London - Men who are hungry prefer voluptuous women – while peckish women are more attracted to muscular men, psychologists have found.

The phenomenon is rooted in an ancient evolutionary instinct that prioritises people who are seen as having better access to food.

The researchers believe a woman’s shape – particularly her chest size – is seen to indicate her level of fat reserves.

In their study of 124 men who were shown images of five different body shapes, those who were hungry rated women with larger chests as significantly more attractive.

Dr Viren Swami of London’s University of Westminster said other studies have shown women find muscular men more attractive when they themselves want food.

He said: “If a man is hungry, they prefer slightly larger breasts sizes and slightly larger woman. If a women is hungry they prefer more muscular men.

“These are clues about resources. If you are hungry you want resources and a partner who has resources. Someone who is heavier has access to food.”

Psychologists think that breast size may indicate fat reserves, which in turn indicates access to resources.

Around half of the men in the study had not eaten for six hours, while the rest had full stomachs.

After being shown images of five different body shapes, the hungry group rated women with larger breasts as significantly more attractive.

A second set of tests found the less money a man had, the more he liked curvy women.

Dr Swami said other studies have shown women find muscular men more attractive when they’re hungry.

Professor Gareth Leng, of Edinburgh University, said at Cheltenham Science Festival that the link between hunger and attraction may be down to oxytocin – a hormone produced during childbirth, breastfeeding and lovemaking.

Oxytocin, which is known as the “love hormone”, boosts libido but also suppresses hunger. Hunger and sex are basic drives but it means we cannot pursue both at the same time.

Professor Leng said the patterns that Dr Swami has established may be caused by the oxytocin mechanism, although more research is needed to establish a direct link.

Women with big busts and hips have historically proved popular in periods of economic depression, which psychologists think is because larger women communicate strength, control and wealth in tough times.

Dr Swami also said that people find those around them more attractive when they are afraid.

If he is right, it may mean that taking a prospective lover to a scary movie or on a funfair rollercoaster is a perfect idea for a date.

It also may explain why people on holiday often fall for their ski instructor.

But he said the link between fear and attraction is an evolutionary mistake.

A quickening pulse, dilating pupils and clammy skin – the body’s reaction to adrenalin – can be mistaken by the body for sexual attraction.

“We misinterpret our arousal,” he said. “It is an error of presumption.” - Daily Mail