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Maryanne Fisher is a psychologist best known for her work on women’s intrasexual competition and applying an evolutionary framework to popular culture.
Dr. Maryanne Fisher is a full professor in the Department of Psychology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada. The majority of her research has focused on women’s intrasexual competition for access to, and retention of, mates. Her first noteworthy contribution to evolutionary psychology was an empirical examination of women’s derogation of other women according to ovulatory cycle phase (Fisher 2004). More recently, she has turned her interest towards maternal competition in women. Other significant contributions include examinations of literature and popular culture, including Harlequin romance novels, co-editing Evolution’s Empress: Darwinian Perspectives on the Nature of Women (2013), and editing The Oxford Handbook of Women and Competition (2017).
Women’s Intrasexual Competition
In 2004, Fisher published the first empirical study of women’s intrasexual competition for mates. She proposed that the decrease in ratings of female facial attractiveness during ovulatory cycle phases marked by high estrogen as compared to low estrogen indicated derogation of potential mating competitors. A similar finding was not obtained for male faces, showing this decrease was potentially related to competition for finding a good mate, rather than simply a decrease in global evaluations of facial attractiveness. She then went on to demonstrate that romantic relationship status, self-monitoring, and sociosexuality did not lead to differences in evaluations of attractiveness, and those who were single and actively seeking a mate did not differ from those single and not seeking a mate (Fisher et al. 2008). These findings highlight that intrasexual competition for mates may not be influenced by romantic relationship status or one’s engagement in actively seeking a mate.
She has also examined the strategies that one may use in intrasexual mating competition. Her research shows that there are four primary strategies that people use. Self-promotion is when one attempts to make her/himself seem superior to rivals, such as by dressing nicely or drawing attention to positive personality traits. Competitor derogation instead is when one attempts to devalue a potential rival, relative to oneself, such as by making negative statements about a rival’s sexual history. Self-promotion and competitor derogation had been documented prior to Fisher’s research. However, she found the additional strategies of competitor manipulation and mate manipulation. Competitor manipulation is reducing the actual need to compete by manipulating one’s rivals, such as telling a rival that a targeted mate has a history of sexual diseases. Mate manipulation is when one attempts to direct the attention of a mate toward oneself and away from a potential rival. She found that self-promotion was the most used strategy, followed by mate manipulation, and that competitor derogation and competitor manipulation were used to the same extent (Fisher and Cox 2010). She has outlined these strategies further in a recent theoretical paper (Fisher 2015) and reviews the area in Fisher (2013).
Until recently, she primarily investigated the ways that young heterosexual women competed for access to, and retention of, mates. However, her focus has shifted from not only examining mating competition but also to study competition between mothers. Women, ultimately, must act in ways to improve their reproductive success, whether it takes the form of mating competition or mother’s competing for access to resources that impinge upon their children’s health, survival, and their subsequent reproduction. This line of inquiry has, to date, remained primarily theoretical (e.g., Fisher and Moule 2013; Fisher et al. in press).
Evolutionary Psychology and Popular Culture
Starting in 2003, Fisher (along with collaborators), began to apply the lens of Darwinian literary criticism towards a variety of media. The premise of this framework is that one may explore media to understand human’s evolved motives, cognitions, emotions, and behaviors. In 2012, along with Dr. Catherine Salmon, she co-edited the June 2012 issue of the Review of General Psychology on the intersection of popular culture and evolutionary psychology. She has investigated men’s and women’s mating strategies in Victorian romance fiction (e.g., Kruger et al. 2003), as well as in contemporary romance novels (Cox and Fisher 2009), television sitcoms (Fisher 2012), graffiti (Fisher and Radtke 2014), and song lyrics (Fisher and Candea 2012). She has also explored the topics of Western paintings, as well as the topics of what women paint specifically, proposing that these topics must at least partly reflect evolved human nature (Fisher and Meredith 2012).
Evolution’s Empress and the Oxford Handbook
Fisher co-edited, with Dr. Rosemarie Sokol-Chang and Dr. Justin Garcia, Evolution’s Empress: Darwinian Perspectives on the Nature of Women in 2013. This volume was inspired by the formation of the Feminist Evolutionary Psychology Society, which showed the need to formally address how women have been active agents during human evolution. The book contains 22 chapters, spanning a range of topics such as health and reproduction, competition and cooperation, parenting, and mating and communication. An offshoot of this book led to working with Sokol-Chang to edit the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology on the intersection of feminism and evolutionary psychology.
More recently, Fisher has edited The Oxford Handbook of Women and Competition (2017). Many but not all of the chapters in this book incorporate an evolutionary perspective. The book contains 39 chapters that range in their focus; topics include social status and aggression, gossip, mating relationships, endocrinology, health and aging, family, physical appearance, virtual considerations, workplace issues, and sport.
Maryanne Fisher is best known for developing the area of women’s intrasexual competition for mates and has begun to examine maternal competition in women. Other significant contributions include examinations of literature and popular culture, co-editing Evolution’s Empress: Darwinian Perspectives on the Nature of Women (2013), and editing The Oxford Handbook of Women and Competition (2017). Collectively, her work has helped to challenge prior assumptions regarding women’s passivity in humans’ evolutionary history.
- Fisher, M. (2015). Women’s competition for mates: Experimental findings leading to ethological studies. Human Ethology Bulletin, 30, 53–70.Google Scholar
- Fisher, M. (Ed.). (2017). The Oxford handbook of women and competition. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Fisher, M., & Meredith, T. (2012). Five frequent topics of Western paintings: An evolutionary perspective. The Evolutionary Review, 3, 116–124.Google Scholar
- Fisher, M., & Radtke, S. (2014). Sex differences in the topics of bathroom graffiti. Human Ethology Bulletin, 29(2), 68–81.Google Scholar
- Fisher, M., Garcia, J., & Sokol Chang, R. (Eds.). (2013). Evolution’s empress: Darwinian perspectives on the nature of women. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Fisher, M., Burch, R., & Sokol Chang, R. (in press). A theoretical proposal for examining the integration of cooperative and competitive mothering behavior. Human Ethology Bulletin (Vol. 32, p. 6).Google Scholar