While we all have unique standards when it comes to dating men, there are some characteristics which seem to appear across all lists—at least according to science. High on the list, apparently, are strong, masculine features indicative of strong testosterone levels. Strong testosterone levels, on the other hand, are said to be proof of a man’s ability to protect his mate as well as proof of a healthier immune system.

Whether it’s a choice we make consciously or unconsciously, science has reason to believe that that this instinctive mating process is how humans, among other species, have been able to thrive for thousands of years. And science has found another factor we take into consideration when choosing a man: how he copes with stress.

According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, we are turned off by men who look like they are dealing with a year’s worth of backlog work. One look at these guys, and we consciously or unconsciously reject them. An experiment involving a large group of female college students in Latvia serves as evidence of this theory.

In the study, the women were asked to look at photos of 74 male students and to rate them according to attractiveness. The men, on the other hand, were tested for their testosterone and cortisol levels; the amount of cortisol in the men's systems served as an indicator of stress. By measuring their body’s response to a hepatitis B vaccine, researchers were also able to test their immune system function.

Results? The male students with the strongest immune system functions were among the highest-ranked in the study. Researchers believe that the handicap hypothesis may have something to do with it.

This hypothesis is best explained by using the mating habits of peacocks as an example. Peacocks in general use their colorful feathers to attract mates. You’d think that it’s the color of the feathers that attracts the peahens so but according to science, it’s actually the skill it takes to wield them that is so attractive. Apparently, a peacock that can devote enough energy to spread its non-utilitarian fan-like feathers and still protect itself against possible predators is one eligible bachelor.

In the case of humans, we see men's good looks as a peacock's feathers. They're not really part of any survival skill set but if they can keep themselves well-groomed and still take care of their health, then in the eyes of science, they are ideal mates.

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But while a strong immune system is said to be hand in hand with high testosterone levels, men who report high cortisol levels weaken that association. Apparently, stress is thought to be unattractive to us because it highlights a man’s inability to handle work load. Never mind the fact that eye bags aren’t exactly attractive in the first place—science thinks that we have the uncanny ability to sniff out worthy and unworthy mates.

Now we normally give ourselves such a hard time when choosing guys whom we go out with, but if science is telling the truth, then perhaps we should have more faith in our instincts.

For more on what makes men more appealing, read "Study Shows Scowls Are Sexy + 30 Brooding Hollywood Hotties in TV and Film." You may also want to check out these lists of hot guys:

(Photo by Λ |_ ν- Γ Ø via Flickr Creative Commons)

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