New research published in Evolutionary Psychological Science sheds light on how women’s mate preferences change as a relationship transitions from a short-term to long-term context.
While several studies have asked women about their preferences regarding short-term and long-term partners, there had not previously been research examining whether women’s preferences change over the course of a single relationship. The authors of the current study sought to address this gap in the literature.
“This is something I have been interested in since I started my PhD, which examined male competitive behavior and the impact of life history variables,” said study author Rebecca Owens (@DrBecciOwens), a psychology lecturer at the University of Sunderland.
“My PhD focused on male behavior, but one way I thought would be interesting to further examine this is to look at corresponding shifts in female behavior. Generally, evolutionary psychology hasn’t done such a great job of explaining women’s mating behaviors, often overlooking women’s sexual desire and/or autonomy, and usually only looking at mating preferences in a short-term or long-term context, whereas we looked at the transition from short to long term.”
In the study, 190 women, who ranged in age from 18 to 58 years, read four short stories about the development of a hypothetical, heterosexual relationship. They first read about the couple’s first meeting, then about the first anniversary of the couple, then about their fifth anniversary, and finally about the first birthday of their first child.
The participants were asked to consider themselves as the female subject of each story and to indicate how important it would be for the man to display various characteristics associated with attraction (such as being charming and charismatic) and parenting effort (such as being considerate, sensitive, and faithful.)
The researchers found that women increasingly preferred indicators of parenting effort as the relationship evolved over time. The findings indicate that “women are generally attracted to more of a ‘bad boy’ type at the outset of a relationship, which corresponds to the idea of men ‘showing off’ to attract women,” Owens explained to PsyPost. “But as a relationship develops, women prefer their partner to settle down; she prefers he stops showing off, and previous research suggests that he prefers to do the same!”
“The major limitation of this research is that it was based on self-reporting from imaginary scenarios,” Owens added. “Obviously examining real changes over the course of a developing relationship would take a long time to do! Other research has successfully used similar methods, but it would still be good to incorporate more tangible methods here.”
The study, “Variation in Women’s Mate Preferences over the Development of a Monogamous Relationship Corresponds with Changes in Men’s Life History Strategy“, was authored by Rebecca Owens, Helen Driscoll, and Daniel Farrelly.