At a young age, showing off our newest toys to our friends is a hallmark of childhood. This helps us gain a sense of importance, and even makes us feel special being the center of attention. Researchers at Florida State University suggest as adults, we still like to flaunt our "toys" to others, especially when we have an attractive partner.

The study, published in Evolutionary Psychological Science found that men see women as luxury goods — for example, a watch or sports car — that can enhance social status and desirability.

Read More: Is She Attracted To Me? Sexual Cues And Mixed Signals

This is a prime example of the signaling theory, which argues the purpose of most human behavior is to signal value and status to others. Hence, men assert their ranking among their peers by showing off a partner that is attractive, and most likely desired by other men.

The researchers conducted a series of four experiments to evaluate if romantic partners, similar to inanimate objects, function as a signal of status, and whether men were concerned about signaling their status to both other men and women.

Bo Winegard, lead author, told PsyPost: "Dating a very attractive, desirable member of the other sex would function as a costly signal of one’s underlying traits (intelligence, kindness, ambition, et cetera), because only a smart, kind, ambitious person could date a very attractive and desired member of the other sex."

In the first survey, 66 men and 51 women rated the status of an individual who was described as attending a party with a high-quality watch, car, or partner, or low-quality. Participants described the person attending the party with a attractive partner as having a higher social status than those with less attractive partners. Similarly, the attractive partners drew the same type of social status as possessing other high-quality goods.

In the next survey, 41 men and 82 women reviewed the status, niceness, and competence of men with high-quality partners to those with low-quality mates. Men with attractive partners were seen as possessing more status than if they were with low-quality mates. Here, this stresses how the social ranking and desirability of a man shifts based on the attractiveness of his partner.

The third survey only had 100 men rate the status of men with high-quality, average-quality, and low-quality partners. Unsurprisingly, men continued to rate other men with high-quality partners as obtaining more social status than similarly described men with low-quality partners. Men and women in all three experiments were more likely to view a man as important and desirable if spotted with a universally attractive woman.

Read More: Men Perceive Women With Average, Youthful Facial Features As Beautiful

Now, Winegard and his colleagues were curious if men with hot partners signal their status predominately to other men or to other women. A total of 105 male college students were paired with an attractive or unattractive woman to hand out surveys at several locations, with each place having a gender-specific demographic. Men had the option of either going to an undergraduate area populated mostly with young men, an undergraduate area populated mostly with young women, an administrative area populated mostly with older women, or an administrative area populated mostly with older men.

The fourth survey confirmed their hypothesis: men are more concerned about signaling the quality of their partner to other men than to other women.

The men paired with an attractive partner were more likely to hand out surveys where other young men were present. Meanwhile, those with an unattractive partner were more likely to choose the administrative locations.

"Just as watches, cars, and fancy suits can signal somebody’s status, so too can an attractive romantic partner," said Winegard.

However, he cautions people shouldn't treat their partners as shiny objects; this just implies some people do.

Men aren't the only ones guilty of flaunting their hot significant others. In a 2013 study, Winegard and his colleagues also found women with attractive partners flaunt them to enhance their social status and desirability among their peers. Both men and women wanted to show off their partners by handing out surveys to peers; both genders wanted to hide their unattractive partners from their peers by administering surveys to older adults.

Flaunting an attractive partner sends the message the flaunter is a hot commodity, and maintains social status and sexual desirability among peers.

Winegard emphasizes these studies are descriptive, not prescriptive, meaning they're not condoning treating attractive partners as luxury goods. Rather, they notice how a good amount of social behavior can function as a way to assert our popularity and worth. This may serve as a way to maintain our status for if and when we're single and ready to mingle.

Source: Winegard B, Winegard B, Reynolds T et al. One’s Better Half: Romantic Partners Function as Social Signals. Evolutionary Psychological Science. 2017.

See Also:

Women Favor Altruistic Behavior In Men Over Good Looks For Long-Term Relationship

Open Body Language Improves Perceived Physical Attraction In Speed And Online Dating