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Durham University

Psychology

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Publication details for Professor Lynda Boothroyd

Scott, I.M.L., Clark, A.P., Boothroyd, L.G. & Penton-Voak, I.S. (2013). Do men’s faces really signal heritable immunocompetence? Behavioral Ecology 24(3): 579-589.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

In the literature on human mate choice, masculine facial morphology is often proposed to be an intersexual signal of heritable immunocompetence, and hence an important component of men’s attractiveness. This hypothesis has received considerable research attention, and is increasingly treated as plausible and well supported. In this article, we propose that the strength of the evidence for the immunocompetence hypothesis is somewhat overstated, and that a number of difficulties have been under-acknowledged. Such difficulties include (1) the tentative nature of the evidence regarding masculinity and disease in humans, (2) the complex and uncertain picture emerging from the animal literature on sexual ornaments and immunity, (3) the absence of consistent, cross-cultural support for the predictions of the immunocompetence hypothesis regarding preferences for masculinized stimuli, and (4) evidence that facial masculinity contributes very little, if anything, to overall attractiveness in real men. Furthermore, alternative explanations for patterns of preferences, in particular the proposal that masculinity is primarily an intrasexual signal, have been neglected. We suggest that immunocompetence perspectives on masculinity, whilst appealing in many ways, should still be regarded as speculative, and that other perspectives–and other traits–should be the subject of greater attention for researchers studying human mate preferences.

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