Does physical attractiveness buy happiness? Women’s mating motivation and happiness

Abstract

Given the centrality of physical attractiveness in women’s mate value, we predicted that mating motive salience would increase the weight of physical attractiveness in women’s happiness. At an individual difference level, women with chronically high levels of mating motivation weighed physical attractiveness more heavily in their happiness than others (Study 1). When mating motivation were experimentally primed, happiness hinged more on physical attractiveness in the mating than in the control condition (Study 2). Finally, when compared across the ovulatory cycle, the importance of physical attractiveness in women’s happiness was accentuated during the high-fertility phase (Study 3). Results provide converging evidence that mating motivation increases the importance attached to and sensitivity towards physical attractiveness in appraising happiness among women. The current work suggests a novel evolutionary function of happiness, namely, to signal progress toward adaptively important goals.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The focus of this paper was on the role of mating motivation on female’s happiness, rather than gender difference. However, our Study 1 data also included males (n = 150; M = 31.53, SD = 6.54), allowing us to examine this issue. Regression analysis revealed a significant three-way interaction between sex (dummy coded), self-perceived physical attractiveness (centered), and mating motivation (centered) on subjective well-being, t(261) = − 2.09, p = 0.038, b = − 0.09, SE = 0.04, 95% CI [− 0.17, − 0.01]. Specifically, the two-way Physical Attractiveness × Mating Motivation interaction was significantly different for men than for women. Although this interaction was significant for female participants (as reported in the main text), this was not the case among male participants, t(149) = 0.43, p = 0.665, b = 0.01, SE = 0.03, 95% CI = [− 0.04, 0.07].

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Acknowledgements

The data reported in this paper were collected as part of the first author’s Master’s thesis at Yonsei University, and portions of this research were presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. The authors would like to thank the research assistants who helped to run the participants in this study at the Yonsei University; Ji-Eun Kim, Eun-Young Choi, Je-Wan Park, Ji-Hee Choi, Min-Young Choi. We also thank Jordan W. Moon for comments on the revised manuscript.

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All authors contributed to the development of the study concept and design. Data collection and data analysis were performed by A. Ko under the supervision of E. M. Suh. A. Ko drafted the manuscripts, and E. M. Suh provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

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Correspondence to Eunkook M. Suh.

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Ko, A., Suh, E.M. Does physical attractiveness buy happiness? Women’s mating motivation and happiness. Motiv Emot 43, 1–11 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-018-9717-z

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Keywords

  • Physical attractiveness
  • Mating motivation
  • Happiness
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Mate value