The influences of sex and stress hormones on interpersonal perception
University of St. Andrews
I will first describe experimental evidence that phenotypic characteristic in the face and voice provide an indication of current hormone levels and/ or levels during development. As such face and body characteristics can provide a reliable index of reproductive status and health.
I will then explore how hormone levels in the perceiver relate to differences in social perception and attraction to partner characteristics. Hormone levels vary through the menstrual cycle in women and show diurnal rhythms in men and women. In the second week of the menstrual cycle when fertility is highest, women show enhanced to masculine characteristics in the face, voice and behaviour of men. Such cyclic variation appears to depend on sexual strategy (interest in short term sexual relationships), oestrogen levels and early family background. Our recent research indicates that attraction to masculinity may correlate with testosterone levels. The explanation of such cyclic changes in attraction is not clear, but could relate to indirect benefits of selecting a partner with good immune genes, or a partner that will produce ‘sexy sons’.
In the 3rd and 4th week of the menstrual cycle, progesterone may heighten aversion to facial cues to illness, and attraction to facial characteristics indicative of kinship. We interpret these relationships in terms of the direct benefits that may accrue to the mother by protecting herself and potential pregnancy and seeking kin support.
Recent experiments indicate that interpersonal perception (including changes in attraction to partner characteristics and reaction to same sex characteristics) alter with changing hormone levels.