Adiposity, compared with masculinity, serves as a more valid cue to immunocompetence in human mate choice

Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Jan 22;280(1751):20122495. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2495.


According to the 'good genes' hypothesis, females choose males based on traits that indicate the male's genetic quality in terms of disease resistance. The 'immunocompetence handicap hypothesis' proposed that secondary sexual traits serve as indicators of male genetic quality, because they indicate that males can contend with the immunosuppressive effects of testosterone. Masculinity is commonly assumed to serve as such a secondary sexual trait. Yet, women do not consistently prefer masculine looking men, nor is masculinity consistently related to health across studies. Here, we show that adiposity, but not masculinity, significantly mediates the relationship between a direct measure of immune response (hepatitis B antibody response) and attractiveness for both body and facial measurements. In addition, we show that circulating testosterone is more closely associated with adiposity than masculinity. These findings indicate that adiposity, compared with masculinity, serves as a more important cue to immunocompetence in female mate choice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue
  • Adiposity / genetics*
  • Adult
  • Body Weights and Measures
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Cues*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Face
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Hepatitis B Antibodies / blood
  • Humans
  • Immunocompetence / genetics*
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Latvia
  • Male
  • Masculinity*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Testosterone / blood


  • Hepatitis B Antibodies
  • Testosterone