We trained chickens to react to an average human female face but not to an average male face (or vice versa). In a subsequent test, the animals showed preferences for faces consistent with human sexual preferences (obtained from university students). This suggests that human preferences arise from general properties of nervous systems, rather than from face-specific adaptations. We discuss this result in the light of current debate on the meaning of sexual signals and suggest further tests of existing hypotheses about the origin of sexual preferences.
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Stefano Ghirlanda recently defended his Ph.D. thesis, “Towards a Theory of Stimulus Control,” dealing with widespread behavioral phenomena such as generalization and learning, in both animals and humans. His other research interests include the evolution of communication systems and the role of behavior mechanisms in social evolution.
Liselotte Jansson is a Ph.D. student developing empirical techniques to test theories about the evolution of communication using live animals. Her current projects seek to investigate the emergence during evolution of common characteristics of visual signals such as symmetry and saturated colors. Her empirical studies also include research on cognitive development in preschool children.
Magnus Enquist, professor of ethology, has worked to understand the evolution of social behavior in animals, especially with respect to aggressive communication and sexual selection. He has an increasing interest in human social behavior, particularly in applying our knowledge of biological evolution to humans without neglecting the peculiarities of the species.
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Ghirlanda, S., Jansson, L. & Enquist, M. Chickens prefer beautiful humans. Hum Nat 13, 383–389 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-002-1021-6