Women on Pill Stay Clear of "Ill" Men
February 16, 2005
The Herald

WOMEN who are pregnant or on the pill subconsciously avoid people whose faces do not look healthy, according to new research.

The teams, from Aberdeen and St Andrews universities, found that women's choice of both friends and possible romantic partners is guided by apparent health. At the root of it is an internal mechanism to avoid maternal illness.

Previous studies by psychologists at St Andrews' perception lab found that women at their most fertile times - where the progesterone hormone is high - are more particular about their choice of possible mate. Women tended to choose masculine-looking men, presumably in the hope of securing strong genes.

The new study shows that women with high levels of progesterone, but low levels of fertility, are also choosy.

This was true not just of pregnant women, but women with similar hormonal states.

Progesterone is raised in women who are pregnant, taking the oral contraceptive pill, or in weeks three and four of their menstrual cycle.

DrBen Jones, a lecturer at the psychology department of Aberdeen University and one of the authors of the paper, said: "Our findings suggest that pregnancy, orwhen a woman is in a similar hormonal state, trigger strategies within the body for avoiding illness during social interactions.

"These could compensate for weakened immune system responses at these times and reduce the risk of maternal illness disrupting the development of the unborn child."

The team carried out a series of studies, involving hundreds of women indicating their preference for computer-generated images of faces.

Participants were shown two pictures of the same face side by side and were asked to state their preference. The team made subtle adjustments to the synthesised faces to suggest one was healthier than the other, giving one an unhealthy pallor and the other a healthy glow.

Professor David Perrett, head of the perception lab at St Andrews, said: "We show that women's choice of both friends and possible romantic partners is also guided by apparent health."