Brain Scans Confirm: Men Like Curves in Women
Platek & Singh (2010) report that stimuli depicting optimal waist-hip ratios (~0.70) activate the “reward center” in men’s brains; while stimuli depicting body mass index do not. They conclude that BMI preferences are therefore more culturally determined and, by suggestion, that WHR preferences are the result of evolved psychological mechanisms. I will point-out at the outset: this conclusion is not supported by their data.
An example of the stimuli used in this research appears to the right (from Singh & Randall, 2007). The stimuli consist of partial body photographs of women who have had fat surgically removed from their abdomens and surgically implanted into their buttocks. The result is that each woman more-or-less maintains the same BMI while exhibiting a more attractive WHR. (For a criticism of over-interpreting the significance of the current studies using micrograft surgery, click here). In this study, fMRIs were taken while men viewed these images. Platek & Singh found that “reward centers” in the brain were activated by stimuli depicting more optimal WHRs; while stimuli depicting variation in BMI did not.
- No stimuli depicted an optimally attractive BMI (range – apparently – was from 21.13-26.36; optimally attractive BMI is ~18-19)
- Stimuli consisted of only a limited area of each woman’s body
- Activation of the “reward center” only indicates that the viewer finds the stimulus rewarding
- Activation of the “reward center” does not imply innate preferences or the activation of an evolved psychological mechanism
- Caution should be maintained in interpreting fMRI data involving “reward centers” in the brain as a recent study of test-retest reliabilities in these measurements revealed correlation coefficients (ICCs) ranging from -0.15-0.44) (Fliessbach et.al., 2010)
- Remember that arguments – even weak ones – which utilize topographical depictions of brain activity can be unusually persuasive (McCabe, 2007)
- This study provides some objective confirmation that men’s attractiveness ratings correspond to the activation of “reward centers” in the brain
The methodology used here does not provide a convincing head-to-head comparison of the relative importance of BMI or WHR in attractiveness ratings. It also does not provide evidence of an innate preference for WHR nor of a cultural influence on BMI preference.
Fliessbach, K., Rohe, T., Linder, N., Trautner, P., Elger, C., & Weber, B. (2010). Retest reliability of reward-related BOLD signals NeuroImage, 50 (3), 1168-1176 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.01.036
MCCABE, D., & CASTEL, A. (2008). Seeing is believing: The effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning☆☆☆ Cognition, 107 (1), 343-352 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.07.017
Steven M. Platek, & Devendra Singh (2010). Optimal Waist-to-Hip Ratios in Women Activate Neural Reward Centers in Men PLoS ONE : 10.1371/journal.pone.0009042
Singh, D., & Randall, P. (2007). Beauty is in the eye of the plastic surgeon: Waist–hip ratio (WHR) and women’s attractiveness Personality and Individual Differences, 43 (2), 329-340 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2006.12.003