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What Freud never knew

What Is It About Men and Breast Size?

New research reveals clues to the mystery of physical preferences

It's no secret that some men like buxom ladies, while others favor those who are less busty. But what drives guys to like what they like? Two recent studies have shed light on this age-old question, pointing to some unsuspected clues.

The first study investigated whether men's access to resources, or, more technically, their “resource security,” would influence their preferences for breast size in women. One view on human female breast size is that it may act as a signal of fat reserves, which in turn advertises access to resources. Anchored in this understanding, psychologists Viren Swami and Martin Tovée carried out two experiments to test whether men experiencing relative resource insecurity (that is, those who lack material goods) would find larger breasts more desirable than men experiencing resource security (those who have material goods).

The first experiment explored the relationship between financial security and men's preferences in breast size. The authors recruited 266 men from three sites in Malaysia that varied in socioeconomic status (low, medium, and high). These participants were shown a series of five animated female figures that varied only in terms of of breast size, and then rated them for physical attractiveness on a five-point scale. What did the researchers find? The men from the low socioeconomic background rated bigger breasts as more attractive than did men from the medium socioeconomic background, who in turn endorsed larger breasts as more appealing than men from the high socioeconomic background. In other words, poorer men liked larger breasts.

In the second experiment, the researchers compared the breast size ratings of 66 hungry versus 58 satiated male university students to test whether food security impacted their preferences. These men were asked to participate in the study as they entered or exited campus dining halls during dinner, from approximately 6:00 to 7:00 pm. (Because ethnicity is known to influence breast size preferences, the investigators invited only white British men to participate in this study). They were subsequently presented with the same animated series of female figures that was used in the previous experiment. The researchers then crunched the numbers. What did the results reveal? The hungry men preferred bigger breasts substantially more than the satiated group.

The second study was based on alternate evolutionary perspective on breast size, which maintains that it is a signal of a woman's capacity to bear and nurture children. Indeed, there is a positive association between levels of estradiol, a fertility-related hormone, and larger breast size; in turn, the combination of larger breasts and a smaller waist-to-hip ratio seems to be linked to a significantly greater likelihood of conceiving. From here, researchers Christopher Burris and Armand Munteanu reasoned that men who are less willing to become a father would also find larger breasts less appealing.

To test this hypothesis, they had 67 straight college men participate in an online study. First, the participants completed the Reluctance to Reproduce Scale, which asked about their desire to become a father. They were then shown line drawings of a woman, featuring a frontal view. These drawings were equipped with clickable “sliders” so that the men could adjust the woman's breast, waist, and hip proportions. Participants were instructed to manipulate the woman's figure so that it “matched their 'absolute ideal' (=most arousing) for a sexual partner.” What did the results uncover? In keeping with the researchers' expectations, men who wished to remain child-free preferred smaller breasts.

What can we learn from these studies? While they may seem in some measure to be exercises in frivolity, they do provide scientific understanding into the mystery of physical attraction. If beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, this research offers some novel insights as to why men perceive women as they do.

 

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References:

 

Burris CT, Munteanu AR. (2012) Preferred Female Body Proportions among Child-free Men. Archives of Sexual Behavior: doi: 10.1007/s10508-012-9964-0.

 

Swami V, Tovée MJ (2013) Resource Security Impacts Men’s Female Breast Size Preferences. PLoS ONE 8(3): doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057623

Vinita Mehta, Ph.D., Ed.M., is a clinical psychologist and journalist. She was formerly the Development Producer and Science Editor of PBS's This Emotional Life.

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