Conservatives have a bias for seeing ideal one-night stands as long-term partners

More traditional, socially conservative people are more likely to view a sexy but unfaithful mate as being a suitable long-term partner. That’s the finding of a new study published in the scientific journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

“We know that people have slightly different priorities when choosing either a casual or a serious partner. For short relationships, people prefer partners who are attractive and sexy, as these people are more likely to have fit and healthy children,” explained study author Naomi K. Muggleton of the University of Warwick.

“For long relationships, however, people favour emotionally warm, high status partners who can offer material benefits to children. However, cultures differ in their tolerance of casual sex. We wanted to know whether people from conservative backgrounds are less likely to make the distinction between casual and serious relationships.”

In an initial study, 527 participants from India, the UK, and US were provided “Mate Dollars” that could be used to buy traits to construct their ideal short- and long-term partners. Those traits included: good income, industrious, ambitious, successful career, considerate, kind, caring, patient, good body, good looking, athletic and high sex drive.

The researchers found that socially conservative participants tended to have less distinctive preferences between short- and long-term partners. In other words, the short-term partners that conservatives constructed tended to resemble their long-term partners.

The short-term partners constructed by liberals, on the other hand, tended to focus on genetic traits like athleticism and good looks. Their long-term partners included more traits related to parenting and providing, such as being considerate and successful.

In a second study, 322 participants from India and the US read descriptions of two hypothetical partners. One partner was an ideal one-night stand — sexy but irresponsible and unfaithful. The other was an ideal spouse — of average attractiveness but a good parent and provider with a magnetic personality.

The researchers found that conservatives were more likely than liberals to want to seek a long-term commitment with the ideal one-night stand. Rather than indicating a personal preferences, conservatives believed that other people would similarly rate the ideal one-night stand as a suitable partner for a committed relationship.

“Liberals were better at differentiating between those sexy ‘good genes’ traits, which have the highest payoff in short relationships, and material, long-term traits,” Muggleton explained. “This suggests that people from conservative cultures, who avoid casual sex, are foregoing genetic benefits for their offspring. It also suggests that conservatives are more likely than liberals to project the idea of a committed relationship on someone who’s better suited to a short fling.”

The study has some limitations. In particular, the researchers examined ideal partners but not actual partners.

“We asked participants to describe their ideal relationships, which is similar to a shopping list,” Muggleton said. “But not everyone can attract a highly desirable partner, so may have to settle for someone who doesn’t tick all the boxes. It’d be interesting to compare our findings to people’s current and previous partners.”

The study, “You’re not my type: Do conservatives have a bias for seeing long-term mates?“, was authored by Naomi K. Muggleton and Corey L. Fincher.