Have you ever wondered what make people believe they’re desirable as a partner? A study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior explores what factors lead people to believe they’re wanted for short and long-term relationships.
Mate value is an important factor that affects how desirable an individual is as a romantic or sexual partner. This is a very significant concept in evolutionary psychology and can dictate a person’s standards and ultimately their choice of partners to accept and reject. Self-perceived mate value functions similarly to self-esteem and includes a myriad of aspects, including psychopathology, physical appearance, developmental history, personality traits, and more.
Self-perceived mate value is relevant because people have a tendency to base their mating strategies on how desirable of a partner they believe that they are. This study sought to better understand traits that affect self-perceived mate value for both long and short-term relationships.
For their study, Zsófia Csajbók and colleagues utilized 3,895 adult participants from 41 countries to serve as their sample. Participants completed the questionnaires either in English or their native language with researchers translating.
Participants completed measures on mate desirability, where they reported how easily they could find a long or short-term mate, dark triad personality traits (Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism), parenting effort, mating effort, and individual single-item measures about how attractive they believe they are and how many long and short-term partners they have had.
Results showed that men reported higher overall desirability than women, with men feeling they had more long-term desirability and women feeling they had more short-term desirability.
This difference may be due to the importance of physical appearance in women’s mating strategies and their higher frequency of short-term mating offers, the researchers said. Men’s higher overall desirability might be linked to their tendency toward narcissism or women’s negative self-perception of physical appearance.
Age was a significant factor, with men believing their long and short-term desirability increased until 40 to 50 years old and then declined. For women, they believed their short-term desirability rose until 38 years old and then declined, but their long-term desirability was stable.
“We found that objective indicators such as age and sex affected mate value in the expected directions, but these effects were relatively weak,” the researchers said. “Instead, self-perceived physical attractiveness and mating strategy were more strongly associated with self-perceived mate value.:
Short-term desirability was more related to how physically attractive participants believed they were, previous mating success, mating effort, and all the dark triad traits than long-term desirability. Long-term desirability was more linked with parenting qualities than short-term desirability was, which is consistent with previous research. People in relationships perceived themselves to be more desirable than people who were single.
This study took interesting steps into better understanding self-perceptions of desirability. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that this study relied on self-reports of their own desirability, therefore there’s no way to validate or corroborate these values. Additionally, much of the sample was university students, making this sample more educated than the general population, which could affect generalizability.
The study, “Individual Differences in How Desirable People Think They Are as a Mate“, was authored by Zsófia Csajbók, Zuzana Štěrbová, Gayle Brewer, Cristina A. Cândea, Charlotte J. S. De Backer, Ana Maria Fernández, Maryanne L. Fisher, Justin R. Garcia, Daniel J. Kruger, Karlijn Massar, Elisabeth Oberzaucher, Katinka J. P. Quintelier, Renske E. van Geffen, Jaroslava Varella Valentova, Marco Antonio Correa Varella, and Peter K. Jonason.