Original article:

The effect of mortality salience on women’s judgments of male faces

Evolutionary Psychology 8(3): 477-491 James E. Vaughn, Department of Psychology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, USAKristopher I. Bradley, Department of Psychology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, USAJennifer Byrd-Craven, Department of Psychology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, USA, jennifer.byrd.craven@okstate.eduShelia M. Kennison, Department of Psychology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, USA

Abstract

Previous research has shown that individuals who are reminded of their death exhibited a greater desire for offspring than those who were not reminded of their death. The present research investigated whether being reminded of mortality affects mate selection behaviors, such as facial preference judgments. Prior research has shown that women prefer more masculine faces when they are at the high versus low fertility phase of their menstrual cycles. We report an experiment in which women were tested either at their high or fertility phase. They were randomly assigned to either a mortality salience (MS) or control condition and then asked to judge faces ranging from extreme masculine to extreme feminine. The results showed that women’s choice of the attractive male face was determined by an interaction between fertility phase and condition. In control conditions, high fertility phase women preferred a significantly more masculine face than women who were in a lower fertility phase of their menstrual cycles. In MS conditions, high fertility phase women preferred a significantly less masculine (i.e., more average) face than women who were in a low fertility phase. The results indicate that biological processes, such as fertility phase, involved in mate selection are sensitive to current environmental factors, such as death reminders. This sensitivity may serve as an adaptive compromise when choosing a mate in potentially adverse environmental conditions.

Keywords

facial preference; mate selection; mortality salience; terror management theory; life history theory.

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)
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