My thoughts exactly. One very limited study does not a theory maketh (and ends up being pretty damned offensive to boot) so why is it being reported by our mainstream media?

Why does one speculative piece of psychological research get media coverage? Perhaps because it’s about women’s weight.

Do you like beards? I like beards. But I know plenty of women who don’t. Most adult men I know don’t have beards. Which is weird, when you think about it. Because beards are a biological signal. A signal that says, “I am a sexually mature male, ready for mating. I have excellent genes and will impregnate you with fine children. Mate with me ladies.” They are the human equivalent of peacocks’ tails.

From an evolutionary standpoint, shaving off beards makes no sense, so why do many men do it? I’ll tell you why. It’s because human beings are highly complex social animals embedded in highly complex social systems. Culture, fashion and what-other-people-do have an enormous influence on us. So much so they can completely confound our biological programming. So when evolutionary psychology looks at mate choice in humans, it needs to bear in mind this inconvenient fact. Which means I take this recent Telegraph headline, “Stressed men prefer larger women”, with something of a pinch of salt.

This reports on a study in PloS ONE in which they gave some white, male, Westminster undergraduates a mock job interview, then showed them pictures of women of a range of body types, and asked them which they found attractive. They found that the “stressed” students picked slightly larger women than the control group. And concluded that when we experience acute stress (indicating, perhaps, a threatening environment), we become more attracted to bodies that suggest maturity as it makes us feel safer.

There are thousands of psychology papers published every day. Why is it that a small and limited study, finding a very small effect, gets covered in the science media when so much else doesn’t? Is this article, ironically, just another example of the cultural obsession with women’s weight, which pop evolutionary psychology so studiously ignores?
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