New Scientist recently published a very interesting article about mate selection, and whether people perceive single or attached potential partners as more attractive. The quoted research supports what many of us have long suspected (and that so called pick-up artists have been saying for years):
“The single women really, really liked the guy when he was taken,” says Melissa Burkley of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, who conducted the “mate-poaching” study with her colleague Jessica Parker.
For some reason (straight) women, but not men, find a potential partner to be more attractive if he’s already attached to another woman, even though “logically” it would be better to be interested in someone who’s not already in a relationship. But perhaps that is the key to why a taken man is more attractive? Wanting that which is forbidden?
The difference between how a single woman feels about a single man and a taken man is suprisingly large:
The most striking result was in the responses of single women. Offered a single man, 59 per cent were interested in pursuing a relationship. But when he was attached, 90 per cent said they were up for the chase.
The researchers themselves offer an intriguing explanation as to why men who are already in a relationship appear so attractive to single women:
Burkley and Parker speculate that single women may be more drawn to attached men because they’ve already been “pre-screened” by other women and found to be satisfactory as a mate, whereas single men are more of an unknown quantity.
This explanation seems very reasonable to me, however, it does not explain why men don’t have the same pattern when choosing a partner. Unless, of course, we turn to evolutionary psychology for an explanation…
Evolutionary psychology informs us that men are attracted to youth and beauty in a woman, since those factors–in the past–were related to health and the likelihood of surviving a pregnancy. Men who had a mating strategy that included pursuing this category of women, were more likely to pass on their genes, and therefore the men of today still have that tendency built in. And if you place a lot of value on external appearances, then you don’t care as much about social cues; for example who another man is interested in.
Women, on the other hand, are attracted to men with high status or who appear to be capable of attaining high status in society (or so evolutionary psychology informs us, it still needs to be validated further). If this is true, then it would make perfect sense to want the man that another woman has already preselected. After all, she wouldn’t have selected him if he wasn’t a man capable of attaining high status, right?
Anyhow, whether the research presented by Burkley and Parker can be explained by evolutionary psychology is still an open question. What we do know though, is that their research is yet another piece in the puzzle that supports the basic theoretical framework that evolutionary psychology puts forward.
Personally I do believe that evolutionary psychology has some material that cannot be ignored, and that’s the reason I write about it sometimes. However, I do not believe it to be the only relevant framework when analyzing male-female dynamics in society (or same gender dynamics for homosexuals); it is one important perspective that needs to co-exist with many other important perspectives.