Mate-choice copying in humans – are all the taken men good?

January 29, 2018, University of St Andrews
Social influence by condition. Credit: Street et al

A new study by researchers from the Universities of St Andrews, Durham, Exeter and Arizona State finds that men get an 'attractiveness boost' from being chosen by others – but so do abstract works of art.

The study, led by Dr. Kate Cross from the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews, published in Scientific Reports today (29 January), casts doubt on the theory that evolution favoured who were attracted to other women's partners.

Mate-choice copying is a tendency to find potential partners more attractive when they have already been chosen as a partner by someone else. Many species of bird and fish show mate-choice copying, which helps females to select high-quality males as sexual partners and therefore provides an evolutionary advantage.

Some high-profile studies have appeared to show mate-choice copying in humans. The theory is that women are especially attracted to men who are already partnered because they can be assumed to be kind and faithful – which makes them 'good mates'. However, previous evidence has been thrown into question by the new study, which showed that women also copy the choices of others when asked about the attractiveness of other types of stimuli such as art.

Mate-choice copying in humans – are all the taken men good?
Credit: University of St Andrews

Dr. Cross, lead author of the study, said: "Women in our study found men's faces more attractive if other women had given that face high ratings. But the same goes for pictures of abstract artworks. Women appear to copy the mate preferences of other women, but this might simply be because humans have a general tendency to be influenced by the opinions of others."

The study also showed that including lesbian and bisexual women in the experiment didn't change the results – which suggests that women are influenced the same way, whether or not they view men as .

Joint author of the paper, Dr. Sally Street, Assistant Professor from the Department of Anthropology, Durham University, said: "Social influence affects every area of our lives, and this could include choice. But there isn't, at the moment, clear experimental evidence of a specialised mate-choice mechanism in humans."

When making judgements about attractiveness, it seems the opinions of other people matter, regardless of who, or what, is being judged.

Explore further: Why we desire partners who have had relationship experience

More information: Sally E. Street et al. Human mate-choice copying is domain-general social learning, Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-19770-8

Related Stories

Why we desire partners who have had relationship experience

June 26, 2017
Mate copying (sometimes called mate-choice copying) is where an individual is preferred as a future romantic partner simply because they have relationship experience.

Are looks more important than personality when choosing a man?

April 4, 2017
When mothers and their daughters have to choose potential partners, they do not look much further than skin deep. Mothers are not quite as picky though, and will choose a man who is only reasonably attractive for their daughters. ...

The color of attraction? Pink, researchers find

October 9, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Red-faced men are feeling flush with the revelation that women find rosy cheeks attractive.

Recommended for you

FDA approves brain stimulation device for OCD

August 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—A brain stimulation device to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has received approval for marketing Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Research eyes role of stress in mental illnesses

August 17, 2018
We all face stress in our lives. Even researchers seeking to understand why some people shrug it off while others face battles against disorders like depression or PTSD.

16 going on 66: Will you be the same person 50 years from now?

August 17, 2018
How much do you change between high school and retirement? The answer depends on whether you're comparing yourself to others or to your younger self.

Men and women show surprising differences in seeing motion

August 16, 2018
Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on August 16 have found an unexpected difference between men and women. On average, their studies show, men pick up on visual motion significantly faster than women do.

It's okay when you're not okay: Study re-evaluates resilience in adults

August 16, 2018
Adversity is part of life: Loved ones die. Soldiers deploy to war. Patients receive terminal diagnoses.

Expecting to learn: Language acquisition in toddlers improved by predictable situations

August 16, 2018
The first few years of a child's life are crucial for learning language, and though scientists know the "when," the "how" is still up for debate. The sheer number of words a child hears is important; that number predicts ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (2) Jan 29, 2018
In the se In the sense of looking for a mate who can be a good provider, going just by the face, for many, may be a matter of trying to discern that which is almost not there in a picture. People, then, might not trust themselves because there isn't much there to verify the person's nature. The opinion of others, then, becomes a means of ascertaining whether certain qualities are there without actually seeing them in action.
And this is the case with "modern art", also. So interesting that "abstract 'art'", a major branch of "modern art", is invoked here, rather than, say, "Old Masters". Much if not all abstract art involves something where no content is present. "Modern art" is a swindle in which garbage is passed off as "great" by gallery owners and "critics" and then sold to individuals who are only seeking an investment. There is nothing to see in "modern art", so many are guided only by what others say they see.
not rated yet Jan 31, 2018
"When making judgements about attractiveness, it seems the opinions of other people matter, regardless of who, or what, is being judged."

I haven't read the actual paper, but this article doesn't mention whether or not men were tested but specifically says lesbian and bisexual women were. I think in order to make the above statement, Dr. Cross should also have tested men.

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.