WJEC AS Psychology PY2 - Buss (1989)

Revision notes for aims and context, procedures, findings and conclusions, evaluate the methodology and alternative findings

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Buss (1989) - Aims and Context


  • evolutionary p: examines p traits: memory, language, perception; which psych traits are evolved adaptations and products of natural and sexual selection 

Importance: mate preferences are of interest; thought to demonstrate what sort of characteristics preferred by ancestors, also demonstrating direction of sexual selection, by letting us know most desirable characteristics. However, despite importance, not a lot is known about which characteristics are desirable, + whether m/f look for different things in mates

Previous Research:

  • Trivers (1972) desirable characteristics are affected by 'parental investment' (how much time, effort, resources, risks etc that the parent contributes to the development of their offspring); in mammals, males make less investment because the female carries the baby; this greater investment means that females are likely to be more choosy when selecting a partner; want a partner who can offer resources (food, shelter, territory, protection) that will enhance reproductive success; in modern times: earnings, A+I
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Buss (1989) - Aims and Context Continued

Previous Research:

  • Symons (1979) 'Reproductive Value Theory': females have greater limitations on fertility as affected by age; therefore pressure on males to identify a potentially fertile female is attached to external indicators about female's age/health; Symons cites that youthful physical appearance like smooth skin, good muscle tone, lustrous hair, fully lips as well as behavioural indicators like high energy levels give cues to female's age and reproductive capacity; Williams (1975) suggests youth is attractive but this is due to peak fertility rather than reproductive potential; implying 23 yr female more attractive due to peak fertility rather than 13 yr female with reproductive value
  • Daly et al (1982) 'Paternity Probability Theory' suggests that sexual jealousy in males used to guard mate from males; chastity is desirable female characteristic; females know offspring is theirs, but males can never be sure

Aims: 1) investigate if evolutionary explanations for sex differences in human preferences between m/f are found globally in cultures with varying ecologies, locations, ethnic compositions, religious orientations and political inclinations as we would expect behaviours that are innate to be the same in all cultures

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Buss (1989) - Procedures


- Rating:

  • Biographical data: age, sex, religion, marital status, no. siblings
  • Mate Preferences: age which respondents preferred to marry, preferred age difference between self/spouse, who to be older and how many children desired
  • Rating Scale: participants had to rate 18 characteristics on 4 point scale (3: indispensable, 0: irrelevant), among 18 were 4 target variables: - good financial prospect, - good looks, - chastity, - ambition/industriousness

- Ranking: participants ranked 13 characteristics based on someone they might want to marry; rank 1 was most desirable, rank 13 least desirable in potential mate, interspersed were 2 target variables: - good earning capacity, - physically attractive

- Translation:

  • changes: 3 bilingual speakers: 1 translated from English to native language, second answers back to English, third resolved any discrepancies; all terms had to be sex neutral ie physically attractive not beautiful
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Buss (1989) - Procedures Continued

  • amendments to reflect cultural differences: Sweden, many couples just live together; Nigeria, polygyny practised so qs adjusted


  • analysed responses from 37 samples from 33 countries, located in 6 continents and 5 islands, total no. pps = 10,047
  • sample sizes: ranged from 55 in Iran to 1,491 in US, (130 in Britain), apart from Iran, all samples exceed 100 pps; mean average pps was 272
  • Age range: 16.96 in NZ to 28.71 in WestG; mean age: 23.05 years
  • Sampling Techniques: varied widely across countries
    - in Estonia: 1 sub-sample consisted of couples applying for marriage licence
    - Venezuela: sample consisted of every 5th household in series of neighbourhoods with varying socioeconomic class
    - SA: Zulu sample rural pop: questions read aloud
    - WestG: samples selected through newspaper ads
    - NZ: sample consisted of high school students taken from 3 schools

DATA COLLECTIONresearch collaborators unaware of investigation hypothesis

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Buss (1989) - Findings and Conclusions

Results from Experiment:

  • 36/37 samples found females valued 'good financial prospects' in a mate more than males
  • only exception was Spain where there was a difference in predicted direction but not significant


  • 34/37 samples found females expressed higher valuation of A+I in a mate
  • 3 samples: Colombian, Spanish, SA Zulu, opposite sex difference found although only significant in Zulu sample: could be due to cultural difference as different roles for m/f = females expected to build houses


  • all 37 samples showed males rated 'good looks' in a mate more than females
  • good looks especially important in Bulgaria, Israel P., Nigeria + Zambia
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Buss (1989) - Findings and Conclusions


  • all 37 samples showed males rated this higher than females
  • mean age difference preferred by males: 2.66 yrs; females: 3.42 yrs
  • mean age for m/f to marry: 27.49 yrs, females: 25.39 yrs
  • age difference larger in countries that practise polygyny: Nigeria + Zambia, male preference for being older was 6.45, 7.38 yrs, males tend to be older when they acquire wires in polygynous systems compared to monogamous


  • 23/37 samples males rated this higher than females
  • cultures varied enormously
  • China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Taiwan, Israel P attached high value to chastity in mate; chastity viewed as irrelevant in most of Western European countries: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Netherlands, WestG
  • Ireland different from Western Europe, attached moderate importance to chasity
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Buss (1989) - Findings and Conclusions

Conclusions from the Experiment:

  • concluded that sex differences involving mate preferences for earning potential, relative youth + physical attractiveness confirmed across cultures
  • supports evolutionary exp. of human behaviour, that mating behaviour should differ by gender, reflecting the reproductive capacity of m/f
  • females valued financial capacity and A+I of potential mates more than males, supporting the hypothesis that women seek cues related to resources
  • males valued physical attractiveness and relative youth more than females, supporting the hypothesis that males seek cues related to high reproductive capacity; however age preference was several years beyond peak fertility suggesting non-evolutionary factors may be involved, such as compatibility, maturity
  • females preferred older mates which supports importance of resources as older men are more likely to have greater resources
  • chastity was valued more by males supporting the importance of paternity probability (only modestly)
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Buss (1989) - Evaluate the Methodology


  • 37 samples from 33 countries created total number of 10,047 pps which means that results can be generalised to most of the population
  • research collaborators unaware of study aim (double blind) therefore no influence, no experimenter bias, increases internal validity of results
  • 2 separate measures: ranking/rating which are used to gather data about factors affecting mate pref; strength because just 1 measure could be influencing answers but using 2 and results are same, more reliable/accurate; qs = large amount, short term


  • 26/37 cultures were westernised industrial cultures, less developed countries under representedless valid sample
  • mean age relatively young, may not reflect older person preferences
  • sampling method varied from cultures, often samples of convenience eg uni students: pps may not represent culture as a whole
  • qs self report: pps may not know what they want/may lie, give socially desirable answers
  • answers may not represent real life mate selection, lack ecological validity
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Buss (1989) - Alternative Findings

1. Singh (1993) SUPPORTS

  • waist to hip ratio (WHR) related to attractiveness across many cultures
  • men prefer women who had low WHR (0.7) which reflects fertility (child bearing hips, no bump = no pregnancy) and health

Supports Buss because suggests that female indicators of fertility (WHR) attractive to males, refines research by suggesting it is not youthfulness per se that is attractive to men but indicators of fertility

2. Waynforth and Dunbar (1995) SUPPORTS

  • analysed 900 lonely hearts ads from 4 American newspapers; found that:
    - more men than women wanted a youthful mate
    - more men sought a physically attractive mate
    - more men advertised themselves on physically attractive terms
    - more men advertised their economic status

Supports: provides realistic quantifiable data showing they wrote most desired characteristics in opposite sex and assumed opposite sex desired characteristics

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Buss (1989) - Alternative Findings

3. Berezckei et al (1997)  DEVELOPS

  • found that females in recent times placed greater desirability for men who are family orientated in lonely hearts adverts, perhaps reflecting greater female financial security

Develops as suggests good financial prospects aren't necessarily an inherited characteristic that females desire in males but reflects general desire for resources which will ensure survival of offspring and may change to suit environmental pressure changes

4. Grammer and Thornhill (1994) CONTRADICTS

  • found females are still attracted to males specifically those with masculine facial characteristics such as large jaw and prominent cheek bones

Contradicts Buss' assumption that females have a predisposition to place less importance on physical attractiveness and relative youth

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Jessica Gledhill

Love these because you have information I didn't know! Will you be doing any of the other social core studies?

Zoey Jowett

yeah i will:) uploading revision cards once i have got the information in class:)

Georgia Graham


Zoey Jowett

hahaha! thanks george!

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