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What's most important when evaluating prospective mates?

A hamburger that's 90 percent fat-free sounds a lot better than one with 10 percent fat. And even when the choices are the same, humans are hard-wired to prefer the more positive option. You may wish to check out the abstract of a new study, "The framing effect when evaluating prospective mates: an adaptationist perspective," published the May 2014 issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. What's more important when evaluating a prospective mate: An attractive face, an attractive body, an average face and body, great earning potential, or simply kindness and a usually happy disposition?

What's most important when evaluating prospective mates?
Anne Hart, photography and book.

Authors are Gad Saad and Tripat Gill. The abstract of the study also is online since January 21, 2014. The study looked at the greater vigilance that women show within the mating domain (consistent with parental investment theory).

Findings of that study showed that at the attribute level, women displayed stronger framing effects than men in 10 of the 11 cases where significant results were found, and these were on attributes that accord with evolutionary principles. For example women exhibited larger framing effects for Earning Potential and Ambition while men yielded a larger effect in only one instance for Attractive Face).

The study seems to go along with the old adage that men look for attractive women, whereas women look for men who can be pretty good providers with some ambition to move up the ladder of success, however it's defined in the culture. That leaves women with the fear that they'll be dropped for a younger woman and leaves men with the fear that they'll be dropped if they lose their income and ability to provide. The result is that some men think of some women as gold diggers and some women think of some men as lazy and shiftless when it comes to finding an adequate income or at least showing the potential of some ambitiousness.

The study explained that finally, the sex differences in framing effects became stronger when evaluating short-term mates as compared to long term ones (in accord with the general guiding principles of Sexual Strategies Theory). The current paper situates the framing effect within an adaptationist framework, according to the May 1, 2014 news release, "The real difference between how men and women choose their partners."

What's described in the study is the 'framing effect,' a principle that new research from Concordia has proved applies to mate selection, too. In a new Concordia University's study, men responded more strongly to the "framing effect" when physical attractiveness was described.

The study — co-authored by Concordia University marketing professor Gad Saad and Wilfrid Laurier University’s Tripat Gill, and published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior — shows that when we choose a partner, the framing effect is even stronger in women than it is for men.

“When it comes to mate selection, women are more attuned to negatively framed information due to an evolutionary phenomenon called ‘parental investment theory,’” says Saad, according to the May 1, 2014 news release, "The real difference between how men and women choose their partners." Saad has done extensive research on the evolutionary and biological roots of consumer behavior.

Choosing a poor provider?

“Choosing someone who might be a poor provider or an unloving father would have serious consequences for a woman and for her offspring. So we hypothesized that women would naturally be more leery of negatively framed information when evaluating a prospective mate, explained Saad, according to the news release. To prove this, Saad and Gill called on hundreds of young men and women to take part in their study.

Participants were given positively and negatively framed descriptions of potential partners. For example:

“Seven out of 10 people who know this person think that this person is kind.”
[positive frame]
“Three out of 10 people who know this person think that this person is not kind.”
[negative frame]

The researchers tested the framing effect using six key attributes, two of which are more important to men and women respectively, and two that are considered as necessities by both sexes:

  • Attractive body (more important to men)
  • Attractive face (more important to men)
  • Earning potential (more important to women)
  • Ambition (more important to women)
  • Kindness (equally important to both)
  • Intelligence (equally important to both)

Participants evaluated both high-quality (e.g. seven out of 10 people think this person is kind) and low-quality (e.g. three out of 10 people think this person is kind) prospective mates for these attributes, in the context of a short-term fling or a long-term relationship.

More often than not, women said they were far less likely to date the potential mates described in the negatively framed descriptions — even though in each instance, they were being presented with exactly the same information as in the positively framed descriptions.

Women also proved more susceptible to framing effects in attributes like ambition and earning potential, while men responded more strongly to framing when physical attractiveness was described

This research highlights how an evolutionary lens could help explain the biologicial origins of seemingly “irrational” decision-making biases like the framing effect. Watch Gad Saad’s 2013 TEDx talk, “The Evolutionary Roots of Human Decision Making."

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