Illness in childhood predicts face preferences in adulthood

Mícheál De Barra, Lisa M. deBruine, Benedict C. Jones, Zahid Hayat Mahmud, Valerie A. Curtis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


The value of different mate choices may depend on the local pathogen ecology and on personal infection susceptibility: when there is a high risk of infection, choosing a healthy or immunocompetent mate may be particularly important. Frequency of childhood illness may act as a cue of the ecological and immunological factors relevant to mate preferences. Consistent with this proposal, we found that childhood illness - and frequency of diarrhea in particular - was positively correlated with preferences for exaggerated sex-typical characteristics in opposite-sex, but not same-sex, faces. Moreover, this relationship was stronger among individuals with poorer current health. These data suggest that childhood illness may play a role in calibrating adult mate preferences and have implications for theories of disease-avoidance psychology, life-history strategy and cross-cultural differences in mate preferences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-389
Number of pages6
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2013


  • behavioral immune system
  • facial attractiveness
  • infectious disease
  • predictive adaptive response
  • sexual dimorphism


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