Effects of stress on human mating preferences: stressed individuals prefer dissimilar mates

Johanna Lass-Hennemann, Christian E. Deuter, Linn K. Kuehl, André Schulz, Terry D. Blumenthal, Hartmut Schachinger

Abstract

Although humans usually prefer mates that resemble themselves, mating preferences can vary with context. Stress has been shown to alter mating preferences in animals, but the effects of stress on human mating preferences are unknown. Here, we investigated whether stress alters men's preference for self-resembling mates. Participants first underwent a cold-pressor test (stress induction) or a control procedure. Then, participants viewed either neutral pictures or pictures of erotic female nudes whose facial characteristics were computer-modified to resemble either the participant or another participant, or were not modified, while startle eyeblink responses were elicited by noise probes. Erotic pictures were rated as being pleasant, and reduced startle magnitude compared with neutral pictures. In the control group, startle magnitude was smaller during foreground presentation of photographs of self-resembling female nudes compared with other-resembling female nudes and non-manipulated female nudes, indicating a higher approach motivation to self-resembling mates. In the stress group, startle magnitude was larger during foreground presentation of self-resembling female nudes compared with other-resembling female nudes and non-manipulated female nudes, indicating a higher approach motivation to dissimilar mates. Our findings show that stress affects human mating preferences: unstressed individuals showed the expected preference for similar mates, but stressed individuals seem to prefer dissimilar mates.

Footnotes

  • 1 IAPS picture numbers used in this study were 7000, 7002, 7004, 7006, 7009, 7010, 7020, 7025, 7035, 7040.

    • Received February 8, 2010.
    • Accepted February 19, 2010.
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