A link between testosterone, facial attractiveness, and the stress hormone cortisol is reported in this week’s Nature Communications. The findings suggest that women might be more attracted to men with high levels of the sex hormone testosterone because they have a healthier immune system. Sexual characteristics in male faces are testosterone-dependent, but how the sex hormone affects immune function is unclear. Fhionna Moore and collaborators measured the immune responses of 74 Latvian men in their early twenties to a hepatitis vaccine, and determined the blood concentrations of testosterone and cortisol. They then asked Latvian women of a similar age to rank the participants by facial attractiveness. The team found that men with a strong immune response had high levels of testosterone and were perceived as more attractive. Men with low levels of testosterone tended to have higher concentrations of cortisol, suggesting that their immune responses might have been inhibited by the stress hormone. The authors suggest that this behaviour, previously observed in birds, could be explained through the fact that women seek heritable immunocompetence for their offspring. They caution, however, that the facial preferences of women might vary between countries due to societal factors.
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