Skip to main content

Human mate choice and the wedding ring effect

Are married men more attractive?


Individuals are often restricted to indirect cues when assessing the mate value of a potential partner. Females of some species have been shown to copy each other’s choice; in other words, the probability of a female choosing a particular male increases if he has already been chosen by other females. Recently it has been suggested that mate-choice copying could be an important aspect of human mate choice as well. We tested one of the hypotheses, the so-called wedding ring effect—that women would prefer men who are already engaged or married—in a series of live interactions between men and women. The results show that women do not find men signaling engagement, or being perceived as having a partner, more attractive or higher in socioeconomic status. Furthermore, signs of engagement did not influence the women’s reported willingness to engage in short-term or long-term relationships with the men. Thus, this study casts doubt on some simplified theories of human mate-choice copying, and alternative, more complex scenarios are outlined and discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Andersson, M. 1994 Sexual Selection. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brooks, R. 1998 The Importance of Mate Copying and Cultural Inheritance of Mating Preferences. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 13:45–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dugatkin, L. A. 1992 Sexual Selection and Imitation: Females Copy the Mate Choice of Others. American Naturalist 139:1384–1389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 1996 Interface between Culturally Based Preferences and Genetic Preferences: Females Mate Choice in Poecilia reticulata. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 93:2770–2773.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 2000 The Imitation Factor: Evolution Beyond the Gene. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Galef, B. G., and D. J. White 1998 Mate-Choice Copying in Japanese Quail, Coturnix coturnix japonica. Animal Behaviour 55:545–552.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grant, J. W. A., and L. D. Green 1996 Mate Copying Versus Preference for Actively Courting Males by Female Japanese Medaka (Oryzias latipes). Behavioral Ecology 7:165–167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Höglund, J., R. V. Alatalo, R. M. Gibson, and A. Lundberg 1995 Mate-Choice Copying in Black Grouse. Animal Behaviour 49:1627–1633.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kirkpatrick, M., and L. A. Dugatkin 1994 Sexual Selection and the Evolutionary Effects of Copying Mate Choice. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 34:443–449.

    Google Scholar 

  • Knight, J. 2000 Move over Casanova. New Scientist 168:30–33.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pruett-Jones, S. 1992 Independent versus Nonindependent Mate Choice: Do Females Copy Each Other? American Naturalist 140:1000–1009.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schlupp, I., and M. J. Ryan 1997 Male Sailfin Mollies (Poecilia latipinna) Copy the Mate Choice of Other Males. Behavioral Ecology 8:104–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wade, M. J., and S. G. Pruett-Jones 1990 Female Copying Increases the Variance in Male Mating Success. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA 87:5749–5753.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Westneat, D. F., A. Walters, T. M. McCarthy, M. I. Hatch, and W. K. Hein 2000 Alternative Mechanisms of Nonindependent Mate Choice. Animal Behaviour 59:467–476.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tobias Uller.

Additional information

Tobias Uller works on broad issues in evolutionary biology, such as life-history evolution and evolutionary genetics. Christoffer Johansson recently received his Ph.D. with a dissertation on biomechanics of swimming birds. Their collaborative work on humans is focused on mate choice.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Uller, T., Johansson, L.C. Human mate choice and the wedding ring effect. Hum Nat 14, 267–276 (2003).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Key words