Friday, October 05, 2007

Different cognitive processes underlying human mate choices and mate preferences

Starting with the assumption that the underlying function of mate choice is reproductive success, evolutionary psychologists have proposed that men should seek young, fertile, faithful women, and women should seek high-status, resourceful, committed men. This evolutionary reasoning predicts what traits people will actually tend to choose, but not necessarily what people say they will (or would like to) choose. Todd et al. suggest that different cognitive processes underlie mate preferences and actual human mate choices. Here is their abstract:
Based on undergraduates' self-reports of mate preferences for various traits and self-perceptions of their own levels on those traits, Buston and Emlen [Buston PM, Emlen ST (2003) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:8805–8810] concluded that modern human mate choices do not reflect predictions of tradeoffs from evolutionary theory but instead follow a "likes-attract" pattern, where people choose mates who match their self-perceptions. However, reported preferences need not correspond to actual mate choices, which are more relevant from an evolutionary perspective. In a study of 46 adults participating in a speed-dating event, we were largely able to replicate Buston and Emlen's self-report results in a pre-event questionnaire, but we found that the stated preferences did not predict actual choices made during the speed-dates. Instead, men chose women based on their physical attractiveness, whereas women, who were generally much more discriminating than men, chose men whose overall desirability as a mate matched the women's self-perceived physical attractiveness. Unlike the cognitive processes that Buston and Emlen inferred from self-reports, this pattern of results from actual mate choices is very much in line with the evolutionary predictions of parental investment theory.

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