Cognitive processes underlying human mate choice: The relationship between self-perception and mate preference in Western society

July 3, 2003
100 (15) 8805-8810

Abstract

This study tested two hypotheses concerning the cognitive processes underlying human mate choice in Western society: (i) mate preference is conditional in that the selectivity of individuals' mate preference is based on their perception of themselves as long-term partners, and (ii) the decision rule governing such conditional mate preference is based on translating perception of oneself on a given attribute into a comparable selectivity of preference for the same attribute in a mate. Both hypotheses were supported. A two-part questionnaire was completed by 978 heterosexual residents of Ithaca, New York, aged 18–24; they first rated the importance they placed on 10 attributes in a long-term partner and then rated their perception of themselves on those same attributes. Both women and men who rated themselves highly were significantly more selective in their mate preference. When the 10 attributes were grouped into four evolutionarily relevant categories (indicative of wealth and status, family commitment, physical appearance, and sexual fidelity), the greatest amount of variation in the selectivity of mate preference in each category was explained by self-perception in the same category of attributes. We conclude that, in Western society, humans use neither an “opposites-attract” nor a “reproductive-potentials-attract” decision rule in their choice of long-term partners but rather a “likes-attract” rule based on a preference for partners who are similar to themselves across a number of characteristics.

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Acknowledgments

This work is dedicated to the memory of Linda Mealey, past president, International Society for Human Ethology. We thank Bernard Brennan, Rulon Clarke, David Gilley, Lori Miller, and all the undergraduates involved in the discussion sections of the Introduction to Animal Behavior course at Cornell University in the Fall of 1999 as well as the 978 members of the Cornell and Ithaca community who took the time to complete the questionnaire. We thank James Dale and, especially, Natalie J. Demong for comments on the manuscript. The research was supported by the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University.

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 100 | No. 15
July 22, 2003
PubMed: 12843405

Classifications

Submission history

Received: March 14, 2003
Published online: July 3, 2003
Published in issue: July 22, 2003

Keywords

  1. decision rules
  2. assortative mating
  3. marriage
  4. reproductive success
  5. alternative hypotheses

Acknowledgments

This work is dedicated to the memory of Linda Mealey, past president, International Society for Human Ethology. We thank Bernard Brennan, Rulon Clarke, David Gilley, Lori Miller, and all the undergraduates involved in the discussion sections of the Introduction to Animal Behavior course at Cornell University in the Fall of 1999 as well as the 978 members of the Cornell and Ithaca community who took the time to complete the questionnaire. We thank James Dale and, especially, Natalie J. Demong for comments on the manuscript. The research was supported by the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University.

Authors

Affiliations

Peter M. Buston*
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853
Stephen T. Emlen
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853

Notes

*
To whom correspondence should be sent at the present address: National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, 735 State Street, Suite 300, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. E-mail: [email protected].
Communicated by Thomas Eisner, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, May 28, 2003

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    Cognitive processes underlying human mate choice: The relationship between self-perception and mate preference in Western society
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 100
    • No. 15
    • pp. 8609-9102

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