Menstrual cycle, pregnancy and oral contraceptive use alter attraction to apparent health in faces
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Previous studies demonstrating changes in women's face preferences have emphasized increased attraction to cues to possible indirect benefits (e.g. heritable immunity to infection) that coincides with periods of high fertility (e.g. the late follicular phase of the menstrual cycle). By contrast, here we show that when choosing between composite faces with raised or lowered apparent health, women's preferences for faces that are perceived as healthy are (i) stronger during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle than during the late follicular, fertile phase, (ii) stronger in pregnant women than in non–pregnant women and (iii) stronger in women using oral contraceptives than in women with natural menstrual cycles. Change in preference for male faces was greater for short– than long–term relationships. These findings indicate raised progesterone level is associated with increased attraction to facial cues associated with possible direct benefits (e.g. low risk of infection) and suggest that women's face preferences are influenced by adaptations that compensate for weakened immune system responses during pregnancy and reduce the risk of infection disrupting foetal development.