Evolutionary Psychological Science

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 212–223 | Cite as

Stigma Toward People with Mental Illness as Potential Sexual and Romantic Partners

  • Guy A. BoysenEmail author
Research Article


The general desire for social distance from people with mental illness is one common expression of stigma. Evolutionary theory predicts that mental illness should reduce the desirability of potential mates, but social distancing in the context of sexual and romantic relationships remains to be systematically explored. In order to test this and other evolutionary predictions, two studies examined perceptions of people with mental illness as short-term sexual mates and long-term romantic mates. Study 1 examined perceptions of people with schizophrenia (N = 168), depression (N = 164), and mental illness in general (N = 134) in terms of the traits typically possessed by desirable mates. For the majority of traits, participants evaluated people with mental illness as having significantly lower potential as short-term and long-term mates than the average person. Study 2 asked participants (N = 363) to evaluate personal advertisements depicting someone with mental or physical illness who was either high or low in physical attractiveness. Participants evaluated the person with mental illness as having lower than average potential as a mate, especially in terms of a long-term relationship. The results of the two studies provide preliminary evidence that stigma extends to perceptions of people with mental illness in a manner consistent with evolutionary theory.


Stigma Mental illness Evolutionary psychology Mate preferences 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


This research was funded by an internal Faculty Research Grant from McKendree University.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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© Springer International Publishing 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMcKendree UniversityLebanonUSA

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