Podium: The rules of the mating game

From a speech by the California State University academic to the American Psychology Society's conference in Colorado
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The Independent Culture
THE STUDY of human mate selection has benefited from the application of evolutionary principles such as sexual selection. Women, compared to men, are expected to prefer mates with resources and/or the potential for acquiring resources, and men, compared to women, are expected to prefer mates with a high likelihood of reproductive success.

According to sexual strategies theory, women prefer mates who are intelligent, ambitious and have good earning potential. Men, on the other hand, prefer young and attractive mates because those particular traits are linked to fertility. A wealth of research supports these general expectations

Differences in male and female mating strategies have been logically and empirically linked to differences in levels of reported distress over sexual and emotional infidelity. For example, men report being more distressed than do women by a partner's sexual infidelity because of the increase in paternity uncertainty it entails.

Women, on the other hand, are more distressed than men by their partner's emotional infidelity because it signals the possible withdrawal of valuable resources from themselves and their offspring.

Asked to imagine emotional and sexual infidelity in a close romantic relationship in a forced choice format, women are expected to be more distressed than men by emotional infidelity and men are expected to be more distressed than women by sexual infidelity. Having made that choice (ie sexual or emotional infidelity as most distressing), how do they respond to the infidelity?

Two hundred undergraduates from California State University volunteered to participate. Participants also completed a relationship dilemmas questionnaire designed to determine which of two sex-linked violations-of-trust (ie sexual or emotional infidelity) was most distressing.

The instructions asked participants to "Please think of a serious committed romantic relationship that you have had in the past, that you currently have, or that you would like to have. What would distress or upset you more?" Participants were then instructed to circle A or B:

A. Imagining your partner forming a deep emotional attachment to another person.

B. Imagining your partner enjoying passionate sexual intercourse with another person.

Women were more distressed than men by a partner's emotional infidelity (54 per cent as compared with 24 per cent), and men were more distressed than women by a partner's sexual infidelity (76 per cent compared with 46 per cent)

Unexpectedly, men were more likely than women to confront the rival, harass the rival, and make trouble for the rival. Men were also more likely to ask friends about someone new, destroy property, have an affair, and do nothing.

Women were more likely than men to verbalise disappointment, look more attractive regularly, and seek counselling for self and/or partner.

Sexual infidelity, compared to emotional infidelity, was more likely to lead to showing anger. Emotional infidelity, compared to sexual infidelity, was more likely to lead to talking it over, trying harder to make partner happy, forgiving partner, changing self, monopolising partner's free time, and seeking counselling for self and/or partner.

Men were more likely than women to leave the relationship in response to a sexual infidelity, and women were more likely than men to leave in response to emotional infidelity. Men were more likely to have an affair in response to a sexual infidelity than to emotional infidelity, and women were more likely to have an affair in response to emotional infidelity than to sexual infidelity.

Finally, men were more likely than women to change self in response to an emotional infidelity, and more likely to change self in response to emotional infidelity than to sexual infidelity.

Male and female participants scoring high on "emotional stability" were less likely to make trouble for rival, socialise without partner, ask friends about someone new, get drunk, put in more time at work, call up old boyfriend or girlfriend and look more attractive regularly.

Participants scoring high on "agreeableness" were more likely to talk it over with partner. Participants scoring high on intellect and openness were more likely to talk it over with partner, socialise without partner, verbalise disappointment, look more attractive regularly and have an affair. Differences in male and female mating strategies can be empirically linked to sex and personality differences.

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