Do men and women really look for different things in a romantic partner?

August 26, 2013

Scientists demonstrate for first time that men, women mean what they say – guys care more about attractiveness, women care more about social status.

In the last few years, researchers examining "speed-dating" have been making a radical claim. Although men and say they want something different in , the two sexes really want the same thing. But a new study demonstrates that the claim needs revisiting. Indeed, men and women really mean what they say – guys care a lot more about attractiveness and women care a lot more about .

Published in this month's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the findings are the first to demonstrate experimentally that the sexes differ in the way they choose mates in real-life contexts.

The study's findings contradict recently popularized speed-dating studies that have found that, while men and women show these differences when considering hypothetical ideal partners, their preferences do not match up with how they actually evaluate and choose speed-dating partners. Both sexes seem to place equally high value on in their speed-dates.

A recent review of studies has found a similar lack of consistency between stated and actual preferences. Have in mate preferences been a giant fib? Do people truly lack awareness of what they desire in a partner? A closer examination reveals a far more fascinating picture.

Norman Li, associate professor of psychology at Singapore Management University, Oliver Sng, a doctoral psychology student at Arizona State University, and colleagues conducted various experiments using online chatting and speed-. Unlike past studies, these experiments were explicitly set up to include men and women with low social status and low physical attractiveness.

After chatting with opposite-sex individuals with both low and moderate levels of these traits, men, more than women, rejected and reported less attraction toward potential mates with low physical attractiveness. Women, more than men, indicated similar aversion toward those with low social status. Also, how people valued these traits when asked about their preferences on paper predicted their attraction toward actual chat partners encountered live.

According to Li, the study's lead author, the research is also novel because the scientists are clarifying how exactly men and women differ.

"That is, they prioritize different qualities when screening each other in online chats and speed-dates – women want men who are at least average in social status while men want women who are at least moderately physically attractive," Li said. "We also are the first to demonstrate that what individuals say they value in potential mates is indeed reflected in how they actually choose them in initial mating situations."

According to Li, men and women differ mostly on the low-end qualities that they want to avoid, not the high-end traits that they ideally desire. However, unattractiveness in women and low social status in men may not be well-represented in speed-dating events and attraction studies run on university students and professionals; hence, a reason why other speed-dating studies have not found sex differences and why it might appear that people do not know what they want in their potential mates.

"Speed-dating events and other modern contexts have many factors that can prevent a person's ideal preferences from being expressed," said Sng. "This new study identifies one such factor (lack of low-end variability) and shows that once you correct for it, people do indeed make choices closer to what they ideally want."

The new experimental findings are consistent with previous mate preference research conducted by Li and Douglas Kenrick, professor of psychology in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who found that men prioritize having moderate physical attractiveness, while women prioritize having moderate social status in a long-term mate.

Kenrick said, "The new study helps to dispel politically correct – but factually misguided – notions of a gender-neutral world where men and women want the exact same kind of mates."

Explore further: Review of research calls into question sex differences in face-to-face mate preferences

Related Stories

Review of research calls into question sex differences in face-to-face mate preferences

June 19, 2013
Women say they place a priority on a potential partner's earning prospects, and men claim to value a potential partner's physical attractiveness; these sex differences have been widely studied by psychologists for decades.

In dating game, narcissists get the girl

May 31, 2013
(HealthDay News)—Men with high levels of narcissism—an unrealistically positive self-image coupled with feelings of entitlement—have an easier time than others attracting a potential mate, new German research says.

Study shows men as likely as women to distinguish between desire and arousal

July 23, 2013
The theory is that men and women are completely different in the way that they experience arousal and express desire. But the first large-scale study trying to tease apart what goes on in the minds and bodies of men and women ...

Another scientific proof of the difference in social perception between men and women

July 31, 2013
"The Love Hormone", Oxytocin affects men and women differently in social contexts- in men it improves the ability to identify competitive relationships whereas in women it facilitates the ability to identify kinship. "These ...

Recommended for you

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

eHofmann
5 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2013
... the question now is: "what is attractiveness" ...
Moebius
not rated yet Aug 26, 2013
NM

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.