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Humans are not fooled by size illusions in attractiveness judgements

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD, Dr Martin Tovee, Hannah George, Dr Piers Cornelissen



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Could signallers use size contrast illusions to dishonestly exaggerate their attractiveness to potential mates? Using composite photographs of women from three body mass index (BMI) categories designed to simulate small groups, we show that target women of medium size are judged as thinner when surrounded by larger women than when surrounded by thinner women. However, attractiveness judgements of the same target women were unaffected by this illusory change in BMI, despite small true differences in the BMIs of the target women themselves producing strong effects on attractiveness. Thus, in the context of mate choice decisions, the honesty of female body size as a signal of mate quality appears to have been maintained by the evolution of assessment strategies that are immune to size contrast illusions. Our results suggest that receiver psychology is more flexible than previously assumed, and that illusions are unlikely to drive the evolution of exploitative neighbour choice in human sexual displays.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bateson M, Tovée MJ, George HR, Gouws A, Cornelissen PL

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Evolution & Human Behavior

Year: 2014

Volume: 35

Issue: 2

Pages: 133-139

Print publication date: 01/03/2014

Online publication date: 01/12/2013

Acceptance date: 21/11/2013

Date deposited: 28/03/2014

ISSN (print): 1090-5138

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2013.11.007


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