Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 12, pp 1549–1556 | Cite as

Priming concerns about pathogen threat versus resource scarcity: dissociable effects on women’s perceptions of men’s attractiveness and dominance

  • Christopher D. Watkins
  • Lisa M DeBruine
  • Anthony C. Little
  • David R. Feinberg
  • Benedict C. Jones
Original Paper


Previous experimental work suggests flexibility in women’s mate preferences that appears to reflect the advantages of choosing healthy mates under conditions of pathogen threat and of choosing prosocial mates under conditions of resource scarcity. Following this work, we used an established priming paradigm to examine the effects of priming women’s concerns about pathogen threat versus resource scarcity on their judgments of men’s facial attractiveness and dominance. We found that women reported stronger attraction to masculine men when their concerns about pathogens were activated than when their concerns about resource scarcity were activated. In contrast, we found that women were more likely to ascribe high dominance to masculine men when their concerns about resource scarcity were activated than when their concerns about pathogens were activated. This latter result may reflect the greater importance of identifying men who pose a substantial threat to women’s resources and personal safety when resources are scarce and violence towards women is particularly common. Together, these findings suggest a double dissociation between the effects of pathogen threat and resource scarcity on women’s perceptions of the attractiveness and dominance of masculine men, potentially revealing considerably greater specialization (i.e., context specificity) in the effects of environmental threats on women’s perceptions of men than was apparent in previous research.


Context specificity Face perception Masculinity Pathogen threat Prosocial mates Priming Resource scarcity 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher D. Watkins
    • 1
  • Lisa M DeBruine
    • 2
  • Anthony C. Little
    • 3
  • David R. Feinberg
    • 4
  • Benedict C. Jones
    • 2
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK
  2. 2.Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  3. 3.School of Natural SciencesUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK
  4. 4.Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and BehaviourMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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