New study provides insight into how heterosexual college students seek out hookups

A new study has identified several tactics that heterosexual men and women use when seeking to attract a short-term sexual partner. The new research has been published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

Despite the growing interest in short-term sexual relationships and so-called “hookup culture” among college students, researchers had not examined which tactics are used to solicit a hookup. “We were interested because there was a dearth of research directed towards understanding how men and women solicit short-term partners, and a dearth of research investigating which actions are most effective for this for each sex,” said study author T. Joel Wade, a presidential professor of psychology at Bucknell University.

Wade and his colleagues were also interested in examining whether such tactics would align with evolutionary-based theories of mating behavior. Would men’s most effective behaviors involve signaling a willingness to invest in the relationship, while women’s most effective behaviors involve signaling sexual accessibility?

To test this, the researchers first asked 217 undergraduate students to list up to five different acts or behaviors they had used when they wanted to hookup with someone. These tactics were then grouped together based on their content. The researchers then eliminated tactics that had not been mentioned at least five times, leaving 11 behaviors used by men to solicit hookups and 18 behaviors used by women used to solicit hookups.

Among men, the top four most frequently cited short-term mating tactics were dancing with their potential partner, conversing with her, texting her, and getting drunk. Among women, dancing with their potential partner was also the most commonly cited tactic, followed by texting him, flirting with him, and touching him.

Wade and his colleagues then recruited another sample of 201 undergraduate students and asked them to rate the effectiveness of the behaviors.

The male tactics rated as most effective by women were: asking her out to dinner or a movie, conversing with her, flirting with her, asking her to dance or kiss, and asking to walk her home. The female tactics rated as most effective by men were going home with him, kissing him, flirting with him, dancing with him, and getting a drink with him.

The findings provide evidence “that men and women have different motivations for hooking up, and those motivations are influenced by biological adaptations,” Wade told PsyPost. “The actions that are most effective are rooted in our strategies to fulfill mate acquisition and reproductive goals. Our findings also support prior research indicating that women often engage in short-term mating in the pursuit of long-term mate acquisition goals.”

Asking a woman out to dinner and conversing with her, for example, signal that a man is willing to invest time and possibly money.

But it is unclear how well the results generalize outside the realm of college life. “A major caveat is that the research used college students from an industrialized country (the United States),” Wade said. “So, the findings might not generalize to older populations, and to individuals from non-industrialized countries. Also, the results are based on individuals who self-reported their sexual orientation as heterosexual.”

“So, additional research investigating how: older men and women, men and women from non-industrialized countries, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals solicit short term partners, and additional research investigating which actions are most effective for these individuals is needed.”

The study, “Want to Hookup?: Sex Differences in Short‐term Mate Attraction Tactics“, was authored by T. Joel Wade, Maryanne L. Fisher, Catherine Salmon, and Carly Downs.

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