Evolutionary Explanation for Partner Preferences

  • Created by: frankie11
  • Created on: 26-04-19 09:24

Evolutionary Explanation

-          Evolutionary explanation: humans are born with an innate drive to survive and reproduce. Men and women need to have children so that they can pass on their genes and they need to make sure that these children survive into adulthood. Genes that promote reproduction are favoured and increase in the gene pool. Therefore, partners look for partners that indicate good genes, which usually originate from physical features.

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Inter-sexual Selection

-          Inter Sexual Selection: the strategy of females when picking a male partner. They look for resources and the ability to protect offspring. They have high investment cost and are sure of maternity. They can choose the best mate out of a large high quality selection.

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Intra-sexual Selection

-          Intra-sexual selection: the strategy of males when picking a female mate. They have low investment cost but can’t be sure of paternity. They compete for a large number of females so that they can have a higher chance of passing on their genes. This often results in physical competition between males to have the female and this strategy favours large dominant males.

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Male-Female Dimorphism

-          Male-female dimorphism: enhanced secondary sexual characteristics that are selected for by both genders. This leads to them becoming more common in the population.

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What females look for

-          Females look for signs that show ambition, resources and protection, with physical features such as tall, healthy and a v-shaped chest.

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What males look for

-          Males look for signs that suggest fertility. They look for youthful features and a hip-waist ratio of 0.7. This suggests that the female is sexually mature but not pregnant.

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Evaluative Research - Buss (1989)

-          Buss (1989): carried out a study in over 33 countries that included over 10000 participants. He carried out a questionnaire asking questions on partner preferences. He found that globally, males preferred youthful features and large breasts and the 0.7 hip-waist ratio. He found that women looked for ambition, industriousness and wealth. This suggests that the evolutionary explanation for partner preferences may provide biological evidence that there is an innate system that humans work through when picking a mate.

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Evaluative Research - Buss (1989)

-          Buss’ study was good because it doesn’t suffer from culture bias. By doing the study in 33 countries, he was able to show an etic construct that is common across the globe.

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Evaluative Research - Dunbar and Waynforth (1995)

-          Dunbar+Waynforth (1995): did a content analysis of 900 dating ads in the US. They found that 42% of males were looking for youthful mates, compared to only 25% of females. Women were more likely to emphasise their looks and age, whilst men were more likely to talk about their economic and social status. This supports evolutionary theory in that women look for resources and money and men look for physical features when picking a mate.

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Evaluative Research - Clark and Hatfield (1989)

-          Clarke+Heartfield (1989): did a study on male and female students that went on campus and asked other students the following questions; “Will you go on a date with me tonight?”, “Will you come back to my house?” or “Will you have sex with me?” They found that 50% of men and women agreed to a date. 75% of males agreed to sex, compared to 0% with women. This suggests that men are more concerned about passing on their genes by sleeping with as many women as possible, as predicted by evolutionary theory and that women are more selective due to high investment.

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Building Evaluations

-          Evolutionary theory provides a gender double standard, which suggests that men can be justified for sleeping around and shaming a woman’s sexual behaviour can be justified too. This is also an example of alpha bias.

-          There seems to be conflict between natural and sexual selection. In nature, some features that are sexually selected for, such as peacock feathers, would be good in terms of reproducing and attracting a mate but from a survival point of view, they would be unhelpful.

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Building Evaluations

-          Research by Cunningham has found that men prefer youthful faces and research by Singh has found that men cross-culturally prefer the 0.7 hip-waist ratio. This suggests that evolutionary theory is supported with a lot of research,  a lot of which is across cultures, meaning that the behaviours in partner preferences could be innate.


-          This theory could be criticised because it can’t explain homosexual couples and their preferences.

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