Social Taste Buds: Evidence of Evolved Same-Sex Friend Preferences from a Policy-Capturing Study

  • Adar EisenbruchEmail author
  • James Roney
Research Article


Despite the importance of friendship, the traits that people seek in a friend are not well understood. Here, we pursue the hypothesis that same-sex friendships evolved as ongoing cooperative relationships, so friend preferences should at least partially focus on those traits that would have made someone a good cooperative partner within the conditions of the human ancestral environment. We tested this hypothesis in a face perception paradigm in which undergraduate participants rated the friend desirability of target faces that were also rated on several traits hypothesized to be relevant to friend choice. This allowed us to test the actual predictors of attraction, rather than relying on self-reported preferences. Consistent with our hypothesis, we found that judgments of a target person’s desirability as a friend depended on perceptions of their ability to create material benefits in the ancestral environment (e.g., skill as a hunter or gatherer). These effects were not due to an attractiveness “halo effect” or a preference for intelligence more generally. In addition, we found mixed evidence for sex differences that match the typical hunter-gatherer division of labor. We discuss implications of these findings for the study of friend choice, and for understanding social preferences more broadly.


Friendship Interpersonal attraction Partner choice Evolution Cooperation 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

40806_2019_218_MOESM1_ESM.docx (639 kb)
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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyState University of New York at PurchaseNew YorkUSA

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