Optimal Waist-to-Hip Ratios in Women Activate Neural Reward Centers in Men
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Secondary sexual characteristics convey information about reproductive potential. In the same way that facial symmetry and masculinity, and shoulder-to-hip ratio convey information about reproductive/genetic quality in males, waist-to-hip-ratio (WHR) is a phenotypic cue to fertility, fecundity, neurodevelopmental resources in offspring, and overall health, and is indicative of “good genes” in women. Here, using fMRI, we found that males show activation in brain reward centers in response to naked female bodies when surgically altered to express an optimal (~0.7) WHR with redistributed body fat, but relatively unaffected body mass index (BMI). Relative to presurgical bodies, brain activation to postsurgical bodies was observed in bilateral orbital frontal cortex. While changes in BMI only revealed activation in visual brain substrates, changes in WHR revealed activation in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area associated with reward processing and decision-making. When regressing ratings of attractiveness on brain activation, we observed activation in forebrain substrates, notably the nucleus accumbens, a forebrain nucleus highly involved in reward processes. These findings suggest that an hourglass figure (i.e., an optimal WHR) activates brain centers that drive appetitive sociality/attention toward females that represent the highest-quality reproductive partners. This is the first description of a neural correlate implicating WHR as a putative honest biological signal of female reproductive viability and its effects on men's neurological processing.
Steven M. Platek is with Georgia Gwinnett College; Devendra Singh was with UT Austin.
CitationPlatek SM, Singh D (2010) Optimal Waist-to-Hip Ratios in Women Activate Neural Reward Centers in Men. PLoS ONE 5(2): e9042. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009042
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