Why is it that women prefer some men over others? I guess that many people, especially men, want to know this. In this article, I sum up the evolutionary theory of sexual selection, and in this context, I consider the findings of recent psychological research. So, can evolution explain mate preferences? Read on.
Evolutionary theory of sexual selection
Charles Darwin (1871) described sexual selection as depending “on the advantage which certain individuals have over others of the same sex and species, solely in respect of reproduction“.
According to the evolutionary theory of sexual selection, women look for two things in men: a man’s physical appearance and a man’s social status (Guéguen et al., 2013). But why? Here are two (evolutionary) explanations:
- Women seek attractive men because it represents good genes and fertility. Good genes also increases the offspring’s chances of survival as it is associated with good health, and fertility, which helps the woman become pregnant.
- Women seek a high social status in men because it predicts a form of security for the offspring. A high social status is often associated with material resources (money), and material resources increase the offspring’s chances of survival.
Compared to women, men are more concerned with high fertility as it means that their genes can be passed on to future generations.
Indeed, men tend to prefer younger (fertile) partners, and women tend to prefer older (resourceful) partners in their fertile periods (Gustavsson et al., 2008).
Evidence for the evolutionary theory of sexual selection
In an experiment by Guéguen and colleagues (2013), published in Psychology of Music, the authors examined how visual cues associated with musical practice (an ability that might reflect both social status and physical appearance) would influence how willing women were to give away their phone numbers to random men.
A preference for highly creativity partners have been observed in many cultures (Buss, 1989). Previous studies have found that women don’t normally comply with requests from strangers in the street. Therefore, the authors wanted to find out, whether men’s musical ability would improve the chances.
In the study, the authors hired a 20-year-old physical attractive man as an actor, who were not informed of the study hypothesis. He was asked to approach women randomly (not based on their appearance) so that participants were randomly assigned.
The study was conducted in a real-life setting, and it had three research conditions: (1) a guitar case condition, (2) a sports bag condition, (3) a no-bag condition.
It was found that women were more willing to accept a request from a strange man if he wore a guitar case compared to a sports bag. So, the study finds that playing music has a positive impact on sexual attraction: playing guitar might reflect good genes (fertility, physical and intellectual abilities) and/or social status.
Guéguen and his co-workers mention two others studies that also support the evolutionary theory of mate preferences:
“Guéguen (2009) found that women agreed more readily to give their phone number to an unknown man in a street when he wore a fire-fighter’s uniform. Recently, Guéguen and Lamy (2012) manipulated men’s apparent income and social status by using different cars. A male confederate, waiting in a high-, middle-, or low-value car opened the car door when a woman was near the car and asked for the woman’s phone number … female participants were more likely to give their phone number to a young man who appeared to own the high-value car.” (p. 545-546).
What do you think about this theory?