If you wait long enough, everything becomes fodder for academic research.  Two academics from Mercyhurst College must have made the sales pitch of all time in order to study the correlation of economic cycles with the curvature of …. Playboy Playmates of the Year.  I had no idea Academia could be so fascinating!

Past research has investigated ideals of beauty and how these ideals have changed across time. In the current study, facial and body characteristics of Playboy Playmates of the Year from 1960-2000 were identified and investigated to explore their relationships with U.S. social and economic factors. Playmate of the Year age, body feature measures, and facial feature measurements were correlated with a general measure of social and economic hard times. Consistent with Environmental Security Hypothesis predictions, when social and economic conditions were difficult, older, heavier, taller Playboy Playmates of the Year with larger waists, smaller eyes, larger waist-to-hip ratios, smaller bust-to-waist ratios, and smaller body mass index values were selected. These results suggest that environmental security may influence perceptions and preferences for women with certain body and facial features.

They even publish their data, although only a statistician would find it titillating; it’s a swivel table that one can download into a spreadsheet.  The entire exercise intends to show that men overall select women based on economic conditions, preferring sturdier types when times get bad and lighter, curvier women when they feel more secure.

This fails to take into account a couple of facts.  In modern society, women choose men as well as men choosing women, so while this may have some mild interest in terms of preferences, it probably doesn’t have much predictive value.  Secondly, while Playboy has a reader poll for their PMOY, Hugh Hefner makes the selection himself and can override the wishes of his readers.  This could be a study with a sample group of one — Hefner himself — and therefore useless entirely.

But why spoil the fun for Messrs. Pettijohn and Jungeberg?  They’ve managed to make academic research a little more exciting, at least for themselves.  Did they just research 47 years of Playboy magazines just for the data? (via Q&O)

Update: One commenter wondered how much federal money Mercyhurst receives.  According to the invaluable FedSpending.org database, Mercyhurst has received over $23 million in eight years.  Almost all of it went to student assistance, though, not to research on Playboy playmates.