Evolutionary Psychology Lecture 6: Female Mate Preferences.

Evolutionary Psychology Lecture 6:
Female Mate Preferences.
Learning Outcomes.
 At the end of this session you should be able to:
 1. Discuss evolutionary explanations for female
long-term mate preferences.
 2. Evaluate experimental and survey evidence
concerning female mate preferences.
Thoughts for the day.
 “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac”. Henry Kissinger.
 “If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would
have no meaning”. Aristotle Onassis.
 “When you’re famous your love life diminishes. Your sex
life grows”. Enrique Iglesias.
 “Ain’t nothing going on but the rent. You gotta have a J.O.B
if you want to be with me” Gwen Guthrie.
 “I’m not a good-looking person. I’ve struggled to get girls
for most of my life, and then, suddenly, I win the casualsex lottery by getting famous”. Frank Skinner.
 “So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul
Daniels?” Mrs Merton to Debbie McGee.
Female Mate Preferences.
 Due to inequalities in parental investment, females face
several adaptive problems in finding the right mate.
 Ancestral females who had the right psychological
mechanisms to find mates of higher value more sexually
attractive than those of a lower value, would have been
more reproductively successful.
 Thus, females evolved preferences (information processing
biases) that would enable them to assess such traits, and
find them sexually and romantically attractive.
 In our ancestors, what traits would have been
correlated with high male mating value?
1. Ability and Willingness
to Provide Resources.
 Human males can provide a range of resources for the
 Food.
 Shelter.
 Protection from other males.
Females should have evolved preferences for males who:
Have good financial prospects.
Are older than themselves.
Have higher social status.
Display hard working and industrious characters.
These are clear signs of resource acquisition.
 In all human societies
women value the economic
resources of a potential
partner substantially more
than men do.
 Trivers (1985) found that
American men who marry
in a given year generally
earn 50% more money
than men of the same age
who do not marry.
 Buss (1989) showed that
women valued financial
prospects around twice as
highly as men.
Preference for good
financial prospects
Buss (1999) p109
Male Earning Capacity.
 Kenrick et al., (1990) asked
participants to indicate the
characteristics they would
find acceptable in a potential
 Females stated that the
minimum acceptable earning
capacity for a male partner is
around 70% that of other
 Women also had higher
standards regarding financial
prospects at all stages of a
Kenrick et al., 1990
Education and Job prospects.
 As many women choose males that are still young and
relatively lacking in social status and resources, a good cue
to potential resource acquisition is education and
willingness to seek resources.
 Women thus place high value on good education, the
possession of a promising career, and characteristics
indicating hard work in potential mates: career orientation,
industriousness and ambition.
 Women are significantly more likely to discontinue
relationships with males who become unemployed, lack
career motivation or show laziness (Betzig, 1989).
Status and Male Attractiveness.
 Townsend & Levy (1990a) investigated the relative
importance of status and attractiveness at six levels of
romantic involvement.
 Photographs of people of high, medium, and low
attractiveness were paired with three levels of occupational
status and income.
 Students viewed the portrayals and indicated their
willingness to engage in relationships of varying levels of
sexual intimacy.
 Male socioeconomic status had a large influence on female
responses at all levels of intimacy. This increased as the
degree of involvement increased.
 Physical attraction had some influence but the highest
status was able to offset unattractiveness.
Townsend & Levy (1990b) Study.
 Looked at the effects of status (signified by clothing), and
attractiveness on female willingness to engage in romantic
 Male targets were pre-rated for physical attraction and
divided into two categories - handsome, and homely. The
targets wore one of three costumes:
 1. Blazer, shirt, designer tie, Rolex watch. Described as
being doctors (high status).
 2. Plain white shirt. Described as being teachers (medium
 3. Uniform of a Burger King employee. Described as being
trainee waiters (low status).
 Women were more willing to engage in relationships with
high status/homely males then with medium - or low status
/ handsome males at all levels of involvement.
What About High Status Women?
 Women who are of high status also prefer males of a high
status - preferably of even higher status than themselves.
 Townsend (1989) reported that female medical students
became more selective in their criteria in entering a sexual
relationship. Males were convinced that their increasing
status would enable them to engage in more sexual
The Factor of Age.
 Older males are significantly
more likely to have achieved a
sound economic and financial
status than younger,
inexperienced males.
 Buss (1989): In a crosscultural survey female
preference was for someone
around 4 years older.
 Kenrick & Keefe (1992):
Females consistently married
males who were around 5
years older than themselves.
Preferred Age Differences
Buss (2001) p 113
Actual Age Differences at Marriage.
Kenrick & Keefe, 1992, p81.
A Not Uncommon Result
2. Ability and Willingness to
Provide Protection.
 Surveys consistently show that females prefer males who
are socially dominant and have the respect of their peers.
 Forming a relationship with a socially dominant male would
confer greater direct access to resources and also raise the
social status of the female.
 Women pay close attention to how men interact with, and
are treated by other men.
 Sadella et al., (1987) made video’s depicting males and
females engaging in dominant or submissive behaviour
with another male or a female.
 Dominant behaviour increased the sexual attractiveness
and dating desirability of the males, whilst female targets
were unaffected.
 Height is associated with power and status and confers
economic and social advantages. Taller men are perceived
as being more dominant and we would predict that females
should choose taller over shorter males.
 Graziano et al., (1978) had women judge pictures of men
who they believed to be short, medium or tall on
attractiveness and dating desirability. Tall men were rated
more positively than short men, though males of medium
height were most preferred.
 In a sample of over 4000 Polish men Pawlowski et al.,
(2000) found that height was significantly associated with
the likelihood of getting married and having children.
 Bachelors were significantly shorter than married men.
Facial Hair.
 In humans the presence or absence of head and facial hair
provide strong social/sexual signals.
 Facial hair is generated at puberty in the presence of
testosterone and rate of beard growth is positively related
to androgen levels.
 It has been suggested that facial hair may have evolved as
a dominance signal as it increases the apparent size of the
jaw, itself a male secondary sexual characteristic.
 Males with facial hair are rated as being more masculine,
strong, potent, dominant and courageous, but also as
lacking in self-control, dirty, aggressive and reckless (Reed
& Blunk, 1990).
Facial Hair and Attractiveness?
 Women often state that they
do not find male facial hair
 One study manipulated the
extent of facial hair in Identikit pictures and found that
increased as the quantity of
facial hair increased (Hatfield
& Sprecher, 1986).
 There may be large cultural
differences in this respect.
Cranial Hair.
 Muscarella & Cunningham (1996) suggested that male
pattern baldness evolved as a signal of aging and social
maturity. This may signal a male with enhanced social
status but reduced physical aggression.
 6 male models with different levels of facial and cranial hair
were rated on 32 social perception adjectives.
 Males with facial hair and those with bald or receding hair
were rated as being older than those who were cleanshaven, or had a full head of hair.
 Beards and a full head of hair were also seen as being more
aggressive and less socially mature, baldness was
associated with less attractiveness and more social
 Horvarth (1979) found that shoulder width was a strong
positive predictor of the attractiveness of male figures.
 Maisey et al., (1999) found that waist-chest ratio (WCR)
was the principal determinant of attractiveness - males
with an inverted triangle torso (narrow waist with broad
chest and shoulders) were rated as being more attractive.
 More recently, Hughes & Gallup (2003) showed that males
with a high shoulder-to-hip ratio (SHR) reported having sex
at an earlier age, had more sexual partners, and more
extrapair copulations.
 A protruding stomach is seen as an exceptionally
unattractive trait in men.
You Choose!
 Physical competition is widespread in human societies and
these ritualised encounters enable males to demonstrate
speed, endurance, and strength. Sporting achievement is
an honest signal of physical condition, motivation and
 Faurie et al., (2004) predicted that:
 Sports competitors should have more sexual partners than
other people.
 Number of partners should increase with performance
 This should be particularly pronounced in males.
 The predictions were confirmed in French students.
Fluctuating Asymmetry.
 Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) indicates developmental
stability in the presence of environmental and genetic
challenges, and therefore provides a possible indicator of
health (and therefore perhaps fertility).
 Low FA (more symmetrical) males report more sexual
partners, earlier age of first sexual intercourse, and have
more offspring than high FA men (Thornhill & Gangstead,
 Women whose partners have low FA report more orgasms
than those whose partners have high FA (Thornhill et al.,
 Male faces high in symmetry are rated as being more
attractive, dominant, sexy, and healthy (Grammer &
Thornhill 1994).
Facial Asymmetry and Health.
 Shackelford & Larsen (1998) measured the degree of facial
asymmetry in students.
 Greater asymmetry was related to self-reported depression,
neuroses, inferiority, more physical health problems.
 High FA males were also rated as being less attractive, less
emotionally-stable, and less intelligent.
 However, this link between facial symmetry and health is
not always reported (Kalick et al., 1998).
Facial Symmetry and Attractiveness
Buss, 1999 p 119
Influence of the Menstrual Cycle.
 Penton-Voak et al., (1999): found that
females preferred masculine-looking
faces at ovulation, but less-masculine
faces when non-fertile.
 However, Koehler et al., (2002) asked
non-pill-using females to rate the
attractiveness of male faces varying in
symmetry during menses and just
before ovulation.
 Females did have an overall preference
for symmetry but this was irrespective
of menstrual cycle phase.
Genetic Compatibility.
 Body odour serves as a cue for immunological health,
Gangstead & Thornhill (1998) examined whether female
olfactory preferences for male odour would favour the
scent of more symmetrical men during ovulation.
 For contraceptive pill users and females not ovulating,
there was no relationship.
 However, non pill-users when ovulating consistently
preferred the scent of symmetrical men.
 Herz & Inzlicht (2002) asked males and females to rank
various physical characteristics in a potential partner.
 While males where primarily concerned with physical
attractiveness, females considered a man's smell to be
more important than 'looks', 'money' or 'ambition'.
3. Ability and Willingness to
Engage in Parenting.
 La Cerra (1994) presented pictures of males in several
different conditions with children.
 The picture of the male engaging in positive interactions
with a small child yielded the most positive reactions.
 The picture showing a male ignoring a child in distress led
to the most negative ratings.
 Women highly value characteristics such as ‘dependability’,
‘maturity’ and ‘emotional stability’. They may indicate that
the male is willing to provide resources and continue his
 Expressions of love may be a signal of regular commitment
and the majority of women require love for a long-term
To attract a female as a long-term
mating partner, a male should..
1. Show evidence of ambition, hard work, and intelligence.
2. Be generous (buy gifts, give to charity etc).
3. Dress well.
4. Be confident and assertive (around other males).
5. Be taller than the woman in question.
6. Be clean shaven and have a full head of hair.
7. Have broad shoulders, be moderately hunky and have no
beer belly.
8. Be facially and physically symmetrical, and show good
9. Be athletic and sporty.
10. Smell ‘right’.
11. Be nice to babies and children.
And if you can’t manage any of these?
Be absolutely filthy stinking rich.