Perceived vulnerability to disease is positively related to the strength of preferences for apparent health in faces

L. L.M. Welling, C. A. Conway, L. M. Debruine, B. C. Jones

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29 Citations (Scopus)


People who are particularly vulnerable to disease may reduce their likelihood of contracting illnesses during social interactions by having particularly strong aversions to individuals who appear ill. Consistent with this proposal, here we show that men and women who perceive themselves to be particularly vulnerable to disease have stronger preferences for apparent health in dynamic faces than individuals who perceive themselves to be relatively less vulnerable to disease. This relationship was independent of possible effects of general disgust sensitivity. Furthermore, perceived vulnerability to disease was not related to preferences for other facial cues that are attractive but do not necessarily signal an individuals current health (i.e. perceiver-directed smiles). Our findings complement previous studies implicating perceived vulnerability to disease in attitudes to out-group individuals and those with physical abnormalities by implicating perceived vulnerability to disease as a factor in face preferences. Collectively, our findings reveal a relatively domain-specific association between perceived vulnerability to disease and the strength of aversions to facial cues associated with illness. Additionally, they are further evidence that variation in attractiveness judgments is not arbitrary, but rather reflects potentially adaptive individual differences in face preferences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-139
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2007


  • disgust
  • facial attractiveness
  • health
  • illness
  • individual differences
  • vulnerability to disease

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