What women want: the ‘ex-factor’

Women instinctively find men who have had a few partners attractive, but get turned off if he has had five or more relationships.

They definitely aren’t interested if he has had no previous partners.

A James Cook University researcher has been studying whether women exhibit ‘mate copying’, or choosing a man who has been desirable to women in the past.

Ryan Anderson holds a Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Psychology degree (Honours) from JCU and is currently a PhD candidate in psychology.

Mr Anderson recently conducted the study, I Want What She’s Having - Evidence of Human Mate Copying, which was published in the journal Human Nature online recently, and will come out in print in the same journal in a few months’ time (volume 25, issue 2).

The key findings were that women find a man who has had a small number of partners most desirable, a man who had a large number of partners undesirable and least desirable a man who has had none.

Mr Anderson said various non-human female animals did not select male partners independently. Instead they favoured males who had previous associations with other females, a phenomenon known as mate copying.

“My paper investigates whether humans also exhibit mate copying and whether consistent positive information about a man’s mate value, and a woman’s age and self-perceived mate value, or SPMV, influence her tendency to copy the mate choices of others,” he said.

“Consistent positive information refers to a man being endorsed or pre-approved on more than one occasion. In this context it refers to him having more than one previous girlfriend. However, in this study we did not find a desirability difference between men with either one or two previous mates.”

Mr Anderson said SPMV was what you yourself think of yourself as a mate.

“High SPMV suggests you think you are highly desirable to the opposite sex. Again, we found that SPMV scores did not correlate with your propensity to mate copy.”

Female university students rated the desirability of photographed men, described as single and pictured alone or with one, two, or five female silhouettes, representing their number of previous relationships. A fifth man was described as currently in a romantic relationship.

“Women generally rated men pictured with one or two previous partners as more desirable than those with none,” Mr Anderson said.

“Men depicted with five previous partners, however, were found to be less desirable.”

Mr Anderson said younger, presumably less experienced women, had a greater tendency to mate copy compared with older women, but high SPMV did not predict greater levels of mate copying.

“The findings reaffirmed and expanded those suggesting that women do not make mate choices independently,” he said.

Mr Anderson said some previous studies on human mate copying may have unintentionally confused copying with the related phenomenon of mate poaching.

“Schmitt and Buss (2001) define mate poaching as ‘behaviour intended to attract someone who is already in a romantic relationship’,” he said.

“However, copying the preferences of someone else does not necessarily involve taking their mate from them, or mate poaching.

“Therefore, it is important to distinguish between mate poaching and mate copying.”

Mr Anderson’s research interests include evolutionary psychology of mate selection and reproduction, sociobiology, and social psychology.

For interviews, contact Mr Anderson on 0421 674 889 or email ryan.anderson1@my.jcu.edu.au

JCU Media Liaison: Caroline Kaurila, tel; (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175.

First published July 8 , 2014