Evolutionary explanations of partner preference


Darwin - natural and sexual selection

Natural selection refers to survival of the fittest.

Sexual selection is 'survival of the sexiest' and provides a reproductive advantage opposed to a survival advantage


There is the belief that these processes are not conscious and developed from a time when humans were hunter-gatherers

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Genetic fitness

Some characteristics such as a peacock's tail is a sign of genetic fitness and so is more likely to produce robust offspring therefore gets perpetuated throughout generations.

Other characteristics such as aggressiveness are adaptive which provide an advantage for male competitors when competing for reproductive rights.

These aggressive characteristics that allowed the animal to reproduce are passed down to the offspring and these genes remain in the population. 

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Refers to human reproductive behaviour and the differences between male and female sex cells.

Male gametes - sperm - smallest, mobile, produced easily and in vast quantity

Female gametes - eggs or ova - largest, static, produced at intervals, limited quantity, less opportunities to reproduce.

Females must be more selective and have developed strategies to maximise successful reproduction

Consequence of anisogamy - no shortage of fertile males but limited fertile females

Gives rise to 2 types of sexual selection

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Inter-sexual selection

Inter-sexual selection - between the sexes

Used by females to select males - quality over quantity

Trivers (1972) - females make a greater investment of time, commitment and other resources before, during and after the birth - pays to be more selective as the consequences for choosing the wrong male are more serious

It's the female preference which determines which features are passed on to offspring e.g. if height is considered attractive then it would increase in the male population over successive generations - this is due to females in each generation will select the tallest males and this characteristic would then gradually become exaggerated

Fisher (1930) **** sons hypothesis - genes that we see today are those that enhanced reproductive success - female who mates with a male who has a certain characteristic will have sons who inherit this '****' trait - sons more likely to be selected by successive generations of females who will mate with them - preference for this trait is perpetuated

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Intra- sexual selection

Intra- sexual selection -  within each sex

Strategies of males -  quantity over quality

Competition between males to be selected by a female to mate with - 'winner' reproduces and characteristics are passed on to offspring

Strategy has given rise to dimorphism - males and females look different becuase of intra-sexual selection e.g. in physical competition between males - larger males will have an advantage and will be more likely to reproduce - females don't compete for reproductive rights so there is no evolutionary drive towards larger females

Female's youthfulness is selected because males have a preference to mate younger more fertile women

Behavioural consequences - characteristics that allow males to reproduce are passed on, including, deceitfulness, intelligence and aggression - selection of aggressiveness in males

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Support for inter-sexual selection

Clark and Hatfield (1989) sent male and female psychology students across a uni campus to ask other students individually:

'I have been noticing you around campus. I find you to be very attractive. Would you go to bed with me tonight?

No female student said yes 

75% of males said yes

Supports view that females are choosier than males when it comes to selecting sexual partners and that males have evolved a different strategy to ensure reproductive success

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Counterpoint to inter-sexual selection

Argument that one strategy is adaptive for all males and another is adaptive for females - too simplistic - appears that strategies differ according to length of the relationship

Sexual strategies theory - argues that both sexes adopt similar mating strategies when looking for long term relationships - both sexes are choosy and look for certain characteristics

More complex and nuanced view of how evolutionary pressures influence partner preferences which considers the context of reproductive behaviour

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Support for intra-sexual selection

Buss (1989) - survey of over 10,000 adults in 33 countries

Questions relating to a variety of attributes that evolutionary theory predicts are important in partner preference

Females placed greater value on resource-related characteristics than males e.g. good financial prospects and ambition

Males valued physical attractiveness and youth (good reproductive ability)

Findings reflect consistent sex differences in partner preferences and support predictions from sexual selection theory

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Social and cultural influences underestimated

Partner preferences have been influenced by rapidly changing social norms of behaviour - develop faster than evolutionary timescales imply and have instead come about due to cultural factors

Women's greater role in work place mean they are no longer dependent on men to provide for them

Bereczkei - argues that this social change has consequences for women's mate preferences - may no longer be resource-oriented

Preferences today are likely to be outcome of combination of evolutionary and cultural influences - theories that don't account for both are limited

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