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CONCEPTUALIZING COLLEGIATE DATING CONFLICT:
A BIOEVOLUTIONARY APPROACH
ALVIN W. LAWRENCE, JR.
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
I would like to thank Dr. Martin Heesacker, my chairperson, for his support and
guidance throughout this process. His patience and flexibility were integral to my
completion of this project and I greatly appreciate the confidence he has had in me
throughout my years in the program.
I would also like to thank my committee members, Drs. Carolyn Tucker, Edward
Delgado-Romero, Peter Sherrard, and Robert Ziller for their time and effort in helping
me complete this project. I would like to express special appreciation to my clinical
supervisor for the last 16 months, Dr. Paul Schauble. He provided a mixture of challenge,
encouragement, and support that helped keep me energized through some of the more
trying times of this dissertation.
To Allison Crew, I am grateful for the love, support and understanding she has
given me throughout this process. I cannot express how much this has meant to me. I can
only express my love and appreciation in hopes that she understands. I could not have
asked for a better partner.
I would also like to express my love and appreciation to my family, who has been
a source of never-ending support throughout my education. I truly could not have made it
without them. Lastly, I would like to dedicate this work to my mother, Linda Lawton. My
life would be very different had I not had such a remarkable woman as my role model.
With her, I share this success.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKN O W LEDGM EN TS ................................................................................... ii
A BSTRA CT.......................................................................................... ................................. v
1 IN TRODUCTION ......................................................................................................... 1
Purpose of the Dissertation.................. ........................................................... 7
Hypotheses...................................................................................... ............................. 9
2 REV IEW OF LITERA TURE .............................................................. ........................ 12
Buss's Bioevolutionary Theory................... ..................................................... 13
M ate Selection ..................................................... ............................................... 15
Attracting a M ate ............................................................................. ...................... 37
Conflict ..................................................................................................................... 48
Social Exchange Theory .......................... .......................... 58
Hom ans' Operant Psychology Approach ...................................... ...................... 59
Blau's Econom ic Approach........................................................... ...................... 63
Thibaut and Kelley's Theory of Interdependence......................... ...................... 66
Foa and Foa's Resource Theory ............................................................................. 71
W alster, Berscheid, and W alster's Equity Theory................................................. 73
3 M ETHOD ........................................................................................ ......................77
Study 1 ............................................................................................. .......................... 78
Study 2 ....................................................................................................................... 81
Analyses................................ ............................................................................... 84
4 RESULTS .............................................................................................. ...................89
Research Question ............................................................................ ...................... 94
Ancillary Analyses.................................................... .............................................. 96
5 DISCU SSION ........................................................ ................................................. 102
Results and Interpretations of Hypothesis Tests and Research Questions .............. 102
Limitations and Recommendations for Future Research......................................... 106
Implications for Counseling.................. ...................................................... 108
Summary/Conclusions ................................ ....................................................... 110
APPENDIX A RATER'S ITEM LIST....................................................................112
APPENDIX B RATER'S TRAINING MATERIAL ...................................................119
APPENDIX C MULTIPLE CHOICE TESTS.......................... ............................145
APPENDIX D RATER'S SAMPLE ITEMS........................................................149
APPENDIX E SAMPLE ITEM RATINGS .....................................151
APPENDIX F STUDY 2 QUESTIONNAIRE......................... ....................... 153
APPENDIX G STUDY 1 THEORY-FIT SCORES FOR EACH ITEM ...................159
LIST OF REFERENCES................................ ............................. ......................... 161
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ........................... ....................................................... 169
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
CONCEPTUALIZING COLLEGIATE DATING CONFLICT:
A BIOEVOLUTIONARY APPROACH
Alvin W. Lawrence Jr.
Chairman: Martin Heesacker, Ph.D.
Major Department: Psychology
The two studies reported in this dissertation evaluated Buss's bioevolutionary
theory. This evaluation involved both its ability to explain the sources of dating conflicts
experienced by collegians, as well as the degree to which it makes a unique contribution
in understanding dating conflict, over and above the contribution made by social
exchange theory. Social exchange theory is arguably the most viable alternative
explanation for understanding dating conflicts.
In the first of these two studies an 80-item instrument was developed using data
from a preliminary study. In the preliminary study, a sample of undergraduates listed the
problems they had experienced finding people to date and problems that they had with
people whom they actually dated.
Study 1 linked the items on the instrument to the two theories of interest, Buss's
bioevolutionary theory and social exchange theory. These data were then used in
combination with the data from Study 2, which included participants' reports regarding
problem frequency and importance, from a second sample of college students. These data
were analyzed to assess how much each theory accounted for participants' dating
problems, weighted by problem frequency and importance.
Support was found for the hypothesis that bioevolutionary theory would explain a
greater proportion of the variance in problem frequency and importance than social
exchange theory. Further analysis revealed that the superior ability of the bioevolutionary
theory to explain problem variance in the overall model was primarily due to its ability to
account for the problems reported by women participants. The methodological limitations
of these studies and the implications of these findings for practice and research are
The research to be reported evaluates the effectiveness of David Buss's (1994)
bioevolutionary theory of human mating behavior in understanding men's and women's
dating conflicts. Buss's (1994) theory proposes that human mating and courtship
behaviors, like many other behaviors, have been naturally selected over generations,
through evolution. From Buss's perspective, the reason people engage in particular
mating and courtship behaviors is that those behaviors have been successful in producing
offspring for their ancestors, who themselves reproduced and continued to pass these
behaviors onto succeeding generations. This work has the potential to enhance people's
understanding of their own sex as well as the other sex. This and related scholarship
holds the promise of greater consonance between the sexes, by understanding inter-sex
antipathies from the perspective of sex differentiated human reproductive strategies,
about which Buss and colleagues have theorized and collected data.
Inter-sex conflict has been a significant part of human history. What appears to
have changed over the years is where the blame" for that conflict has been placed. For
centuries that blame has rested with women, who were thought to be inferior to men.
Therefore, the inter-sex conflicts were viewed as their fault. The more recent answer to
this view has been feminism, which seeks to put women on a plane equal to men.
Feminism has offered an opposing (Firestone, 1970), but, I would argue, similarly flawed
view, that men are primarily to blame for inter-sex conflicts. The problem, according to
feminism-based perspectives, lies in traditional masculinity itself (Brooks, 1998). What is
offered here is a model in which neither sex is ascribed primary blame for inter-sex
conflict. Instead, this model posits that survival strategies that are specialized according
to sex sometimes naturally conflict, thus accounting for much of inter-sex conflict.
This research evaluates the utility of Buss's (1994) theory of human mating
behavior to explain, and predict difficulties experienced by college students in dating and
relationships. Buss's theory provides a less blame-laden and a scientifically more
satisfying explanation than the viewpoint that "men are bad" (see Brooks, 1998 for an
example of the male role blaming perspective).
It would constitute a misunderstanding of Buss's theory to view it as an excuse
for men's misdeeds or as a license for men to be able to do whatever they want. Rather, a
Buss-based approach should be viewed as an attempt to provide an understanding of the
origin of some of these conflictual, inter-sex behaviors, as well as an explanation of why
they have endured.
Buss's (1994) theory proposes that human mating and courtship behaviors have
been naturally selected over generations through evolution. According to this perspective,
the reason people engage in particular mating-relevant behaviors is because in the past,
these behaviors have resulted in offspring who themselves reproduced. That is, these
behaviors have survived because the genes of people exhibiting those behaviors have
been successfully passed on to future generations. Less effective reproduction-related
behaviors have declined because the genes of people who engaged in those behaviors
were less likely to survive to the present. At the heart of this explanatory approach is
recognition of the power of passing one's genes on to the next generation in shaping
human behavior, particularly mating behavior.
From Buss's perspective, the goal is the same for men and women, but the
effective strategies for achieving this goal differ. Though often unspoken and perhaps not
even consciously recognized, both sexes have the motive to increase the chances that they
will have offspring and that these offspring will survive to reproduce. Because a man can
impregnate more than one woman at a time, the male strategy with the highest survival
value, according to Buss (1994), is to father as many offspring as he can, in order to
increase the chance that one or more of them will survive to pass on his genes.
On the other hand, women typically have only one child at a time. Therefore,
women's best survival strategy is to maximize the chances of each child surviving,
according to Buss. A woman pursues this strategy by trying to "husband" and allocate as
many resources as she can to ensure the well being of her offspring. These resources can
include such things as an abundant food supply, safety, shelter, and social status.
In patriarchal cultures, such as the U.S. culture, these resources traditionally have
been disproportionately in the possession of men. Even before there were Western
cultures, Buss would argue that the demands of feeding and nurturing children often
reduced women's capabilities in garnering these offspring-relevant resources. It is
therefore in a woman's best interest, as far as gene survival is concerned, to secure the
resources of a male, especially the child's father, who, like the mother, has a vested
interest in that child. Ideally, she would want to have all of this particular man's resources
at her disposal. This, according to Buss, is in direct contrast with the man's strategy, as he
wants to conserve as many of his resources as possible to gain access to more women
who can produce more offspring. Thus, the conflict is born, according to Buss's analysis.
An example of the utility of Buss's perspective comes from an analysis of
research by Heesacker and Lawrence (1994) and Heesacker, Smith, & Lawrence,(1998),
in which differences were discovered in the frequency with which college men and
women desired specific behaviors from their romantic partners, in order to feel loved.
These behaviors were divided via factor analysis into four categories: (a) caring actions
(e.g., Cook a special meal for just the two of us.), (b) scripting (e.g. Say, "I'll always love
you."), (c) relationship support (e.g., Be a good listener to me.), and (d) sex (e.g., Initiate
sex.). Significant differences were found in three of these four factors. In order to feel
loved, women desired both relationship support and scripting behaviors more often than
men did. Men desired sexual behaviors more often than women did. There was no
significant difference in the frequency with which men and women desired behaviors in
the caring actions category.
This pattern of preferences is easily explained by Buss's theory, according to
which men would prefer sex more often than women would because more sex fits
directly into their reproductive strategy of producing numerous offspring. Women prefer
to receive more relationship support and scripting behaviors because they signal a higher
level of commitment of a partner to the relationship and thereby increase the chances of a
commitment of that male's resources to her and her offspring.
One way to evaluate the utility of the Buss approach is to compare it to older and
widely accepted theories of inter-sex conflict. Of the scientific theories that attempt to
explain these conflicts, social exchange theories are in all likelihood the most widely
accepted. There are several approaches to social exchange, each taking a slightly different
view of the decision-making process one undergoes during an exchange, the patterns of
exchange, and how conflict occurs within interpersonal relationships as a result of these
exchanges. Two of these social exchange approaches are equity theory and investment
Equity theory is concerned with fairness in interpersonal relationships and
consists of the following four propositions (Traupmann, Peterson, Utne, & Hatfield,
Proposition I: Individuals will try to maximize their outcomes (where outcomes equal
rewards minus punishments).
Proposition IIA: Groups of individuals can maximize collective reward by evolving
accepted systems for equity and will attempt to induce members to accept and adhere to
Proposition I1B: Groups will generally reward members who treat others equitably and
will generally punish members who treat others inequitably.
Proposition III: When individuals find themselves participating in inequitable
relationships, they will become distressed. The more inequitable the relationship, the
more distress they will feel.
Proposition IV: Individuals who discover that they are in inequitable relationships will
attempt to eliminate their distress by restoring equity. The greater the inequity, the more
distress they will feel, and the harder they will try to restore equity.
The investment model suggests that "individuals will be more satisfied with their
relationships to the extent that they provide high rewards, involve low costs, and exceed
their comparison level, or expectations regarding the quality of close relationships"
(Rusbult, Johnson, & Morrow, 1986, p. 82). When these conditions are not met, however,
conflict is created within the relationship. Also, persons who invest larger amounts of
resources into a relationship are presumed to be more committed to the relationship
because they will incur greater costs if it ends. The investment size is the "magnitude and
importance of the resources that are attached to a relationship--resources that would
decline in value or be lost if the relationship were to end" (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew,
1998, p. 359).
It is important to note that in a number of studies (Cate, Lloyd, Henton, &
Larson, 1982; Davidson, 1984; Hatfield, Traupmann, Sprecher, Utne, & Hay, 1985;
Rusbult, 1980; Walster, Walster, & Traupmann, 1977), social exchange theory has been
linked to relationship satisfaction as well as offering an explanation for relationship
conflict. For the purposes of this research however, this study and literature review will
focus exclusively on exchange theory's contribution to the conflict literature and not
address its connection to relationship satisfaction.
Returning to the research on desired loving behaviors (e.g., Heesacker &
Lawrence, 1994), some social exchange models also may explain significant portions of
variance in desired loving behaviors. However, each of them would have a difficult time
accounting for the sex differences in desired loving behaviors. The main reason is that
none of these theories make sex differentiated predictions. On the other hand, 6 of 10 of
the Scripting subscale items could be viewed as investment related (for example, "I love
you with all my heart and soul"). Likewise, three items in the Sex subscale and one in the
Relationship Support subscale could be viewed as related to the equity model. So, notions
related to theories of social exchange are reflected in item content, but not in factor
structure, nor do they readily provide explanations for the sex differences observed in the
desired loving behaviors research. Social exchange theory does not make sex-based
predictions regarding conflict. Parties in an exchange are considered to be basically equal
and can therefore assume any role in the conflict. Likewise, there are no sex-based
predictions regarding selecting or attracting partners. The Buss model, as indicated
earlier, not only is reflected in the item content, but also in the factor structure of the
measure, and provides explanations for the sex differences in the results.
Purpose of the Dissertation
The purpose of the two reported studies is to evaluate Buss's theory. This
evaluation involves both its ability to explain the sources of dating conflicts experienced
by collegians, as well as the degree to which it makes a unique contribution in
understanding mating difficulties, over and above the contributions made by social
Preliminary Study: Problem Identification
Toward this end, a preliminary study (the problem identification study) was
conducted. The purpose of the study was to generate a list of the problems that college
students are experiencing while dating. This purpose was achieved by giving a sample of
undergraduates the opportunity to respond to a survey that asked them to list the
problems they have experienced finding people to date and to list problems that they have
had with people whom they have actually dated. After the responses were compiled and
redundant items removed, a list of 80 problems remained. These 80 items make up the
assessments that were used in Studies 1 and 2.
The goal of this preliminary, problem identification study was to generate items
for use in Studies 1 and 2. A comprehensive list of college dating problems was
unavailable in the literature that was reviewed, so it was necessary to create one. What
was needed was a list of problems that college students have experienced. Once this list
was developed, it could serve as the basis of a quantitative measure of the frequency of
these problems and how important they are to participants.
A sample of 88 undergraduates was recruited from a lower level psychology class
at the University of Florida during the Summer of 1996. For participating, the students
were given one extra credit point in the class. The average age of the participants was
18.7 years. Of the 88 students, 31 of them were male and 57 of them were female. 64
participants identified themselves as Caucasian, 5 as African-American, 6 as Asian, 10 as
Hispanic, and 3 as other. All participants indicated that they were heterosexual.
Participants were read the informed consent protocol. They were then asked to
write their answers to the following questions printed on a standard form: "I'm interested
in the difficulties people have been finding and selecting people today. Please list the
problems you have personally experienced finding and selecting people to date. You
may use the back of the sheet if necessary." Next, participants were instructed, "Now
please list the problems you have personally experienced with people you have actually
dated. You may use the back of this sheet, if necessary." To preserve anonymity, the
participants were instructed not to put their names on the form.
All of the responses were compiled into a master list with redundant items
removed. In order to shorten the instrument and thereby reduce the chances of fatigue
effects on participants, low frequency items were also removed. Such fatigue effects
would inflate error variance and reduce reliability on the measure. For the purposes of
reducing the number of items, "low frequency" was defined as items that were endorsed
by fewer than 4% of males or 4% of females, provided that the opposite sex did not also
endorse that item. These were items that were endorsed by only a single male participant
or only one or two female participants. The different cutoff point for males and females
maintained a similar ratio of dropped items to participants for the two sexes. The actual
endorsement cutoff percentage for men was 3.2% and for women was 3.5%. This strategy
takes into account the different sample sizes for males and females. As a result, the
number of items removed for males and females were roughly proportional to their
numbers in the samples. Of the 34 items that were removed, males generated 12 of them
and 22 were generated by females. The proportion of males and females in the sample
reflects the differential popularity of undergraduate psychology courses for males and
females at the University of Florida.
After the above-described reduction of items, the resulting instrument contained
33 different items for the first question (regarding problems finding people to date) and
47 different items for the second question (regarding conflicts in dating relationships). In
response to the first question, men generated 19 different items and women generated 29
different items. In response to the second question, men and women generated 29 and 45
different items, respectively. This group of items was used in the surveys conducted in
Studies 1 and 2.
Study 1 sought to link the items that were generated in the preliminary study to
the two theories of interest, Buss's bioevolutionary theory and social exchange theory.
Participants in this study attended a training session to ensure that they understood each
of the theories. Following that session, they rated each of the problems with respect to the
degree to which it could be explained by each theory. The scores of all of the raters were
averaged for each problem, creating three theory-fit scores for each problem, two for
bioevolutionary theory and one for social exchange theory, which indicate the degree to
which it can be explained by each theory. The reason for two theory-fit scores being
calculated for bioevolutionary theory is that Buss's theory makes sex-differentiated
predictions for areas of conflict. These data were used in combination with the data from
Study 2 to assess how much each theory accounts for the problems that college students
report most frequently and as being most important. The hypothesis tested in Study 1 was
that there would be a main effect for theory and that there would be neither a main effect
for sex of the rater nor an interaction effect between sex of the rater and theory on the
Study 2 assessed the frequency with which collegians experience these problems
and the level of importance that they place on the problems. The participants in this study
indicated, on a 5-point scale, how often each problem had happened to them and how
important each of the problems was to them. These data, when combined with the theory-
fit scores generated in Study 1, provided a quantitative measure of the extent to which
each of the theories accounted for the frequency of each of the problems, the importance
of each of the problems, and the interaction between frequency and importance of college
Buss's theory predicts that the problems that collegians most often experience and
those that they consider most important would mirror the sometimes-conflicting mating
strategies of each sex. According to Buss (1994) the problems that collegians find most
important will differ according to sex in the same way that mating strategies with the
highest survival rate for one's offspring will also differ according to sex.
The hypothesis tested in Study 2 is that the bioevolutionary coefficient resulting
from the interaction of problem frequency, problem importance and the Study 1 theory-fit
scores will be significantly greater than the comparable social exchange coefficient,
suggesting that bioevolutionary theory provides a more complete explanation for
collegiate dating problems than social exchange theory.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
This chapter reviews relevant literature on the topics of bioevolutionary theory
and social exchange theory. These studies and resources were collected primarily via a
computerized literature search of the American Psychological Association's PsychInfo
database. The following terms were utilized in various combinations as search criteria:
"college," "dating," "problems," "relationship," "conflict," "social exchange," "equity
theory," "investment theory," "bioevolutionary," and "Buss."
Articles were selected for inclusion in this review because they met one of two
criteria: (a) they either explained or supported an important component of one of the two
theories of interest (bioevolutionary and social exchange) or (b) they described how
conflict occurs in relationships from the perspective of one of the two theories. Articles
that focused primarily or exclusively on relationship satisfaction were excluded. No
evidence was found in the literature to clearly link relationship conflict with relationship
This review of literature is divided into two main parts, the first of which focuses
on an explanation of Buss's bioevolutionary theory. First, a general introduction to the
theory is given, followed by sections that explain (a) how mates are selected, (b) how
humans attract mates, and (c) causes of conflict. The second part of this literature review
focuses on social exchange theory. Five sub-sections follow that describe how decisions
are made and how conflict occurs from different perspectives that fall under the
conceptual umbrella of social exchange theory.
Buss's Bioevolutionary Theory
Buss's (1994) theory proposes that human mating and courtship behaviors have been
naturally selected over generations through evolution, the same way that other behaviors
have been naturally selected. Human ancestors had to develop strategies to deal with a
myriad of problems that threatened their survival. For example, they had to figure out
ways to get nourishment. Faced with many choices of things to eat, they had to decide
which ones were valuable nutrition sources and which ones offered no nutritional value,
or worse, were harmful or toxic. Through millions of years of evolution, people
developed taste buds that are sensitive to sugar and fat and respond negatively to things
that taste sour or bitter. People also solved the problem of extremes in heat and cold by
developing the ability to regulate their body temperatures by sweating and shivering.
These are examples of survival strategies.
Buss (1994) argued that human ancestors developed sexual strategies in much the
same way, to overcome various mating problems.
All of us descend from a long and unbroken line of ancestors who
competed successfully for desirable mates, attracted mates who were
reproductively valuable, retained mates long enough to reproduce, fended
of interested rivals, and solved the problems that could have impeded
reproductive success. We carry in us the sexual legacy of those success
stories. (Buss, 1994, pp. 5-6)
Buss's theory has its roots in the work of Charles Darwin and his theory of sexual
selection. According to Darwin (1859, 1871), sexual selection can take two forms. One
form has members of the same sex competing with each other and as a result, the winners
gain greater access to members of the opposite sex for reproduction. Examples of this
type of competition are bighorn sheep, whose rams clash heads in competition for
breeding rights, and lions, whose males will fight each other for possession of a pride.
The characteristics that lead to victory in these types of competition, strength, size, agility
and intelligence, for example, evolve because the victors mate more often than the losers,
and thus pass their genes on to more offspring.
In the second form of sexual selection, members of the opposite sex choose mates
based on preferences for characteristics that they themselves find attractive. Those
possessing the desirable characteristics mate more often and their genes survive whereas
those who lack those characteristics mate far less often, if at all, and their genes die out.
A common example of this form of selection occurs in the peacock. Over generations,
female peacocks peahenss) have shown a preference for males (peacocks) with large,
bright tail plumage. Peacocks who possessed this characteristic mated more often and
passed their genes to future generations. Those with small or dull plumes do not mate as
often and their genes, over time, perish. These two forms of sexual selection help to
explain mating behavior by identifying the processes by which evolutionary change can
occur, namely competition for a mate and preferences for a mate.
According to this perspective, the reason people engage in particular mating
relevant behaviors is because in the past, these behaviors have resulted in offspring who
themselves reproduced. That is, these behaviors have survived because the genes of
people exhibiting those behaviors have been passed on to future generations. Less
effective reproduction related behaviors have declined because the genes of people who
engaged in those behaviors were less likely to survive to the present.
All of human's sexual strategies are created to solve a specific problem of mating,
according to Buss's theory. They range from strategies for selecting a desirable mate to
defeating rivals for access to desirable mates, to attracting and keeping desirable mates.
Buss (1994) stated that each sexual strategy has an underlying psychological mechanism
(i.e., preference for a particular mate, feelings of love, sexual desire, or jealousy) which is
sensitive to cues from the outside world, such as physical features, signs of sexual
interest, or hints about potential infidelity. These mechanisms are also sensitive to cues
about ourselves, such as our ability to attract and retain a mate who is high in desirability.
Buss (1994) also noted that the term "sexual strategy" may be misleading in that it
may suggest conscious intent. These sexual strategies do not require conscious thought in
the same manner that our sweat glands do not require thought to regulate our body
temperature. Sweating is a "strategy" that we have developed to deal with a particular
problem and sexual strategies are no different. Buss further suggested that most human
sexual strategies are best carried out without conscious awareness in much the same way
as a person's typing speed would be slowed if he or she were to consciously focus on his
or her finger placement.
Nowhere do people have an equal desire for all members of the opposite sex.
Everywhere there are preferences for some potential mates, whereas others are
considered less desirable. Buss suggested that human's sexual desires evolved in the
same manner as other preferences and desires. For example, human ancestors had to
solve the problem of deciding what food to eat. Faced with numerous choices of things to
eat (e.g., trees, grass, fruit insects, dirt, rocks, poisonous plants, various animals), one
must develop strategies for deciding which things to ingest. If people ate anything at
random, by chance some people would ingest healthy, nutritious foods and survive. On
the other hand, some would randomly ingest unhealthy or poisonous foods and die.
Human ancestors who had preferences for foods that were nutritious, or at least non-
toxic, survived to reproduce. Those preferences were passed on to their offspring and so
on. Our current food preferences reflect this idea. People tend to show a preference for
foods that are rich in fat, sugar, protein, and salt as well as an aversion to substances that
are bitter, sour and toxic (Rozin, 1976). These preferences helped solve a specific
problem of survival and we carry them today because they were adaptive for our
Characteristics that we prefer in mates serve similar adaptive purposes. Their
impact however is not linked as directly to people's survival as individuals. Ancestors,
who faced a myriad of challenges (hunting for meat, gathering fruits and berries, staying
warm, and protecting themselves from predatory animals and other hostile humans) had
to make wise choices when considering a mate. If one chose a mate who could not
deliver resources such as food and protection, lacked hunting skills, was lazy, had affairs,
was unhealthy, or abusive, it could threaten one's own survival and certainly reduce the
chances of reproducing successfully. On the other hand, if one chose a mate who
provided sufficient resources, was an effective hunter, was healthy, provided protection
and devoted time and effort to the family, one would be in a reproductively advantageous
position. "As a result of the powerful survival and reproductive advantages that were
reaped by those of our ancestors who chose a mate wisely, clear desires in a mate
evolved" (Buss, 1994, p. 7). Humans today, as descendants of those ancestors, carry
those same preferences.
A non-human example of this process involves the African village weaverbird
(Collias & Collias, 1970). When a male weaverbird notices a female in the vicinity of his
nest, he hangs upside-down from it flapping his wings to get her attention. The female
then approaches and enters the nest to examine it. She will poke around and otherwise
test the nest and materials for up to ten minutes. She may at any point decide that the nest
does not meet her standards and leave in search of another male. If the nest passes
inspection, she may choose to mate with him. A male whose nest is rejected by several
females might destroy it and build a new one. By exerting a preference for males who
construct sound, sturdy nests, the female weaverbird partially solves the problem of
protecting her future chicks. Her preferences have evolved because they provided a
reproductive advantage to her offspring when compared to offspring of females who
mated with males who built substandard nests. The offspring of the more selective
females, in turn, passed on to their offspring these same preferences of nesting.
Buss (1994) suggested that women, much like the weaverbird, prefer men with
desirable "nests." An ancestral woman who chose to mate with men who were impulsive,
unfaithful, or unable to sustain a relationship ended up raising her children alone without
the resources, assistance, and protection that another man would have provided. By
contrast, a woman who chose to mate with a man who was more willing to commit to her
and their offspring would be more likely to have children that survived. Over thousands
of generations, a preference for men who showed signs of willingness to commit evolved
in women in much the same way that preferences for males who build superior nests
evolved in weaverbirds. These preferences solve specific reproductive problems in the
same way that food preferences solve specific survival problems.
Buss (1994) suggests that in humans, women are more selective in their choice of
mates than men are because of their greater investment in the reproduction process.
One act of sexual intercourse, which requires minimal male investment,
can produce and obligatory and energy-consuming nine -month
investment by the woman that forecloses other mating opportunities.
Women then bear the exclusive burden of lactation, an investment that
may last as long as three or four years. (pp. 19-20)
Because our female ancestors risked enormous investment as a result of having
sex, evolution favored women who were highly selective about the males with whom
they chose to mate. Women who were less selective suffered costs such as lower
reproductive success and fewer offspring who survived to reproduce themselves.
Ancestral men, on the other hand, could leave a casual sexual relationship with minimal
investment or consequence, perhaps only a few hours of his time. His reproductive
success was very minimally affected, if at all. Ancestral women could also walk away
from these encounters, but if they got pregnant, would have to deal with the costs of that
decision for months and possibly years after that. Buss (1994) noted that modem birth
control methods have altered these costs somewhat by reducing the chances that a woman
will become pregnant. But he also noted that our sexual strategies developed over
millions of years to deal with certain adaptive problems and we still possess the
underlying psychology of those strategies today, although the environment has changed.
According to Buss's theory, women would develop preferences for men who
possess characteristics that would increase their chances for reproductive success. In
order for preferences to develop, women must be able to detect differences between men.
Men can vary in a myriad of ways on a variety of attributes. However, evolution would
only develop preferences for those attributes that somehow granted a reproductive
advantage. Evolution favors women who prefer men who possess attributes that endow
benefits and who avoid men who possess attributes that impose costs. Each of these
attributes represents one component of a man's value to a woman as a mate and each of
her preferences is aimed at one component.
These preferences, however, tend to be dynamic and can vary between individual
women. A particular man may have different value as a mate to different women
depending on the individual circumstances of those women. For example, a man who is
willing and able to provide direct child care is more valuable to a woman who does not
have extended family living nearby than he is to one who has a number of relatives to
assist her. Since some of these characteristics change over time, women must also be able
to predict a man's potential to acquire the desired characteristics in the future.
One of the characteristics of men that women tend to hold important when
selecting a mate is economic capacity. Buss (1994) noted that in order for preferences for
a mate with resources to develop, three conditions would have to be met: (a) resources
would have to be accruable, defensible and controllable by men, (b) men would have to
differ from each other in their acquisitions and their willingness to invest those resources
in a woman and her children, and (c) the benefits of being with one man would have to
outweigh the benefits of being with several men. Buss noted that in humans, all three of
these conditions are easily met.
Early research by Hill (1945), Hudson & Henze (1969), and McGinnis (1958) has
shown that American women valued good financial prospects in a mate twice as much as
men did. In 1989, Buss found that American women still preferred good financial
prospects in a mate about twice as much as men did.
Kenrick, Sadalla, Groth, & Trost (1990) developed a system of measuring to what
degree men and women value certain characteristics in the opposite sex. The system was
based on percentiles and subjects indicated what percentile a potential spouse would have
to fall into in order to be acceptable. For example, a person in the 50'h percentile on a
characteristic would rank higher than 50% of the other people on that characteristic and
below 49% of the other people on that particular characteristic. American college women
indicated that a potential husband would have to minimally rank in the 70th percentile in
the category of earning capacity in order to be acceptable. American college men,
however, indicated that a potential wife need only minimally rank in the 40"' percentile
for earning capacity in order to be acceptable. These results are not limited to college
students. In a study of 1,111 personal ads placed in newspapers and magazines,
Wiederman (1993) found that females who placed ads sought financial resources roughly
eleven times as often as male advertisers did.
These preferences are not limited to American women, nor are they limited to
Western societies. Research (Buss, 1989b, and Buss et al., 1990) collected in thirty-seven
cultures also shows these patterns of preferences. Buss and his colleagues collected data
from cultures around the world on six continents and five islands. Subjects came from
populations that varied on many demographic and cultural characteristics (for example,
societies that practiced polygyny as well as those that were monogamous and countries in
which unmarried cohabitation was condoned as well as those in which it was denounced).
In all, data were collected from 10,047 individuals. Based on results from these studies,
Buss (1994) made the following statement regarding the importance women place on
financial resources when selecting a mate:
Women across all continents, all political systems (including socialism
and communism), all racial groups, all religious groups, and all systems of
mating (from intense polygyny to presumptive monogamy) place more
value than men on good financial prospects. Overall, women value
financial resources about 100 percent more than men do, or roughly twice
as much. (p.25)
There were variations between culture in the degree to which women's
preferences exceed men's for financial prospects, some more than twice as much (Japan)
and some less than twice as much (Netherlands). Despite these cultural differences in
degree, it was universally found that women desired financial resources in a marriage
partner more than men did (Buss et al., 1990).
Another characteristic that women consider when choosing a mate is social status.
Women desire men who occupy high positions in society because social status is a
universal cue to the control of resources. Studies of traditional hunter-gatherer societies
(Betzig, 1986) revealed that there are clearly defined status hierarchies in which
resources are readily available to those at the top of the hierarchy and trickle down slowly
to those at the bottom. These societies are our best guide to what conditions were like for
our early human ancestors. With this being the case, a man's rank in the social hierarchy,
his status, would be a powerful clue to his possession of resources. In fact, Betzig (1986)
found that in the 186 societies studied, high-status men invariably had greater wealth,
provided better nourishment for their children and had more wives than low-status men
Studies of American women (Buss & Barnes, 1986; Hill, 1945; Hudson & Hanze,
1969; Langhorne & Secord, 1955; McGinnis, 1958) have revealed that they have a
preference for mates who have a high social status or a high-status profession, rating it
only slightly less important than good financial prospects. In a study of college students,
women listed status, prestige, rank, position, power, standing, and station as important
more frequently than men did in terms of choosing a mate (Langhome & Secord, 1955).
Buss and Schmitt (1993) found that women judge the likelihood of success in a
profession and the possession of a promising career to be highly desirable in a spouse.
They also placed great value on education and professional degrees in mates, both of
which tend to be linked to higher social status, and conversely indicated that a lack of
education was undesirable in a potential husband.
In Buss's (1989b) cross-cultural study, his research found that in the vast majority
of the thirty-seven cultures studied, women valued social status in a prospective mate
more than men did. Because social hierarchies are universal features among human
societies and resources tend to accumulate for those at the top of these hierarchies, one
way that ancestral women solved the problem of acquiring resources was to express a
preference for men who are high in status. The cross-cultural evidence seems to support
the evolutionary prediction that women will key into this cue for resource acquisition.
Worldwide, women prefer to marry up the social hierarchy. In humans' evolutionary
past, women who did so were better able to provide resources for themselves and their
children, giving them a reproductive advantage over women who did not.
Another characteristic that women use to select mates is age. Buss (1989b)
reported that in all thirty-seven cultures that were included in the study on choosing a
mate, women preferred men who were, on average, about three and a half years older
than they were. The smallest age difference was among French Canadian women, who
preferred men who were almost two years older. The largest difference was among
Iranian women, whose husbands were more than five years older than they were.
Worldwide, men averaged to be three years older than their brides were.
Buss (1994) suggested that one of the reasons that women prefer men who are
older is that their social status and access to resources both increase with age. This tends
to hold true in both Western and non-Western societies. For example, Jencks (1979)
found that American men who are thirty years old made about fourteen thousand dollars
more than men who were twenty. Men who were forty made seven thousand dollars more
than men who were thirty. A non-Western example can be found among the Tiwi tribe. In
this tribe, the oldest men possess the most power and social status and control the mating
system through a network of alliances. Hart and Pilling (1960) found that among the
Tiwi, men are typically at least thirty years old before they acquire enough social status to
acquire their first wife and rarely does a man acquire enough social status to have more
than one wife before the age of forty.
Buss noted that despite the fact that men's financial resources generally do not
peak until he is in his forties or fifties, that twenty year-old women in all thirty-seven
cultures studied still preferred to marry men who were only a few years older. Buss
(1994) suggested that younger women may not be drawn to substantially older men
because the have a greater risk of dying sooner and leaving them without the resources
they were providing, nor the protection for herself and her children. He also suggested
that a larger discrepancy in ages might lead to increased conflict resulting in a greater
chance of divorce, again leaving the woman without the resources her mate was
Often, younger men have not yet reached their peak of resource acquisition or
social status. Ancestral women, in order to increase their reproductive advantage, needed
to find a way to predict a man's future economic capacity or social status. Research has
shown (Buss. 1989b; Jencks, 1979; Willerman, 1979) that men who were industrious and
ambitious secured higher occupational status than men who were lazy and unmotivated.
Industriousness and ambition can serve as cues to women about a man's potential status
or earning power before they have peaked and women appear to be aware of this cue.
Langhorne and Secord (1955) found that women in their study of undergraduates desired
mates who enjoyed their work, showed career orientation, and demonstrated
industriousness and ambition much more often than men did. American women in the
cross-cultural study rated industriousness and ambition in a potential mate as important or
indispensable (Buss, 1989b). In fact, Buss and Schmitt (1993) found that women were
likely to discontinue a long-term relationship if the man loses his job, lacks career goals,
or shows a lazy streak. Preferences for mates who were ambitious was stronger among
women than they were among men in the majority of the 37 cultures studied (Buss,
1989b). Developing a preference for men with these characteristics helped ancestral
women solve the problem of resource acquisition when there were no overt signs of a
man's current resources. Women who were able to recognize these cues had a
reproductive advantage over women who did not because they were able to secure men
with the most potential for resource acquisition in the future, passing the benefits of those
resources on to their children.
Physical characteristics also play a role in female mate selection. In the animal
world, a male's physical size and strength are key factors that females use when selecting
mates. In species such as the gladiator frog and baboons, females were found to have
selected larger, stronger males with which to mate (Smuts, 1985; Trivers, 1985). In the
case of the frogs, females preferred large males because it is the male's job to defend the
nest containing the eggs until they hatch. Prior to selecting a mate, a female will
deliberately bump a male to test his strength and how vigorously he will defend his nest.
If the male moves as a result of the bump or flees, she will no longer consider him and
move on to another potential mate until she finds one that does not move. Among
baboons in the African plains, females form bonds with larger males who offer protection
for them and their offspring. The females are protected from other males who might seek
to sexually dominate them, removing their choice in mate selection. In exchange for
protection, female baboons grant these males sexual access.
Similarly in humans, a benefit for ancestral women to selecting a long-term mate
would be protection against physical and sexual domination at the hands of other men. A
man's size and strength would be cues for the degree of protection that a particular man
could offer. Modem women have been shown to be sensitive to these cues and have
preferences for taller, stronger men.
American women were found to judge short men to be undesirable as a permanent
mate and found it very important for a potential permanent mate to be tall, physically
strong, and athletic (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Jackson (1992) found that women view tall
men as more desirable dates than short men or men of average height and they indicated a
preference for men of average or greater height, approximately five feet eleven inches as
their ideal marriage partner. Wiederman's (1993) study of personal ads revealed that
among women who mentioned height in their ad, 80% of them wanted a man who was at
least six feet tall. Also, ads place by taller men were found to have received more
responses from women than ads placed by shorter men. Selecting men as mates who have
the physical size, strength, and athletic ability to protect them is one way that women
have solved the problem of protecting themselves from aggressive men who might seek
to dominate them physically and or sexually, thereby restricting their reproductive
Another important physical characteristic is good health. Buss et al. (1990) found
that in all thirty-seven cultures studied, women rated good health to be anywhere from
important to indispensable in a marriage partner. In earlier research, Ford and Beach
(1951) found that signs of poor health, such as open sores, lesions, and unusual color or
paleness in the face, are universally regarded as unattractive. Humans can signal good
health by their appearance or by behavior. People who are more lively, energetic, and
physically active may be seen as more attractive because these activities require an
energy expenditure that can only be afforded by those in good health.
Buss (1994) posited that there were potentially four potential consequences for
ancestral women who chose unhealthy or disease-prone mates. One, she placed herself
and her children at risk of being exposed to and contaminated by disease. Two, her mate
was less able to perform essential functions and provide certain benefits to her and her
children, such as hunting, providing protection and childcare. Three, her mate had a
greater chance of dying prematurely leaving her and her children without the resources he
was providing and leaving her, because she already has children, in a position in which it
is difficult to attract another mate who would provide those resources. The fourth
consequence is the possibility that her mate's susceptibility to illness and/or disease is
genetic and by mating with him, she would pass that susceptibility on to her children,
thereby decreasing their chances of reproductive success. By choosing healthy mates, a
female ancestor solved the problem of mate survival and ensured that resources would be
provided in the long term for herself and her children.
Just because a man possesses the positive attributes that a woman is seeking (i.e.
resources, status, size, and good health) does not mean that he will be willing to commit
those resources to a particular woman and her children. As mentioned before, it is in a
man's best interest reproductively to use his resources to acquire multiple mating
partners, rather than to invest in only one. Given the cost that a woman incurs from sex,
pregnancy, and child rearing, commitment of resources from her perspective seems like a
reasonable demand. Since the provision of resources can be temporary, women must look
for cues of an ongoing resource commitment.
Cross-culturally, love has been found to be one of the most important cues to
commitment (Jankowiak & Fisher, 1992; Sprecher, Aron, Hatfield, Cortese, Potapova, &
Levitskaya. 1994). In a study of college women in Texas, Thiessen, Young and
Burroughs (1993) found that the quality of being loved was rated as the most strongly
desired characteristic in a potential husband. In the cross-cultural study by Buss et al.
(1990), mutual attraction or love was the most highly valued characteristic in a potential
mate by both men and women. Nearly all cultures gave love the top rating among all
characteristics indicating that it is nearly indispensable for marriage. According to Buss's
(1994) theory, women place a premium on love because it signals the commitment of
men's economic, emotional and sexual resources. Men however, may do so for different
According to Buss's theory, the preferences that women have when selecting a
mate are present because at one time in human history, they addressed and solved
specific survival and reproductive problems. A woman seeks a mate with greater
economic resources because he can provide such resources as food and shelter for her and
her children. She prefers a mate with high social status because he is more likely to
possess economic resources now and continue to have access to them in the future. An
abundance of resources is of little use if the mate she chooses is too small or weak to
defend them against other rival males and is unable to protect her and her children. To
solve that problem, ancestral women placed a premium on size and strength in their
mates. A good provider and protector of resources does little good if he dies prematurely
due to sickness or disease, creating a preference for mates who were in good health.
Finally, all of these characteristics were of little use to an ancestral woman if her mate
was not willing to commit those resources to her and her children. In fact, she would
incur great costs from a union with a man who then did not invest those resources in her
and her children. These preferences were passed along from generation to generation
from women to their daughters and, according to Buss, are at the root of women's
preferences in men today.
Ancestral man's ideal mating strategy is quite different from that of ancestral
woman's, according to Buss's (1994) theory. Because all he needed to do in order to
reproduce was to impregnate a woman, it was not in ancestral man's interests to invest
his resources too heavily in any one woman, as it would restrict his access to others.
Because evolution has produced men who desire to marry and to commit their resources
to one woman, there must have been some adaptive reproductive advantages for doing so,
for human male ancestors. Buss (1994) posited that part of the explanation comes from
ancestral women's requirements for consenting to sex. If most women only granted
sexual access to men who were willing to invest heavily in them, those men who chose to
pursue a short-term mating strategy would have fewer opportunities to mate. Such men
would have access to a limited number of potential partners and likely not the most
desirable, because those in high demand would be in a position to select the
characteristics they found most desirable in a man.
Another potential advantage for human male ancestors to enter into committed
relationships is that committed relationships increase the chances of survival for his
offspring. A father could offer resources such as food, shelter, and protection to his child.
Additionally, the child could also have the benefit of any social or political alliances of
the father, which may produce a reproductive advantage for him or her by affording
access to more desirable choices of mates.
If human male ancestors were going to commit their resources to a single woman,
he would have to choose one who could bear children, in order for him to be
reproductively successful. This ability was key in the selection process for an ancestral
man because he could not afford to invest in a woman who could not bear him children.
Therefore, a preference for women with a high reproductive capacity developed,
according to Buss's theory. Because a woman's reproductive capacity could not be
directly detected, ancestral men had to rely on cues to a woman's ability to bear children.
These cues involve observable characteristics of women, two of which are youth and
health (Symons, 1979; Williams, 1975). Old or unhealthy women are less likely to
reproduce than younger healthy women, so one of the ways that our ancestral men solved
the problem of finding women who had high reproductive value was to prefer those
women who were young and healthy.
Youth is an important characteristic about which men have developed a
preference. Studies conducted on American college students (Buss, 1989b; Hill, 1945;
Hudson & Henze, 1969; McGinnis, 1958) revealed that men preferred an age difference
of about 2.5 years between themselves and their female partners, preferring their partners
to be younger. In fact, in all of the thirty-seven cultures incorporated in the international
study, men preferred wives who were younger than themselves (Buss, 1989b). Although
men universally preferred younger wives, the age difference preferred varied from culture
to culture with an average of about 2.5 years across cultures.
Data collected on marriage confirm men's preferences for younger brides.
Guttentag and Secord (1983) found that in the United States, men were three years older
than their brides at the time of their first marriage, five years older at the time of their
second marriage, and eight years older at the time of their third marriage. Buss (1989b)
found that in all countries around the world where information is available on the ages of
brides and grooms, men on average are older than the women they marry.
Because there was no way to assess accurately and objectively a woman's health,
ancestral men, in their effort to select young, healthy women with high reproductive
value, had to rely on various physical and behavioral cues to determine a woman's health.
Physical cues (e.g. full lips, clear, smooth skin, and good muscle tone) and behavioral
cues (e.g. animated facial expressions, youthful gait, and high energy levels) became
important predictors of reproductive value and shaped male standards of female beauty
(Buss, 1994). Because these cues provided some evidence of a woman's reproductive
value, over generations men developed preferences for women who displayed these
characteristics. According to Buss, men who preferred women who failed to display these
characteristics were likely to have had less reproductive success, produced fewer
offspring, and therefore their line of succession would have greatly diminished, if it did
not die out entirely.
Ford and Beach (1951) discovered several universal standards of beauty that
correspond to predictions of Buss's evolutionary theory. Clear, smooth skin with the
absence of sores and lesions, is a sign of health that is universally regarded as attractive.
Conversely, signs of poor health, such as poor complexion, ringworm, and facial
disfigurement are universally regarded as unattractive.
Cues that signal youth are also important in the assessment of a woman's
attractiveness. Jackson (1992) found that both men and women who judged a series of
photographs of women of various ages gave lower ratings of facial attractiveness as the
age of the women in the photographs increased. Jackson (1992) also noted that the
decline in ratings occurred regardless of the age of the judge. There was a sex difference,
however with respect to the rate at which ratings of facial attractiveness declined. Men's
ratings declined more rapidly than women's, as the age of the woman in the photograph
increased. This finding is consistent with the importance that men place on youth as a
predictor of reproductive capacity in women.
Langolis et al. (1987) and Langolis, Roggman, & Rieser-Danner (1990) reported
findings consistent with Buss's theory, in their studies of infants and attractiveness. First,
infants of two to eight months old who were shown pairs of slides of female faces that
differed in attractiveness (as rated by adults) looked longer at the more attractive faces.
Second, twelve month-old infants showed more observable pleasure, more play
involvement, less distress and less withdrawal when they interacted with strangers who
were wearing attractive masks than they did with strangers wearing unattractive masks.
Thirdly, twelve month-old infants played significantly longer with attractive dolls than
unattractive ones. These studies suggested that at least some components of human
standards of beauty are developed very early in life, perhaps even passed on genetically.
Furthermore, these standards of beauty do not appear to be bound by culture. A number
of researchers (Cross & Cross, 1971; Cunningham, Roberts, Richards, & Wu, 1989;
Jackson, 1992; Morse, Reis, Gruzen, & Wolff, 1974; Thakerar & Iwawaki, 1979) have
found that there is great consistency across races and cultures regarding judgments of
facial attractiveness of photographs of women of various across races.
Facial attractiveness is only one component of human standards of female beauty.
Body shape is another important component. Unlike facial attractiveness, standards of
female beauty related to body shape and size vary from culture to culture. Plump versus
slim body build, light versus dark skin, and emphasis on particular physical features (e.g.,
eyes, ears, breasts, and genitals) all vary across cultures (e.g., Ford & Beach, 1951). The
feature whose preference varies the most across cultures is a slim (versus plump) body
build. The degree of the preference for slimness is linked with the social status that
different body shapes convey within a specific culture. In cultures where food is scarce, a
plump body is a sign of wealth and adequate nutrition (Rosenblatt, 1974) and in cultures
where food is plentiful, the rich and healthy are differentiated by being lean (Symons,
Despite the cultural differences in preference for body size, men across cultures
share a particular preference for body shape. Singh has conducted a number of studies
(Singh, 1993a; 1993b; Singh & Lewis, 1995) that have shown that men have a preference
for women who have a low waist-to-hip (WTH) ratio. At puberty, the distribution of body
fat changes in boys and girls, with girls depositing fat in the hips and upper thighs. This
redistribution of fat lowers a girl's WTH ratio. Healthy, reproductively capable women
have been found to have low WTH ratios. Therefore, for ancestral men, WTH ratio
would have been an important cue regarding a woman's reproductive capacity and thus
an important standard of attractiveness. Buss (1994) suggested that a high WTH ratio
might mimic pregnancy in a woman. A woman who is already pregnant loses
reproductive value for a man and would thereby be less attractive. Over generations, this
might have helped reinforce men's preference for women with a low WTH ratio.
Because of its ability to cue them into healthy mates, the physical attractiveness of
a woman has become an important factor in mate selection for men. Langhome and
Secord (1955) found that among college students asked to identify characteristics they
wanted in a future husband or wife, men listed physical attractiveness far more often than
women did. Cross-generation studies conducted in the United States (Buss, 1985; 1989b;
Buss & Barnes, 1986; Hill, 1945; Hudson & Henze 1969; McGinnis, 1958) have gauged
the importance that men and women place on various characteristics in a potential mate.
These studies, conducted over ten year intervals from 1939-1989, revealed that in all
cases, men rated physical attractiveness and good looks as more important and desirable
in a potential mate than women did. This is not to say that women did not find physical
attractiveness desirable in a potential mate. Women did find attractiveness desirable, just
not as important. In each of the studies, the importance of physical attractiveness
increased with each passing decade for both men and women. What remained constant,
however was the difference between the sexes in the degree of importance placed on it.
Again, these differences are not limited to Western cultures. In all thirty-seven
cultures studied by Buss (1989b). men valued physical appearance more than women did
when choosing a mate. This effect was obtained across different locations, habitats,
marriage systems, and cultural living arrangements. The importance men place on
physical attractiveness in a mate appears to transcend race, ethnicity, religion and
Buss (1987) suggested that men's preference for attractive mates serves a purpose
in addition to its value as a reproductive cue. He suggested that an attractive mate signals
higher status to same-sex competitors as, well as other potential mates, thereby increasing
his reproductive value.
Another problem that ancestral men had to solve was that of determining
paternity. In a reproductively ideal situation for a man, he would mate with a variety of
women and produce a number of offspring, never having to invest much in any one of
them. However, when women began expressing preferences for men who were willing to
commit resources, things changed. In order for a man to benefit from investing large
amounts of resources into a woman and her childrenn, he had to be sure that he was
actually the father. Otherwise, he risked wasting his resources to further the spread of
someone else's genes.
Unlike other primates, human females give no visual or olfactory cues as to when
they are ovulating (Daniels, 1983). If they did, men, like other primates, would be able to
monopolize their mates during that small window of time, virtually ensuring that they
fathered any offspring produced. However, since ovulation and fertilization can occur at
any time, men who are away from their mates for any length of time run the risk of being
cuckolded (which means being the male partner of an adulteress). These men then
suffered lower reproductive success because they depleted resources investing in children
of another man, instead of using them to attract other mates and to raise their own
To combat this problem, ancestral man needed to find a way to increase the
chances that his mate's children were also his own. Buss (1994) proposed that two
preferences for women that men developed, chastity and fidelity, help men solve that
problem. Before the use of modem contraceptives, female chastity provided some
measure of certainty of the paternity of future children, at least at the onset of a marriage.
With the assumption that a woman's tendencies toward chastity remained constant over
time, chastity also provided a cue to the long-term fidelity of a potential mate. Research
by Thompson, (1983) and Weiss and Slosnerick, (1981) has shown, however, that the
actual amount of a person's premarital sexual promiscuity, as opposed to virginity, is a
better predictor of postmarital fidelity. Those who had more sexual partners prior to
marriage were found to be less faithful than those who had fewer partners before
Cross-generation mating studies confirmed that in the United States, men valued
chastity in a potential mate more than women did (Hill, 1945; Hudson & Henze 1969;
McGinnis, 1958). The value that they placed on it however, has declined over the years.
The trend of men valuing chastity more than women do is not true across all cultures,
however. Of the thirty-seven cultures in Buss's (1989b) study on mate preferences, only
about 62 percent of those cultures showed a sex difference for preference of mate
chastity. In all of those cultures that did show a sex difference, however, males placed a
greater value on chastity in their mates than did females.
Infidelity by his mate over time would have a much more devastating impact on a
man than would her lack of chastity in the beginning. Therefore, according to Buss's
theory, men should have a much greater preference for fidelity in a potential mate than
for chastity. Likewise, men should also show a greater intolerance for infidelity on the
part of their mates. Research supports this assumption. American men (Buss & Schmitt,
1993) and men across cultures (Buss, 1989a) rated faithfulness and sexual fidelity as the
most highly valued traits in the selection of a long-term mate. By the same token, they
also regarded unfaithfulness as the least desirable characteristic in a long-term mate.
Over generations, human males have faced a unique set of environmental
challenges and problems related to reproduction. A sexual psychology has evolved to
address these problems. One such problem is finding reproductively valuable females
with whom to mate. With the increase in women's preferences for men who were willing
to invest their resources in a long-term relationship, men needed a way to determine the
future reproductive potential of their mates. Men evolved a preference for youth and
beauty to address this problem. Men worldwide want physically attractive, younger
wives, not because of an arbitrary sexist desire, but because youth and beauty are cues to
a woman's health and fertility. Men who did not express these preferences had less
reproductive success and were therefore less likely to pass on their genes causing their
line to die out. Those who chose healthier mates had greater success and their preferences
were passed on to their offspring, thus continuing their line. These preferences have been
shown to occur across cultures and apparently are deeply engrained in human sexual
psychology (Buss, 1994).
Another universal preference expressed by men is for fidelity in their long-term
mates. Across cultures, sexual fidelity has been identified as the most important trait for
men in selection of a long-term mate. In an environment in which men are investing large
portions of their resources in a single mate and her children, it is crucial for his
reproductive success that the children he is providing for are his own. Men who
committed to unfaithful partners were utilizing their resources to raise other men's
children, and therefore less successful at passing their genes to future generations.
These preferences evolved as a part of men's and women's sexual psychology,
which was designed to address certain specific reproductive challenges that each faced.
Although they were originally designed to deal with cues that were present in early
human history, the underlying psychology still exerts tremendous force in human mating
behavior today, according to Buss and his colleagues (Buss et al., 1990).
Attracting a Mate
It is not enough to simply identify desirable mates. Knowing what one desires in a
mate does not guarantee success in getting what one wants. For successful mating to take
place, one must also be able to gain access to those desirable mates by signaling that one
will deliver the benefits desired by the opposite sex. Competition with members of one's
own sex often helps solve this problem, with the victors having greater access to mating
with desired partners. The animal kingdom provides many examples of these types of
Male elephant seals often fight each other to establish dominance within a heard
(Le Boeuf. 1974). The winner of these fights chases off his rivals and has sexual access to
a number of females within the herd. The victors in these fights tend to be larger,
stronger, and more aggressive than their defeated rivals and these traits are passed on to
their offspring. Over many iterations of these larger, more aggressive males competing
successfully, the largest and strongest of them will have greater access to females,
producing future generations of males who are even larger than the generations preceding
them. Males who are smaller and weaker are often excluded from the mating process and
fail to pass their genes on. Female elephant seals prefer to mate with the males who are
victorious in combat and thereby pass their preferences on to their daughters. Also, by
choosing to mate with larger, stronger, more aggressive males, they also pass these traits
on to their sons, securing a reproductive advantage for them. Females, in fact, often
refuse to mate with smaller males and will alert the dominant male if one attempts to
mate with her, further reinforcing the selection criteria of size and strength. This is an
example of how one sex's preferences tend to create the context of competition for the
Females are not immune from this type of competition for mates. Research
(Lindburg, 1971; Seyfarth, 1976; and Smuts, 1987) has found that in several species of
monkeys, females will often interfere during the copulation of males and rival females, in
an attempt to disrupt the mating process of those females thereby limiting their access to
the resources of those males and gaining access to those males for themselves.
Like the males and females of other species, men and women also compete within
their own sexes for reproductive access to desirable members of the opposite sex. These
intrasex competitions, although typically less violent than in the animal kingdom, are also
driven by the preferences of the other sex. This competition not only involves attempting
to attract desirable mates, but also interfering with the success of same-sex rivals. This
interference often takes the form of physical confrontation in the animal kingdom,
whereas modem humans more often opt for verbal derogation their competitors. Insults,
slurs, and insinuations aimed at damaging a rival's reputation or status as a desirable
mate are part of the process humans use to thwart competitors and successfully attract
mates (Buss, 1994).
The success of these tactics, both those designed to attract mates and those
designed to disparage competitors, depends on whether the target of one's efforts is
seeking a casual sex partner or a long-term marriage partner. In long-term mating, both
men and women prefer a longer courtship (Buss, 1994). This allows more time for the
partners to evaluate the assets and liabilities that each other carries with them. In time,
negative things that a person may hide from a potential partner (e.g., children from a
former relationship or exaggeration of status or resources) are more likely to be revealed.
In short-term casual sexual relationships, the evaluation process is greatly abbreviated;
allowing for these types of deceptions to go undetected by one's partner.
Like the male weaverbird mentioned earlier, one of the techniques men use to
attract mates is to display tangible resources. This can be done in a number of ways
including displaying a lot of money, showing a high income potential, driving an
expensive car, and emphasizing high status. Another way men may mislead women is by
exaggerating their potential to acquire future resources or to lie about their career in a
Men often counter the tactics of rivals by derogating the resource potential of
those rivals. Buss and Dedden (1990) found that men typically tell women that their
rivals are poor, lack ambition, and drive inexpensive cars. They also found that women
are much less likely to attack a rival's resource potential, and when they do, it is less
effective than when men do it.
Different types of resource displays also have different effects. More immediate
displays of wealth, such as buying a woman expensive gifts or showing large amounts of
money, are more effective for attracting short-term casual sex partners than for attracting
long term mates (Cloyd, 1976). Showing ambition and future resource potential is more
effective at attracting long-term mates. Similarly, derogating a rival's immediate
resources is more effective for interfering with his access to casual sex partners, whereas
belittling his future resource potential is more effective for interfering with his ability to
attract a long-term mate (Buss, 1994).
One strategy that is successful at attracting both types of relationships for men is
wearing expensive clothing. Hill, Nocks and Gardner (1987) found support for this in a
study in which women were shown slides of different men in various outfits. The women
reported that they were more attracted to men who were wearing expensive clothing, such
as three-piece suits, sport jackets or designer jeans, than they were to men wearing cheap
clothing such as T-shirts and tank tops. This effect was the same whether the women
were evaluating the men as potential marriage partners or as sex partners. Townsend and
Levy (1990) conducted a similar study in which the same men were photographed twice;
once wearing a Burger King uniform with a blue baseball cap and a polo-type shirt and
again wearing a white dress shirt with a designer tie, a navy blazer, and a Rolex watch.
Based on these photographs, women in the study stated that they were unwilling to date,
have sex with. or marry the men in the low-status outfits, but were willing to consider all
three of those kinds of relationships with the men in the high-status outfits.
In addition to resource displays. men also use displays of commitment to attract
women. Displays of love, commitment, and devotion are powerful tools that men can use
to attract women because these displays signal a man's willingness to invest his resources
in his partner. Unlike other displays, such as wearing expensive clothing or driving an
expensive car, displays of commitment are more difficult and costly to fake, because
commitment is gauged by repeated behaviors over time. Once an investment of time is
made attempting to attract one woman, that same time cannot then be reused to pursue
another, as it can with wearing particular clothing, for example.
Displaying kindness, which also signals commitment, is another tactic men use to
attract women. Men who display an understanding of a woman's problems, who show a
sensitivity to her needs, and who perform helpful deeds, succeed in attracting women as
long-term mates (Buss, 1994). These types of displays work to attract women because
they signal that the man cares for the woman, will assist her in times of need, and will
dedicate resources to her. They also signal long-term commitment, rather than short-term
sexual interest. Tooke and Camire (1991) found that these displays of kindness by men
can be deceptive. In a study of university students, they found that men act more polite,
appear to be more considerate, and seem more vulnerable than they typically do, in order
to attract women.
Another effective tactic men can use to display kindness is to show nurturing
behavior toward children. In a study by La Cera, Cosmides, and Tooby (1993), women
were shown slides of the same man photographed in three contexts: standing alone,
interacting positively with a baby, and ignoring a baby in distress. Women in the study
indicated that they were most attracted to the man when he was shown interacting
positively toward the baby and least attracted when shown ignoring the baby in distress.
Commitment can also be signaled by displays of loyalty and fidelity. Out of 130
possible ways for men to attract women, women ranked showing fidelity as the second
most effective act, just below displaying an understanding of a woman's problems (Buss,
1994). Because fidelity is a strong signal for commitment, an effective tactic for men who
are competing with each other to attract women is, to call into question his rival's sexual
intentions and fidelity. Suggesting to a woman that a rival only wants casual sex is
effective in decreasing that rival's attractiveness in the long-term, but less so in the short-
term (Buss, 1994). Similarly, saying that a rival cheats on women and cannot stay loyal to
one woman is another effective strategy for men to reduce the long-term attractiveness of
a rival (Schmitt & Buss, 1996).
Although signs of commitment strengthen a man's attractiveness to women, signs
that he has already made a commitment to another woman, and thus has also made a
commitment of resources, undermine his attractiveness. In the study by Schmitt and Buss
(1996), university students rated mentioning that a rival already has a serious girlfriend as
the most effective way for a man to reduce the attractiveness of that rival.
Another way men attempt to attract women is by displaying physical and athletic
prowess. College students rate displays of one's own physical prowess as well as
derogating a rival's physical prowess as significantly more effective at attracting casual
sex partners than they are at attracting long-term partners (Schmitt & Buss, 1996).
Similarly, college students also judged male displays of self-confidence and bravado to
be effective at attracting casual partners, but less so with long-term partners. One reason
that Buss suggested for this difference in effectiveness is that women may be seeking
additional physical protection that short-term mating can provide. As with kindness, men
can also be deceptive with their displays of confidence and bravado. In Tooke and
Camire's (1991) study, men were found to boast and brag to make themselves appear
more desirable, act more masculine than they really felt, and behaved more assertively
around women, in order to attract short-term partners.
These displays are not always directed at women, however. They can also be
directed toward other men, as a way for a man to elevate his status and prestige among
his rivals. With increased status among his peers, he might obtain deference from rivals,
thereby further increasing his status and his access to desirable women (Buss, 1994).
These displays of resources, commitment, and dominance are effective ways for
men to attract women because they are all designed to highlight characteristics that
women look for in a man. Men who displayed these characteristics were more successful
at acquiring mates than men who did not. These characteristics were then passed on to
their sons and the preference for those characteristics was passed on to their daughters,
continuing the cycle.
In the same way that men's tactics to attract women are based on women's
preferences, women's tactics to attract mates are based on men's preferences. Because
men place an emphasis on appearance when selecting a mate, an important tactic for
women when trying to attract men is to enhance their physical appearance by increasing
their appearance of youthfulness and good health. Buss (1994) noted that in this area,
women do not attempt to display accurate information, but instead compete to activate
men's evolved psychological standards of beauty that are keyed to youth and health.
Cosmetics designed to create youthful, healthy features such as full lips, clear skin, and
lustrous hair serve to stimulate men's evolved preferences, whether the woman actually
possesses these characteristics or not. Schmitt and Buss (1996) found that women use
makeup to accentuate their looks, go on diets to improve their figures, and get new
haircuts (to enhance its body and the appearance of its health) more often than men did.
They also found that these improvements in appearance were twice as effective for
women as they were for men at attracting a mate. Furthermore, while it was found that
these tactics were effective for attracting both short-term sex partners and marital
partners, they were more effective at attracting short-term sex partners than marital
In competition to attract mates, women not only attempt to improve their own
appearance, but they also denigrate the physical attractiveness of other women. Buss and
Dedden (1990) found that women denigrated their rivals by saying that they were fat,
ugly, physically unattractive, and that their bodies had no shape. These tactics, similar to
the enhancement strategies discussed earlier, are more effective for women in short-term
contexts than it is in long-term contexts, and is more effective for women than for men.
Denigrating a rival's appearance is more effective for a woman if it is made
public (Buss, 1994). The knowledge that others find a woman unattractive raises the cost
for men of mating with that particular woman. As stated earlier, one of the benefits for
men of having an attractive mate is that it elevates the perception of his status to others.
With this increased status, comes increased access to both numbers of women and to
more desirable women, giving him a reproductive advantage. In the same way, being
with a woman whom others find unattractive potentially jeopardizes his status, creating
the opposite effect. The effectiveness of this strategy is enhanced by the fact that humans'
judgments of attractiveness are influenced by other people's judgments (Graziano,
Jensen-Campbell, Shebilske, & Lundgren, 1993).
Signals of fidelity are a very effective strategy for women when trying to attract a
long-term mate. Schmitt and Buss (1996) reported that of all the attraction strategies rated
by college students, remaining faithful, avoiding sex with other men, and showing
devotion were judged to be the three most effective tactics for a woman to attract a
permanent mate. These tactics directly address one of human males' most important
evolutionary problems, ensuring the paternity of children in whom he is investing
resources. As discussed earlier, the most evolutionarily disadvantageous position for a
man to find himself in is a committed relationship and raising children of whom he is not
the father (so they cannot transmit his genes). So by displaying cues of her fidelity in a
committed relationship, a woman offers men increased certainty of the paternity of future
Conversely, questioning the fidelity of others is an effective way for women to
denigrate their rivals and gain a competitive advantage. Saying that a rival cannot stay
loyal to one man was judged to be the most effective strategy for a woman to use against
a rival in a marriage context (Schmitt & Buss, 1996). Likewise, saying that a rival was
loose, sleeps around a lot, or is a tramp was also judged to be among the most effective
derogation tactics for women. Buss and Dedden (1990) noted that women are
significantly more likely than men are to derogate a rival's fidelity.
When using this denigration strategy, women must make accurate judgments of a
man's intentions or she risks this tactic working against her. Although derogating another
woman's fidelity is an effective strategy for discouraging men from pursuing a long-term
relationship or marriage, men seeking short-term partners typically are not bothered by
promiscuity in a women. In fact, they find it somewhat desirable because it enhances
their chances of success (Buss, 1994). Therefore, a woman must assess the type of
relationship a man is pursuing before employing any derogation or attraction tactics. If
she guesses wrong, she may use a tactic that has the opposite effect of what she intended,
placing her at a competitive disadvantage. For example, a woman seeking a long-term
relationship may sexualize her appearance and give signals of sexual availability in order
to attract a man whom she assumes is looking for more of a casual sexual relationship.
She does this even though she may have no intention of having sex with him right away.
Instead she may hope to interest him enough to trigger investment of his time and
resources to pursue her for a long-term relationship. If, however, the man is initially
interested in a long-term relationship in the beginning, the signals of her sexual
availability which she was using to attract him will, actually deter him from pursuing her
as a long-term partner, because they raise concerns about her fidelity in a future
The importance of judging a man's intentions is also important for women when
using coyness as an attraction technique. Appearing indifferent to a person whom one
likes or "playing hard to get" were judged to be more effective for women in the context
of permanent relationships than in the context of causal ones, and were judged more
effective for women than for men (Schmitt & Buss, 1996). Buss (1994) suggested that
this strategy serves the purposes of both sexes. For men, a woman's relatively limited
availability signals desirability and communicates fidelity. If she is hard for him to get,
than he can be more certain that she will be harder for a rival to get once she is his wife.
These address two key evolutionary problems: (a) it increases her perceived desirability
in the mating market and (b) it offers greater certainty of paternity of her children, should
he marry her, because it increases the chances that he alone will have sexual access to
her. For women, playing hard to get tests a man's willingness to invest resources, as he
will have to commit considerably more time, energy, and resources pursuing her.
Sexualizing her appearance and behavior are highly effective strategies for a
woman seeking a short-term relationship. "Men in singles bars stated that wearing sexy,
revealing, tight clothes; wearing a shirt with a low-cut back or a low-cut front; letting the
shirt slip off her shoulders; wearing a short skirt; walking seductively; dancing
seductively; and walking with a strut all place in the top 25 percent of the tactics most
likely to attract them." (Buss, 1994, p. 118). Cashdan (1993) also found that women who
were pursuing a mating strategy of casual sex wore revealing clothes more often than
women who were pursuing a strategy of long-term commitment did. These acts of
sexualizing one's appearance signal sexual availability to men.
Buss and Dedden (1990) found that when competing in a short-term context,
women derogate their rivals by questioning their sexual availability. They found that
college women derogated their rivals by suggesting that they were merely a tease, that
their rivals led men on and told men that their rivals were frigid, all suggesting that the
other woman would not be sexually accessible to the man, and therefore less attractive to
Success in mating for men and women involves being able to attract desirable
mates. Men and women employ different strategies designed to enhance their
attractiveness to potential mates, but also they derogate the rivals to minimize the rivals'
attractiveness to potential mates. At times, these strategies involve deception, particularly
in short-term mating strategies employed by men, who may feign interest in commitment,
or inflate their level of status, kindness or resources in order to gain sexual access to
women. Women tend to combat this by insisting on stronger indications of commitment
before granting sexual access to a man. Women, however are not above employing
deception in their own mating strategies, for example by feigning interest in casual sex a
means of concealing their intentions of a long-term relationship.
Men and women are aware of the strategies and possible deception by the
opposite sex. In an attempt to regain a selection advantage, men and women often employ
counter-strategies to subvert those used by the opposite sex. When the mating strategies
of one sex interfere with the goals of the other, conflict arises.
The sexual strategies that one sex uses to select, attract, and keep a mate often
create conflict with members of the other sex as they employ their own sexual strategies
toward the same ultimate goal; to successfully pass their genes on to another generation.
A non-human example of this type of conflict can be found among scorpionflies.
Female scorpionflies will refuse to mate with a male unless he presents her with a "gift,"
usually a dead insect or other food resource (Thornhill, 1980). While the female
consumes the gift, the male copulates with her and maintains a grasp on the gift to
prevent her from escaping with it before he is finished. It takes a male scorpionfly twenty
minutes of continuous copulation to deposit all his sperm. If he brings a gift that doesn't
take twenty minutes for the female to consume, she may leave before he is finished. On
the other hand, if he brings a gift that is too large, he may end up fighting with her over
the uneaten portion once copulation has finished. Such fighting could lead to loss of life
by one or both of them, thus hampering the passing of his genes. Over generations, male
scorpionflies have evolved the ability to select the appropriate size gift, one that is neither
too large nor too small, thus allow them to avoid both of these types of conflict.
Similarly, men and women also often engage in conflict over resources and sexual
access when their strategies interfere with each other's. For example, a man who seeks
sex without investing in his partner interferes with the mating goal of many women, who
seek higher emotional investment and commitment of a man's material resources.
Similarly, a woman who requires a long courtship and/or heavy investment interferes
with a man's sexual strategy, acquiring sex with a minimum amount of investment. From
this perspective, men and women often cannot simultaneously reach their individual
goals without coming into conflict.
Buss (1994) suggested that the negative emotions of anger, distress and upset are
important human psychological solutions that evolved in part, to alert humans to
interference with their adaptive goals, including their sexual goals. These negative
emotions draw attention to problematic events and serve as cues for memory storage and
retrieval of these events. Buss also suggested that these emotions motivate action to
eliminate the source of the problem. Men and women have different sexual strategies, so
it follows that they differ in the events that activate these negative emotions. For
example, men seeking causal sex without commitment or investment often anger and
upset women, whereas women who lead men to invest time and/or resources for a period
of time and then withhold sex that was promised or implied, often upset and anger men.
Perhaps the most common source of conflict between men and women centers on
disagreements about sexual access or availability. Byers and Lewis (1988) asked a group
of college students to keep daily diaries of their dating activities for a four-week period.
Forty-seven percent of participants reported having one or more disagreements about the
desired level of sexual intimacy between themselves and a date during that time. One
explanation offered is that because men sometimes seek sexual involvement with a
minimum of investment and because women may withhold sex until an investment is
made, conflict naturally follows as each tries to get what he or she wants.
Another source of conflict is limitation in a person's ability to correctly identify
signals of sexual interest on the part of another. Several studies have shown that men are
likely to misinterpret friendly interest on the part of a woman as sexual receptivity
(Abbey, 1982; Abbey & Melby, 1986; Saal, Johnson & Weber, 1989). In these studies,
men were found to incorrectly infer sexual interest from women based on simple
friendliness and smiling, when no sexual intent was there. From a Buss perspective, if,
throughout evolutionary history, some of these incorrect inferences actually led to sex,
men would tend to retain them, particularly if there was no significant consequences to
Men's lowered threshold for detecting sexual interest also makes them vulnerable
to manipulation, as women can use sexuality for their own gain. Buss (1994) noted that in
a study of university students, women significantly more often than men reported smiling
and flirting as a means for eliciting special treatment from a member of the opposite sex,
even though they had no interest in having sex with that person.
The combination of men's lowered threshold for inferring sexual interest in
women and women's intentional exploitation of this phenomenon can readily lead to
conflict over the desired level of sexual intimacy that each feels is appropriate. Men will
tend to feel that women lead them on and women will tend to feel that men seek sexual
intimacy too quickly.
Sometimes the conflict over sexual accessibility can cross the line from pushiness
into sexual aggression. In a study by Buss (1989a), men and women were asked to
evaluate potentially upsetting actions that a member of the opposite sex could perform.
The ratings were done on a 7-point scale where a rating of 1 indicated no distress and a
rating of 7 indicated the highest level of distress. Women in this study rated sexual
aggression by a man on average to be 6.5, the highest rating of any of the actions listed.
Women judged sexual aggression to be the most disturbing action that a man could
perform, more so than both verbal abuse and non-sexual physical abuse. Conversely, men
rated sexual aggression by a woman at an average of only 3.02. Other actions when
performed by women, such as infidelity (6.04) and verbal or physical abuse (5.55), were
rated as more distressing than sexual aggression.
Men and women, however both failed to accurately evaluate how distressing
sexual aggressiveness was to the opposite sex. Men underestimated the level of distress
that women felt as a result of sexual aggressiveness perpetrated by a man, whereas
women overestimated how upsetting men found sexual aggressiveness when performed
by a woman. These differences in perception may result from men and women
incorrectly assuming that the other sex is more similar to themselves than is actually the
Another source of conflict over sexual access between men and women is sexual
withholding. In Buss's study mentioned earlier, both men and women indicated that they
found sexual withholding by the opposite sex to be distressing, but men rated it
significantly more distressing than women did, 5.03 and 4.29 respectively. Buss
suggested a number of possible functions of sexual withholding for women. One
potential function is that it preserves her ability to choose men of high quality or value
with whom to mate. Another is that by withholding sex, it increases the value of sexual
access and thereby increases the investment that a mate will be willing to make to gain
sexual access to her. A third function of withholding is to manipulate the perception of
the woman's value as a mate. Because highly desirable women are less sexually
accessible to the average man, a woman may manipulate a man's perception of her
desirability in the positive direction by withholding sex. This may also encourage a man
to view her as a long-term rather than a short-term partner. Because infidelity by a spouse
is highly disturbing to men, they more often view women who grant sexual access easily
as casual sex partners and not long-term mates. The practice of sexual withholding
creates conflict for men because it directly interferes with the mating strategy of gaining
sexual access with a minimum amount of resource investment and commitment.
Another source of mating conflict is emotional commitment. In an abstract sense,
one can solve adaptive problems in one of two ways: (a) one can use one's own energy
and resources to solve the problem or (b) one can secure the energy and resources of
another. Those who were able to enlist the services of others, with minimal commitment
on their own part, would have an adaptive advantage over those who were not able to do
so. For example, according to Buss's theory, it would be in a woman's best interest to
have a man so committed to her that all of his energies and resources are channeled
toward her and her children. It is often in a man's best interest, however, to devote only
part of his energy and resources to any one woman, thus reserving the rest for solving
other adaptive problems (e.g., seeking other mates or pursuing higher social status).
This discrepancy over level of commitment is illustrated in women's complaints
about men's tendency not to express their feelings openly. Buss and Dedden (1990)
found that among newlyweds, 45 percent of women complained that their mates failed to
express their true feelings, compared to only 24 percent of the men in the study. One
possible source of this difference is the fact that men can more easily divide their
reproductive resources than women can. For example, in a one-year period, a woman
typically can only get pregnant by one man and the vast majority of her reproductive
resources are devoted to offspring from that pregnancy. During the same time period,
however, a man can much more easily divide his reproductive resources among multiple
women because it requires very little investment, technically, to impregnate multiple
Buss (1994) suggested that an adaptive reason for men failing to express emotions
is that by investing less emotionally in a relationship, a man frees up resources that can
be directed toward other women or other goals. It would be in a man's best interest not to
reveal how strong his desires are for a woman or how much he is willing to commit
because that, as in any negotiation, may increase the "price" he has to pay. If a man's
emotions remain concealed, so do his sexual strategies. It is in the woman's interest,
therefore, to discern as much of this information as possible in order to make decisions
about her own level of reproductive investment. Buss (1994) noted that college women
reported that they spent more time than men did recalling and dissecting conversations
with people they were dating and tried to analyze their partner's "real" feelings,
intentions, and motivations. It was noted that women may also conceal their true feelings,
but that the consequences to a man for incorrectly assuming his partner is seeking a long-
term commitment are much smaller than they may be for a woman, because his
reproductive investment is more easily fractionated than hers is. Therefore, getting a man
to express himself emotionally is one way that women can get the information they need
to determine a man's level of commitment.
In contrast to women's complaints, men more often than women complain that
that their partners are overly emotional (Buss, 1994). Buss suggested that overly
emotional partners can be costly because they absorb time and energy. The process of
calming an emotional partner consumes energy that could be directed toward other goals,
thereby increasing the cost of commitment to that partner. Buss suggests that this process
functions as a way for women to elicit greater commitment on the part of a man. This
cost escalation creates conflict for men by consuming resources that could be allocated
Zahavi (1977) suggested that for women, moodiness also functioned as an
assessment tool to test the strength of a bond. For example, a woman could use
moodiness to impose small costs on her partner and then use the partner's reaction to
gauge his level of commitment to the relationship. If her partner tolerated these costs and
was responsive to the increased demand for investment, it would signal a stronger level
of commitment on his part. If, however, he was unwilling to tolerate these costs, that
would signal a weaker level of commitment to the relationship.
Another issue that causes conflict among couples is the investment of time,
energy and resources. Complaints of neglect or unreliability from a partner are examples
of investment conflicts. Buss (1994) found that women, twice as often as men,
complained that their partners neglected them, rejected them, and were unreliable.
Examples of these complaints were the following: men did not spend enough time with
them, men failed to call when they said they would, men arrived late, and men canceled
plans at the last minute. According to Buss, the sex difference in the frequency of these
complaints suggests that these events are costs placed on women by men. In evolutionary
terms, women who bore children of and then were neglected by their partners would lose
the reproductive advantage they had gained by having a committed partner (that is, one
willing to invest his resources in her and her child).
On the opposite end of the spectrum from neglect is dependency and
possessiveness. Conflict arises around these issues when one partner feels that the other
absorbs so much of his or her energy that his or her own freedoms or goals are
compromised. Buss (1994) reported that 36 percent of married men, compared to only 7
percent of married women, complained that their spouses demanded too much of their
time. Similarly, 29 percent of married men, compared to only 8 percent of married
women, complained that their spouses demanded too much attention from them.
According to Buss, these sex differences reflect conflict about investment. Women try to
requisition their mate's resources and investment, whereas men try to resist investing all
of their resources in one woman, instead choosing to reserve resources for the pursuit of
other adaptive goals (such as raising social status or acquiring other mates). Both sexes
can benefit from dividing their reproductive resources across different partners, however
the potential costs and rewards for doing so historically favor men. According to Buss,
having multiple partners fits directly into men's optimal reproductive strategy, therefore
the loss of a relationship with a partner after she has been impregnated is of less cost to
him. Because garnering the resources of a mate is an important component in women's
mating strategy, the potential costs of pursuing other partners is much greater. Because
being cuckolded is one of the costliest reproductive problems for men, a woman risks
losing her existing partner's investment of time and resources if she is discovered.
Another example of conflict related to investment of resources is in disagreements
about the allocation of money. A study of American couples by Blumstein and Schwartz
(1983) found that money was one of the most frequent sources of conflict between them.
They found that 72 percent of married couples fought about money at least once per year
and 15 percent reported fighting more than once per month about money. These fights
were more often about how the money they had was to be spent than they were about a
lack of money. Women, more often than men, complain that their partners do not channel
the money that they earn to them, particularly in the form of buying them gifts (Buss,
1994). An explanation from a Buss perspective would suggest that these sex differences
again reflect men's and women's different mating strategies. Because women select
mates partly for their external resources, they would be more disturbed when they were
not receiving the benefit of those resources. External resources do not rate as highly on
men's selection criteria, therefore conflict is not created when those resources don't come
Conflict between men and women appears in all mating relationships. These
conflicts occur over sexual access, degree of emotional commitment and investment, and
amount of resource investment. The majority of these conflicts can be traced back to
different mating strategies that men and women have developed. The mating strategies
employed by one sex often interfere with those employed by the other sex. Both sexes,
however, have also evolved mechanisms to alert them to interference with their mating
strategies. Anger, sadness, jealousy, and other emotions serve to alert humans to this type
of interference. Once alerted to this interference, one can take action to avoid the negative
consequences of the interference before suffering any cost because of it. Because their
mating strategies are different, men and women are sensitive to different types of
interference. For example, a woman would be upset by a man seeking sexual access too
quickly (because it interferes with her strategy of securing a commitment of resources)
whereas a man would be upset by a woman cuckolding him (because it drains his
resources without any reproductive benefit to him).
In summary, throughout evolutionary history, men and women have become more
sensitive to each other's interference and have developed ways to circumvent that
interference. As men and women become more covert and possibly even more deceptive
with regard to their own intentions in a relationship, they also become more sensitive to
and develop better strategies to detect deception in others. For every strategy that one sex
develops to gain a mating advantage over the other, the other sex develops a strategy to
detect and counteract it. As women develop more sophisticated strategies to achieve their
goals, men, in turn, develop more sophisticated strategies to achieve their goals. Because
these goals interfere with each other, there appears to be no end to these types of conflict.
Social Exchange Theory
An exchange can generally be thought of as the transfer of something from one
person to another, in return for something else. Blau (1964) noted two types of exchanges
that can occur between people, economic and social, and listed several differences
between the two. First, economic exchanges (i.e., a business contract) usually involve
specific obligations whereas the obligations in social exchanges (i.e. helping a neighbor
repair a fence) are primarily unspecified. Secondly, economic exchanges involve a
specific time frame in which repayments are to be made, whereas social exchanges are
often without such restrictions. Third, the objects of economic exchange are often open to
negotiation, while those of social exchanges usually are not. Fourth, economic exchanges
can be enforced by the legal system, whereas social exchanges are based on trust and are
usually not legally enforceable. Fifth, economic exchanges often tend to be impersonal.
Social exchanges, on the other hand, often foster feelings of gratitude, trust and personal
obligation. Interpersonal relationships are often developed as a result of these social
exchanges. Sixth, the exchange rate in economic interactions is often well defined, which
is usually not the case in social exchanges. Seventh, the value of economic benefits is
independent of the individual who provides them. Social benefits, on the other hand,
often gain or lose value, depending upon who gives them.
There are several approaches to social exchange, each taking a slightly different
view of the decision-making process one undergoes during an exchange, the patterns of
exchange, and how conflict occurs within interpersonal relationships as a result of these
exchanges. It is important to note that social exchange theory has been linked to
relationship satisfaction (Rusbult, 1980) as well as relationship conflict. For this
dissertation, however, the focus will remain exclusively on exchange theory's
contribution to understanding relationship conflict literature and not relationship
Five Approaches To Exchange
Homans' Operant Psychology Approach
Although a sociologist, Homans's (1974) exchange theory relies heavily on
behaviorist psychology, particularly the work of B.F. Skinner. In his work, Skinner
(1974) makes four assumptions about human behavior. First, a person is an organism that
inhabits the earth with other organisms. These human beings possess unique anatomical
and physiological characteristics that have evolved as their ancestors adapted to their
environments. Those characteristics, which aid survival, were passed onward to their
offspring making up our genetic endowment. Second, a newborn human being becomes a
"Person" when he learns to behave in a way that has been reinforced by other people.
Third, human behavior is under the control of cues in the setting in which the behavior
takes place. Finally, the ability of human beings to learn to engage in behaviors is part of
the genetic endowment.
Homans's theory is based on the principal that people repeat rewarded behaviors
and do not repeat punished behaviors. Homans (1974) articulated the following five
propositions to elaborate his position.
1. "For all actions taken by persons, the more often a particular action of the person is
rewarded, the more likely that the person is to perform that action" (p. 16). Homans
did note limits to this proposition in that research has shown that people tend to repeat
a behavior more frequently when it is rewarded irregularly than when it is rewarded
2. "If in the past the occurrence of a particular stimulus, or set of stimuli, has been the
occasion on which the persons action has been rewarded, and the more similar the
present stimuli are to the past ones, the more likely that person is to perform that
action, or some similar action, now" (p. 22-23). This proposition describes stimulus
generalization, in which people tend to employ strategies that have been successful in
similar circumstances in past.
3. "The more of valuable to person is the result of his action, the more likely he [or she]
is to perform an action" (p. 25). In this proposition Homans assumed that resources
take on varying degrees of value as rewards and those resources with higher reward
value will be more successful as reinforcers for behavior.
4. "The more often in the recent past a person has received a particular reward, the less
valuable any further unit of that reward becomes for him [or her]" (p. 29). This
proposition states that a resource loses its value as a reward after the point at which a
person no longer needs any more of that particular resource, also known as satiation.
5. (a) "When a person's action does not receive the reward he expected, or receives
punishment he [or she] did not expect, he [or she] will be angry; he [or she] becomes
more likely to perform an aggressive behavior, and the results of such behavior
become more valuable to him [or her]" (p. 37). (b) "When a person's action receives
rewards he [or she] expected, especially a greater reward than he [or she] expected, or
does not receive punishment he [or she] expected, he [or she] will be pleased; he [or
she] becomes more likely to perform an approved behavior, and the results of such
behavior become more valuable to him [or her]" (p. 39). Here Homans suggested that
in time, people will be able to anticipate the rewards and punishments that follow
certain behaviors. When these anticipated rewards are not given, the person becomes
frustrated and aggression is elicited, often resulting in the expected reward being
obtained, but aggressive behavior becomes associated with a reward, making it more
likely to occur in similar situations in the future.
These five propositions form the foundation of Homans's theory and suggest that
a person's behavior can be predicted from knowledge of the outcomes produced by a
behavior in previous settings. In this way, previous history of reinforcement in a similar
situation should be a major determinant of current behavior, provided that the person
recognizes cues in the current setting that are similar to those in previous situations.
Homans (1961) suggested that the secret to human exchange is that each person
seeks to gain resources or behaviors that are more valuable to him or her than they are
costly to the other person and in exchange offers resources or behaviors that are more
valuable to the other person than they are costly to him or her. The fairness of the
exchange is determined by the rule of distributive justice, which states: "A man [or
woman] in an exchange relation with another will expect that the rewards of each man [or
woman] be proportional to his [or her] costs-the greater the rewards the greater the
costs-and that the net rewards, or profits, of each man be proportional to his [or her]
investments-the greater the investments the greater the profits"(Homans, 1961, p. 75).
The propositions about decision-making still apply when the exchange takes place
between two people. The people in the exchange are bound together by their past
experiences of exchanging resources with each other that conform to their mutual self-
interests (Roloff, 1981).
Homans (1961, 1974) suggested two sources of interpersonal conflict. One, the
"aggression-approval proposition" states that conflict is likely to arise when a person
either doesn't receive a reward that was expected or receives a punishment that wasn't
expected for a particular action. When these expectations are violated, people become
angry and more likely to engage in aggressive behavior. Many times the aggressive
behavior is rewarded, making those types of aggressive behaviors more likely in the
For example, during the two weeks surrounding Christmas, package delivery
services typically double the volume that they handle. Workers, who are working harder
and for longer hours, get banned from taking vacation time and get pressured by their
supervisors to increase their workload during this busy season. Viewing this as an
unexpected and unfair punishment for the job they have been doing well all year long,
workers become angry and wish to retaliate. To get even, workers may load the trucks in
such a way that the packages shift in transit, crushing many of the boxes. Customers who
receive damaged packages then complain to the company and the company reprimands
the managers. Due to the time delay between the actual packing of the trucks and the
reprimand to the manager, the manager has no way of knowing who loaded the particular
truck so must take the responsibility him or herself. The workers, having gotten away
with it, are rewarded for their aggressive behavior, making it more likely, under similar
circumstances, to occur in the future.
The failure to provide expected rewards is not always a result of internal factors
or individual preference. Sometimes external factors make it difficult for partners to
provide rewards we have come to expect for certain behaviors. For example, a couple
who has a new baby may find that they do not have the time or energy to provide each
other with the attention and emotional and sexual support that they have in the past. In
this case, rewards are not being provided for behavior that has been previously
reinforced. If the external causes are not recognized, it could be a source of conflict for
Another source of conflict is related the Homans' fourth proposition which
focuses on satiation. If a resource is provided so often that it ceases to be rewarding, a
person will perceive a similar situation of not being reinforced for his or her behavior,
Blau's Economic Approach
Blau's approach is similar to Homans's, but Blau recognized emergent properties
as controllers of social exchange and relies upon economic principles as his theoretical
base, rather than operant psychology. Emergent properties "'are essentially relationships
between elements in a structure. The relationships are not contained in the elements,
though they could not exist without them, and they define the structure" (Blau, 1964, p.
3). An example of an emergent property in social exchange is the relationship between
the two people. The people may engage in certain interpersonal behaviors with each other
because they have been rewarded for doing so in the past. If, however, they do not find
the other's response rewarding, they may not continue behaving in the same manner in
Blau (1964) suggested that in an exchange, a person will estimate the potential for
gain from a particular activity or behavior, compare it to alternative courses of action, and
choose the one which he expects to be most profitable. There are three types of
expectations that Blau suggested would influence a person's decision about which
alternative to choose: general, particular, and comparative.
General rewards are those that are available to people in different aspects of life
(i.e. a salary for performing one's job or emotional support from friends). These types of
expectations tend to be formed both by social norms about what a person should receive
and the previous levels of rewards gained by that particular person (Roloff, 1981). Blau
suggested that there is a range from a minimum level of reinforcement that an individual
will find satisfying to a maximum level, which is an ideal amount.
Particular expectations are rewards that are received from another person. They
not only assume that the other person's behaviors will conform to social norms, but also
that rewards gained from that particular person may vary when compared with
associating with other people.
Comparative expectations take into account the potential rewards from an
exchange minus the costs to assess the potential for profit. Blau (1964) stated that the
more profitable a relationship, the more committed a person will be to that relationship.
Blau's theory is similar to Homans's because they both posit that a person will
choose the alternative that is likely to be most profitable to him or her. However, whereas
Homans' theory assumes that reinforcement history is the defining variable in this
decision, Blau's theory suggests that expectations formed by the relationship with the
other person or from social norms may affect the choice as much or more than
Blau emphasized the role that emergent properties play in social exchange. Social
exchanges are influenced by the relationship between the two individuals and by social
context, which includes the role a person plays and social norms that guide exchange.
Concepts such as the "going rate of exchange," which gives people an idea of the relative
values of two resources and is influenced by supply and demand, and "fair rate of
exchange" are examples of these social norms. Although Blau's perspective maintains
that people base their behaviors on expectations of profitable rewards, he also
acknowledged that emergent properties, defined by social relationships and structure, also
influence exchange patterns.
Blau (1964) has argued that conflict is inherent in exchange relationships. People
are motivated to maximize rewards, minimize costs, and to establish an advantageous
position in a relationship. Blau (1964, p. 117) defined power as "the ability of persons or
groups to impose their will on others despite resistance through deterrence either in the
form of withholding regularly supplied rewards or in the form of punishment, inasmuch
as the former as well as the latter constitute, in effect, a negative sanction." A person
enhances his or her power over another by providing that person valuable and scarce
resources, those that cannot be found elsewhere. This creates dependence, which can be
used as leverage to demand compliance in other areas.
By supplying services in demand to others, a person establishes his [or her]
power over them. If he [or she] regularly renders needed services they cannot
readily obtain elsewhere, others become dependent on and obligated to him
[or her] for these services, and unless they can furnish other benefits to him
[or her] that produce interdependence by making him equally dependent on
them, their unilateral dependence obligates them to comply with his [or her]
requests lest he [or she] cease to continue to meet their needs. (Blau, 1964 p.
An imbalance of power, however, does not necessarily constitute conflict.
Societies develop norms for what constitutes a fair exchange and only when a powerful
person violates these norms is it likely that conflict will occur. In other words, when
people feel that the more powerful person is misusing his or her superior position to gain
unfair returns from the weaker person, conflict will arise. If the more powerful person
exchanges resources in a socially approved manner, however, no conflict will occur. Blau
(1964) noted that although power differences in and of themselves do not constitute
conflict, their existence increases the probability of conflict.
Thibaut and Kelley's Theory of Interdependence
Thibaut and Kelley's (1959) theory is based upon two concepts: drive reduction
and gaming principles. Their approach assumes that internal drive mechanisms prompt
people's behavior. The reduction of the drive is pleasurable. Therefore, stimuli that are
associated with drive reduction become capable of evoking pleasure, and in this way
become rewards themselves. An example of one such drive is hunger. When a person
eats, the hunger drive is reduced, thus producing pleasure. Eating then becomes
associated with the pleasure of reducing the hunger drive and as a result, becomes a
reward itself. A social exchange therefore, is a process in which two people provide
resources to each other that reduce drives and fulfills each other's needs.
Game theory describes the ideal way that two people might go about resolving a
conflict and involves looking at the outcomes from a win/lose perspective for each of the
participants. Game theory involves a set of assumptions about the exchange, which
Thibaut and Kelley conceptualize as not holding true for all interpersonal exchanges.
Thus, game theory is not useful in predicting specific behaviors and outcomes. It does,
however, provide a good analogy for the way people analyze social exchanges.
In Thibaut and Kelley's model, decision-making is based upon reinforcement that
is a result of need fulfillment. Therefore, the likelihood that a person will perform a
particular behavior is a function of the internal and external stimuli associated with the
behavior, as well as the history of reinforcements gained by engaging in that behavior in
the past (Roloff, 1981). Behaviors that maximize rewards are more often chosen. In the
event that a situation or behavior is novel and there is no history of reward or cost,
Thibaut and Kelley suggest that people will learn to respond in a way that is reinforced
and will quickly adapt to those conditions of the situation.
Thibaut and Kelley's theory also makes predictions about how people evaluate
their relationships. People are thought to do this by comparing the outcomes they are
actually getting in their relationship with what they feel they should be getting from the
relationship (called by Thibaut and Kelley the comparison level). If the relationship
outcomes equal or exceed the comparison level, the person would find that relationship
satisfying. If, on the other hand, relationship outcomes fell below comparison level, the
person would be unsatisfied in the relationship. People also compare relationship
outcomes with what the lowest level of outcomes they will accept, based on what they
anticipate they could gain from alternative relationships (called by Thibaut and Kelley the
comparison level for alternatives). So if relationship outcomes meet or exceed the
comparison level for alternatives, the relationship is predicted to be stable. According to
this perspective, instability in a relationship results from the relationship outcomes falling
below the comparison level for alternatives. In this model, satisfaction and stability are
independent of each other. Therefore it is possible to have a relationship that is both
dissatisfying and stable, as well as a relationship that is both satisfying and unstable.
When considering patterns of exchange, Thibaut and Kelley (1959) focused on
how people change their patterns of behavior to adjust to the responses of others. Because
outcomes are partially dependent on the behavior of the other person, people in
relationships will be interested in how they will be able to influence the other's behavior.
This type of power in relationships comes in two forms, fate control and behavior control.
Fate control can be defined as the ability to exert control over another person's outcomes
regardless of the other person's actions. For example, if one partner is dependent on the
other for a resource, the other partner can exert control over him or her by refusing to
provide that resource. Behavior control can be defined as the ability to vary the other
person's actions by changing one's own behavior. For example, person A in a dyad can
choose a behavior (e.g., taking a nap) that person B would only find rewarding if he or
she chose to engage in certain behaviors herself (e.g., also taking a nap or reading a book,
vs. having a conversation or playing ping-pong).
Thibaut and Kelley (1959) suggested that all social exchanges involve a matrix of
behaviors and the outcomes associated with those behaviors that the participants have to
choose from. In their later work, Kelley and Thibaut (1978) and Kelley (1979) described
three different types of matrices that can exist in social exchanges: the given matrix, the
effective matrix, and the dispositional matrix. The given matrix represents behaviors and
outcomes that are mandated by external factors, such as environmental and institutional
limitations and by internal factors, such as the skills of the participants in the exchange.
Therefore, the given matrix is difficult to change, as it involves changing either the
environment or the people.
If neither person in an exchange has desirable outcomes based on the given
matrix, they may treat the given alternatives and outcomes in ways that transform them
into something else. This transformation is called the effective matrix and represents an
expansion of alternatives that are considered in a social exchange. For example, if neither
person finds the available outcomes desirable, they may find that there is some value in
acting first. Therefore, the pair can vary who acts first in these types of exchanges and
find some reward in the exchange, even though the value of the outcomes themselves has
The dispositional matrix represents the orientation that people have with respect
to how social exchanges should be handled. For example, some people view social
exchanges as competitions that are to be won or lost. Such people would view a
successful exchange as one that maximizes their outcomes relative to the other person's.
Other people view of a successful exchange is one that involves equity among the
participants in terms of the rewards that each receives as a result of the exchange.
Therefore, if one knows what type of disposition the other person has, one can predict
strategies the other person may use in an exchange and adjust his or her approach
In Thibaut and Kelley's (1959) theory, conflict essentially involves response
interference and different interpretations of why the interference took place. Because
Thibaut and Kelley (1959) have argued that people in interpersonal relationships are
interdependent, the behaviors that they perform toward each other influence their mutual
outcomes. As a result, there is the possibility that people may engage in behavioral
sequences that increase their costs or that make the attainment of rewards less likely.
When one partner's actions or behaviors interfere with the other's attainment of rewards,
A second factor that has the ability to reduce or escalate the level of conflict is the
interpretation of why the interference took place. If the cause of a conflict is assumed to
occur at the level of the given matrix, the conflict might be easily resolved. Kelley (1979)
suggested that conflicts often escalate into the area of the dispositional matrix. In this
type of attributional conflict, people conclude that their partners behave the way they do
because of some stable disposition or trait. Conflicts become more difficult to resolve if
the partners disagree on the cause of the behavior.
An example of this kind of conflict might involve a wife who goes to the opera
with her husband. During the performance, the husband falls asleep and begins to snore.
His snoring may interfere with her rewards from being at the opera in a number of ways,
thus creating conflict. Perhaps by snoring, he is distracting her so she can't pay attention
to the opera or maybe he is attracting unwanted attention from other audience members
and causing her some embarrassment. If this conflict remained at the level of the given
matrix, the wife could easily change the unpleasant environment by simply nudging her
husband awake and thereby resolving the conflict. If however, in seeking a reason for his
behavior, she attributes it to her husband being inconsiderate of her needs or to him trying
to retaliate for not wanting to go to the opera in the first place, the conflict will be more
difficult to resolve, particularly if her husband makes different attributions for his
behavior than she does.
Foa and Foa's Resource Theory
In their theory, which has roots in various psychological theories, Foa and Foa
(1974) suggested that adults have a variety of cognitive structures that allow for the
development of meaning in social exchanges. The acquisition of resources is the focus of
these exchanges and Foa and Foa categorized resources into six categories: love, services,
status, information, goods, and money.
According to Foa and Foa's (1974) theory, behavior is guided by motivational
states. People are motivated to engage in behaviors whenever their quantities of a
resource fall outside of an optimal range for that particular resource. The optimal range
consists of the points between the lower amount of a resource, below which the person
would feel the need for that resource and an upper level, above which the resource is not
needed and further acquisition of it ceases to be rewarding. Optimal ranges vary from
resource to resource, with some having a much larger range than others have. Love, for
example is considered to have a relatively narrow optimal range compared to money,
whose upper limit approaches infinity. If a person is within his or her optimal range for a
particular resource, meaning he or she has more than their lower level of a particular
resource, they can then afford to enter into an exchange for other resources. Their
effectiveness in an exchange, however, depends on the other person needing or desiring
the resource that they have to offer.
Foa and Foa (1976) articulated the following two propositions concerning the
rules that guide the exchange of resources: "(1) Every interpersonal behavior consists of
giving and/or taking away one or more resources; and (2) Behaviors that involve closely
allied resources occur more frequently than behaviors that involve less closely related
resources."(p. 106). These propositions suggest and research (Foa & Foa, 1974, 1976)
supports that the more similar resources are, the more likely they are to be exchanged. In
its most direct case, money for money, love for love, and service for service. This holds
more true for the more idiosyncratic resources, like love, status, and service, than it does
for more universal resources, like goods and money. If the same resource is not available
for exchange. then the preference is for a similar one (i.e., love for status and money for
goods). Satisfaction with an exchange tends to be higher when the exchanged resources
are similar and lower when they are dissimilar.
Foa and Foa (1974) have identified two major sources of conflict. First, conflict
occurs when a person denies another a resource, creating some need. When a person's
supply of a resource drops below his or her optimal range, they feel a need and seek more
of that resource. When a person who has been a dependable source of rewards withholds
the supply, conflict occurs as the need for the resource becomes acute. Secondly,
conflicts may result from distortions in interpersonal communication. Conflicts emerge
when two people are unable to understand the resources being transferred.
Walster, Berscheid, and Walster's Equity Theory
Walster, Berscheid, and Walster's Equity theory has roots in the work of Homans
(1961) and Blau (1964), who explored the concept of distributive justice, which describes
the reactions of a person who feels that his or her outcomes are less desirable than those
of another person making similar investments. Adams (1965) used the concept of
distributive justice to posit an early form of equity theory in which equity was defined as:
the perception that the ratio of one's outcomes to his or her costs was equal to those of his
or her exchange partner, others engaged in exchange with the same partner, or someone
in a similar exchange relationship with a different partner. If the two ratios are unequal
then inequity exists, which creates an unpleasant emotional state. A person experiencing
inequity might do one of the following in order to achieve equity: (a) alter inputs or
outcomes, (b) cognitively distort inputs and outputs, (c) leave the exchange, (d) change
his or her perceptions of another person's inputs and outputs, or (e) find another person
for comparison. In a study of undergraduate couples, Hill, Rubin, & Peplau (1976) found
that perceived unequal involvement in the relationship was among the reasons most often
cited for breaking up.
Walster, Berscheid, & Walster (1976) defined an equitable relationship as one in
which the relative gains of the participants are perceived as equal. These relative gains
are a ratio that represents a person's net reward by subtracting a person's inputs from his
or her outcomes and dividing by the absolute value of the inputs.
According to this theory, the decision-making process is relatively simple and the
goal straightforward. In the first of their four propositions, Walster et al. (1976, p. 6)
implied that people are selfish and will act in their own self-interests when engaging in
exchanges, "Individuals will try to maximize their outcomes (where outcomes equal
rewards minus costs)". They further emphasized this point by saying, "So long as
individuals perceive they can maximize their outcomes by behaving equitably they will
do so. Should they perceive that they can maximize their outcomes by behaving
inequitably, they will do so." (p. 16).
The other three propositions offered by Walster et al. (1976) speak to the way
exchanges are conducted.
Proposition IIA: Groups of individuals can maximize collective reward by
evolving accepted systems for equity and will attempt to induce members to
accept and adhere to these systems.
Proposition 1IB: Groups will generally reward members who treat others
equitably and will generally punish members who treat others inequitably.
Proposition III: When individuals find themselves participating in inequitable
relationships, they will become distressed. The more inequitable the
relationship, the more distress they will feel.
Proposition IV: Individuals who discover that they are in inequitable
relationships will attempt to eliminate their distress by restoring equity. The
greater the inequity, the more distress they will feel, and the harder they will
try to restore equity. (P. 6)
When inequity exists in relationships, the theory predicts that it will be short-lived and
that individuals and/or society will seek ways to restore equity, in much the way Adams
Equity theory assumes that interpersonal conflict arises in a relationship
whenever people perceive inequities in the distribution of outcomes. Propositions III and
IV, discussed earlier, speak directly to this issue and suggest that people who find
themselves in an inequitable relationship become distressed, and that the greater the
inequity, the greater their distress and the harder they work to restore equity. Inequities
that are intentionally produced tend to create more distress and greater attempts to restore
equity than do inequities that are unintentionally produced.
Despite people's best efforts to enter into equitable relationships, inequities often
occur. Walster, Walster, and Berscheid (1978) suggested three reasons why inequities
may occur in a previously equitable relationship. First, as relationships develop, the
partners may learn more about each other and this new information reveals inequities that
were unknown at the outset of the relationship. Secondly, people may change during the
course of a relationship. For example, their needs may change and not be communicated
to each other. As these needs change, and behavior by the partner stays the same,
outcomes change, inequity is perceived, and conflict develops. Third, inequities may be
the result of changes in the relationship due to external events, such as the birth of a baby,
as mentioned earlier.
In summary, each of these five approaches offers a slightly different explanation
of social exchange. Primarily, the differences lie in their explanation of the decision-
making process people go through in exchanges and the mechanisms by which exchanges
take place. Although differing in some of their specifics, these five theories of social
exchange share elements in common. All of the approaches assert that people enter into
social exchanges with the expectation that they will be rewarded for doing so. People also
have an expectation about the amount of reward that they should receive from entering
into a particular exchange. These expectations are set either by a person's past history of
similar exchanges, social norms and standards, or by comparison with others, depending
upon which theory is consulted. When these expectations are not met, all five approaches
suggest that interpersonal conflict results.
This chapter has reviewed the scholarly literature on relationship conflict, from
the perspective of both bioevolutionary theory and the social exchange theories. Both of
these perspectives offer an explanation of conflict, but they offer differing views of how
conflict is created in relationships. They also offer different predictions regarding the
types of conflict that people will experience in relationships. The accuracy of these
differing predictions will be tested by the studies reported in this dissertation.
This chapter describes the methods used to conduct two studies. Study 1 linked
the items that were generated in a preliminary study to the two theories of interest, Buss's
bioevolutionary theory and social exchange theory. Participants in Study 1 attended a
training session to ensure that they understood each of the theories. Following that
session, they rated each of the items on the degree to which it can be explained
effectively by each theory. The scores of all of the raters were averaged for each problem,
creating three theory-fit scores for each problem, two for bioevolutionary theory (one for
males, one for females) and one for social exchange theory. These theory-fit scores are
intended to indicate the degree to which a particular problem can be explained by a
theory. The reason for two theory-fit scores being calculated for bioevolutionary theory is
that Buss's theory makes sex-differentiated predictions for areas of conflict. These
theory-fit scores were used in combination with the data from Study 2 to assess how
much each theory accounts for the problems that college students report as occurring
most frequently and those they view as most important.
Study 2 assessed the frequency with which collegians in another sample
experienced these problems and the level of importance they placed on the problems. The
participants in this study were asked to indicate on rating scales, how often each problem
had happened to them and how important each of the problems was to them. These data,
when combined with the theory-fit scores generated in Study 1, provided a quantitative
measure of the extent to which each of the theories accounts for the frequency of each of
the problems, the importance of each of the problems, and the combination of frequency
and importance of college dating problems.
Study 1: Linking Theories to Problems
Once students have identified a list of dating relevant problems that they have
experienced, it becomes possible to assess to what degree these problems can be
understood by these theories. The purpose of this study was to gain a measure of the
degree to which each of the items generated in the preliminary study can be explained by
each of the theories (bioevolutionary and social exchange). The result of this step was
three theory-fit scores for each item, two scores for bioevolutionary theory (a score for
males and another for females) and one for social exchange theory (which makes no sex
Participants. Raters were recruited from the psychology subject pool, which is
made up of students in a general psychology course. Raters were kept blind to the nature
of the study until they were finished with their ratings. Participating raters received six
research participation credits toward the 8 that were required for their class. Of the 20
raters who participated, 13 of them were male and 7 of them were female. Four
participants' scores (3 male and I female) were removed from the study because they did
not complete the answer sheet correctly and their data could not be used. Of the raters
whose data was used, there were 6 females and 10 males. Nine raters identified as
Caucasian, 4 as African-American, and 3 as Hispanic. None of the raters identified as
Asian-American, Native-American, Multiracial, or other. Fifteen raters indicated that
they were heterosexual and one identified as homosexual. Seven raters were freshmen, 5
were sophomores and 4 were juniors. The age range of raters was 17-20 years with a
mean of 18.96 years.
Questionnaire. The Raters' Item instrument consisted of three parts, each
containing the same 80-item list of the problems that were generated in the preliminary
study (see Appendix A). Two of these 80-item lists were used to create theory-fit scores
for bioevolutionary theory and one was used to create theory-fit scores for social
exchange theory. For this study, it was necessary to generate two theory-fit scores for
Buss's bioevolutionary model, one for men reporting the problem and one for women
reporting the problem. This was necessary because in Buss's model, men and women
have different reproductive strategies. Therefore, a particular problem may be more or
less representative of Buss's model, depending on whether a man or a woman
Procedure. The raters attended a 3-hour session during which they learned about
the theories and how to evaluate the fit between problems and the two theories.
Following the training portion of the session, they rated each of the items generated in the
preliminary study. During the training portion of the session, each rater was given two
articles to read. each of which outlined one of the theories of interest, bioevolutionary and
social exchange (See Appendix B for the articles).
After the raters read the articles, they discussed the theories as a group with the
trainer, who was a white, non-Hispanic, female, college senior and a psychology major.
In order to reduce demand characteristics, she was also kept blind regarding the
hypothesis of the study.
To ensure that the participants understood the two theories, they took a ten-item
multiple choice test for each theory (see Appendix C for the questions and answers). The
correct answers were read to the group by the trainer, who also answered questions that
the participants had about the test items and answers. Raters who scored 70% or higher
on the multiple choice tests were considered sufficiently knowledgeable of the two
theories. The mean scores on these tests for bioevolutionary theory and social exchange
theory were 90% and 84%, respectively. To further test the raters and ensure that they
understood the task, after training and testing, the raters evaluated sample items that
previously have been rated by the author (see appendix D for sample items and appendix
E for sample ratings). These sample ratings were simply to test the rater's understanding
of the task. The theory-fit scores used in this study came from the rater's actual ratings of
the items on the final Rater's List. The items in the sample set are items that were not
included in the final Raters' List due to low frequency. Two dissertation committee
members have corroborated these author ratings.
Raters were then given the entire list of items from the preliminary data collection
and instructed to assign theory ratings to each item regarding the degree to which it can
be explained by each theory. Participants rated items using 5-point scales with values
ranging from 0 to 4, where 0 = The Theory Cannot Explain it At All and 4 = The Theory
Can Explain it Well. They used scannable answer sheets and rated the entire list for each
theory, one at a time. The order in which they rated the theories was varied across the
raters to control for any order effects. Although varying the order does not eliminate
fatigue effects, it does control for them by distributing them similarly across the theories.
All of the raters' scores for each theory for each item were averaged to create
three composite scores for each item, indicating that item's degree of fit with each theory
(see Appendix G for a list of items and their theory-fit scores). As mentioned earlier, the
reason that there are three theory-fit scores for each item when there are only two theories
is that there were two scores generated for the bioevolutionary theory based on whether
the problem was reported by a man or a woman.
Study 2: Problem Frequency and Importance
The purpose of this study was to quantify how often college students are
experiencing each of the problems identified in the preliminary study and how
importantly they view each problem. With this frequency and importance information,
the study attempted to answer three questions: (a) To what extent does each of the two
theories account for the dating problems most frequently experienced by college students,
(b) To what extent does each of the theories account for the dating problems that college
students identified as most important, and (c) To what extent does each of the theories
account for these problems when frequency and importance are combined?
Participants were a separate set of undergraduates who were also recruited from
the psychology subject pool at the University of Florida during the Fall Semester of 2000.
For participating, the students were given one research participant credit point in their
psychology class. The average age of the participants was 18.75 years. Of the 112
students whose data were used, 38 of them were male and 74 of them were female. Data
from three participants were removed because they did not complete the survey correctly.
Seventy-eight participants identified themselves as Anglo-American/Caucasian, 11 as
African-American/Black, 12 as Asian-American, 7 as Hispanic/Latino(a) American, 0 as
Native American, American Indian, or Pacific Islander, 2 as Biracial/Multiracial
American, and 2 as other. One hundred eight participants indicated that they were
heterosexual, I identified as bisexual, and 3 indicated that they were homosexual.
Seventy-seven of the participants were freshmen, 19 were sophomores, 10 were juniors
and 6 were seniors. Of the 112 participants, 6 indicated that they had never been in a
relationship, 62 indicated that they had been in a relationship, but were not in one at the
time of the study, and 44 indicated that the were in a relationship at the time of the study.
The Dating Problems Questionnaire is a 160-item questionnaire divided into two
identical 80-item sections (see Appendix F). These 80 items are the ones that were
retained from the freehand responses of the scale described in the preliminary study and
rated in Study 1.
On the first section of the Dating Problems Questionnaire, participants rated how
often they have encountered the problem identified in each of the items. The items were
rated on a five-point scale with values ranging from never (0) through rarely (1),
sometimes (2), often (3), to always (4).
In the second section, participants rated how important each of the problems was
to them. Again, the items were rated on a five-point scale with values ranging from not at
all important (0). through slightly important (1), moderately important (2), important (3),
to very important (4). The items were generally kept in their original form, but were
occasionally adjusted for grammar, made gender non-specific, and written in the first
Demographic information was collected in the "special codes" section of the
answer sheet. This information included the participant's sex (male or female), race
(Anglo-American/Caucasian, African-American/Black, Asian-American,
Hispanic/Latino(a) American, Native American, American Indian, or Pacific Islander,
Biracial/Multiracial American, or other), year in school, age, and sexual orientation
(heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual).
Participants who have never been in a relationship were included in the final
analysis. The information gained by their inclusion is important to this research because it
represents data from a group that may not have been successful in dating precisely
because of some of the problems being researched in this study. Forty-seven of the 160
items in this survey (those related to how frequently a participant has experienced a
problem with someone he or she has actually dated) were not relevant to participants who
have never dated, so they were instructed not answer those questions. The section that
asks about the importance of problems made provisions for participants who have never
actually experienced those specific problems, so their data were included there. Although
this decision creates a potential limitation in the study, not to include people who have
never been in a relationship would have created an even greater limitation. That would
have resulted in excluding those who are likely to have been most affected by the very
problems that this research is investigating.
Participants completed the questionnaire during a designated session in the
Psychology Building at the University of Florida. Each participant was given a sheet
containing the instructions and the 160 items and a computer scannable answer sheet, on
which they recorded their responses to the items. The instructions for the first half of the
questionnaire were as follows: "Do not put your name on the answer sheet. Please answer
all of the questions on the answer sheet. Use the following scale to indicate how often
you have encountered the following problems in finding and selecting people to date."
A second set of instructions read, "Use the following scale to indicate how often
you have personally experienced the following problems with people you have actually
dated. If you have never been in a relationship, skip this section and continue with item
number 81." For the second half of the questionnaire, the instructions were as follows:
"For the rest of the items, use the following scale to indicate how important each of the
following problems in finding and selecting people to date is to you. Please rate each
item. If you haven't experienced a particular problem, please use the scale to indicate
how important it would be to you if you were to experience it." A second set of
instruction within that section read, "The following is a list of problems you may or may
not have experienced with people you have actually dated. Use the scale below to
indicate how important each of these problems is to you. Please rate each item. If you
haven't experienced a particular problem, please use the scale to indicate how important
it would be to you if you were to experience it." Participants were given permission not
to respond to any item with which there are uncomfortable.
For each participant, individual item scores for frequency and importance were
multiplied by the theory-fit scores for the corresponding item, as calculated in Study 1. In
the bioevolutionary condition, the frequency and importance ratings for males were
multiplied by the theory-fit scores for males. Likewise, the frequency and importance
ratings for females were multiplied by the theory-fit scores for females. Male and female
frequency and importance ratings were multiplied by the same theory-fit scores in the
social exchange condition. Coefficients for each item were calculated for each participant
for both theories in each of the following conditions: frequency rating X theory-fit score,
importance rating X theory-fit score, and frequency rating X importance rating X theory-
fit score. The difference between the bioevolutionary and social exchange coefficients in
each condition was calculated across all items. These differences were averaged across
all items and the resulting mean differences were evaluated for significance using a series
of three dependent t-tests, one for each condition (theory X frequency, theory X
importance, and theory X frequency X importance). In all three of these t-tests, the theory
coefficient (bioevolutionary theory coefficient and social exchange theory coefficient)
served as the dependent variable.
In the first of these three t-tests, the interaction of problem frequency rating X
problem importance rating X theory-fit score will serve as the dependent variable. What
follows is a detailed example of the computation process. Table 1 provides a graphic
example of this computation process. So, if Participant 1, a male, rates Item 1 on the
Study 2 questionnaire a 3 for frequency and rates Item 81 (which has the same content as
Item 1) a 4 for importance, those two scores would be multiplied by each other and by
each of the theory-fit scores for that item, for men. For this example, 2.6 will serve as the
bioevolutionary theory-fit score for males and 1.8 will serve as the social exchange
theory-fit score for these items. So Item 1, for this participant, would have two resulting
coefficients; problem frequency rating X problem importance rating X bioevolutionary
theory-fit score [in this case (3) (4) (2.6) = 31.2] and problem frequency rating X problem
importance rating X social exchange theory-fit score [in this case, (3) (4) (1.8) = 21.6].
The difference between these two coefficients would then be calculated [in this case, 31.2
- 21.6 = 9.6]. The social exchange coefficient will always be subtracted from the
bioevolutionary coefficient. If the resulting difference is > 0, then bioevolutionary theory
is favored for that item. If the difference is < 0, then social exchange theory is favored for
that item. The coefficient differences will be summed across all participants across all
items. Table 1 illustrates this example for 2 participants across 2 items.
Table 1. Example of the calculations for achieving the difference scores.
Note. TFIT = Theory-fit score. FREQ = participant's frequency score tor that item. IMP
= participant's importance score for that item. BIOCOEF = bioevolutionary coefficient
for that participant for that item. SECOEF = social exchange coefficient for that
participant for that item. DIFF SCORE = the difference between bioevolutionary and
social exchange coefficients for that participant for that item (BIOCOEF SECOEF).
TOTAL = sum of all coefficients and difference scores across all items and participants.
In the second of these t-tests. the coefficient resulting from problem frequency
rating X theory-fit score will serve as the dependent variable. Using the above example
with the same participant on the same item, the final coefficients would be 7.8 [(3) (2.6)
= 7.8] for bioevolutionary theory and 5.4 [(3) (1.8) = 5.4] for social exchange theory.
Bioevolutionary Theory Social Exchange Theory
Subject THFIT FREQ IMP BIO THFIT FREQ IMP SE DIFF
(Item) COEF COEF SCORI
1 (1) 2.6 3 4 31.2 1.8 3 4 21.6 9.6
1 (2) 1.8 2 1 3.6 2.0 2 1 4.0 -0.4
7 (1) 1.4 1 0 0 1.8 1 0 0 0
7 (2) 3.1 4 2 24.8 2.0 4 2 16 8.8
TOTAL 59.6 41.6 18
The difference score would be 2.4 [7.8 5.4 = 2.4]. These difference scores will again be
summed across all participants and all items.
Finally, in the third of these three t-tests, problem importance rating X theory-fit
score will serve as the dependent variable. Using the above numbers as an example the
final coefficients would be 10.4 [(4) (2.6) = 10.4] for bioevolutionary theory and 7.2 [(4)
(1.8) = 7.2] for social exchange theory. The resulting difference score would be 3.2 [10.4
- 7.2 = 3.2].
Support for the Study 2 hypothesis will come from at least one of these three
analyses revealing a significantly larger bioevolutionary coefficient than social exchange
coefficient, and that in no case is the social exchange coefficient significantly larger than
the comparable bioevolutionary coefficient. The condition that tests the interaction of
problem frequency, problem importance and theory-fit score is of particular interest. To
guard against inflated family-wise error, a Bonferoni corrected alpha level of p <.017
(.05/3) will serve as the significance level for each of these tests.
This chapter has described 2 studies that, together, assessed the utility of Buss's
bioevolutionary theory in accounting for collegiate dating problems. To test the utility of
Buss's theory, it was compared to social exchange theory. A preliminary study, entitled
Problem Identification, used a free-response survey to identify problems that collegians
have experienced finding people to date and problems that they have had with people
they have actually dated. Study 1, entitled Linking Theories to Problems, obtained a
quantitative measure of the degree to which each of the theories can explain each of the
problems listed in the preliminary study. Study 2, entitled Problem Frequency and
Importance, measured how often collegians experienced the problems generated in the
preliminary study and how important each of the problems was to them. The combination
of these two studies compared the theories of interest (bioevolutionary and social
exchange) with respect to the proportion of college dating problems that they accounted
for. With this information, this research sought to determine whether Buss's
bioevolutionary theory accounted for a greater proportion of the problems that collegians
experience most frequently and that they find most important than what is accounted for
by social exchange theory.
Study 1 linked the 80 items that were generated in the preliminary study to the
two theories of interest, Buss's bioevolutionary theory and social exchange theory.
Theory-fit scores were calculated for each of the 80 items in the study, for each of the
three theory conditions (bioevolutionary-male, bioevolutionary-female, and social
exchange). These theory-fit scores were generated by calculating the mean scores across
raters for each item in each condition (see Appendix G for these scores).
Reliability of Judges
Interrater reliability was assessed for each theory across all items and all raters
using a series of three intraclass correlations, using the following equation:
Rc = MS, MSe,
where R. signifies that the intraclass correlation estimates the reliability of the composite
rating, MSp represents the mean squares for items, and Mse stands for mean square for
error. Because the composite theory-fit scores were the average ratings of all judges on
an underlying continuum, the intraclass correlation is preferred over the standard
Ri = MS MS.
MSp + MSc (K-1)
where Ri indicates that the average reliability of a singe rater is calculated, MSp
represents the mean squares for items, MSe represents mean squares for error, and K is
the number of judges rating each item. Re is preferred because Ri gives the average
reliability of a single judge and undervalues the interrater reliability of the composite
scores (Tinsley & Weiss, 2000).
The results of the intraclass correlation analyses, shown in Table 2, were
significant for the male and female conditions of the bioevolutionary theory (r = .83 and r
= .84 respectively), but were not significant for the social exchange condition (r = .35).
Table 2. Intraclass Correlations for Raters Across Theory.
Theory n Mean Square Mean Square re
for Items for Error
Bioevolutionary 16 6.43 1.12 .83
Bioevolutionary 16 6.64 1.06 .84
Social 16 1.71 1.11 .35
It was hypothesized that there would be a main effect for theory and that there
would be neither a main effect for sex of the rater nor an interaction effect between sex of
the rater and theory, on the theory-fit scores. The analysis used to evaluate this hypothesis
was a mixed-model analysis of variance (ANOVA), with theory (bioevolutionary theory
male, bioevolutionary theory female, and social exchange theory) serving as the within-
subjects independent variable, and rater sex (male vs. female) serving as the between-
subjects independent variable. Rater-generated theory-fit scores, again, served as the
The results of the ANOVA, shown in Table 3, support the hypothesis that there is
a significant main effect for theory (F = 5.75, p < .01). The hypothesis that there
would be no significant main effect for sex of the rater was not supported (F[l] = 4.93, p
< .05). This significant sex main effect is not likely to influence the validity of the Study
2 hypothesis test because the ratio of male to female judges was constant across all theory
conditions. The hypothesis that there would be no significant interaction effect between
theory and sex of the rater was supported (F = 1.25, p = .30). This finding of no
significant interaction of theory and sex of rater indicates that it is appropriate for the
ratings of males and females raters to be combined in the theory-fit ratings.
Table 3. Test of Theory and Sex Effects on Theory-fit Scores.
Source of df Mean Square F value p-value
Theory 2 0.54 5.75 0.006
Sex 1 0.46 4.93 0.032
Theory*Sex 2 0.12 1.25 0.298
Study 2 collected frequency and importance data for the 80 items in the
preliminary study. These data were combined with the data collected in Study 1 to assess
the contribution each theory made toward explaining these problems. The hypothesis
tested in Study 2 was that the bioevolutionary coefficient resulting from the interaction of
problem frequency, problem importance and the Study 1 theory-fit scores will be
significantly greater than the comparable social exchange coefficient, suggesting that
bioevolutionary theory accounts for a significantly greater proportion of the variance in
problem frequency and importance than social exchange theory. Support for this
hypothesis would come from at least one of these three analyses revealing a significantly
larger bioevolutionary coefficient than social exchange coefficient, and that in no case is
the social exchange coefficient significantly larger than the comparable bioevolutionary
As detailed in the methods section, for each participant, individual item scores for
frequency and importance were multiplied by the theory-fit scores for the corresponding
item as calculated in Study 1. In the bioevolutionary condition, the frequency and
importance ratings for males were multiplied by the theory-fit scores for males. Likewise
the frequency and importance ratings for females were multiplied by the theory-fit scores
for females. Male and female frequency and importance ratings were multiplied by the
same theory-fit scores in the social exchange condition. Coefficients for each item were
calculated for each participant for both theories in each of the following conditions:
frequency rating X theory-fit score, importance rating X theory-fit score, and frequency
rating X importance rating X theory-fit score. The difference between the bioevolutionary
and social exchange coefficients in each condition was calculated across all items. These
differences were averaged across all items and the resulting mean differences were
evaluated for significance using a series of three dependent t tests, one for each condition
(theory X frequency, theory X importance, and theory X frequency X importance). In all
three of these t tests, the theory coefficient (bioevolutionary theory coefficient and social
exchange theory coefficient) served as the dependent variable.
In the first of these three t tests, the interaction of problem frequency rating X
problem importance rating X theory-fit score served as the dependent variable. In the
second of these t tests, the coefficient resulting from problem frequency rating X theory-
fit score served as the dependent variable. Finally, in the third of these three t tests,
problem importance rating X theory-fit score served as the dependent variable.
Support for the Study 2 hypothesis will result from at least one of these three
analyses revealing a significantly larger bioevolutionary coefficient than social exchange
coefficient, and that in no case is the social exchange coefficient significantly larger than
the comparable bioevolutionary coefficient. The condition that tests the interaction of
problem frequency, problem importance and theory-fit score is of particular interest. To
guard against inflated family-wise error, a Bonferoni corrected alpha level p <.017
(.05/3) will serve as the significance level for each of these tests.
The first dependent t-test from Study 2 tested the hypothesis that the
bioevolutionary coefficient resulting from the interaction of problem frequency, problem
importance, and theory-fit score would be significantly greater than the comparable social
exchange coefficient. The analysis supported this hypothesis (t = 4.25, p < .01). This
finding indicates that the bioevolutionary theory explained a greater proportion of the
most important and frequently occurring problems listed than social exchange theory did.
A second dependent t-test tested whether the bioevolutionary coefficient resulting
from the interaction of problem frequency and theory-fit score, (ignoring problem
importance) was greater than the comparable social exchange coefficient. This hypothesis
was also supported by the analysis (t = 4.99, p < .01). A third dependent t-test tested
whether the bioevolutionary coefficient resulting from the interaction between problem
importance and theory-fit score, (ignoring problem frequency) was greater than the
comparable social exchange coefficient. This was not supported by the analysis (t = 0.88,
p = .39). Table 4 details the results of these analyses.
Table 4. Results of T-Test for Differences Between Theories Across Both Sexes.
Condition BIO Mean SOEX Mean t-Value p-value
FREQ*IMP*THFIT 5.66 5.47 4.25 0.0001
FREQ*THFIT 2.00 1.94 4.99 0.0001
IMP*THFIT 4.54 4.52 0.88 0.3787
Note. FREQ = problem frequency IMP = problem importance THFIT = theory-fit score
BIO = bioevolutionary theory SOEX = social exchange theory
The research question sought to determine whether the differences found between
bioevolutionary and social exchange theories were qualified by a theory X sex of
participant interaction. This question was analyzed by a mixed-model ANOVA, with
theory serving as the within-subjects effect, and participant sex (male vs. female) serving
as the between-subjects effect. Theory-fit score X problem frequency rating X problem
importance rating served as the dependent variable.
The results of the ANOVA showed no significant interaction effect between
theory and sex of participant (F = 3.16, p = .08). The results of the ANOVA for all
three conditions are shown in Table 5.
Table 5. Test of Theory by Sex Interaction for Study 2 Data.
Condition df Mean Square F value p-value
Frequency only 1 0.03 4.21 0.04
Importance 1 0.70 59.25 0.0001
Frequency x 1 0.33 3.16 0.08
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