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Human mating strategies

People seek out a mate for an intimate relationship

People at a birthday party in the United States.

In evolutionary psychology and behavioral ecology, human mating strategies are a set of behaviors used by
individuals to attract, select, and retain mates. Mating 2 Flirting
strategies overlap with reproductive strategies, which encompass a broader set of behaviors involving the timing Main article: Flirting
of reproduction and the trade-o between quantity and
quality of ospring (see life history theory).
In order to bond or to express sexual interest, people irt.
Relative to other animals, human mating strategies are According to Kate Fox, a social anthropologist, there are
unique in their relationship with cultural variables such two main types of irting: irting for fun and irting with
as the institution of marriage.[1] Humans may seek out intent. Flirting for fun can take place between friends,
individuals with the intention of forming a long-term co-workers, or total strangers that wish to get to know
intimate relationship, marriage, casual relationship, or each other. This type of irting does not intend to lead to
friendship. The human desire for companionship is one sexual intercourse or romantic relationship, but increases
of the strongest human drives. It is an innate feature of the bonds between two people.
human nature, and may be related to the sex drive. The
Flirting with intent plays a role in the mate-selection prohuman mating process encompasses the social and culcess. The person irting will send out signals of sexual
tural processes whereby one person may meet another to
availability to another, and expects to see the interest reassess suitability, the courtship process and the process
turned in order to continue irting. Flirting can involve
of forming an interpersonal relationship. Commonalities,
non-verbal signs, such as an exchange of glances, handhowever, can be found between humans and nonhuman
touching, hair-touching, or verbal signs, such as chatting
animals in mating behavior (see animal sexual behavior).
up, attering comments, and exchange of telephone numbers in order to initiate further contact.

Social occasions

3 Dating

Social gatherings are frequently arranged to enable people looking for a partner to meet. Such occasions may
be parties of all types and social dances. Sometimes attendance at churches or similar venues would also act as
occasions for people to meet. Schools and colleges are
also common places for people to meet and form longterm relationships. It is not unknown for couples to form
over alcohol or drugs.

Main article: Dating

People date to assess each others suitability as a partner
in an intimate relationship or as a spouse. Dating rules
may vary across dierent cultures, and some societies
may even replace the dating process by a courtship instead.


Main article: Matchmaking

See also: Arranged marriage and Forced marriage


asked if they wanted to go to bed with him/her, 75%

of the men said yes while 0% percent of the women said
yes.[2] Evidence also indicates that, across cultures, men
report a greater openness to casual sex,[3] a larger desired number of sexual partners,[4] and a greater desire
to have sex sooner in a relationship.[4] These sex dierences have been shown to be reliable across various studies and methodologies.[5][6] However, there is some controversy as to the scope and interpretation of these sex

In many cultural traditions, a date may be arranged by

a third party, who may be a family member, acquaintance, or professional matchmaker. In some cultures, a
marriage may be arranged by the couples parents or an
outside party. Recently, internet dating has become popEvolutionary research often states that men have a strong
desire for casual sex, unlike women. Men are often depicted as wanting numerous female sexual partners in order to maximise their reproductive success.[9] Evolution5 Theoretical background
ary mechanisms for short-term mating are evident today.
Mate-guarding behaviours and sexual jealousy point to an
Research on human mating strategies is guided by the evolutionary history in which sexual relations with mul[10]
theory of sexual selection, and in particular, Robert tiple partners became a recurrent adaptive problem,
Trivers' concept of Parental Investment. Trivers denes whilst the willingness of modern-day men to have sex
parental investment as any investment by the parent with attractive strangers, and the prevalence of extrain an individual ospring that increases the osprings marital aairs in similar frequencies cross-culturally, are
chance of surviving (and hence reproductive success) at evidence of an ancestral past in which polygamous mating
the cost of the parents ability to invest in other ospring. strategies were adopted.
Trivers posited that dierential parental investment be- However, as Flanagan and Cardwell note,[9] men could
tween males and females drives the process of sexual not pursue this ideology, without willing female partners.
selection, which leads to the evolution of sexual dimor- Every time a man has a new sexual partner, the woman
phism in mate choice, competitive ability, and courtship also has a new sexual partner. It has been proposed,
displays (see also secondary sex characteristics). In hu- therefore, that casual sex and numerous sexual partners
mans, females make a larger parental investment than may also confer some benet to females. That is, they
males (i.e. nine months of gestation followed by child- would produce more genetically diverse ospring as a rebirth and lactation). While human males invest heavily sult, which would increase their chances of successfully
in their ospring as well, their minimum parental invest- rearing children to adolescence, or independence.[9]
ment is still lower than that of females. Hence, evolutionary psychologists have predicted a number of sex dierences in human mating strategies.
6.2 Sexual attractions


Gender dierences
Sexual desire

One theory states that because of their lower minimum parental investment, men can achieve greater
reproductive success by mating with multiple women than
women can achieve by mating with multiple men. Evolutionary psychologists therefore argue that ancestral men
who possessed a desire for multiple short-term sex partners, to the extent that they were capable of attracting
them, would have left more descendants than men without such a desire. Ancestral women, by contrast, would
have maximized reproductive success not by mating with
as many men as possible, but by selectively mating with
those men who were most able and willing to invest resources in their ospring. In order to obtain resources
women have evolved to show extended sexuality. One
classic study found that when college students were approached on campus by opposite-sex confederates and

Evolutionary psychologists have predicted that men will

generally place a greater value on youth and physical attractiveness in a mate than will women. Youth is associated with reproductive value in women, and features that
men nd physically attractive in women are thought to signal health and fertility.[13] Men who preferentially mated
with healthy, fertile, and reproductively valuable women
would have left more descendants than men who did not.
Since mens reproductive value does not decline as steeply
with age as does womens, women are not expected to exhibit as strong of a preference for youth in a mate. Evolutionary psychologists have also predicted that women
will be relatively more attracted to ambition and social
status in a mate because these characteristics are associated with mens access to resources. Women who preferentially mated with men capable of investing resources in
their ospring, thereby ensuring their osprings survival,
would have left more descendants than women who did
not. Evolutionary psychologists have tested these predictions across cultures, conrming that men tend to report
a greater preference for youth and physical attractiveness
in a mate than do women, and that women tend to re-

port a greater preference for ambition and social status
in a mate than do men.[14][15] Some sex dierences in
mate preferences may be attenuated by national levels of
gender equity and gender empowerment.[16][17] The specic role that culture plays in modulating sex dierences
in mate preferences is subject to debate.[18][19] Cultural
variations in mate preference can be due to the evolved
dierences between males and females of a culture. For
example, as women gain more access to resources their
mate preferences change. Finding a mate with resources
becomes less of a priority and a mate with domestic skills
is more important. As womens access to resources varies
between cultures, so does mate preference.[20]

spect mens genes directly, they may have evolved to infer genetic quality from certain observable characteristics (see indicator traits). One prominent candidate for
a good genes indicator includes uctuating asymmetry,
or the degree to which men deviate from perfect bodily symmetry. Other candidates include masculine facial features,[27] behavioral dominance,[28] and low vocal
pitch.[29] Evolutionary psychologists have therefore predicted that women pursuing a short-term mating strategy will have higher preferences for these good genes
indicators, and men who possess good genes indicators
will be more successful in pursuing short-term mating
strategies than men who do not. Indeed, research indicates that self-perceived physical attractiveness,[30] uctuating asymmetry,[31] and low vocal pitch[32] are positively related to short-term mating success in men but not
7 Individual dierences
in women. Women prefer purported good genes indicators more for a short-term mate than for a long-term mate,
7.1 Sociosexual Orientation Inventory
and a related line of research shows that womens preferences for good genes indicators in short-term mates tends
Average dierences in mating strategies between the to increase during peak fertility in the menstrual cycle just
sexes do not entail uniformity in mating strategies within prior to ovulation.[33]
the sexes, and in humans, such within-sex variation is
substantial.[21] Individual dierences in mating strategies Women are thought to seek long-term partners with reand food) in order to aid her, and
are commonly measured using the Sociosexual Orienta- sources (such as shelter[34]
In order to achieve women are
tion Inventory (SOI), a questionnaire that includes items
assessing past sexual behavior, anticipated future sexual
behavior, and openness to casual sex. Higher scores on
the SOI indicate a sexually unrestricted mating strategy,
and lower scores on the SOI indicate a sexually restricted
8 Environmental predictors
mating strategy. Several studies have found that scores on
the SOI are related to mate preferences, with more sexually restricted individuals preferring personal/parenting In 2005, the evolutionary psychologist David Schmitt
qualities in a mate (e.g. responsibility and loyalty), and conducted a multinational survey of sexual attitudes and
with less sexual restricted individual preferring qualities behaviors involving 48 countries called the International
related to physical attractiveness and social visibility.[23] Sexual Description Project (ISSR). Schmitt assessed
Other studies have shown that SOI scores are related to relationships between several societal-level variables and
personality traits (i.e. extraversion, erotophilia, and low average scores on the SOI. One variable that was shown
agreeableness),[24] conspicuous consumption in men as a to signicantly predict a nations average SOI score was
means to attract women,[25] and increased allocation of the Operational Sex Ratio (OSR), which was dened by
Schmitt as the relative balance of marriage-age men vervisual attention to attractive opposite-sex faces.[26]
sus marriage-age women in the local mating pool. When
one sex is scarce relative to the other sex, the less-scarce
sex may compete more intensely for access to the scarcer
7.2 Short-term vs. long-term mating
sex. One way in which the more numerous sex might
Evolutionary psychologists have proposed that individ- compete is by displaying the attributes that are most deuals may adopt conditional mating strategies in which sired by the scarcer sex. Since men have a greater desire
they adjust their mating tactics to relevant environmen- for casual sex (see above), societies with more women reltal or internal conditions.[21] To the extent that ancestral ative to men were predicted to exhibit higher scores on the
men were capable of pursuing short-term mating strate- SOI than societies with more balanced or male-biased sex
gies with multiple women, the evolutionary benets are ratios. This prediction was conrmed: OSR was signifrelatively straightforward. Less clear, however, are the icantly positively correlated with national SOI scores.[3]
evolutionary benets that women might have received Another variable that Schmitt predicted would inuence
from pursuing short-term mating strategies. One promi- SOI scores was the need for biparental care. In societies
nent hypothesis is that ancestral women selectively en- where extensive care from both parents is needed to engaged in short-term mating with men capable of trans- sure ospring survival, the costs of having sex with an unmitting genetic benets to their ospring such as health, committed partner are much higher. Schmitt found sigdisease resistance, or attractiveness (see good genes the- nicant negative correlations between several indices of
ory and sexy son hypothesis). Since women cannot in- need for biparental care (e.g. infant mortality, child mal-



nutrition, and low birth-weight infants) and national SOI These ndings were replicated in Belgium, Japan, and the
Netherlands.[43] Weeden and colleagues have made simiAnother important societal variable for mating strate- lar arguments and have conducted similar analyses in regies is the threat of infectious disease or pathogen preva- gard to religiosity; that is, religious institutions may funcsexually restricted mating
lence. Since physical attractiveness is thought to sig- tion to facilitate high-fertility,
nal health and disease resistance, evolutionary psychologists have predicted that, in societies high in pathogen
prevalence, people will value attractiveness more in a
mate. Indeed, research has conrmed that pathogen
prevalence is associated with preferences for attractiveness across nations.[35] Women in nations with high
pathogen prevalence also show greater preferences for facial masculinity.[36] Researchers have also reasoned that
sexual contact with multiple individuals increases the risk
of disease transmission, thereby increasing the costs of
pursuing a short-term mating strategy. Consistent with
this reasoning, higher pathogen prevalence is associated
with lower national SOI scores.[37] Finally, several studies have found that experimentally manipulating disease
salience has a causal inuence on attractiveness preferences and SOI scores in predicted directions.[38][39][40]

Political attitudes

Some evolutionary psychologists have argued that mating strategies can inuence political attitudes. According
to this perspective, dierent mating strategies are in direct strategic conict. For instance, the stability of longterm partnerships may be threatened by the availability of
short-term sexual opportunities. Therefore, public policy measures that impose costs on casual sex may benet
people pursuing long-term mating strategies by reducing
the availability of short-term mating opportunities outside
of committed relationships. One public policy measure
that imposes costs on people pursuing short-term mating
strategies, and may thereby appeal to sexually restricted
individuals, is the banning of abortion. In an inuential
doctoral dissertation, the psychologist Jason Weeden conducted statistical analyses on public and undergraduate
datasets supporting the hypothesis that attitudes towards
abortion are more strongly predicted by mating-relevant
variables than by variables related to views on the sanctity
of life.[41]

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