New research published in Evolutionary Psychological Science sheds light on the link between short-term mating strategies and indirect aggression.
The findings indicate that intrasexual rivalry, in which people feel a greater need to compete with members of the same sex, is one mechanism that explains why young adults who have a more unrestricted view of sexual relationships are more likely to act aggressively towards their same-sex peers.
The researchers behind the new study were interested in better understanding the relationship between indirect aggression toward same-sex peers and sociosexuality, the degree to which an individual is willing to engage in sexual activity outside of a committed relationship. Individuals with a more unrestricted sociosexuality are more likely to fantasize about and engage in casual sex, and more likely to agree with statements such as “Sex without love is OK.”
“We continue to be interested in what predicts the perpetration of aggressive behavior from an evolutionary perspective,” said study author Adam C. Davis, a postdoctoral fellow at Nipissing University. “We noticed a shortage of work regarding the links between indirect forms of aggression (e.g., malicious gossip, social exclusion, and guilt induction) with the tendency to pursue short-term mating strategies. These strategies involve the pursuit of sexual relationships with little emotional investment, often with a variety of sexual partners.”
“In previous research, short-term mating strategies have been associated with risk-taking, exploitation, and ‘dark’ personality traits (e.g., psychopathy). In a heterosexual context, one’s primary rivals are same-sex individuals who are vying for the same resources to compete for mates. So, we speculated that pursuing a short-term mating strategy might be linked to the perpetration of indirect aggression against same-sex others.”
“We further anticipated that a disposition to be combative with same-sex rivals over social and mating resources (e.g., physical attractiveness, intelligence, and ambition) may help to explain why those employing a short-term strategy might perpetrate more indirect aggression toward same-sex others,” Davis explained. “Few scholars had examined the links between short-term mating and intrasexual competitiveness, and the research findings have been mixed, which further drew our attention to this research question.”
The study, which surveyed 314 heterosexual young adults, found that unrestricted sociosexuality was positively associated with intrasexual competitiveness. In other words, those with a more unrestricted sociosexuality were more likely to agree with statements such as “I can’t stand it when I meet another man/woman who is more attractive than I am,” “I wouldn’t hire a very attractive man/woman as a colleague,” and “I always want to beat other men/women.”
Those who reported greater intrasexual competitiveness, in turn, were more likely to report engaging in indirect forms of aggression against same-sex others.
Davis noted that “the effect was really being driven by a specific aspect of a short-term mating orientation.”
“We found that it was the desire component of sociosexuality that was driving the effect,” he explained. “This suggests that young adults who often have spontaneous sexual fantasies about people outside of a committed romantic relationship are particularly prone to engaging in same-sex indirect aggression via heightened intrasexual competitiveness.”
“People reliably adopt different strategies when they compete for mates,” Davis told PsyPost. “Some tend to engage in short-term strategies to establish brief sexual relationships with a variety of partners with little emotional involvement. We found that heterosexual young adults who pursued this kind of a short-term mating strategy more often perpetrated indirect aggression (e.g., malicious gossip) toward same-sex others who are key rivals within a heterosexual context.”
“These findings add to a growing literature demonstrating how an orientation toward short-term mating tends to be associated with risk-taking, exploitation, manipulation, and aggression to compete for important social and reproductive resources,” Davis continued. “Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize that many people who engage in short-term mating do not exploit, manipulate, or aggress against their sexual partners.”
The findings held after controlling for participant sex and relationship status. But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“Although we had adequate statistical power to detect significant effects, our sample was restricted to university and college students,” Davis said. “Focusing on young adults is prudent given that mating competition is salient during this period of development, but it would be advantageous to collect data from a more demographically diverse population.”
“Our data are also cross-sectional (i.e., correlational), and the next step would be to collect longitudinal data to help establish a causal link between these variables: does pursuing a short-term mating strategy predict indirect aggression against same-sex peers over time and does intrasexual competitiveness help to explain this relation?”
“We also focused on short-term mating and did not measure an orientation toward establishing long-term, committed, and emotionally involved relationships,” Davis added. “Evidence indicates that some people follow a dual mating strategy, where they shift between short-term and long-term mating tendencies. Long-term mating is not reliably associated with risk-taking, exploitation, and aggression, but it would still be advantageous to assess whether those pursuing a dual strategy similarly engage in same-sex indirect aggression.”
The study, “Intrasexual Competitiveness Mediates the Link Between Unrestricted Sociosexuality and Indirect Aggression,” was authored by Adam C. Davis, Graham Albert, and Steven Arnocky.