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Variation in Women’s Mate Preferences over the Development of a Monogamous Relationship Corresponds with Changes in Men’s Life History Strategy

Abstract

Much research has examined how men’s mating strategies change over the development of a relationship consistent with predictions from the Life History Theory. Specifically, research shows that both physiological and behavioural indicators of mating effort decrease once men are mated, and further once they become fathers, unless they remain engaged in mating effort. This switch from mating to parenting effort is sexually selected, and therefore, the corresponding shifts in women should be examined, though to date, women’s short- or long-term mate preferences have been studied as separate entities rather than as a transition in the short to long term. We examined how women’s mate preferences changed over the development of a relationship, to see if they varied consistently with what is known about variation in men’s mating effort. Vignettes detailed four key milestones in the development of a relationship and women rated the importance of the man at each stage displaying indicators of mating or parenting effort. Women increasingly prioritised indicators of parenting effort in men as the relationship developed, consistent with what is known about men’s reduction in mating effort in favour of parenting effort over the development of a relationship. The results support predictions from the Life History Theory and highlight the interacting mutually reinforcing nature of sexually selected behaviours.

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Data Availability

All data and materials are available on the OSF https://osf.io/6wa5t/ and a preprint is available on PsyArXiv https://psyarxiv.com/fr682/.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks are given to Dr Chris Lynn and Dr Sophie Hodgetts for providing feedback on a draft of this manuscript.

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Rebecca Owens: conceptualisation, methodology, software, validation, formal analysis, investigation, resources, data curation, writing of the original draft, writing review and editing, visualisation, project administration; Helen Driscoll: methodology, writing review and editing, supervision; Daniel Farrelly: conceptualisation, writing review and editing, supervision

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Correspondence to Rebecca Owens.

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Owens, R., Driscoll, H. & Farrelly, D. Variation in Women’s Mate Preferences over the Development of a Monogamous Relationship Corresponds with Changes in Men’s Life History Strategy. Evolutionary Psychological Science 6, 399–406 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-020-00246-w

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Keywords

  • Life History Theory
  • Mate preferences
  • Mating effort
  • Sexual selection