Illness in childhood predicts face preferences in adulthood

Micheal De Barra, Lisa M. DeBruine, Benedict C. Jones, Zahid Hayat Mahmud, Valerie A. Curtis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


The value of different mate choices may depend on the local pathogen ecology and on personal infection susceptibility: when there is a high risk of infection, choosing a healthy or immunocompetent mate may be particularly important. Frequency of childhood illness may act as a cue of the ecological and immunological factors relevant to mate preferences. Consistent with this proposal, we found that childhood illness – and frequency of diarrhea in particular – was positively correlated with preferences for exaggerated sex-typical characteristics in opposite-sex, but not same-sex, faces. Moreover, this relationship was stronger among individuals with poorer current health. These data suggest that childhood illness may play a role in calibrating adult mate preferences and have implications for theories of disease-avoidance psychology, life-history strategy and cross-cultural differences in mate preferences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-389
Number of pages6
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number6
Early online date28 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013

Bibliographical note

We thank Rashed Zaman, Zakir Hossain, and M. Sirajul Islam for their support during data collection.


  • Facial attractiveness
  • Infectious disease
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Predictive adaptive response
  • Behavioral immune system


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