A recent study published in the scientific journal PLoS One found that environmental factors can alter some men’s perception of female attractiveness. And on Friday, that study became the subject of an alarming Fox News segment featuring British business reporter Stuart Varney chatting up a sex therapist about what he called “fleshier women.”
In real terms, the study’s findings are limited in value due to the sample groups being comprised of just 81 white, male British college students. Researchers subjected just the experimental group to a mock job interview to stress them out, then asked both the experimental and control groups to rate photos of women. Their result: White college kids who were most stressed out over their fake job interview tended to find heavier women more attractive.
The scientists hoped to draw some conclusions about the evolutionary aspects of weight, stress and mate attraction. Instead, the media reported those limited results as a science-of-attraction story about overweight women. And Fox News followed the pack with a pseudo-science story about what Varney called “fleshier women” with “meat on their bones,” illustrated with shots of a bikini-clad model who Varney told to “step aside.”
After that bizarre lead-in, Varney did cut to the heart of the amtter, asking his guest, sex therapist Dr. Wendy Walsh: “Do you really put any store in this kind of study? Or is it just meant to create a headline and give us a very interesting segment? Which is it?”
Walsh didn’t answer that question, but Sophia Collins, writing for The Guardian on Friday, did. And she answered it with another question.
“There are thousands of psychology papers published every day,” she wrote. “Why is it that a small and limited study, finding a very small effect, gets covered in the science media when so much else doesn’t? Is this article, ironically, just another example of the cultural obsession with women’s weight, which pop evolutionary psychology so studiously ignores?”
This video is from Fox News, broadcast Friday August 10, 2012.