Is plasticity in mating preferences adapted to perceived exposure to pathogens?
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- Prokop, P., Rantala, M.J. & Fančovičová, J. acta ethol (2012) 15: 135. doi:10.1007/s10211-011-0118-5
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Humans are unique among primates due to a lack of typical thermally insulating fur. The ectoparasite avoidance mediated by the mate choice hypothesis suggests that the loss of body hair reduces the risk of infection by ectoparasites and that the movement toward nudity may have been enforced by parasite-mediated sexual selection. In this study, we investigated two possible predictions of this hypothesis: (1) that preferences for hairless bodies increase with exposure to environmental pathogens and (2) that disgust sensitivity to the pathogens’ threat predicts the degree to which a woman will prefer hairless bodies. Using an experiment comparing the preferences of 88 women for shaved vs. hairy pictured versions of 20 male torsos, we found that exposure to the visual cues of pathogens does not predict preferences for a male chest nor does the individual disgust sensitivity to disease-related invertebrates. Overall, the results suggest that female perception of male trunk hair is not associated with a risk of contamination, which questions the salience of the ectoparasite avoidance hypothesis in explaining the loss of body hair in humans.