Psychology: Social Bases Of Behaviour

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According to one evolutionary model, the Sexual Strategies Theory (Buss & Schmitt, 1993), sex-specific differences in parental investment cause these sex-specific mate selection preferences. Among humans, women invest more in their offspring than men. Therefore, women prefer committed, long-lasting relationships and seek partners who are able and willing to invest in them and their potential offspring. Men, however, are viewed to have a considerably lower parental involvement and may produce more offspring and potentially increase their fitness by preferring young, physically attractive women (Robert, 1972). Based on several research, our evolutionary past has shaped our mind to pay attention to specific characteristics in potential mates, and this helps us to place greater or lesser value on certain characteristics based on various sociocultural contexts.

Facial Symmetry

Evolutionary factors. Humans in societies around the world discriminate between potential mates based on attractiveness in ways that can dramatically affect their lives. From an evolutionary perspective, a reasonable working hypothesis is that the psychological mechanisms underlying attractiveness judgments are adaptations that have evolved in the service of choosing a mate to increase gene propagation throughout evolutionary history (Miller & Todd, 1998). The main hypothesis that has directed evolutionary psychology research into facial attractiveness is that these judgments reflect information about what can be broadly defined as an individual’s health (Thornhill & Gangestad, 1993). The ‘‘good genes’’ account of attractiveness posits that mate preferences may have evolved to favor healthy individuals due to direct and indirect benefits associated with the selection of a healthy mate (Gangestad & Simpson, 2000). If this is the case, attractiveness judgments are likely to reflect judgments of health (Grammer & Thornhill, 1994). It has also been suggested that fluctuating asymmetry is a visual marker for genetic quality and developmental stability, the ability to maintain good health in the face of environmental insults (Møller & Swaddle, 1997). This finding suggests that symmetry is a cue to judgments of health. If the processing of symmetry by the perceptual system is an adaptation facilitating discrimination between potential mates based on apparent health (Møller & Thornhill, 1998), a strong adaptationist position might predict an opposite-sex bias in sensitivity to facial symmetry. High attractiveness is attributed to individuals whose faces are symmetrical. The simple linear correlations also show that good health is attributed to individuals whose faces are symmetrical which, again, is consistent with other studies (Grammer & Thornhill, 1994). The relationship between measured facial symmetry and ratings of apparent health remained when controlling for attractiveness. Though this link between facial symmetry and apparent health occurred when rating both own-and opposite-sex faces, analyses indicated an opposite-sex bias in sensitivity to facial symmetry when judging health. This finding is consistent with the suggestion that the perceptual analysis of facial symmetry may be an adaptation facilitating discrimination between potential mates on the basis of apparent health (Møller & Thornhill, 1998). That symmetry is a cue to perceived health replicates the finding of Rhodes, et al. (2001) and is consistent with the associations between symmetry and judgments of apparent health.

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Sociocultural and contextual factors. Women’s preferences shift during the menstrual cycle. The first such shift to be demonstrated involves the olfactory preference that women have for the scent of symmetrical men. This preference is specific to normally ovulating women during the high-fertility phase of their menstrual cycle Women do not exhibit this preference during the low-fertility phase or when using a contraceptive pill (Thornhill, & Gangestad, 1999). This pattern makes sense if the costs and benefits of sexual encounters with men of different characteristics also vary during the cycle. Women might possess a psychological adaptation for pursuing mates with good genes for their offspring particularly during the fertile phase of their cycle. In one experiment, normally ovulating Japanese women preferred more feminized faces of both Caucasian and Japanese men in the low conception phases of their cycles (Penton-Voak, et al., 1999). By contrast, women in the fertile phase preferred more masculine faces. Women vary in motivation for short-term mating relationships. Women pursuing short-term mates value physical attractiveness more than those pursuing long term mates (Buss, & Schmitt, 1993). It might be that women who differ in their need for protection from men, who, by sexual coercion, might circumvent the women’s mate preferences (Thornhill, & Palmer, 2001), also differ in their standards of attractiveness as a result of adaptation that adjusts these standards. The same may be true for women who differ in mate value to men (Jennions, & Petrie, 1997).


Evolutionary factors. Tall stature may index heritable fitness because only individuals with certain heritable qualities can afford to allocate energetic costs away from other processes and funnel them into the development of tall stature. The high heritability of stature (Silventoinen, Kaprio, Lahelma, Viken, & Rose, 2001) suggests that ancestral women who developed a bias to prefer tall men as mates may have transmitted the propensity for tall stature and associated heritable advantages to their offspring. Additionally, females may prefer taller males because these males provide direct benefits to their mates such as the ability to intimidate rivals and provide resources (Judge & Cable, 2004). Height may be a particularly useful cue of access to resources and socioeconomic status during development (Cassidy, 1991). These findings are consistent with the proposal that women possess mating mechanisms that favor tall men because tall stature provided either heritable advantages to offspring or direct benefits such as resources to women in the ancestral past. Consistent with past research, we confirmed that there is a strong norm favoring men being taller in relationships that nearly all men and women endorse as ideal. Not only do individuals endorse the male-taller norm as an ideal, but many men and women reject the possibility of a relationship where the woman is taller by excluding individuals beyond a certain height criterion from their mate search. Interestingly, however, men were less likely to adhere to this norm. This may suggest that they are willing to consider a wider range of height than women in order to maximize their mating opportunities.

Although there are clear reasons to expect that tall height in men may generally be valued, it is not clear what height men would prefer in women. While it may be advantageous for males to allocate significant resources to developing large body size in order to compete with rival males and to signal their fitness or social status to potential mates, females may be better off allocating available energy towards other processes such as enhancing fertility, diverting energetic resources to pregnancy and lactation (Nettle, 2002). On the other hand, however, tall female height may be valued to the extent that height in women signals a history of access to resources, healthy development, and high status.

Sociocultural and contextual factors. Although the aforementioned factors likely contribute to preferences for height, an additional process is important. The ability to form, attend to, and internalize social norms is an important feature of evolved human psychology (Boyd & Richerson, 2005), and social norms play a role in reflecting and determining what is considered physically attractive (Tovée, Swami, Furnham, & Mangalparsad, 2006). There is a widespread norm that encourages men to display masculinity, power, and dominance. Height may convey these features in men because taller men are perceived as more dominant and assertive (Melamed, 1992). Further, participants in one study overwhelmingly nominated height as one of the three most essential features of a masculine man (Helgeson, 1994). This perspective would suggest that women who endorse the traditional gender-role norm that men should be masculine would be more likely to favor men who possess a taller and more imposing stature. Consistent with these theoretical perspectives, height is considered an important feature of male attractiveness and women express a greater preference for taller men during the fertile phase of their ovulatory cycle (Pawlowski & Jasienska, 2005). Further, taller men are preferred as mates, report dating more often than men of short or average height (Shepperd & Strathman, 1989), and have generally higher reproductive success.

An examination of socially transmitted values about the feminine body also provides few clear clues to preferences for women’s height. One view has been that traditionally there has been a stigma against women who display physical indicators of power such as height or muscularity because this violates the expected gender norm that men are more powerful than women (Lever, Frederick, Laird, & Sadeghi-Azar, 2007). Thus, it is difficult to make any clear predictions regarding preferences for absolute height in women.

Financial Status

Evolutionary factors. It has been shown repeatedly that women exhibit a stronger preference than men for attributes of ambition, social status, and financial wealth in a partner as well as for a desire for children and a commitment to family, all of which are indicative of the partner’s ability to obtain and willingness to invest the resources necessary for the survival and success of offspring (Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1995). The potentials-attract mechanism predicts that women with high self-perception of their own physical appearance and sexual fidelity will place great importance on wealth and status and family commitment in a potential long-term male mate (Voland, & Engel, 1990). Evolutionarily, men with higher earning capability and financial stability were see as being more able to provide for the family. Gender roles were distinct, and men were supposed to be financial support for the family (Dunbar, & Waynforth, 1995).

Sociocultural and contextual factors. Understanding the characteristics that African Americans seek in their marital partners is particularly significant to the average Black man or woman. Thus, popular African American commercial magazines routinely explore this issue. Newspapers, particularly in large urban areas, frequently publish articles about the challenges that Black women face in their pursuit of a “marriageable” Black man (Chapman, 1997). Typically, these stories describe Black females’ inability to find men who match their educational and/or occupational achievements or standards. For example, in a 1991 newspaper story about the challenges that Black women face finding suitable mates, Krakinowski (1991) states that professional Black women seek someone who is educated and financially self-sufficient. In another newspaper story, King and Allen (2009) writes, women in this culture have always been taught to marry up. Someone making $30,000 a year, should marry someone making at least $30,000 a year. Thus, many professional Black women feel that, after their long and arduous struggle to achieve career and financial stability and success, they deserve a man who can match their achievements and status (Krakinowski, 1991).



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