Trade-Offs and Psychological Mechanisms: Experimental Methods and Mate Preferences

Publication Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date



Women rate creativity as important in a mate. But what if getting a more creative partner comes at the expense of losing a high income? Previous researchers have asked participants to their state preferences for mate characteristics one at a time. While results have been illuminating, tradeoffs routinely made among the characteristics have not been explored in depth. This research introduces two experimental methods to disentangle characteristics people consider most crucial in a mate (what people most prefer when overall choice is constrained) from those that are less crucial. In considering women for long-term mates, we found that men consider physical attractiveness a necessity, and women consider resource acquisition a necessity. Once sufficient levels of necessary characteristics are obtained, people become more interested in luxuries. Sex differences are most apparent when choices are most constrained, and less so as restrictions on overall choice are relaxed. For short-term mates, both men and women treat physical attractiveness as a necessity that takes precedence over other characteristics. From an evolutionary perspective, it may make sense that people are equipped with psychological mechanisms to choose mates as if they have the ability to make rough calculations on the marginal reproductive benefits of various mate characteristics. Similar to potential mates, researchers often face trade-offs. More naturalistic data have advantages, but experimental methods have a unique advantage in forcing people to make normally implicit trade-offs. We discuss how different methods can complement one another in studying mating preferences.


Gender and Sexuality | Social Psychology

Research Areas



Human Behavior and Evolution Society Annual Conference 12th HBES 2000, June 7-11

City or Country

Amherst, MA

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