Stressed out women less attractive to potential mates, says study

Jordana Divon
Shine On
May 23, 2013

Don’t stress out, ye ambitious ladies of the world, but here’s another thing to stress out about.

A new study out of Finland claims cortisol, the hormone triggered by your high stress levels as you slog through your insane workday at your high-powered job, is making you less attractive to potential mates.

Stress tends to show in the face, says the study published in the latest issue of Biology Letters, and women whose expressions indicated tension and anxiety were rated as less desirable than women with more relaxed faces.

The culprit? Thousands of years of human evolutionary science.

“Perhaps, then, low levels of cortisol signal health in female faces,” study lead author Dr. Markus Rantala, a biologist at the University of Turku, writes.

Also see: Making sacrifices for your partner on stressful days can harm your relationship

“This would be consistent with many studies in humans that have found that stress has strong negative effect on health, including immune function, heart disease and susceptibility to cancer… An alternative explanation is that facial attractiveness signals reproductive potential, which is mediated partly by stress hormones.”

As we all know by now thanks to countless studies on the subject, healthy, young-looking women signal fertility, a trait that triggers our primal instincts to choose mates that can carry on and nurture our genetic lineage.

Cortisol gets released in the body from our adrenal cortex region when our brain senses something over which to be stressed or anxious. In addition to making ladies less sexy, cortisol is also known to increase blood sugar and suppress the immune system.

So while your permanently furrowed brow from years of solving complex work-related problems could signify that you're a completely admirable and impressive human being who contributes many things to the world, science is suggesting you may want to take a spa weekend before a big date.

Scientists reached this conclusion by vaccinating 52 young women from Latvia against the hepatitis B virus.

After their vaccination, the scientists took a blood sample to test their cortisol levels and immune responses.

Also see: Stress-busting techniques put to the test

Eighteen heterosexual males were then brought in to rate how attractive they thought each woman appeared based on a photo of her face.

The women with the lowest cortisol levels were pronounced most attractive. Their immune responses made no difference.

It could be that the women with the lower cortisol levels just so happened to be more conventionally attractive on a purely coincidental basis, but that’s a level of subjectivity not usually published in scientific research papers.

And lest these findings deter you from going after that promotion (please don’t let these findings deter you from going after that promotion), it turns out men have their own cortisol-related issues.

As the Telegraph notes, men’s cortisol rates spike when in the presence of attractive women. If life were fair, they would be subject to a similar fate.

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