There’s likely a percentage of the readers of this blog who, if presented with a photo montage of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Daniel Craig, Denzel Washington, Ryan Gosling and other celebrity heartthrobs, might have to take a moment (or several) just to sit back, breathe deeply and appreciate the view. And who could blame us? They’re manly men, all. Easy on the eyes, fairly dripping with testosterone, make our hearts go pitter-pat, maybe make our loins jump just a little with subconscious fantasies of beautiful Clooney babies. What? It’s only natural! It’s biology!
But a recent research effort, published in the February 21 edition of the journal Nature Communications, asserts that our twitterpation (or Brad Pitterpation, as it were) may not be so much for these guys’ handsome faces, strong jawlines, broad shoulders, six-pack abs, that spot in the crook of their neck that probably smells really good…
Sorry, got distracted there for a second. No, it might not be their looks that we’re really lusting after, but their…robust immune systems? Their drop-dead sexy antibodies?
Researchers led by Fhionna Moore of Albertay University in the United Kingdom found that men with high levels of testosterone — the ones we generally find so dreamy — also have stronger immune responses. We may, therefore, be attracted to them because their manly faces indicate overall good health, increasing their suitability to bear those precious Clooney babies. In their study, the researchers asked 74 Latvian men in their 20s to receive a Hepatitis B vaccine, taking blood samples immediately before, and then one month after, getting the shot. They measured the immune responses to the vaccine, as well as pre- and post-vaccine blood concentrations of testosterone and the stress hormone cortisol. They then asked Latvian women, also in their 20s, to rate the participants on a 10-point scale of facial attractiveness, and looked for links between the immune response, testosterone levels and perceived “hotness.”
They found that the men judged the hunkiest had both a strong immune response and higher levels of testosterone. They also had the lowest levels of cortisol. Those with lower levels of testosterone tended to have higher concentrations of cortisol, indicating that their immune responses (and, apparently, their sex appeal) may have been inhibited by stress. Though relationships between testosterone and the immune system have been studied previously, this research is the first to directly link women’s opinions of male attractiveness with the robustness of his immune system, indicating that we aren’t just a sucker for a pretty face, but actually respond more strongly to perceived overall health in a potential mate, desiring our offspring to inherit the halest and most hearty genes possible. The research team’s next step is to assess whether these initial results hold true across different cultures and age ranges.
So, ladies, throw out your tired old pickup lines. Next time you’re at the bar and see a fine-looking stranger across the way, just sidle on up to him and purr, “Hey baby, you sure look HEALTHY. Can I buy you a drink?”
- Rantala, M., Moore, F., Skrinda, I., Krama, T., Kivleniece, I., Kecko, S., & Krams, I. (2012). Evidence for the stress-linked immunocompetence handicap hypothesis in humans Nature Communications, 3 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1696