Vitality

Evolution Influences Mate Preferences: What Men And Women Really Want

couple
Men and women have evolved to have different mate preferences, ensuring the likelihood of reproducing. J.K. Califf, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Ask anyone, and they will likely tell you men and women have a very different idea of "the perfect partner." This difference, a new study from the University of Texas at Austin finds, may be rooted in evolution.

To examine how gender influences mating preferences, researchers studied 4,764 men and 5,389 women from 33 different countries and 37 different cultures. They found even in countries promoting gender equality, mating preferences still varied. Study co-author David Buss, a psychology professor, said this rejects the existing idea men and women are identical in their underlying psychology.

"The genders differ strikingly in their evolved mate preferences in some domains,” Buss explained in a press release. “The same holds true in highly sexually egalitarian cultures such as Sweden and Norway as in less egalitarian cultures such as Iran.”

When it comes down to it, researchers discovered that what we want in a mate is linked more to our gender than our individual experiences and preferences. As a result, they found that they could predict a person’s sex with 92.2 percent accuracy purely based on what they said they wanted in a significant other.

“The large overall difference between men's and women's mate preferences tells us that the sexes must have experienced dramatically different challenges in the mating domain throughout human evolution,” said Daniel Conroy, lead author and graduate researcher.

As expected, men have a tendency to look for partners who are younger and more physically attractive, while women look for older and more financially established mates, with higher social status and ambition. These eye roll-inducing gender roles may have evolved with men and women over time.

"Because women bear the cost of pregnancy and lactation, they often faced the adaptive problem of acquiring resources to produce and support offspring, while men faced adaptive problems of identifying fertile partners and sought cues to fertility and future reproductive value," Conroy-Beam said.

The study claims that this is just an example of natural selection at work, in which the sexes each face their own reproductive challenges and must adapt and find mates who will provide healthy children. If we did not evolve to favor these characteristics, the chances of perpetuating the species, so to speak, would not be as high.

This is not to say our individual preferences are meaningless. In fact, men and women still look for and value certain characteristics, like a pleasing disposition, sociability, as well as shared religious and political views. So when it comes down to it, evolution doesn't have teh final say over who we choose to spend our lives with, but it is a big part of it. Basically, researchers concluded, a lot more goes into this decision than we think.

"Few decisions impact reproduction more than mate choice," Conroy-Beam said. "Mate preferences will therefore be a central target and driver of biological evolution. We have found some promising initial results, and we think this holistic approach will help answer a lot of questions in mating research in the future."

Source: Conroy-Beam D, Buss D, Pham M, et al. How sexually dimorphic are human mate preferences? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2015.

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