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Mate Selection

Factors Within The Individual

Several theories of mate selection have focused on the psychological responses of the individual to potential mates. An influential early theory focused on reinforcement, emphasizing the observer's affective response to potential mates (Byrne and Clore 1970). The assumption was that a person is attracted to potential mates who make that person feel good. Researchers in this tradition focused on overt characteristics such as physical appearance and the expression of similar attitudes and values (Byrne 1971). People indeed tend to mate with others who have similar characteristics, including political attitudes, lifestyle values, personality, appearance, or ethnicity (Botwin, Buss, and Shackelford 1997; Keller, Thiessen, and Young 1996). Consistent with the theory that such features make the judge feel good, it was found that people do find it pleasant to interact with similar others (Byrne 1971).

There are exceptions to the similarity-attraction principle, however. Women at all ages tend to be attracted to men who are slightly older than themselves, and men shift their preferences throughout the lifespan, such that teenagers find older women most attractive, men in their twenties are most attracted to women their own age, and older men are most attracted to women who are younger than themselves (Kenrick et al. 1996; Kenrick and Keefe 1992). Besides this, women tend to emphasize status-linked characteristics in a partner, whereas men do not (Sadalla, Kenrick, and Vershure 1987). Men, on the other hand, place more emphasis on physical attractiveness (Townsend and Wasserman 1998). The cues for attractiveness are also slightly different for the two sexes. Although symmetry is attractive in both men and women, small noses and relatively smaller jaws are relatively more attractive in women, and medium noses and large jaws are attractive in men (Cunningham, Druen, and Barbee 1997). A small waist-to-hip ratio is attractive in a woman, but not in a man (Singh 1995).

Another interesting exception to the similarityattraction rule is that individuals raised in the same home tend not to experience strong sexual attraction and romantic feelings towards one another, even when they are not related (Shepher 1983). Contrary to the general tendency for marriages to occur between neighbors and acquaintances, in a study of 211 kibbutzim, Joseph Shepher (1983) found no instances of marriage among adults who had been born on the same kibbutz and had stayed together in the same peer group without interruption during childhood.

Another theory focusing on individual psychological responses suggested that a person decides that he or she is feeling romantic attraction for another when he or she attributes feelings of arousal to that other (Berscheid and Walster 1974). Findings that people became attracted to others present when they were experiencing arousal due to fear of electric shock, standing on a shaky suspension bridge, or recent exercise were interpreted as support for that theory (Dutton and Aron 1974; White and Kight 1984). An alternative interpretation of those findings emphasizes that arousal simply boosts attraction, without any necessary misinterpretation of arousal (Allen et al. 1989).

Another set of factors that affects mate choice involves personality traits. One line of research examined differences between those adopting an unrestricted versus restricted approach to relationships (Simpson and Gangestad 1992). Unrestricted individuals, inclined to have sex without commitment and to be involved with more than one partner at a time, choose attractive and outgoing partners; restricted (or monogamously oriented) individuals favor partners manifesting personality characteristics associated with fidelity and good parenting.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsMate Selection - Factors Within The Individual, Factors In The Relationship, Sociocultural And Historical Factors, Evolutionary Factors