Women Prioritize Status/Wealth or Attractiveness? Empirical Approach

Girls really swoon for billionaires or handsome hunks?

Girls really swoon for billionaires or handsome hunks?

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).

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About Sir Tyrion Lannister

I am not associated with any institution (which seems still necesary for get invitations to participate in writing review papers) but I am doing some theoretical unpaid research on my own. I want to work/publish some Paper but I am not affiliated with an Institution and I have not heard anything about selling research (paper) outcomes to an institution.
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41 Responses to Women Prioritize Status/Wealth or Attractiveness? Empirical Approach

  1. The Cockroach says:

    Good analysis on the primacy of looks. I agree that the relative ease of modern western living, mature birth control technology, and the internet (all of which I support) have a created a situation where more and more men are relegated to the periphery of the dating scene. I think this explains the increasing interest in dating instruction scams over the past twenty years. Not surprisingly we can see this in developing non-western societies as well.

    Here’s an article from the Wall Street Journal talking about seminars being hosted in Jakarta, Indonesia.

    http://stream.wsj.com/story/latest-headlines/SS-2-63399/SS-2-323657/

    Jakarta was ranked 17th in a Brookings Institute performance index ranking of 200 metropolitan areas in 2011.

    http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2012/1/18%20global%20metro%20monitor/0118_global_metro_monitor.pdf (pages 10,11)

    • tyrionlannister69 says:

      Thanks for the links, interesting articles.

      In pre-industrialized societies, most men could exchange their socioeconomic resources -such as status or income- for female physical beauty and viceversa. Nonetheless, clear empirical evidence for this pattern have been waning, mainly after sexual revolution (at mid-twentieth century).

      So modern western women are less interested in a man’s money or social status. This dovetails perfectly with the contention that female economic empowerment has led to a sexual market with soft polygamy (serial monogamy), and the clustering of financially independent women at the peak of their fertility (and beauty) around a the most physically atractive males (alpha males).

      I agree with your view about dating/seduction scam. So I’m going to write a post criticizing the Game/seduction subculture.

      • Macgyver says:

        “In pre-industrialized societies, most men could exchange their socioeconomic resources -such as status or income- for female physical beauty and viceversa. Nonetheless, clear empirical evidence for this pattern have been waning, mainly after sexual revolution (at mid-twentieth century).”

        In men, physical attractiveness should be associated with reproductive success in males living in industrialized settings. Surely in pre-industrialized societies socio-economic status predicted the number of biological children, although maybe there was a threshold effect so that men in the lowest aesthetic attractiveness quartile had fewer children than others.

  2. stating the the obvious hurtful truths that not very politically correct to say. Women do want a “project” to fix…if you are good looking enough to be worth fixing!

    • tyrionlannister69 says:

      I agree with this – my point is that others dependencies (i.e. physical traits) are so limiting, it renders economy/wealth of negligible value to males of low desirability.

      • P Ray says:

        That is one reason why regular guys, or even rich guys with regular faces …
        better not marry.
        Because unless women (of a fertile age, and attractive looks – without makeup) demonstrate interest, they’re not interested in YOU, they’re interested in what YOU CAN DO FOR THEM.
        I suspect many of the “anti-violence against women” ads, are to make regular guys feel guilty about women choosing to be with badboys who abuse them, and ignore her obvious character defects.
        In short, all these “compensatory attributes” that (regular) men must have to “attract” a woman, is simply learning “how to become attractive to a scammer”.

  3. Reblogged this on Suriviving Involuntary celibacy the way I know how and commented:
    stating the obvious once again, but I enjoyed reading this.

  4. tyrionlannister69 says:

    @ P Ray

    “Sexual selection” is entirely dependent on other ‘gina-tingling’ variables that have nothing to do with money, social status, kindness, and so on – these parameters are *not* a proxy for attraction.

    So, all ‘money’ can conceivably do, is ‘maximize’ a man’s opportunities on a case by case basis (no gina tingle, no ‘money’ optimization opportunities); as long as marrying (i.e. long term pairing) a resourceful guy – if he drops below a minimum aesthetic threshold for a given girl – just can represent an ideal female strategy to reap direct benefits, and it will always be coveted, in some measure, by opportunistic and mercenary females.

    • chris says:

      So a women would or wouldn’t prefer a rich OR caring 8/10, to a poor OR uncaring 9/10?

      In other words, once a woman’s minimum level of physical attractiveness is met, do other qualities become important in enhancing the male’s overall mate value or are all other qualities superfluous?

      If the answer is yes, but only for long-term mating, not short-term mating, what then would cause the long-term mated woman to pursue a dual mating strategy and cuckold her long-term mated man with a more physically attractive man? Is it a decrease in the level of other qualities he brings to the table? Is it a decrease in his physical attractiveness such that it dips below her minimum level of physical attractiveness?

      I suppose what I’m asking is

      If Long-term mate value (LTMV) = Physical attractiveness (PA) + paternal investment (PI)

      and

      Short-term mate value (STMV)= Physical attractiveness (PA)

      what change in LTMV would cause a woman to seek out an extra-pair copulation with a male high in STMV? Or would a woman always try to seek an extra-pair copulation with a male higher in STMV regardless of the LTMV of her pair-bonded mate provided the male higher in STMV has higher PA than her long-term mated male?

      i.e. will a woman no matter what, always try to cuckold the rich/caring 8/10 with the poor/uncaring 9/10?

      I suppose what I am indirectly trying to figure out is if there’s any point in increasing one’s paternal investment (PI) value or should all effort just go into maximising physical attractiveness (PA) no matter what? i.e. Should I spend 3 years at the gym rather than 3 years at college? (I don’t want to squander my mating effort.)

      • tyrionlannister69 says:

        “So a women would or wouldn’t prefer a rich OR caring 8/10, to a poor OR uncaring 9/10?

        Just one unit on a scale from 1/10? I think it would not be a remarkable difference

        “In other words, once a woman’s minimum level of physical attractiveness is met, do other qualities become important in enhancing the male’s overall mate value or are all other qualities superfluous?”

        Yes, of course for long term mating.The signals or cues that female prefer in long term mates have focused on two types:

        (a) Attributes that tend to signal qualities of a “good parent” (or a “good provider”), and
        (b) Attributes suggesting that an individual may have “good genes”.

        But women don’t use non-compensatory search heuristics (e.g., weighted averaging). As the mate decision becomes more cognitively demanding, people use simplifying heuristics that are likely to ensure that the mate chosen is above-threshold on at least the chooser’s most-important standard: morphological clues; first eliminating mates who are not acceptable on her phenotypic bias (e.g., attractiveness), and of those remaining on her dating pool, eliminating anyone who do not meet their standards for education, personality, resources,etc.).

        “What change in LTMV would cause a woman to seek out an extra-pair copulation with a male high in STMV? Or would a woman always try to seek an extra-pair copulation with a male higher in STMV regardless of the LTMV of her pair-bonded mate provided the male higher in STMV has higher PA than her long-term mated male?”

        I can’t offer an accurate response, since it would be oversimplify a complex issue. I would say that humans have evolved systems of life-long paternal investment, leading to greater frequency of extra-pair mating. And we should expect a selection bias that is in some proportion to the advantages that long-term mating poses to the (reproductive) success of her offspring.

        Before females were sexually liberated (or at least fully cognizant of the latitude that such liberation accorded them), they were compelled to trade-off short-term mating concerns for the security of long term mating benefits

        But, if the advantages are small (our contemporary social landscape) , then there will be less selections bias for long term mating/extra-pairs (positive covariance) .

        “ I suppose what I am indirectly trying to figure out is if there’s any point in increasing one’s paternal investment (PI) value or should all effort just go into maximising physical attractiveness (PA) no matter what? i.e. Should I spend 3 years at the gym rather than 3 years at college? (I don’t want to squander my mating effort.)”

        Since modern women are *vastly* more selective, I’d suggest spend 3 years at the gym.

    • Random says:

      I actually did online dating experiments on this. There is an exponential effect on interest recieved back if the male is good looking, or at least cuteish. (the more attractive the male is the more money brings benefits).

      You are totally right, if the male is unattractive , money does not help , except in very,very few cases. He is able to date up with a very small percentage of women (depends on site , but typically around 0.05%-1%). Another effect is that women that would show interest before (fat and/or ugly in this case) do not longer show interest if the male displays obvious signs of wealth (ie expensive car). I am talking about the age group 18-25. The age group 25+ i had little contact with in the experiment, but did not show a noticible change in behavior (not more attracted to an ugly guy with money).

  5. Steve says:

    I just found this blog and i’ve been reading the posts.

    Just wow…i’ve never seen this type of discussion integrating awesome scientific rigour and data backing, congrats for that, this site is awesome.

    There is a sub-aspect of psysical attractiveness i’d like to ask you about.

    From my readings and testing the face is a qualifier/disqualifier if we are talking only about the face and body and excluding height.

    I’m curious if after so many studies read have you found out the mechanism that applies when discussing the face and body dilemma (i’d like to exclude height from this discussion)

    What is your take on this? Can a male with an ugly face generate attraction that leads to dates and/or sex based on his muscular body?

    I’ve asked women and read online answers to this question and a few said yes, the vast majority said no. But i think the few that said yes maybe said that because of other variables , like trying to cheer me up or something.

    I’d really like to know the mechanism here ; body vs. face , is it averaged attraction and the body can compensate for the face (ugly face + hot body = moderatly attractive) or is face a disqualifier and no matter how good the body is it does not make a difference if the face is bad, or any other option?

    I’m an ugly guy (facially) with a low bodyfat muscular body (think model or fitness trainer) but i’ve yet to get any significants improvements from this. I was always low bodyfat% though so facially not much has changed ..

    What is your take on this?

    • sirtyrionlannister says:

      Thanks for your compliments.

      Well relatively little work has been conducted to determine the relative importance of these two traits. But in all studies, face ratings were found to be the best predictor of the ratings of combined images.

      It seems that a performance-related physical fitness measure correlates substantially with body attractiveness, but not with facial attractiveness. So it is a key function of men’s body attractiveness (muscular body) to signal their physical fitness and that men’s faces and bodies signal different facets of mate value.

      Anyway, for both sexes, face attractiveness predicted overall attractiveness more strongly than did body attractiveness, and this difference was significant in males.

  6. chris says:

    This study, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1986604/ , found that women do select for staus/wealth in mates, but if you look at the samples age is is between 26-42 (so still not young, or not when a woman is most desirable, 16-24).

    • chris says:

      Would you know of any similar studies to the one I linked above where the sample is college students (i.e. young women (age<26))?

      • sirtyrionlannister says:

        Yes there are several speed dating studies using college students and the strongest predictor of attraction for both sexes was partner’s’ physical attractiveness.

        Note anyway that in speed dating external validity can potentially be compromised. There are two separate reasons why generalizability might be threatened specifically in a speed-dating study:

        (a) attraction and relationship development processes that emerge during and after speed-dating events might be dissimilar to those that emerge in relationships initiated through other means and

        (b) participants who volunteer for a speed-dating study might constitute a highly unusual sample.

        • A speed-dating study in which the subjects are all college students (especially if they’re all from the same college) is not a good way to answer the questions raised here.

          First of all, the sample is not representative of the whole population. Assuming we’re talking about a study conducted in the past decade or two in the USA, we can assume, fairly confidently, that: (1) All the subjects are reasonably intelligent and have reasonable employment prospects, and if the college is, say, Harvard, they all have rather good employment prospects, (2) none of the subjects are rich in their own right, and none are paupers, (3) none of the subjects are thinking in terms of marriage and babies right now (the idea of women going to university to nab a husband has been strongly frowned upon since the 1980s, and this matters because what people want from a casual date with no commitment may be very different from what they want in a potential spouse), (4) all the subjects are dressed like students — i.e., casually enough, yet fashionably enough, that you wouldn’t confidently know from looking whether they were rich or not.

          Second, physical attractiveness and wealth/earning power are not independent variables – they affect each other. A good part of one’s physical attractiveness comes from grooming and lifestyle, which are affected by wealth. Meanwhile, physical attractiveness is a form of “erotic capital” that affects one’s earning potential. (Other things being equal, attractive people tend to earn more than unattractive people.) Attractiveness might also be genetically linked with intelligence, by pleiotropy.

          • Sir Tyrion Lannister says:

            @ Hobbesian Meliorist,

            You’re right, regarding to undergraduate samples, and about the extent to which we can generalize from the subjects who participated in the experiment to people in general. Nonetheless, most of research data are usually obtained by professional speed-dating events, typically attended by subjects from the nonacademic community.

            Regarding to intelligence, I do not know what concrete idea you intend to convey. Anyway in current mating landscape (within western civilitation), it’s not easy to see any mating success correlation with increased intelligence, since this phenotypic feature does not offer compensatory survival/competitive advantages (where such advantages have been muted by the net inclusive-fitness benefits of large, co-operative populations under conditions of ecological prosperity).

    • sirtyrionlannister says:

      Women do select for staus / wealth in mates? And what is the basis for saying that this study reached these conclusions? I do not see it that way

      • chris says:

        Instead, men chose women based on their physical attractiveness, whereas women, who were generally much more discriminating than men, chose men whose overall desirability as a mate matched the women’s self-perceived physical attractiveness.

        • sirtyrionlannister says:

          And which is the mechanism able to match overall disability with attractiveness? Brain makes rapid evaluations with real and immediate social consequences.

          Furthermore, perceived self-physical attractiveness is a subjective self-measure, since people’s inferences about their own traits and abilities are often enhancing. And male appraisals of female attractiveness followed a normal distribution curve, while female appraisals of male attractiveness find usually a shocking 80% of males to be below average in attractiveness (suggesting that some preconceived notions are skewing their assessments)

          Even a first glance, then, can accurately predict romantic desire, but that glance involves a mix of physical and psychological judgments that depend on specific regions of our brain.

      • chris says:

        Perhaps not statu/swealth per se, but factors other than physical attractiveness.

        • sirtyrionlannister says:

          I agree mate choice in females is attributable to two distinct components of romantic evaluation: either consensus judgments about physical beauty and individualized preferences based on a partner’s perceived personality.

          Never forgetting that physical appearance is usually the limiting factor for women want to know further features in a male, like his personality. It is not a holistic assessment, but a sequential and discriminant one.

      • chris says:

        Physical features are the rule-in criterion, whereas other things like personality, character, intelligence, education, wealth, status are rule-out criterion.

  7. zendude says:

    I’ve read your blog but didn’t know where to comment. I think it’s best to do it here:

    I think it remains to be seen whether physical attraction is prioritized when it comes to mate selection in the biological sense. My issue with your analysis is that you seem to focus on settings where looks is the only obvious non-cheap-talk signal. In a modern technology-driven society where people are more or less encountering each other as abstract anonymous individuals, it makes sense for you to discount money or personality as contributing factors. Consider some of the arenas where women typically meet and select men anonymously: speed dating, bar/club, online dating. In a time-boxed setting, with no other relevant features to determine choice outside of looks, wouldn’t it be obvious that selection would be based solely on looks?

    You also seem to ignore emerging dating technologies that prioritize money. Consider the rise of the sugar baby culture which in this case trades money for looks instead of looks for looks. If it’s all about looks, then it doesn’t explain the plethora of women participating in these markets.

    There are also technologies where a man can pay to date (what’s your price, ohlala, etc…)–in which case a man, I’m guessing, is betting on luck or personality to win a woman over

    I don’t think you’ve captured the entire phenomena. People are resourceful and adaptive and this quality should be showcased. Reducing things to a single factor and declaring it a biological fact without considering all options out there to me is just ridiculous and I think may be partly responsible for some of the INCEL rampage going on.

    • Sir Tyrion Lannister says:

      @ zendude,

      All you argue is fraught with pitfalls of interpretation. With a limited sample of males, a female is unlikely to be able to compare the full range of available male phenotypes (sexual selected cues: epigamic traits) and so she may ultimately choose a male whose phenotype does not match her most preferred phenotypes. That’s where you may be spuriously believing to see a mate preference for conductual / behavioral characteristics (ie personality), but simply the effect of the restricted number of males sampled (e.g. non-leking mating context) is that females are likely to mate sometimes with males that are not the most preferred.

      • Zendude says:

        But in a natural environment (even in today’s envirotnment) isn’t choice ultimately constrained? Not every women will be able to pair off with a top 20 percent man. Anecdotally, I keep hearing women referring to tinder as a hookup app, so I gather that they must in some level be aware of this. I guess, what I’m trying to say is that the preference for personality to compensate for deficiency in looks may be adaptive. After failing to secure a top 20 guy in tinder and trying to navigate real life interactions, is it implausible to speculate a woman choosing based on looks specific attributes like money, status, or personality. Maybe I’m wrong but there’s just something very reductive with your analysis.

  8. zendude says:

    Also just to add: If I measured my attraction level based on a 2-d photo of myself posted on a dating site and used that as the sole basis of meeting women, then I would’ve never had sex unless if it was with a morbidly obese woman. However, I’ve had sex with women who I consider significantly more attractive than me and who I met in settings where I was able to display my personality more than 4 minutes. Who really knows why I was selected: perhaps it was my personality or perhaps both looks and personality. At any rate, I’m highly skeptical of extrapolating a theory out of online dating and time-boxed real life scenarios, it’s just proving the obvious…

    • Sir Tyrion Lannister says:

      @ zendude,

      “But in a natural environment (even in today’s envirotnment) isn’t choice ultimately constrained? Not every women will be able to pair off with a top 20 percent man.”

      But keep in mind the existence of large traditional pairing Leks (i.e. night clubs, bars, etc.), in addition to new modern virtual socialization environments (ie social networks, dating sites); destruction of rural society/fragmented populations due to urbanization/integration /reunification in large cities; Globalization, improves transportation systems and mobility. All this together work as selective pressures to provide immense sampling without cost on a large scale for women (i.e. choosing sex), courtesy of the modern western world.

      Which could otherwise never resolve into ideal monogamy (which the Gale-Shapley algorithm implicitly assumes), given that greater female selectivity, unperturbed, should opportunistically tend to polygynous distributions.

      “Anecdotally, I keep hearing women referring to tinder as a hookup app, so I gather that they must in some level be aware of this.”

      That is because females are entangled within their own ‘experimenter effect'(ie. higher selectivity will ensure that females tend to selectively observe the same small neighbourhoods of physically attractive males who exploit greater opportunities in
      multiple mating, rotating sex, per their high-rate fitness optima).

      There is a *huge* population of less attractive males who aren’t inclined to extrapair mating/hookups (if only because they are deprived of the opportunity), but they simply aren’t part of the ‘world’ that sexually interested females closely observe.

      “I guess, what I’m trying to say is that the preference for personality to compensate for deficiency in looks may be adaptive. After failing to secure a top 20 guy in tinder and trying to navigate real life interactions, is it implausible to speculate a woman choosing based on looks specific attributes like money, status, or personality. Maybe I’m wrong but there’s just something very reductive with your analysis.”

      Female sexual choice considers only two quantities of male value: 1) genetic benefits, and 2) direct benefits.

      If vague “personality/social skills” have selective value, they are encapsualted within direct benefits. So If you don’t know what you’re talking about it is best not to venture an uninformed opinion.

      • Zendude says:

        “So If you don’t know what you’re talking about it is best not to venture an uninformed opinion”

        Ridiculous.. sex is as much a primitive as the need for food, and people will therefore necessarily form an opinion on thess primitives based on the best information they have just to be able to navigate their social world. And besides, rather than objecting to my claim, you seem to confirm it by hypothetically placing “personality” in the “direct benefits” bucket.

        “All this together work as selective pressures to provide immense sampling without cost on a large scale for women (i.e. choosing sex), courtesy of the modern western world.”

        There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Time spent pursuing uncommitted men is time lost pursuing potentially commitment ready men. Don’t forget that women have an expiration date so even in a scenario of immense sampling, there is still an absolute constraint that drives women to adapt and pair off with men, thereby clearing the market. Your hypothetical scenario, which is admittedly a trend, discounts this absolute constraint and the corresponding adaptation mchanism. It’s almost as if you are suggesting that women across all segments only hook up with good looking guys who amass huge Harems with no one pairing off. In the first place, people are still getting into relationships and marriage. Second this is contradicted by the data gathered by Susan Walsh in Sex and the Pareto Principle which stratifies women based on sociosexuality and then establishes from existing data that it’s more likely that the top 20guys are hooking up with the top 20girls in sociosexuality with the other 80 percent opting out. In other words things aren’t as simple as you make it seem.

        I understand this is your blog but rather than resort to ad hominem which does your readers a disservice, it may be better to actually identify areas where you object and state your case. Makes things much clearer that way and advances understanding.

        • Sir Tyrion Lannister says:

          @ Zendude,

          “And besides, rather than objecting to my claim, you seem to confirm it by hypothetically placing “personality” in the “direct benefits” bucket.”

          Again, such special cases do little to detract from my argument that direct benefits are negligible to male reproductive success(even where it is not indifferent to female sexual choice). Where the welfare state prevails, female sexual choice is indifferent to material concern.

          “There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Time spent pursuing uncommitted men is time lost pursuing potentially commitment ready men. Don’t forget that women have an expiration date so even in a scenario of immense sampling, there is still an absolute constraint that drives women to adapt and pair off with men, thereby clearing the market. Your hypothetical scenario, which is admittedly a trend, discounts this absolute constraint and the corresponding adaptation mchanism. It’s almost as if you are suggesting that women across all segments only hook up with good looking guys who amass huge Harems with no one pairing off. “

          It amazes me how some guys are still able to continuously *underestimate* the primacy of physical attractiveness in mediating female mate choices (male credulity knows no bounds).

          Do females split hairs with respect to additional criteria? Yes, but physical attractiveness is *limiting*, because female
          assessments of male attractiveness are *relative*.

          A good rule a thumb is that you are unlikely to mate with any given female so long as there exists a more attractive, locally available male, with some expectation of reciprocal attraction (ie. females would be willing to wait months, even years, in his ‘queue’, rather than deign to his ‘inferiors’). Consider very carefully, the implications of that.

          “…In the first place, people are still getting into relationships and marriage”.

          Argumentum ad populum. Nobody here is arguing that today there are no people marrying/LTRs.

          Female mating skew runaway (mediating consequences of sub-replacement fertility, high divorce/rotational mate rate -female induced-, aged motherhood, increase in proportion of mate deprived men/incels) is a relatively nascent trend in western world, which they have not observed on a requisite scale to amass significant population data (beyond those collected in online dating, demonstrations of polygynous tendencies with pareto distributions).

          Who females find *sexually* attractive (which does not necessarily correspond with whom they marry, given marriage is a confounder of *sexual selection* – frequently lending to paternity fraud) is entirely dependent on epigamic signalling.

          What you seem to have trouble with, is in identifying female sexual choice as the contrary locus of stable monogamy/pair-bonding(most guys aren’t good-looking enough – given female choosiness – to be promiscuous anyway, but such is not the case with females).

          “Second this is contradicted by the data gathered by Susan Walsh in Sex and the Pareto Principle which stratifies women based on sociosexuality and then establishes from existing data that it’s more likely that the top 20guys are hooking up with the top 20girls in sociosexuality with the other 80 percent opting out. In other words things aren’t as simple as you make it seem. ”

          If you want you can provide that Mrs. Walsh’s study, I will be happy to refute it. Leaving beforehand that self-report studies/questionnaires lack a decent scientific validity.

          • zendude says:

            “What you seem to have trouble with, is in identifying female sexual choice as the contrary locus of stable monogamy/pair-bonding(most guys aren’t good-looking enough – given female choosiness – to be promiscuous anyway, but such is not the case with females).”

            If I’m not mistaken, I think the distinction your making is really between a woman’s ideal mate preference and actually selected mate. In terms of the former, stripped off other characteristics you would file under the “direct benefits” bucket, then it’s very highly probable that said woman would select the very physically attractive man. As you’ve established this preference for the sexy man is explicitly on display in Tinder and other dating apps. What you haven’t demonstrated is the extent in which revealed preferences actually resulted in Sex.

            From a psychological viewpoint: under one scenario, your prototypical < 80% percentile male would likely be unhappy at the prospect of knowing that he's unlikely to be his partner's ideal mate preference. On the other hand, I can imagine an alternative scenario in which one realizes that life is about compromises and therefore take a realistic account of things. To what extent not being with a studly dude could impact stable monogamy? I don't know, but I think you don't have sufficient evidence to say that it does. Right now, the effect of the trends you've highlighted on downstream pair-bonding is speculative at best.

            "And of course, If you want you can provide that quote Mrs. Walsh’s study, I will be happy to refute it."
            I don't have a quote. I was just interpreting her article, so I could be wrong. However what's indisputible is the CDC 2007 data she cites, from which she concludes (amongst other things):

            6. Only 16% of men in their 20s have gone without sex in the last year, and that number stays steady in the 30s. This belies the notion that a large majority of males has zero access to sex. Conversely, only 19% of women in their 20s have had more than one partner in the last year, and two thirds had one partner. This belies the notion that the majority of women are “riding the cock carousel” while in their prime. (3)

            I. The numbers do not support the claim that most women have casual sex with impunity through their 20s, then seek a sexually inexperienced male to settle down with. Rather, the data supports the idea that the numbers of promiscuous men and women are similar, though there are more promiscuous men than women. Most likely, this population is sexually active with one another. For the vast majority of Americans who do not have a high number of partners either lifetime, or within the last year, the numbers are also similar, though again, men are more promiscuous.

            https://www.hookingupsmart.com/2010/09/14/hookinguprealities/sex-and-the-pareto-principle/

            Again, if you're arguing that mate preferences revealed in Tinder provide compelling evidence of structural asymmetries in the sexual market, then you would have to further support that claim by connecting it to actual sexual partner data. That's my 2 cents. Otherwise, although a good start, I don't find your argument air tight

            • Sir Tyrion Lannister says:

              @ zendude,

              They are not revealed preferences, they are ejecuted choices, males that women are choosing on online dating or nighclubs/pubs. Most males are eliminated from initial scrutiny and taken out of the dating pool.

              Most female choices are monopolized by a few attrative males but if later this materializes into dates or sex will depend on the time available for each gorgeous hunk can to fuck each and every one of their female applicants. Which I do not think is within the reach of all handsome hunks with a full-time job (e.g. To be able to hanging out with 300 girls on a month).

              Unless a female is exceptionally ugly or obese, she will have sexual access to the same pool of males as her betters. Sexual conflict in optimal mating rate accords second-string females ample opportunity at first string males. They just have to wait longer in the queue on average. A large population of females tends to a small population of males, because females have an evolutionary affinity for sharing males.

              Regarding that study, I will warn you that the data come from a questionnaire, a self-reporting survey. As it has been said ad nauseam in this blog, this kind of studies lack internal, external and ecological validity. Therefore I will not enter to discuss the conclusions.

              So while the absence in humans of mating/sexual life-history data could not be filled out directly or inferred from falsifiable studies by means of experimentation/observation, we must continue to stick to the only data we have about the mate choice criteria in Leks environments. Which certainly agrees with the reliable biological theory.

              • zendude says:

                “Regarding that study, I will warn you that the data come from a questionnaire, a self-reporting survey. As it has been said ad nauseam in this blog, this kind of studies lack internal, external and ecological validity. Therefore I will not enter to discuss the conclusions.”

                Are you suggesting that self-reported survey’s have no validity whatsoever? Isn’t it at least interesting and suggestive that results fall under a normal distribution for men and women? If a self-report survey were truly meaninglesss in this case, then there would be no reason for it show this pattern. We are also talking about the CDC with huge huge sample size…

                Asides from that, I can’t imagine another non-intrusive and scary way of actually gathering such data.

                “mate choice criteria in Leks environments. Which certainly agrees with the reliable biological theory.”

                I’m not convinced nor can I find any source which suggests that “Most female choices (as in sex) are monopolized by a few attrative males.” Any environment will have some constraint. One major constraint in the case of women is need to have a reliable male partner to support child-rearing early in the child’s life. Consequently it’s sensible for women to have adapted a mechanism for monogomy as a biological instinct. There are only so many Alpha males out there. Although the liberalization of the sexual market is trending toward the dystopia (my take) you’ve provide good evidence for, again given this biological drive towards monogamy, it’s unlikely that women would perpetually stick around with an Alpha Male when she’s second string at best. Monogamy is a drive. The best I can infer from your analysis is that reaching equilibrium in the Sexual Market has now become incredibly challenging

                • Sir Tyrion Lannister says:

                  @ Zendude,

                  “Are you suggesting that self-reported survey’s have no validity whatsoever? “

                  Yes, of course. Participants may lie, misconceive their memories, cognitive gaps, biases, etc. By example, women tend to underestimate their sexual experiences, while men tend to exaggerate, overestimate, and embellish their sexual success.

                  “Isn’t it at least interesting and suggestive that results fall under a normal distribution for men and women?”

                  Non sequitur. Why would it be in a dimorphic specie with sexual asymmetry?

                  “If a self-report survey were truly meaninglesss in this case, then there would be no reason for it show this pattern. We are also talking about the CDC with huge huge sample size…”

                  Let’s assume, for a moment, this survey as valid and reliable sample.

                  Then, this is still all consistent with the fact that males and females really *do* have conflicting reproductive agendas, courtesy of sexual evolution(females have lower reproductive potential, and thus compensate qualitatively by being more selective – conflicting with the high-rate, reproductive strategies of males).

                  Thus, it seems fairly obvious to conclude that female CHOICE tends to be the contrary element in courtship interactions, given that males are not only less selective, but they are pragmatic – deprived of opportunities for casual sex(which most are), they are more than willing to pursue a LTR as their mating strategy.

                  Which is why it is likewise reasonable to conclude that if women are, indeed, being deprived of LTRs, it can only be because their CHOICES are unwilling to compromise on their opportunities – where their expectations are presumably fixated on LTR opportunities with the highest value males(which are prohibitively rare, given the abudance of opportunities for casual sex that these males enjoy).

                  “One major constraint in the case of women is need to have a reliable male partner to support child-rearing early in the child’s life. “

                  No, because mating success is decoupled from human reproduction, courtesy of contraceptives.

                  “Consequently it’s sensible for women to have adapted a mechanism for monogomy as a biological instinct.”

                  The other way around, since monogamy worked as a male systemic manipulations of female choice are more strongly indicated in their selective value.

                  Given longer reproductive intervals acting upon selective tendencies, female sexual choice will naturally cluster/concentrate within small neighbourhoods of high quality males, posing stochastic fitness problems the more it is the case that *effective mate availability* deviates from an ideal 1:1 sex-ratio.

                  What is happening in college, according that survey, is not a special case, but an expression of the same dynamic that prevails throughout the rest of the SMP.

                  I am not convinced that some tacit fear of hook-up culture, as Susan Walsh claims, is somehow deterring women from seeking out partners (from amongst a pool of OBVIOUSLY non-promiscuous males); mostly because, there is NO assumption that a majority of guys are part of that culture.

                  It still wouldn’t address the convention that only a very select minority of (patently promiscuous)males are held to be part of the hook-up culture.

                  “it’s unlikely that women would perpetually stick around with an Alpha Male when she’s second string at best. “

                  I think a far more plausible explanation is that the average girl simply has very little interest in an average guy(and has no economic compulsion to ‘settle’ for one either, as did previous generations of women).

          • zendude says:

            “It amazes me how some guys are still able to continuously *underestimate* the primacy of physical attractiveness in mediating female mate choices (male credulity knows no bounds).
            Do females split hairs with respect to additional criteria? Yes, but physical attractiveness is *limiting*, because female
            assessments of male attractiveness are *relative*.”

            Oh believe me, I am not one of those who would underestimate physical attractiveness. My default view would be similar to yours. In fact I want to continue to believe it. The problem is my first hand observation continue to provide contrary, albeit anecdotal evidence. I live in NYC, so this could be due to me encountering women from different population groups who haven’t fully assimilated (Eastern Europeans, Latin Americans), or groups that are higher in Openness than others (Hipsters), or maybe NYC is just unique. Do I more often see extremely good looking men with very attractive women? Yes, but by no means to the degree your analysis would suggest. At the end of the day one must ultimately be able to account for such anomalies and when these anomalies are large enough to blow up a paradigm, then either the paradigm account for these anomalies or move to a model that’s a better fit.

            This is why I think the problem really isn’t so much people “underestimating” the primacy of looks, but rather you overestimating it

            • Sir Tyrion Lannister says:

              @ Zendude,

              “…albeit anecdotal evidence.”

              Maybe that’s the problem.

              • zendude says:

                It will be cool if we can possibly aggregate all this “anecdotal evidence” and quantify it for analysis. But then again, that would be self-reported data right?

              • zendude says:

                Thanks for the response above, it was very helpful. I’m a layman but obviously have an interest in this area. Hope you don’t mind if I continue to ask questions.

                “Yes, of course. Participants may lie, misconceive their memories, cognitive gaps, biases, etc. By example, women tend to underestimate their sexual experiences, while men tend to exaggerate, overestimate, and embellish their sexual success.”

                Yes I’m aware participants may exaggerate, under-report, and maybe even mis-interpret the question but that’s often accounted for in the analysis. If for example the average sexual partner for a women in a year is 1 and it’s 2 for men, then something is obviously amiss. I recognize though that self-reports are a far less reliable means of gathering data, but it is certainly much easier compared to behavioral means of data acquisition. And whatever weakness it has may be slightly offset by taking into account factors that may cause unreliability

                “No, because mating success is decoupled from human reproduction, courtesy of contraceptives…….The other way around, since monogamy worked as a male systemic manipulations of female choice are more strongly indicated in their selective value.”

                I was referring to the ancient pre-historic natural environment. If I’m not mistaken, the default view is that Female selection for commitment ready men (i.e. Beta Males) for monogamous relationships was an adaptation. Logically this view seems to make sense:

                1. The supply of Alphas were significantly far lower than the supply of Betas
                2. Alphas have less of an incentive to stick around than Betas
                3. An offspring is much more likely to survive to adulthood with male parental investment
                4. An offspring is much less likely to suffer from infanticide probable if the male parent is the child’s father
                5. ….
                6. ….
                7. Sexual evolution select for chicks who select for monogamous Beta males in the absence of Alphas

                So while I have no doubt that “female sexual choice will naturally cluster/concentrate within small neighbourhoods of high quality males” given the constraints in the ancestral envrionment, I would not be surprised if this instinct for monogamous Betas would have been selected for.

                Curiously though, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of the reverse direction of causation for monogamy. Is this the latest in the field? If so, would you mind recommending some literature?

                “No, because mating success is decoupled from human reproduction, courtesy of contraceptives.”

                Again, the choice for monogamous Betas as an adaptation in the ancestral environment would suggest that it’s a primitive and not subject to change based on some revolution in our social formation—at least not yet

                “I am not convinced that some tacit fear of hook-up culture, as Susan Walsh claims, is somehow deterring women from seeking out partners (from amongst a pool of OBVIOUSLY non-promiscuous males); mostly because, there is NO assumption that a majority of guys are part of that culture.”

                This is a campus environment–so the only non cheap-talk indicator of fitness available to females would be physical looks. The fundamental characteristics determinative of the Beta Male, Providership, is instrinically tied with the acquisition of money, material success and social status, which in turn correlates with Age, Education, and underlying psycho-physical factors. So basically a Beta dude in college may have all the personality and cognitive capabilities to perhaps eventually succeed and display non cheap-talk indicators of desirability but until that point in time, Chicks will obviously prefer the Hot Dude

                “I think a far more plausible explanation is that the average girl simply has very little interest in an average guy(and has no economic compulsion to ‘settle’ for one either, as did previous generations of women).”

                I interpret this as you trying to come to grips to why the 80% non-promiscuous females aren’t participating in the Alpha harems. If monogomy doesn’t play role in selection, shouldn’t the remaining 80% have no compulsion against hooking up exclusively with Alphas? On the other hand, why not settle for other 80% of men? My guess is that these females probably prioritize monogamy and therefore in the absence of securing an LTR with an Alpha, and with the Beta males not yet having much to show for, is it no wonder that they have decided to sit things out?

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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