A series of two studies published in Evolutionary Psychology found that men were more likely to adopt strategies involving resource acquisition capacity to become attractive to mates, while women were more likely to adopt strategies involving physical appearances. The researchers classified the various identified strategies into two domains, one aimed at developing and/or demonstrating fitness-increasing traits, and the other toward deceiving about fitness-impairing traits.
Mating is strategic in that humans use various tactics to organize and guide their reproductive efforts. Successful mating requires the ability to appeal to and attract prospective partners. Those who are successful in becoming attractive intimate partners would have greater mating success, and thus, a reproductive advantage over individuals who are less successful. “This difference would translate into selection pressures shaping strategies that would enable people to compete successfully in the mating market by turning themselves more attractive as mates,” write Menelaos Apostolou and colleagues.
The authors argue there are two domains of strategies for turning oneself more attractive as a mate; these include demonstrating fitness-increasing traits and hiding fitness-impairing traits. Fitness-increasing traits include good character (e.g., kindness, dependability), resource provision capacity (e.g., work ethic, intelligence), reproductive capacity (e.g., health, genetic quality), and similarity with a prospective mate. Individuals who are able to develop and/or demonstrate that they have these desirable traits (or hide that they do not) would be perceived as more attractive partners.
Fitness-increasing potential of certain traits are sex-specific, such that, some traits in a prospective mate are more beneficial for women while others are more beneficial for men. For example, during pregnancy women become less mobile and have a lesser capacity to obtain resources for the self and baby. In this case, having a reliable partner who would be capable of providing the necessary resources for survival would be of importance.
Consequently, men should be more likely to use strategies that involve improving and demonstrating their resource acquisition capacity. Similarly, men may ascribe more importance to women’s looks, given that a woman’s appearance can signal both her reproductive capacity (e.g., age), and genetic quality. Men are more likely than women to pursue casual relationships, a context in which fertility and good genes are highly valued traits. Thus, women should be more likely to use strategies that involve enhancing their looks.
Study 1 aimed to identify the various acts men and women engage in to become more attractive as mates. A total of 326 Greek-speaking participants were recruited from a private university in the Republic of Cyprus. In the first part of the study, participants were prompted to write down things they have done in the past / may do in the future to become more attractive to potential mates, while in the second part they wrote down various things their friends and acquaintances have engaged in. Lastly, they responded to demographic questions (e.g., sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation). Participant responses were categorized by two graduate students (a man and woman), revealing a total of 87 different acts people perform to become more attractive to prospective mates.
Study 2 included 2,197 participants, who were recruited using the same procedure as in Study 1. It aimed to estimate which acts were more likely to be used, identify any sex differences, and the relevance of various demographic characteristics (e.g., age). Participants were given a scenario in which they are single and desire a relationship, and were asked to indicate on a 5-point scale how likely they would be to engage in the 87 acts identified in Study 1 (e.g., I would talk more about my achievements; I would wear clothes that make me look slimmer). They concluded the study with a demographic questionnaire.
Apostolou and colleagues found that women were more likely to adopt strategies that involved enhancing their looks, while men were more likely to adopt strategies that involved displaying their resource acquisition capacity. The researchers also found age effects for most of the strategies, with the largest effect observed for the “enhance looks” strategy; such that, younger (vs. older) individuals were more willing to engage in it. Factors indicating desirable character traits emerged, particularly “become more pleasant” and “self-improvement”, with 80% of participants indicating that they would try to look more pleasant and 57% indicating they would try to improve themselves (especially, character).
The authors note several limitations. This research used self-report instruments, with no method of verifying the truthfulness of participants’ responses. Relatedly, participants responded hypothetically, and may behave differently in a real-life context. As well, this research was conducted in the Greek cultural context, and thus, the findings may not generalize to other cultures.
Further, given participants required access to a computer or smartphone to complete the survey, it could be the case that individuals from lower socio-economic status were underrepresented. Lastly, people may use different strategies to become more attractive to short- and long-term mates, however, this work did not differentiate between the two.
The research, “How People Become Attractive to Prospective Mates: Strategies of Self- Promotion in the Greek Cultural Context”, was authored by Menelaos Apostolou, Yan Wang, and Athina Gavriilidou.