos One.

"There's a lot of literature suggesting that our BMI (body mass index) preferences are hard-wired, but that's probably not true," co-author Dr Martin Tovee, from Newcastle University, told BBC News.

Start Quote

Changing the media, changing your lifestyle, all these things can change what you think is the ideal body size”

End Quote Martin Tovee Newcastle University

Dr Tovee and his colleague, Dr Viren Swami, have previously researched what factors could alter BMI preferences, including publishing a paper in the British Journal of Psychology on the effect of hunger, and the influence of the media.

But through this new work they aimed to investigate whether known cross-cultural differences in body size preferences linked to stress were also mirrored in short-term stressful situations.

"If you look at environments where food is scarce, people's preferences for body size in a potential partner are shifted. [The preference] appears to be much heavier compared to environments where there's plenty of food and a much more relaxed atmosphere," he explained.

"If you're living a far more stressful, subsistence lifestyle, you're going to have higher stress levels."

To simulate heightened stress, a test group of men were placed in interview and public speaking scenarios and their BMI preferences compared against a control group of non-stressed men.

The results indicated that the change in "environmental conditions" led to a shift of weight preference towards heavier women with the men considering a wider range of body sizes attractive.

Flexible preferences

"These changes are comparatively minor in comparison to those you get between different [cross-cultural] environments. But they suggest certain factors which might combine with others and cause this shift," Dr Tovee said.

The research supports other work that has shown perceptions of physical attractiveness alter with levels of economic and physiological stress linked to lifestyle.

"If you follow people moving from low-resource areas to higher resource-areas, you find their preferences shift over the course of about 18 months. In evolutionary psychology terms, you try to fit your preferences to what works best in a particular environment," said Dr Tovee.

Moreover, the researchers were keen to emphasise how fluctuating environmental conditions could alter the popular perception of an "ideal" body size.

"There's a continual pushing down of the ideal, but this preference is flexible. Changing the media, changing your lifestyle, all these things can change what you think is the ideal body size," he said.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    Something more important has come out of this discussion.

    Women - stop letting girls magazines, fashion designers, media etc influence you into thinking that thin is attractive! They do not speak on behalf of most men! They are wrong!

    Men like voluptuous and curvy figures. It's sad to see so many attractive women think they're ugly because certain sources wrongly tell them so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    My tastes in women have remained constant regardless of the stress levels. Slender, graceful, feminine like greek statues. Somebody mentioned the muscular Ruben-esque form being the ideal at one time. Not so...That was because of the church imposed restriction upon artists of the time when they painted nudes. When women were dressed, Ruben's made women look slim and even delicate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    In an age of a celebrity obsessed culture, where size zero means everything, this article is not only absurd it's actually not helpful. I find women attractive based on their personality, yes their looks do stem into it, but why should I be so shallow as to only date someone that is acceptable in a gossip magazine? To say that I am stressed if I fall in love with a "heavy women" is laughable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    The purpose of this study and its findings contributes what to society and scientific understanding as whole? What issues does it work towards resolving? Who on earth thought this was useful to society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    I think it's more to do with stressed men caring less about "rating" women as it were, with other more stressful things on their mind, rather than anything to do with "motherly figures".

    The article even says: "men exposed to tasks that were designed to put them under pressure preferred a wider range of female body sizes." - This says "wider range", nothing to do with skinny vs. larger!


Comments 5 of 8


More Science & Environment stories



  • Firth of Forth bridgeWhat came Firth?

    How the Forth was crossed before the famous bridge

  • Petrol pumpPumping up

    Why are petrol prices rising again?

  • Image of George from Tube CrushTube crush

    How London's male commuters set Chinese hearts racing

  • Elderly manSuicide decline

    The number of old people killing themselves has fallen. Why?

  • TricycleTreasure trove

    The lost property shop stuffed with diamonds, bikes... and a leg

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.