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photo from shutterstock

photo from shutterstock

According to new research published by a trio of scientists from Stockholm University in Sweden, chickens show a preference for pretty people.

Pretty women, in this particular case.

The researchers — Stefano Ghirlanda, Liselotte Jansson and Magnus Enquist — first trained chickens to react to female faces, then studied their reactions to faces. The birds showed a marked preference for attractive faces.

The researchers, according to their abstract (full disclosure: I am not a scientist, and barely understand half of what is written past the title, so most of the conclusions I draw from the abstract are at best, barely educated guesses), are researching the origins of sexual preferences in humans.

The takeaway for me, anyway, is that while I may be male, every chicken I’ve ever fed seemed to like me. And because of Science, I can only conclude it’s because of my inherent attractiveness.

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Here’s the abstract from the study, which can be found on the NCBI website here.

We trained chickens to react to an average human female face but not to an average male face (or vice versa). In a subsequent test, the animals showed preferences for faces consistent with human sexual preferences (obtained from university students). This suggests that human preferences arise from general properties of nervous systems, rather than from face-specific adaptations. We discuss this result in the light of current debate on the meaning of sexual signals and suggest further tests of existing hypotheses about the origin of sexual preferences.

Editor’s note: In all seriousness, this seems like a really neat bit of science. I’ve emailed one of the researchers about the study and when they respond, I’ll post the interview as an update.

Update, Jan. 14, 2016: (Editor’s note: We contacted one of the researchers — Stefano Ghirlanda — and interviewed him about the study. Here’s his response)

From Scratch (FS): Why chickens? Is there something intrinsic about chickens that makes them well suited to this research?
Stefano Ghirlanda (SG): We chose chickens for various reasons: we had experience in training them, they see well, and they are far away from humans, evolutionarily speaking, so that it is unlikely that we have any innate shared  mate preferences.
FS: According to the abstract, you trained chickens to react to female human faces. What was the reaction and how did you train the chickens to do this?
SG: We tried the chickens to peck a picture of a face and to avoid pecking another one. Just for fun, hens had to peck a male face and cocks a female face.
The faces were shown on a computer touch screen (at the time, it was very cool).
FS: The abstract goes on to state “human preferences arise from general properties of nervous systems, rather than from face-specific adaptations. We discuss this result in the light of current debate on the meaning of sexual signals and suggest further tests of existing hypotheses about the origin of sexual preferences.” What does this mean?
SG: We found similar preferences for chickens and humans on a set of faces. Because chickens have no innate preference for human faces (see above), we concluded that their preferences were the product of the training (see point 2). This means that experience alone is sufficient to engender human-like preferences. Hence, it is possible that our preferences are also learned, rather than innate. Our previous research had led us to believe that all nervous systems, given similar experiences, would develop broadly similar preferences, which we thought was confirmed by the study’s findings.
FS: Do you intend to continue to use chickens to study human sexual preferences and in what way?
SG: Shortly after that study we had to close down the chicken lab for lack of funds and personnel. I have thought of replicating the experiment, or similar ones, but never managed to.
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