Afternoon InquisitionScience

AI: Healthy is Hot?

Well men, apparently if you’re sick a lot, you’re also ugly.

How’s that for an Afternoon Inquisition opening line? Well, this story suggests the immune system drives male attractiveness, or at least gives service to research suggesting a correlation, and I thought it might make for a good discussion.

You see, due to an apparent association between testosterone levels, facial attractiveness, and a stress hormone called cortisol, researchers from the University of Abertay Dundee, Scotland, conclude that a strong immune system plays a greater role in attracting women to men, than great bodies or muscles.

Of course as thinking creatures we place value on other things besides base physiological reactions when we consider a person’s attractiveness, but the basic idea here is, men with healthy immune systems tend to have higher testosterone levels, and a man’s face is generally seen as more attractive if he has high levels of testosterone.

So what do you think? Do you give any thought/credence to purported instinctual reactions? Are they important? Are we at their mercy? Do you see any flaws in the study? Links to other related information? Guys, what of your own immune system/testosterone levels/cortisol levels?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. I think there are enough consistent correlation shown in studies lends credence to universal reactions to specific traits. I also think that’s not the only factor, since there are also cultural factors that determine attractiveness.

    Regarding the immune/testosterone link, I’d have to say I can personally see some anecdotal relevance. In the past 8-10 years I’ve been feeling steadily more worn down, and got sick steadily more frequently. In the last 6 months, I’ve been found to have a pituitary tumor (benign), low ACTH, became diabetic (blood sugar had been normal for years prior), and the testosterone level lower than an average 80 year old man (I’m less than half that age). I’ve also been hypothyroid since I was 12. Never had hormones other than thyroid tested until last year until I started suggesting we try other causes for frequent fatigue and headaches I’d been complaining about for years.
    Seeing an endocrinologist now and we’re treating it in phases. There’s still other endocrine issues to be narrowed down with further testing. I.E. I feel like crap, a lot.

    So far I’ve seen some progress with steadily increased supplemental testosterone. Fatigue has been much improved. Immunity, only a little – but it’s a complex beast.

    My cortisol levels are normal, which is weird because it’s usually linked to ACTH apparently and that’s way off.

    1. That being said, I’m glad that it’s likely most of my growth and such were well out of the way prior to all of this getting out of whack. I don’t show any symptoms of someone that would have had low testosterone levels at a young age – if anything, possibly a little on the high side.

  2. Sam Ogden,

    Well there’s no denying that being healthy is important, and I think its easy to see why, especially from an evolutionary standpoint. I don’t find it surprising at all that men with excellent immune systems would be more attractive to women.

  3. This is great. I though I was a pudgy, greying, middle-aged nerd but I seem to have been wrong. I hardly ever get sick, so I must be Hot Stuff! Watch out, ladies! Ooooh yeah! (insert James Brown-style strutting here)

  4. Looks like a duck, walks like a duck……

    I tried and failed to get the full text.

    The author’s full address is informative, though:

    Fhionna R. Moore Department of Psychology, Evolutionary and Biological Approaches to Behaviour Group, Abertay University


    More evo-psych bullshit!

  5. I think we can all agree that no man is sexy with boogers running down his face. And no one likes listening to people complain about being sick.

    Though, conversely, I really detest people who brag about never getting sick like it somehow makes them morally superior to everyone in the universe.
    Oh, you never got the flu? Here’s your Nobel fucking Prize.

    So I guess I want a guy with a good, but not perfect, immune system.

  6. I know anecdote =/= evidence, but my husband would be the exception to this theory. From the list of his health problems, you would think he would look like the stereotypical inhaler-toting sick guy with a pigeon chest, weighing in at a buck-o-five sopping wet. But somehow, despite his body’s various attempts to kill him since childhood, he’s come out at 33 yo with a barrel chest, over six feet tall, over 200 pounds, good-looking (independently confirmed), good head of hair, etc. He looks pretty healthy. And he’s hot. :)

  7. Well, I don’t get sick much – a couple of colds a year, that’s about it usually. (I’m very careful to call them “colds” rather than “flu” because of the frequent taunts of “oooh, so you got man-flu then? LOL!” Rolls eyes…)

    I’m not really the one to say if that makes me attractive, but my baldness, overweightness, severe depression and generally curmudgeonly demeanor probably wipes out any advantages my lack-of-sickness gives me. But my wife loves me, so that’s OK.

    But, regarding my testosterone levels – the last few years (late-30s) have seen them drop like a stone (snigger, snigger). Interestingly, my doctor said it was probably because I had Mumps as a kid – low-testosterone levels later in life can be a side-effect. So, parents, there’s another good reason for you to vaccinate your children!

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