New research provides evidence that body fat percentage and muscularity influence perceptions of parenting ability. The study, published in Evolutionary Psychological Science, found men and women with higher levels of body fat were perceived as better parents compared to those who were skinner.
“Much of my research has been focused on how facial and bodily cues communicate information about the likelihood of producing high quality offspring,” said study author Donald Sacco, an associate professor at The University of Southern Mississippi and director of the Evolutionary Social Psychology Lab.
“However, human offspring are quite vulnerable and require a great deal of protection and investment from parents, so we recently became interested in how bodily cues might also inform inferences regarding parenting ability.”
In the study, 831 participants viewed four male and four female computer-generated bodies that varied in bodily dimensions. After viewing each body, the participants answered 36 questions about the person’s perceived parental qualities, such as “This person seems like they would help their child with homework” and “This person thinks kids are annoying.”
The researchers found that, for male bodies, low body fat and high muscularity were both independently associated with lower perceptions of parenting ability. Low body fat was also associated with lower perceptions of parenting ability for female bodies — and women were especially likely to associate high levels of female body fat with positive parenting abilities.
“People associate greater body fat composition with more positive and less negative parenting abilities. Thus, what we find sexy in a mate seems to somewhat differ from what we associate with a good parent,” Sacco told PsyPost.
But the study — like all research — includes some limitations. The sample was comprised of students at a public university, which could have skewed some results.
“Participants in our sample did not associate breast size with parenting ability, which surprised us,” Sacco said. “It may have been because our sample was college-age, and thus may be more inclined to view breasts as a mating, rather than parenting signal. As such, we intend to expand our research to a broader age-range sample in the future.”
“Given how important parental investment is to offspring survival, both historically and contemporarily, I think increasing our understanding of the various cues people use to infer parenting ability as well as whether these cues are actually associated with increased parenting ability is an important research consideration,” Sacco added.
The study, “Dad and Mom Bods? Inferences of Parenting Ability from Bodily Cues“, was authored by Donald F. Sacco, Kaitlyn Holifield, Kelsey Drea, Mitch Brown, and Alicia Macchione.