The main aim of the research conducted by Swami and Tovée (2006) was to explore whether hunger effected male judgement of female attractiveness. Certain studies suggest that impression studies of body weight are linked to socio-economic status (SES). According to such studies (Swami et al., 2006), men with a low SES prefer heavier partners whereas men with high SES do not. Such research follows that of Nelson and Morrison (2005), of which Swami and Tovée (2006) based their studies on. In a series of studies, Nelson and Morrison (2005) manipulated people's financial fulfilment or hunger, and consequently measured what they looked for in a partner. Findings suggested that men who were financially discontented and hungry preferred a heavier partner in contrast to men who felt they were financially contented and not hungry. To test the validity of Nelson and Morrison's (2005) research, Swami and Tovée (2006) repeated the study but changed the dependant variable; it previously being a 15 point scale on which participants had to determine what the ideal weight would be for their perspective partner to be comparative to the average member of that sex. Swami and Tovée (2006) changed their dependant variable to a sequence of photographs of women with different body weight and shape, body weight measured in body mass index (BMI) as opposed to the classic measure of female attractiveness, the waist to hip ratio (WHR). They claimed that using stimuli of real women would be easier to verify the effects of hunger on ranking attractiveness, as it would be closer to real life. Another change to the previous study was the way the level of hunger was judged. Whereas Nelson and Morrison (2005) used post- and pre- dinner participants, Swami and Tovée (2006) asked participants to identify their hunger levels themselves. This is perhaps a better way of judging, compared to previous studies, as one cannot judge the hunger of another; so therefore, this was an intelligent change to make.
The aims of the study become apparent from the start, and it becomes clear that the topic has been widely researched. Lots of researchers have been included, providing validity to the statements being made. However, as there have been so many studies on this particular topic, their research becomes less relevant as it has been looked at so many times before. The majority of references are relatively recent, yet the most recent studies have been carried out by Swami and Tovée (2006) themselves, and so it would be easy for them to show bias towards their own previous studies. Swami and Tovée (2006) have overcome the main problem of the previous study by Nelson and Morrison (2005), which was measuring the level of hunger in the participants, as it is impossible to determine how hungry another person is. They have also prevented other factors from making difference, such as facial attractiveness, by blurring the faces of the women pictured. This was important, as physical appearance is an important factor towards levels of attractiveness. The method has been clearly thought out. The women all wore the same, had the same pose and the photographs were as realistic as possible. However, they claim that factors such as age and ethnicity were not made apparent to participants, but it is difficult to see how; clues towards age and race are visible all over the body, not just in the face. Therefore, age and ethnicity would have played a part in the participants determining whether the women were attractive or not, as such factors are sometimes difficult to ignore.
Participants were only requested not to cross refer their answers with others, and nothing was done to prevent this as they were in close proximity of each other. Participants could have easily duplicated answers if they were not comfortable with being honest about what they found attractive through fear of being socially unacceptable. The sample is relatively small, and the mean age is quite low, and so the sample is not really of a reasonable size. It is also important to consider that all participants were from the same university, and it is unfair for this to apply to the whole population. Males at university would not perhaps be looking for the same thing in a partner than an older male, and so whether the theory applies to all ages is impossible to tell from this study. The results show that the relationship between WHR and attractiveness is considerably lower than the relationship between BMI and attractiveness. They suggest that WHR has a slight effect on attractiveness for the non-hungry participants, but not the hungry participants. On the other hand, BMI has an effect on both hungry and non-hungry participants. They state that the findings are the same as with other studies (Swami and Tovée, 2005; Tovée et al., 2002, 1999), yet the other studies were carried out by themselves, and so make the report seem to lack validity. The results are not very easy to follow, containing lots of numbers and equations, and it is often difficult to see where they fit into the argument.
Swami and Tovée (2006) successfully point out the flaws in their experiment, but attempt to solve them poorly. For example, when discussing the idea that the self-reported hunger or satiety was inaccurate, they suggest the participants should eat different amounts of food in a lab situation. However, this would remove all ecological validity as, again, it is difficult to say how much food you can feed someone until they're completely full, or still hungry. They are, however, successful in discussing future research, such as the idea that if men find heavier women more attractive when hungry, they should also find heavier objects more desirable. They also put forward the idea of the same experiment for females to see if hunger affects the level of attractiveness towards men. In conclusion, the article has been well written, and the experiment well thought out. Swami and Tovée (2006) were able to successfully criticise their experiment in the discussion and suggest further research. However, the research could be improved by the participants being placed separately during the experiment. When placed all together, there is the risk of social desirability bias, as participants can look at each other's papers. In general, the article was well written and informative, yet lacked validity with a lack of references other than themselves. Despite having a thorough discussion, the results could have been lots easier to follow.
- Nelson, L. D., and Morrison, E. L. (2005). The symptoms of resource scarcity: Judgements of food and finances influence preferences for potential partners. Psychological Science, 16, 167-173.
- Swami, V., Knight, D., Tovée, M. J., Davies, P., and Furnham, A. (2006). Perceptions of physical attractiveness among Pacific Islanders. Manuscript in preparation.
- Swami, V. and Tovée, M. J. (2005). Female physical attractiveness in Britain and Malaysia: A cross-cultural study. Body Image, 2, 115-128.
- Tovée, M. J., Emery, J. L. and Cohen-Tovée, E. M. (2000). The estimation of body mass index and physical attractiveness is dependent on the observer's own body mass index. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 267, 1987-1997.
- Tovée, M. J., Maisey, D. S., Emery, J. L., and Cornelissen, P. L. (1999). Visual cues to female physical attractiveness. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 266, 211-218.