1 minute read

Mate Selection

Factors Within The Individual, Factors In The Relationship, Sociocultural And Historical Factors, Evolutionary Factors

Choosing a mate is a problem that humans share with most other animals because successful reproduction is central to natural selection. Peahens choose among the most attractive peacocks, female elephant seals pick males who have already attracted large harems, and even promiscuous chimpanzees exercise choice about the other chimps with which they will be promiscuous. Among mammals, however, humans are in a small minority in one important way: for over 95 percent of other mammals, family arrangements involving male care of offspring are nonexistent (Geary 2000). Across human societies, though, men and women bond together in marriage (Broude 1994; United Nations 2000). Not all human mating occurs within such bonds; within and across societies, polygamous arrangements are relatively common (Broude 1994). In considering how and why people choose mates, therefore, two points are significant: (1) there are variations as well as universalities across cultures, and (2) there is a distinction between selection of mates for short-term relationships versus long-term relationships.

The discussion below begins with research and theory focused on proximal causes, or immediate psychological triggers of mate choice (such as pleasant feelings in response to seeing a physically attractive other), and moves through progressively more distal factors (relationship exchange, cultural and historical factors, and evolutionary history). Like the single frames, scenes, and overall plot of a movie, these different approaches are complementary, and all are required to see the "big picture" of mate selection.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationships