Evolutionary Perspectives on Mate Preferences

Diane S Berry.  21st Century Psychology: A Reference Handbook. Editor: Stephen F Davis & William Buskist. Volume 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2008.

After Anna Nicole Smith’s untimely death in 2007, many media outlets revisited the headline-grabbing details of her short but highly sensationalized life. In addition to working as a model and actress, the voluptuous blonde captured the title of Playboy’s “Playmate of the Year” in 1994. In 1996, she again attracted attention by marrying billionaire oil mogul J. Howard Marshall, a man more than 50 years her senior. Marshall expired the next year, setting the stage for a legal battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court over his fortune. Although the love match doubtless fueled many ribald jokes, few people were actually bewildered as to why Marshall chose to marry a much younger, physically appealing woman such as Anna Nicole rather than someone similar to himself in age and experience. Likewise, few seriously pondered why the former playmate choose the older, wealthy Marshall as a mate rather than a man similar to herself in age and life experience, perhaps one hailing from the small Texas town she called home. To most, the answers to these questions seemed self-evident.

Such “trade-offs” are not unique to current times, and have occurred throughout history. Consider, for example, Henry VIII notorious habit of trading in one wife for another. Typically, each new acquisition was younger and fairer than the previous spouse. For example, Henry married his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, when she was a youthful 20. However, he later divorced her after the much younger Anne Boleyn caught his eye. After Anne became his wife, Henry had her executed, allowing him to marry the even younger Jane Seymour. At age 49, Henry divorced his next wife, Anne of Cleaves, to wed Catherine Howard, a teenager 30 years his junior. Although we only have historical records on which to depend, those descriptions suggest that whenever Henry took a new wife, she was typically more youthful and more attractive than her predecessor. Interestingly, the king’s own physical charms were questionable, especially as he aged; moreover, historical reports suggest that these women were indeed more smitten with his power and wealth than with his appearance and youth. It is worth noting that as Henry’s power, status, and influence increased across time, his wives generally became younger and more comely (George, 1986).

Without a doubt, the Smith-Marshall match and Henry VIII revolving-door marital style are extreme examples of human mating behavior. However, the general idea that men prize youth and attractiveness in women, whereas women place a higher priority on men’s ambition, power, and resources, has received a great deal of empirical support (e.g., Buss, 1989; Buss & Barnes, 1986; Buss, Shackelford, Kirkpatrick, & Larsen, 2001). Moreover, although there are exceptions, more women marry men who are older than themselves than vice versa, and these age preferences are well documented across cultures and time periods (e.g., Buss, 2003; Kenrick & Keefe, 1992).

Sex differences in preferences for these attributes in a romantic partner are one of the most frequently cited predictions of theories of mate selection derived from an evolutionary perspective. In this chapter, we will explore the theoretical underpinnings of this prediction. Specifically, we will first examine some fundamental concepts of evolutionary psychology (EP). Second, we will consider why evolutionary models yield particular predictions about the determinants of romantic attraction, and review research that provides empirical support for these hypotheses. Finally, some important questions raised by an evolutionary perspective on mate selection are considered.

What Is Evolutionary Psychology?

Evolutionary psychology is a field of science that studies the roots of human psychology and behavior, including the study of mate preferences. More specifically, EP posits that such psychological characteristics evolved in a similar fashion to our physical and anatomical characteristics. A fundamental tenet of EP is Darwin’s (1859) concept of natural selection: (a) During our ancestral past, there were differences among members of the human species that influenced whether those members survived and reproduced, and (b) individuals possessing characteristics that facilitated successful survival and reproduction were better represented in future gene pools than those who did not possess them. (Natural selection also applies to nonhuman species, of course, but people are the focus of this chapter.) “Better represented in future gene pools” is simply another way of saying that if Person A has characteristics and attributes that allow him or her to successfully survive and reproduce, and Person B does not possess such attributes, Person A is more likely to have children, grandchildren, and, ultimately, great-, great-, great-grandchildren than is Person B. Thus, surviving, successfully reproducing, and leaving a line of successfully reproducing offspring historically translated into being better represented in the future gene pool.

When many people think of evolutionary processes, or natural selection, they tend to focus on survival selection, often called “survival of the fittest.” The doctrine of survival selection argues that the genes of individuals who possess traits that provide them with a survival “edge” over those who lack such traits are better represented in later generations. Let’s consider a concrete example. Suppose that in ancestral times, members of the human race had the ability to breathe the oxygen-based composition that constitutes earth’s air. Assume also that this ability was genetically transmitted from parent to offspring. Next, suppose that through some genetic fluke or mutation, a lucky few human beings developed the heritable ability to intake and successfully process both air and carbon monoxide. What would happen if earth’s atmosphere suddenly changed drastically, and our air was replaced with pure carbon monoxide? Whose genes would be inherited by and thus better represented in future generations? Those who could breathe only air would die. However, those who also possessed the ability to breathe carbon monoxide would survive, giving them the opportunity to reproduce and pass that ability on to their offspring. Future generations of the human race would include only descendants of those people who possessed the ability to breath carbon dioxide; in evolutionary terms, the ability to breathe carbon monoxide would become an evolved physical quality, or ‘”adaptation” (Buss, 2007).

This example involves a hypothetical anatomical characteristic that, via selection, becomes prevalent in a species due to the fact that it helped them survive in their particular environment. Traditionally, this is how people think of the process of evolution. As noted, however, evolutionary psychology goes a step further and posits that psychological characteristics—such as preferences, desires, emotions, likes, and dislikes—may also be selected in a similar fashion (i.e., by being passed on to offspring and, ultimately, becoming typical of the population; e.g., Buss, 2007). For example, ancestral individuals who preferred to seek nourishment from pebbles and dirt rather than fruit and meat did not survive. Thus, such dietary preferences would not be carried into future generations, whereas preferences for food and meat of course would, and are with us today.

Note that survival alone does not guarantee that one will contribute to the gene pool. That is, those people who lived to a ripe old age but had no children did not become the ancestors of future generations, whereas those who both survived and reproduced did. Thus, in addition to survival selection, Darwin (1859, 1871) proposed a second important concept, that of sexual selection. In particular, the doctrine of sexual selection states that individuals who possess characteristics that increase their likelihood of successful reproduction (i.e., mating) will be better represented in future gene pools than those who don’t. Therefore, sexual selection emphasizes differential reproduction as opposed to survival, and predicts that those heritable traits and characteristics that increase reproductive or mating success (as opposed to survival success) will be “selected” (in evolutionary speak) and also become widespread in the ensuing population. Within EP, sexual selection is posited to be one of the driving forces behind a number of human behaviors and characteristics, including mate preferences (e.g., Buss, 2003, 2007).

Let’s consider an illustration of how sexual selection works. In the animal world, for example, peahens prefer peacocks with large, colorful tails to those with less impressive plumages. As females prefer to mate with males who have large, bright tails, those males are most likely to reproduce and pass their genes on to the next generation. Thus, sexual selection favors these males. Note that this differs from survival selection, as the plumage provides no survival value, per se. This is a case in which certain individuals are favored genetically due to characteristics that are not directly related to survival, but increase the likelihood of successful reproduction.

Thus, sexual selection can explain why a characteristic not directly related to survival can be selected and become predominant in a species. But why do peahens find these males especially attractive? In fact, large and brilliant plumage in peacocks is an “honest advertisement” of the health and genetic fitness of the male bird. In particular, the more spectacular the plumage, the more of the body’s physiological resources must be diverted from other basic functions to produce and maintain it. Therefore, the healthier and more genetically fit the male bird, the more showy the plumage he can produce. Less fit and healthy birds simply can’t afford the physiological costs of producing the spectacular tail; in this case, those males’ more dull plumage is also an “honest advertisement” of their lesser fitness and poorer health (e.g., Hamilton & Zuk, 1982). Thus, peahens that select mates with impressive plumages produce healthier and more fit offspring than peahens that select males with more drab feathers. In fact, researchers have proposed that male physical characteristics that females find attractive in a variety of species reveal good health and genetic fitness (e.g., Johnson, Thornhill, Ligon, & Zuk, 1993; Moller, 1990).

Do the female birds “know,” on some conscious level, that males’ showy tails translate into health and fitness, and then consciously figure that into their mating choices? Of course not. What peahens do possess, however, is an evolved mating preference for such plumages. At some point in present-day peahens’ ancestral past, females who happened to select such males as mates had greater reproductive success than did their peers. In particular, they produced healthier offspring who, in turn, had a greater likelihood of reproducing successfully. Because of their increased reproductive success, these ancestral peahens were, over time, better represented in the gene pool, and eventually their mating preferences became characteristic of the female of the species.

Human Mate Preferences

What do peahens’ preferences and peacocks’ tails have to do with Anna Nicole Smith or Henry VIII? According to EP, quite a bit. In fact, evolutionary psychologists have extended the principle of sexual selection to human mate preferences, and argue that sex differences in such preferences are the end result of processes similar to those just described. One of the best-known theoretical accounts of evolved sex differences in preferences for qualities such as age, attractiveness, and resources is sexual strategies theory (SST), originally articulated by Buss and his associates (e.g., Buss, 1998; Buss & Schmitt, 1993).

Buss (2003) suggests that, in general, the ancestral men and women from whom we evolved faced similar “adaptive problems,” or challenges to survival and reproduction. As a result, men and women have evolved in a similar fashion within the majority of domains. For example, one adaptive problem involved ingesting sufficient and appropriate nutrients. If an individual successfully solves this challenge, she or he may survive; if not, she or he will die. As noted earlier, people who preferred fruit and meat survived, whereas people who liked to eat pebbles and dirt did not, regardless of their sex. Those men and women passed on their preferences to their offspring. Thus, over time, men and women evolved similar food preferences.

In the reproductive domain, however, the sexes faced somewhat different challenges. In particular, reproductive success (RS), the driving force behind sexual selection, is attained through different avenues for men and women. (Keep in mind that the term “reproductive success” means “success” in the very narrow sense of the extent to which an individual ultimately contributes to the gene pool.) According to SST, these differences ultimately yielded different evolved mate preferences in men and women.

Let’s think about the factors that could produce individual differences in people’s reproductive success. One influence on RS is the number of children one has. In part, number of offspring influences RS for purely mathematical reasons. For example, if ancestral woman A had 100 children, she would achieve greater reproductive success than woman B, who had 1 child, simply because woman A’s children (and their descendants) would account for a greater proportion of the population than would the child and descendants of woman B. Thus, by definition, woman A’s genes would be better represented in future generations. A related reason that offspring quantity influences RS is a bit more subtle. In ancestral times, environmental conditions were harsh, and medical interventions virtually nonexistent. As a result, the proportion of infants who survived long enough to mature and reproduce was relatively small. Thus, a man who had 10 offspring would have a better chance of eventually having grandchildren than would a man who had 1 child; the likelihood of having at least some offspring survive and successfully reproduce improved the more offspring one had.

As this illustrates, differences in the quantity of offspring is one factor that influences reproductive success. But note that having numerous offspring is a less effective mechanism of achieving reproductive success for women than for men. In humans, females are more physiologically “invested” in each offspring they produce. That is, although one act of intercourse could be sufficient for a man to produce a child, a woman must, by definition, invest an absolute minimum of nine months to do so. Note that this greater investment limits the quantity of offspring a woman can produce; the maximum number of children she can have during a year’s time is one. Thus, producing a high number of offspring is a more difficult road to reproductive success for women than for men. Because the number of offspring an ancestral man could conceivably father during the same time period is much greater, producing high numbers of offspring is indeed a viable road to increasing reproductive success for men.

Based on this concept of differential “parental investment” (Trivers, 1972), evolutionary biologists argue that whichever sex invests most heavily in producing offspring (in humans, females) will be the “choosier” sex when it comes to selecting mates. In a sense, women have fewer opportunities to produce offspring, and selection will favor those who make the most of what opportunities they do have.

If women are comparatively limited in the number of offspring they can produce, what would lead to different levels of female RS? In addition to the quantity of offspring an individual produces, RS is affected by the “quality” or viability of one’s offspring. All else being equal, a child who is healthy and genetically fit will be more likely to survive and successfully reproduce than one who is not. Thus, if two women have an equal number of offspring, the RS of the woman with more viable offspring will exceed that of the woman with less viable offspring. It is important to note that viability can be influenced by environmental as well as genetic factors. For example, a child who has access to shelter and nourishment will probably be more likely to survive and reproduce than one who does not.

Thus, one difference between the sexes in the reproductive arena involves how men and women can achieve reproductive success; due to differences in parental investment, women depend more heavily than men on offspring viability; that is, the genes of women who produced more viable offspring, and could secure the resources (e.g., food, shelter, protection, support) to raise them to sexual maturity, were better represented in future generations than women who did not. One implication of this is that women who selected mates who possessed such resources and were willing to invest those resources in her and her offspring ultimately had greater reproductive success than women who chose other mates. Thus, SST posits that preferences for male characteristics that correlate with potential resource accrual evolved over time, and became characteristic of human females.

Men encountered their own adaptive problems in the reproductive arena, although they differed somewhat from those of women (e.g., Buss, 2003). In particular, women’s reproductive capacity is directly tied to their age, and there is a relatively narrow “window” of potential fertility in women as compared to men. Whereas men can (theoretically) produce offspring throughout their lifespan, women’s ability to produce offspring peaks during the early 20s and then steadily declines during the years leading up to menopause. Thus, identifying fertile mates was more problematic for ancestral men than for women. As a result, SST predicts that men possess evolved preferences for cues to female fertility. These include youth and physical attractiveness, which are directly correlated with fertility. In other words, men who preferred and selected younger, more attractive women as mates experienced greater reproductive success than did those who preferred and chose older, less attractive women. However, because a man’s age is less directly tied to his reproductive capacity, “Youth and physical appearance should be less central to a women’s mate preferences…. [M]en more than women should value physical attractiveness in mates” (Buss & Schmitt, 1993, p. 209). In fact, because older men were more likely to have accrued wealth and resources, women are actually predicted to have evolved preferences for older as opposed to younger men (Buss, 2003, 2007).

Recall that men and women who had the highest levels of reproductive success became our ancestors; thus, according to EP, we inherited and carry their tendencies to prefer certain qualities in mates. Moreover, because men and women faced different obstacles in achieving reproductive success, men are posited to have essentially inherited somewhat different preferences than women. Thus, SST predicts that present-day women will place a greater value than will men on qualities related to resources and status in a long-term mate, whereas men will place a greater value than women on youth and physical attractiveness in a long-term partner.

Is there any data to support this prediction? The answer seems to be yes. In a seminal study, Buss (1987) analyzed over 10,000 men’s and women’s self-reported mate preferences in 37 different cultures. Consistent with the predictions of SST, men valued physical attractiveness and youth in a mate more than did women in nearly every culture. On the other hand, women in nearly every culture placed a higher value than did men on mate attributes associated with resource accrual, such as wealth, good financial prospects, industriousness, social status, and ambition. In a reanalysis of preexisting data sets on mate preferences collected from 1939 through 1996, Buss et al. (2001) also found that these sex differences replicate across generations. Other studies of self-reported preferences yield consistent results (e.g., Howard, Blumstein, & Schwartz, 1987; Kenrick, Sadalla, Groth, & Trost, 1990; Regan, Levin, Specher, Christopher, & Cate, 2000; see Okami & Shackelford, 2001, for a review).

Other work replicates these findings using different methodologies. For example, a number of studies have assessed mate preferences by analyzing personal ads and assessing the kinds of qualities men and women claim to seek in a potential partner. In general, women are more likely to indicate a desire for a partner who has appreciable financial resources than are men, and men are more likely to express an interest in a youthful, physically attractive partner than are women. Interestingly, women are also more likely to describe themselves as attractive than are men, and men are more likely to advertise their resources, status, and financial prospects than are women (e.g., Bereczkei, Voros, Gail, & Bernath, 1997; Harrison & Saeed, 1977). Other studies that focused on actual interactions among strangers found that women’s attractiveness was a good predictor of the dyad’s mutual liking and attraction, whereas men’s level of attractiveness was not (Berry & Miller, 2001; Garcia, Stinson, Ickes, Bissonnette, & Briggs, 1991).

Finally, note that the predictions regarding mate preferences made by SST are reflected in real-world mate selections. For example, men who achieve high levels of success tend to marry women who are younger and more physically attractive than the wives of less successful men (e.g., Udry & Eckland, 1984). Cross-culturally, reviews of marital satisfaction reveal that women who marry high-status older men report greater levels of satisfaction, and are less likely to divorce their husbands than are other women (e.g., Bereczkei & Csanaky, 1996; Botwin, Buss, & Shackelford, 1997) As noted previously, numerous studies document that husbands indeed tend to be older than the women they marry (e.g., Buss, Shackelford, & LeBlanc, 2000; Kenrick & Keefe, 1992).

But Don’t Girls Like Cute Guys Too?

In sum, a wealth of evidence supports the predictions made by evolutionary models such as SST regarding mate preferences. However, let’s not forget the peahen that preferred the male bird with the “attractive tail” to his competitors. Like the female peahen, human females are not immune to men’s physical attractiveness, as many of us might intuitively guess. For example, many studies of the “beautiful is good” effect—the well-established finding that attractive people are preferred over unattractive people in a number of domains—document attractiveness preferences in women, regardless of whether they are making same-sex or opposite-sex judgments (see Langlois et al., 2000, for a review). Even in the studies of self-reported mate preferences just discussed, the data don’t indicate that women don’t value male attractiveness; they simply don’t value attractiveness in a mate to the extent that men do. For example, Buss and Barnes (1986) asked college students to rank-order how important a variety of qualities in a potential mate were to them. Men gave attractiveness a mean ranking of 4.04, and women gave it an average rank of 6.26. The data did support SST’s predictions, as men placed more value on attractiveness than did women, whereas women in this study gave higher rankings to male qualities such as status and resources. However, it’s clear even from these data that attractiveness plays some role in women’s mate preferences.

Because attractiveness is not an indicator of men’s ability to reproduce (as male reproduction is not strongly tied to age), what benefit would ancestral woman have gained by choosing physically attractive mates? Sexual strategies theory does not directly address women’s attractiveness preferences, but another evolutionary perspective often called “good genes theory” does. These evolutionary models argue that women may have evolved preferences for physically attractive men because attractiveness can signal, or be an “honest indicator” of, genetic fitness (e.g., Thornhill & Gangestad, 1993). If male attractiveness reveals superior fitness, greater reproductive success would have accrued to women who preferred attractive men (via increased offspring “quality” and fitness), thus eventually yielding female preferences for attractiveness in a mate.

Let’s consider a specific example of how this might work. Studies have revealed that features such as prominent jaws and chins increase the rated attractiveness of male faces, whereas small, more rounded features are not considered especially attractive (e.g., Berry & McArthur, 1986; Cunningham, Barbee, & Pike, 1990; Keating, 1985). Moreover, these male facial features are secondary sex characteristics that develop due to the influence of testosterone. Testosterone is an immunosuppressant, meaning it decreases the efficiency of the immune system. Thus, these features—like the peacock’s tail—are “honest advertisements” of a robust immune system because men with inferior immune systems could not tolerate the physiological stress created by their development. Consequently, women who preferred these traits may have secured greater fitness benefits than their counterparts who preferred other features. Thus, these female preferences may have evolved. Like the peacock’s tail, these facial features may also have been selected in men via sexual selection, as they increased mating success (Thornhill & Gangestad, 1993). As with the peacock, this is an example of a physical characteristic evolving due to mating value, not survival value; in fact, the development of these features actually taxes the body, which is why they are honest advertisements of fitness (cf. Gangestad & Scheyd, 2005, for a more detailed discussion).

To summarize, the good genes model and SST may initially sound at odds with each other, but they are not. SST simply focuses more directly on the origin of men’s preferences for attractiveness, whereas good genes theory focuses on women’s interest in attractive men. Therefore, each model focuses on different sets of attractiveness-related qualities for which preferences evolved for different reasons in men and women. In particular, SST focuses on cues that reveal women’s fertility and reproductive status. As the likelihood of a sexual encounter producing offspring is directly linked to a woman’s age and, in turn, attractiveness, male preferences for these features increase men’s reproductive success. On the other hand, women may find particularly attractive male features that are “honest advertisements” of heritable fitness; this would lead to increased RS via increases in infant fitness and viability. The good genes model focuses on these mechanisms. However, both models may provide important insights into the source of men’s and women’s mate preferences, specifically in the domain of physical attractiveness.

Some Food for Thought

Evolutionary psychology is a broad and expanding field. It’s important that readers don’t take home the message that all of EP is focused on sex differences in mating preferences, or on the role of physical attractiveness in mate selection, the focus of this chapter. This is only one line of work in evolutionary psychology, albeit an important one that has received a good deal of attention. However, even within the mating arena, evolutionary psychologists study a variety of different topics such as infidelity (e.g., Shackelford, Buss, & Bennett, 2002), jealousy (cf. Buss, 2000), and spousal abuse (e.g., Shackelford, Goetz, Buss, Euler, & Hoier, 2005).

In addition, please don’t take away the message that the only topic evolutionary psychologists ever study (or think about) is sex. Because sexual selection is one of the “engines” that drive evolution, mating is, by definition, a major focus of EP. However, evolutionary psychologists study a wide variety of other issues as well. For example, various lines of work in EP are aimed toward developing an understanding of the evolutionary roots of child abuse (e.g., Daly & Wilson, 1998), religion (e.g., Kirkpatrick, 2005), altruism and helping behavior (e.g., Burnstein, Crandall, & Kitayama, 1994; Korchmaros & Kenny, 2001), sibling rivalry (e.g., Sulloway, 2001), anxiety and phobias (e.g., Ohman & Mineka, 2003), homicide (e.g., Buss, 2005; Daly & Wilson, 1988), child development (e.g., Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2000), and parent/child relations (e.g., Daly, 1990), to name a few.

As wide as the field of evolutionary psychology is, it is also deeply complex, and raises almost as many questions as it answers. The following questions are some that often come up when students encounter a description of evolutionary psychology for the first time. They are good, thoughtful questions. In some cases, EP has a good, thoughtful answer. In other cases, however, these issues are unresolved, and EP has yet to adequately speak to them. Although it is beyond the scope of this chapter to fully address these issues, recommendations for additional readings and sources are provided for interested readers.

Question 1: Evolutionary psychologists seem to think that ‘women are from Venus, men are from Mars.’ Is that right? After reading this chapter, it may seem that way. But evolutionary psychologists who study mating actually stress exactly the opposite point. The vast majority of the adaptive problems that ancestral men and women faced were similar: finding nourishment, regulating body temperature, forming coalitions, and seeking protection from predators, to name just a few. Thus, the physiology and psychology of the sexes are remarkably similar, except within the narrow range of mating and reproduction. Perhaps one of the reasons that these few differences seem so salient to us is the emotional weight that mating and reproductive decisions carry. See Buss (2003, 2007) for more on this issue.

Question 2: EP argues that men look for youth and attractiveness in women because they are ‘honest advertisements’ of fertility. But today, many young and attractive women use birth control, so preferring them wouldn’t increase men’s reproductive success. How does EP explain that? It’s important to keep in mind that such preferences theoretically evolved because they solved adaptive problems encountered in our evolutionary past, not necessarily during the present. The fact that a particular preference does not make sense today does not mean it did not favor survival and/or reproduction in the lives of our ancestors. Consider the following example. Buss (2007) notes that we have an unhealthy love of fat-laden food. This likely evolved from a very useful preference for such foods in our ancestral past, when these critical resources were difficult to obtain. Now that fatty foods are readily available (i.e., there’s a fast-food restaurant on every block), not only does this evolved preference not increase survival, it probably jeopardizes survival. However, evolution is a very slow moving process, and such preferences still exist in the present environment. Similarly, although attractiveness preferences may have no relation to the reproductive success of the current cohort of humans, such desires are still deeply embedded in the human psyche.

Question 3: When I think of a genetically inherited trait, I think of something like eye color. Does EP really mean to claim that what we like in the opposite sex is inherited by our children? If not, how could these preferences evolve? In fact, that is exactly the position endorsed by EP. Moreover, the logic of these models would fall apart if such psychological preferences were not somehow genetically specified. For example, Buss (1989) specifically notes that “an adaptation must have genes ‘for’ that adaptation. Those genes are required for the passage of the adaptation from parents to children; hence, the adaptation can be inherited” (p. 36). (Recall that “adaptation” is another term for a physical or psychological quality that has evolved via selection; thus, mate preferences are considered an adaptation.)

This is a controversial point. However, the idea that attractiveness preferences are hardwired does have some empirical support. For example, despite the fact that many people believe that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” research reveals that people agree in their judgments of attractiveness, and this agreement is observed across perceivers from very different cultures (cf. Langlois et al, 2000). Moreover, even young infants show a preference for attractive faces (e.g., Langlois, Roggman, & Rieser-Danner, 1990). Nevertheless, many psychologists have questions about this tenet of evolutionary psychology, and would welcome more discussion of evidence for the genetic and heritable basis of likes or dislikes, such as preferences for “men with resources” (see Berry, 2000; Eagly & Wood, 1999, for further discussion).

Question 4: I don’t understand why people’s mating decisions are called strategies. Does this mean people really plan how to increase their reproductive success? No, and the choice of the term “strategies” is (in this author’s opinion) an unfortunate one because it has misleading implications. Recall the ancestral peahen that happened to be attracted to the males of her species who displayed the most showy and brilliant tails. She certainly was not calculating reproductive success and making her mating decisions on that basis. She just liked what she liked, and as a fortuitous result, she had more descendants than did her peers. Similarly, consider the ancestral women who happened to favor men with broad jaws. Were they calculating their contribution to the future gene pool when they chose a mate? Of course not. Again, they just followed their hearts (i.e., mate preferences). If that preference happened to increase RS, it would influence the preferences of future women. In short, evolution is not an active process in terms of the decisions of members of a species; people (or peahens) simply make the choices that they make. If those choices happen to increase reproductive success, their preferences evolve. There is no implication that the decisions makers had any “agenda” or plan in mind. They simply acted on their feelings. Evolutionary processes are, in this respect, quite unconscious and passive.


In sum, evolutionary psychology is a new and fascinating science. Readers are encouraged to not simply dismiss EP because it raises questions. Rather, please explore the issues and questions raised (or others that have occurred to you), perhaps using the references and recommended readings listed. And, by the way, why might it be that Anna Nicole Smith married a much older man when she could (and probably did) easily attract younger men? Why did Henry the Eighth trade one wife for another as he aged? Why did women marry him despite the fact that he was older and less attractive than they were? Perhaps evolutionary psychology brings light to answers to some of these questions. Or, perhaps not. Reader, think; you decide.