According to a new study published in Evolutionary Psychological Sciencemen who wish to be fathers, or have previous relationship experience, are considered more desirable as long-term partners.
Female choice is a consequence of the high metabolic costs associated with the production of female gametes (ie ova/eggs). In contrast, men are less limited in their ability to produce sex cells; rather, men’s reproductive success is limited by their ability to “attract mates and fertilize eggs.” There is also gender asymmetry in parental investment, with women’s parental investment necessarily being greater than that of men (ie, pregnancy, lactation).
In choosing mates, men are more responsive to observable qualities (e.g. beauty), while women are more interested in the man’s socioeconomic status, parenting ability, and resource acquisition potential. These latter qualities signal a man’s ability to protect and support his mate and children. It has been suggested that men who have the ability and willingness to invest in their children are at a selective advantage compared to those who do not.
Given the greater consequences of decisions about sex and mate choice for women, available relevant information about the mate at low cost would be highly beneficial and provide a decision-making advantage. “One possible source of low-cost information is knowing (and copying) other women’s partner choices,” write study authors Ryan C. Anderson and Michele K. Surbey.
Partner copying involves using information about a potential partner’s relationship history when making a partner choice decision. Being singled out for a previous romantic relationship signals that a man had some desirable traits that can carry over into future relationships. Illegal mate hunting involves searching for and pairing with someone who is currently romantically involved. While the phenomenon shares features with mate copying, it is a distinct process.
A total of 267 heterosexual women under the age of 40 were recruited from James Cook University and the general public. A 40-year age limit was applied, as women over 40 are more likely to be outside their peak reproductive years; also, partner copying is a less prevalent phenomenon among older women. Participants provided demographic information (eg age, sex, ethnicity) and read 12 different scenarios (8 experimental and 4 distractors).
The scenarios involved the depiction of a man represented as a silhouette; questions about it (for example, How desirable as a long-term partner do you imagine ___ to be?) followed the descriptions. The men described in the experimental scenarios differed in their relationship experience (i.e., currently in a relationship, ex-partner positive, ex-partner, no ex-partner), and intentions to have children (i.e., would like to be a father one day, do not wish to have children).
The scenarios appeared in random order and the participants were instructed to answer the questions as if they were single, to limit potential discomfort if they were romantically involved at the time of the study.
The authors write: “A propensity to mate was indicated if a participant rated men who were currently single with a higher relationship experience on this dimension than men who had never been in a relationship. A propensity to mate stealthily was indicated if a participant rated men currently in a partnership higher on this dimension. ”
Anderson and Surbey found that men who intended to become fathers were considered more romantically desirable than men who did not. Furthermore, men with no previous relationship experience were less desirable compared to men with relationship experience, suggesting that some conditions facilitate partner copying among women. In addition, women rated men as more desirable when relevant positive information about their partner was provided by an ex-partner (e.g., “your most recent ex-partner speaks highly of him as a romantic partner”).
The authors added: “Although men who expressed a desire to have children were generally considered more desirable than those who did not, if a man did not want children he could still be considered desirable if his previous partner spoke very well. his”.
A potential limitation of this work is that the men were presented as silhouettes, with images cut in profile format, limiting their physical visibility. Previous research suggests that physically stronger men are rated as more attractive. This makes sense, as musculature can signal genetic quality as well as a man’s ability to protect his children. Thus, limiting this visual information may have influenced the participants’ perception of the target male’s paternal ability. The authors note, “Future studies may consider presenting ‘more comprehensive’ stimuli in an effort to explain this variable.”
The study, “Call Me Daddy: How Long-term Desirability Is Influenced by Intention for Fatherhood,” was authored by Ryan C. Anderson and Michele K. Surbey.