To recap, decades of research in various disciplines provide us with useful conceptualizations and elaborated theories about mate choice decision mechanisms. The current knowledge on relevant aspects of human nature and the structure of our social environment can be integrated in precisely specified decision models, which in turn can be evaluated using computer simulations and game theory. However, the most important test is still provided by reality: Are these models valid descriptions of how people make their mate choices? Unfortunately, we encounter a methodological problem at this point: real mating decisions are intimate processes for which a detailed assessment “in the wild” is not easily done. As a consequence, informative field experiments are difficult to design (for a notable exception, see Clark & Hatfield, 1989), and many factors have to remain uncontrolled.
Instead, most empirical research on mate choice decision typically relying on self -reports, either of recalled past choices, present preferences and desires, or hypothetical decisions based on vignettes. All these approaches are compromised in their validity by the fact that subjects have insufficient conscious insight into the relevant processes that lead to their decisions.
For example, Buss (1989) tested predictions concerning sex differences in mate preferences. In a survey of 37 cultures involving more than 10,000 participants. 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. In all 37 cultures males highly valued physical attractiveness over females.
But all these type of self-reports studies or surveys lack of ecological validity for a number of reasons:
1. Wiederman & Dubois (1998) pointed out that the self-report method is not unreliable as it might be tapping into the individual relationship schema or beliefs about relationship development.
2. They used “policy capturing” in which respondents make judgements in response to different scenarios.
3. Multiple-regression is then used to ‘predict’ the respondents’ judgements so that the relative importance of each cue can be quantified.
4. They reported fewer sex differences when individuals were asked to indicate their short-term and long-term mate preferences.
5. 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.
6. Participants may lie; give answers that are desired and so on.
7. But most importantly, almost all paradigms used to study mate choice so far have failed to take its mutual nature into account: Usually, participants in mate choice studies do not experience the reactions of potential mates, and trade-offs between preferences, if considered at all, are either enforced by the researchers (e.g. Buss, 1989; Li et al., 2002; Li & Kenrick, 2006; Fletcher et al., 2004) or indirectly inferred from self-ratings (e.g. Kenrick et al., 1993; Regan, 1998a, b; Buston & Emlen, 2003) instead of being a natural consequence of the dyadic interaction. In some ways, this is also true for retrospective reports from existing couples, even though their relationship was once formed in a process of mutual choice:
Because it is difficult to disentangle initial choices from retrospective memory-shifts (e.g. due to reduction of cognitive dissonance, Festinger, 1957), it is difficult to tell which preferences affected the couple formation in hindsight. Finally, studies of romantic relationship development offer some hope, but due to their mostly unpredictable onset, even these studies (e.g. Fletcher, Simpson & Thomas, 2000) are normally done with already existing couples, providing little knowledge about the initial mating decisions that led to them.
The status/wealth hypothesis is not consistent because it is used a mixture of laboratory study, surveys and theoretical predictions of evolutionary psychology. Let’s see some examples why these surveys will never find a pattern for approach to the real world:
1. Hadjistavropoulos et al (1994) proved that there is a mistaken social construct tend to underestimation of the role of physical attractiveness in male mate value. 80 female undergraduates were shown profiles containing photographs and information about the personalities of potential male dating partners and were asked to state the dating desirability of each target person. Subsequently, were asked to introspect about the factors that affected their dating preferences and they tended to intentionally underreport the impact of physical attractiveness on their preferences. Later, they were said that they were connected to a lie-detector polygraph, they produced more accurate overall introspective reports, admitted a main extreme influence by the physical attractiveness of the targets. It seems that female mindsets are very influenced by a social or cultural taboo. Women tend to underestimate in questionnaires the importance of male attractiveness. They are conditioned, consciously or unconsciously, to express a politically correct choice and thus they do not wish to be perceived as “shallow”.
2. Weiderman and Dubois (1998) have found men accurately indicated that the physical attractiveness of the targets was the most important characteristic that influenced their desirability ratings, whereas women inaccurately indicated that desired level of relationship commitment was their most important factor, when, in fact, it was one of the least important factors behaviorally. Sprecher (1989) found similar results, in that women inaccurately assessed the role of physical attractiveness in their own ratings of a target man. The women in Sprecher’s study reported that expressiveness was the most important factor in their choice, although it was the least important factor behaviorally. Physical attractiveness was the most important factor that actually influenced their ratings. The results of these two studies suggest that women’s self-reported preferences may not match their actual choices. Because it is still considered shallow and inappropriate for women to say that physical attractiveness is very important in their choices, those women may have engaged in impression management. Theory is that women do know what they want, but that when asked, they need to give answers that are acceptable to society. If so, women might misstate their preferences more often because there is more pressure on them to engage in impression management and to give the socially-desirable response.
Therefore, mate choice research is faced with a solid body of theoretical models and many supportive empirical hints from a variety of methodologically limited paradigms on the one hand, but a dearth of sufficiently ecologically valid studies to evaluate their predictions on the other hand. But an interesting solution to this predicament has recently appeared with the emergence of “online-dating” and speed-dating”.
Online dating and speed dating are real-life tests, with external and ecological validity and both give support for the main role of attractiveness in dating selection:
a. Speed dating [Asendorpf et al. 2011, Back et al. 2011,Kurzban & Weeden 2005, Todd et al. 2007, Luo & Zhang 2009, etc]
b. Internet dating [Hitsch et al. 2010, Shaw Taylor et al. 2011, Okcupid Blog, Milward website 2012, or see my previous posts on this Blog], where highly attractive men are universally preferred by female daters.
These empirical researchs prove that women (like men) prefer mates of high attractiveness rather than that similar to their own. And modern women are not favouring investment resources, and other quantities of long term value. They are displaying the opposite pattern in the current mating framework, prevaling male physical attractiveness in their mate choices. This is because physical attractiveness is the strongest and most robust predictor of mate choice (Walster, Aronson, Abrahams, & Rottman, 1966), and mate choice is in turn the most important social judgment humans make with respect to their reproductive fitness.
Somewhat tautologically, we tend to mate with individuals to whom we are attracted, so there is a seemingly self-evident advantage to being attracted to individuals of high genetic quality. We could look at more examples offering a real insight into this question:
1. Elaine Walster and her colleagues proposed the original version of the Matching Hypothesis. Based on Kurt Lewin’s Level of Aspiration theory, they proposed that in making dating and mating choices, people will choose someone of their own level of social desirability and people prefer to match with partners of their own level of attractiveness. Theoretically, they will be influenced by both the desirability of the potential match (What they want) and their perception of the probability of obtaining that date (What they think they can get). They referred to such mating choices as realistic choices, because they are influenced by the chances of having one’s affection reciprocated. But self-esteem, intelligence, and personality did not affect liking for the dates or subsequent attempts to date them. This study, then, did not find any support for the matching hypothesis. Most people – regardless of how attractive they were – reacted more positively to profiles of attractive dates than of unattractive dates. Although learning one could be rejected by a potential date had a dampening effect on reactions to the other, overall the physical attractiveness effect (liking someone more, the more attractive he/she was) predominated over a matching effect or a concern about rejection. All people (women and men) prefer highly attractive individuals but only the attractive ones are accepted by them. In consequence, the attractive people will pair with each other leaving the non attractive ones to mate among themselves. And other findings, Brislin et al. 1968, strongly support the Walster data and the high correlation between attractiveness and desire to date. No others correlations to date were found.
2. Another study [Gil-Burmann et al 2002] found women under 40 years old seek mainly physical attractiveness in men, whereas majority over 40, females past their fertile period, want trade-off between resources -socioeconomic status and attractiveness.
3. Results of an explorative empirical study on human mating in Germany yielded similar results, they tested that: handsome men, not high-status men, succeed in courtship. [Pashos A et al 2003]. For both sexes, physical appearance (PA) was decisive for the subject’s dating attractiveness. Male, but not female dating attractiveness also correlates with a kind and charismatic appearance. Furthermore, there was a positive linear relationship between men’s PA and their number of sexual partners within the last year. Men with more than four sexual partners were all above-average in PA, while the most attractive women had a medium number of sexual partners. However, in this respect, status had no influence. Most women share a similar notion of an ideal man, and there are few such men, these men will have their choice of women and will naturally select the best looking ones.
4. Rooney et al (2006) compared the strength of the effect of men looks in the long-term vs. short-term relationship. They found that good looking males are high preferred as a long-term mate. When older women choose (out of childbearing age), they value looks less and wealth-and-status more. But when younger females are rating potencial partners, virtually nothing matters but appearance, since their choices are skewed towards very physically appealing targets.
5. There is another study of Norman Lee et al 2012 titled “Ovulation leads women to perceive sexy cads as good dads.” What’s particularly interesting about this study is that it proves women don’t just seek good looking for short-term flings; a woman want sex and loving commitment from the handsome jerk. And she deludes herself into believing the attractive cad wants the same thing. This goes a long way to explaining why women take on “project” men and attempt to reform them. It’s not because women are nurturers who want to save cads; it’s because women want to marry very good looking men and want desperately to keep them around and help raise the children they hope to have with them. In other words, it’s evolutionarily better for a woman to risk it all on the attractive man that all women love than to risk nothing on the high status provider that women tolerate. Such is the power of the force behind a woman’s prime directive. The possibility that the risk of mate desertion could drive women to choose less attractive men as long-term mates. Maybe women rate physically attractive men as more likely to cheat or desert a long-term relationship. However, women show no aversion to the idea of forming long-term relationships with attractive men.
This current mating framework tends to create dissasortative dynamics because they are seeing moderately attractive and average attractive men as ‘sub-par’. (i.e. this was most clearly demonstrated by the analysis of attractiveness ratings done at OKCupid a few years ago, where women rate an incredible 80% of guys as worse-looking than a subjective attractiveness medium level).
Because of the economically prosperous, systemically mediated welfare state dynamic that prevails in developed world populations, economic and ecological pressures no longer mediate their mate choices to the extant they did in the past. One consequence of this is that erotic capital (physical attractiveness) has supplanted other forms in the stratification of male status with respect to mate availability. So, being a high status male (with respect to mating) now says less about material wealth, than about physical beauty.”
Relaxed ecological pressures marginalize the paternal investment advantages in offspring success that would otherwise hold female sexual selectivity in check by favoring larger, more inclusive male breeding populations) as female sexual choice focuses on an increasingly small pool of ‘choice’ males. Females are the reproductively limiting sex (rate limiting in reproductive success) – which manifests in *all* dimensions of mate choice (in other words, females are more selective in all their mating considerations). And women have shown to be more critical in judging male attractiveness than the reverse (meaning that they are *more* likely to find a receptive partner, regardless of their own relative attractiveness).