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Female Mate Copying: Measuring the Effect of Mate-Relevant Information Provided by Former Partners


One of the most important decisions an individual can make is to invest in a relationship. For women, the process of mate selection can be time-intensive, and fraught with costs and dangers. However, these risks can be minimised by modelling the mate choices of others. The propensity to imitate another’s mate choices is referred to as mate copying. Most research has focused on this behaviour in nonhumans, but evidence of its existence in humans is emerging. In the current study, 750 women evaluated men’s desirability based on vignettes containing information provided by men’s former partners. A man’s desirability was enhanced in the presence of positive cues (i.e. when he was described as a “good” partner and his former relationship ended mutually). In contrast, a man’s desirability diminished in the presence of negative cues (i.e. when he was described as a “bad” partner and/or his former relationship breakup was female initiated). Overall, the current study adds to the existing body of knowledge on mate copying by demonstrating how females incorporate social learning and innate evolutionary drives to facilitate decision-making and behaviour relating to mate selection.

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Correspondence to Ryan C. Anderson.

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• Humans sometimes use a strategy known as “mate copying” to determine someone’s suitability as a partner

• We show that women are highly attentive to negative cues from about men

• Women dislike men described as “bad” by a former partner

• Women also dislike men who have experienced a female-initiated breakup

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Scammell, E., Anderson, R.C. Female Mate Copying: Measuring the Effect of Mate-Relevant Information Provided by Former Partners. Evolutionary Psychological Science 6, 319–327 (2020).

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