Evolutionary psychology workshop 4 mate preferences
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Evolutionary Psychology, Workshop 4 Mate Preferences. The Reality!. Learning Outcomes. At the end of this session you should be able to: Discuss the findings from journal articles concerning general human mate preferences. Carry out a small-scale questionnaire on mate preferences.

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Learning outcomes
Learning Outcomes.

  • At the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Discuss the findings from journal articles concerning general human mate preferences.

  • Carry out a small-scale questionnaire on mate preferences.

  • Discuss the findings in relation to evolutionary predictions.

  • Critically evaluate the methodology used.  

  • Key Skills: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 2.1, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 4.2, 6.1.

Study of mate preferences
Study of Mate Preferences.

  • Mating is a universal human behaviour as all known societies conduct formal engagement and marriage ceremonies and more than 90% of all people will form a long-term relationship at some point in their life (Buss, 1994).

  • Buss (1985) pointed out that assortative mating (the tendency for individuals to form pairs based upon similar characteristics such as age, ethnicity, social background etc) is very common in human societies.

  • Husbands and wives tend to be similar in terms of age, race, religion, socioeconomic status, education level, and geographic location.

  • Couples also tend to be similar in terms of attractiveness and in terms of personality characteristics.

Sex differences in mate preferences
Sex Differences in Mate Preferences.

  • Some characteristics are highly valued by both sexes, however due to the forces of sexual selection acting slightly differently on males and females they display slightly different preferences.

  • E.g while both sexes seek 'kindness', 'understanding', and 'intelligence' in a potential partner males place higher emphasis on 'physical attractiveness', while females place more emphasis on 'higher earning capacity' than males.

Buss barnes 1986
Buss & Barnes (1986).

  • They presented 92 married couples with 76 mate characteristics to which they had to rank in order of desirability.

  • Both sexes rated the following characteristics highly:

  • 'good companion', 'considerate', 'honest', 'affectionate', 'dependable'.

  • Sex differences emerged in that females ranked the following characteristics higher than males:

  • 'fond of children', good earning capacity', 'ambitious'

  • Males ranked the following characteristics higher then females:

  • 'physically attractive', 'good looking', 'good cook', and 'frugal'.

Cross cultural surveys
Cross-Cultural Surveys.

  • In a survey of 37 cultures involving more than 10,000 participants, Buss (1989) tested predictions concerning sex differences in mate preferences.

  • Participants were asked to rate the importance of each of 18 characteristics in a potential mate using a 4-point scale.

  • In 36 out of 37 cultures females preferred 'good financial prospects' and ‘industriousness’.

  • In every culture males preferred females who were younger than them while females preferred males who were slightly older.

  • This was mirrored in marriage records in 27 countries, as women consistently married men several years older than themselves.

  • In all 37 cultures males highly valued physical attractiveness over females.

Problems with the buss 1989 study
Problems With the Buss (1989) Study.

  • The samples may not have been representative with rural and less-educated individuals being under represented.

  • Male and female preferences overlapped considerably.

  • Neither 'earning potential' nor 'physical attractiveness' were regarded as being the most important, both sexes valued 'kind' and 'intelligent' as being more important.

  • Self-report data using single item statements may lack ecological validity.

Sprecher et al 1994
Sprecher et al., (1994).

  • They measured mate preferences in 13,000 single adults.

  • Respondents considered 12 possible assets or liabilities in a potential marriage partner using a 7-point scale and indicated their willingness to marry someone possessing such traits.

  • As in previous studies they found that women were more willing to marry someone who was slightly older than themselves, who was employed, who earned more, and who was better educated, good looks were not high on their list.

  • Males showed the opposite pattern (i.e. someone younger, attractive, not necessarily employed or intelligent).

Short term mating preferences
Short-Term Mating Preferences.

  • Buss & Schmitt (1993) pointed out that while long-term relationships are common, they tend not to last long with divorce rates of around 50% being common in many societies.

  • Serial marriages are common and adultery while difficult to quantify is assumed to be very common.

  • Both sexes thus engage in short-term matings and their preferences for characteristics in a short-term partner may differ to those preferred in a long-term partner.

Buss schmitt 1993
Buss & Schmitt (1993).

  • Assembled characteristics undesirable in a long-term partner e.g. 'boring', 'bad breath', 'no sense of humour' etc.

  • Women still rated these characteristics as being highly undesirable in a short-term partner, but males did not.

  • Characteristics which males normally find very unattractive in a long-term partner ('promiscuous', 'sleeps around') were positively valued in a short-term partner.

  • Males disliked characteristics that signalled a lack of sexual interest ('lack of sex drive') or desire for commitment.

  • Both sexes placed a high premium on ‘attractiveness’ in a short-term partner.

  • Females placed a high value on characteristics signalling resource delivery e.g. 'spends a lot of money', 'is extravagant', 'gives gifts' and found 'stinginess' very off-putting.

Homosexual mate preferences
Homosexual Mate Preferences.

  • Most mate preference surveys have focused on heterosexual individuals.

  • Bailey et al., (1994) tested mate preferences in male and female homosexual and heterosexual participants.

  • All the scales produced sex differences in line with previous studies, and homosexual participants generally provided similar ratings to their same-sex counterparts.

  • Some differences between homosexual and heterosexual participants were found:

  • Female homosexuals placed greater emphasis on 'visual sexual stimuli' than did heterosexual females but less of an emphasis on 'partner's status'.

  • Homosexual men placed less value on ‘sexual jealousy’ than heterosexual men and slightly less value on ‘partner youth’.

Mate value and relationship context
Mate Value and Relationship Context.

  • Regan (1998) pointed out that mate preference surveys typically ask people what they want in a partner rather than what they will actually settle for.

  • Participants estimated their own mate value, and identified their ideal mate standards.

  • In a short-term partner both sexes emphasised ‘attractiveness’ and were unwilling to compromise on this.

  • Females preferred an older partner and someone high on interpersonal responsiveness, males were more willing to compromise.

  • For a long-term partner both sexes emphasised and were unwilling to compromise on interpersonal responsiveness.

  • Female perceived mate value was related to their selection criteria, the higher their self-perceived mate value, the higher their ideal preferences in both mating contexts.

Problems with self report
Problems With Self-Report.

  • Wiederman & Dubois (1998) pointed out that the self-report method might be unreliable as it might be tapping into the individuals relationship schema or beliefs about relationship development.

  • They used 'policy capturing‘ in which respondents make judgements in response to different scenarios.

  • Multiple-regression is then used to 'predict' the respondents' judgements so that the relative importance of each cue can be quantified.

  • They reported fewer sex differences when individuals were asked to indicate their short- and long-term mate preferences.

  • Self-reports may be picking up biases from cultural stereotypes or from social desirability concerns and may give the impression of sex differences where none may actually exist.

Mate preference survey
Mate Preference Survey.

  • Look at the statements listed in the table provided in your workbook and mark your predictions concerning:

  • Which sex would place a higher value (+).

  • Which sex would place a lower value (-).

  • Or whether the sexes would give very similar values (=).

  • Are there any items that you think should be included in such questionnaires ?

  • You gave these questionnaires to 2 males and 2 females and made a note of their responses in the summary sheet included.

  • We will collect the data from everyone and discuss the results in terms of evolutionary predictions concerning mate preferences.


  • We had an N of ( M =97 ; and F =97 )

  • The data for each item for both sexes in short- and long-term partners are as follows:

  • The scale is out of 7 whereby 1 = strongly do not agree; 7 = strongly agree.


  • Bailey, J.M., Gaulin, S., Agyei, Y., & Gladue, B.A. (1994). Effects of gender and sexual orientation on evolutionary relevant aspects of human mating psychology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66: 1081-1093.

  • Buss, D.M. (1985). Human mate selection. American Scientist, 73: 47-51.

  • Buss, D.M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 12: 1-49.

  • Buss, D.M. (1994). The Evolution of Desire. Basic Books.

  • Buss, D.M., & Barnes, M. (1986). Preferences in human mate selection. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 50: 559-570.

  • Buss, D.M., & Schmitt, D.P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: an evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100: 204-232.

References continued
References continued.

  • Regan, P.C. (1998). What if you can't get what you want? Willingness to compromise ideal mate selection standards as a function of sex, mate value, and relationship context. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24: 1294-1303.

  • Sprecher, S., Sullivan, Q., & Hatfield, E. (1994). Mate selection preferences: Gender differences examined in a national sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66: 1074-1080.

  • Wiederman, M.W., & Dubois, S.L. (1998). Evolution and sex differences in preferences for short-term mates: results from a policy capturing study. Evolution and Human Behaviour, 19: 153-170.