Looks matter most when it comes to a fling

by Anita Gay at Totton College

Is your partner fit, rich, beautiful and kind? No? Well, individuals who are a perfect 10 in every mating dimension are extremely rare, if they exist at all! So how do we choose which mate characteristics are most important to us when looking for a partner?

Participants chose their preferred partner from descriptions of six pairs of potential mates. Each potential partner had varying levels of warmth/trustworthiness, attractiveness/vitality and status and resources. For each pair, one trait remained constant (e.g. warmth/trustworthiness), whereas the remaining two traits were reversed in positivity across the two partners. For example, one partner was described as: warm and trustworthy, fit and attractive, but poor, with a low status job; whereas the other partner was described as: warm and trustworthy, unattractive and unfit but rich and with a high status job. Participants indicated their preference in three scenarios – a fling, casual date and a long-term relationship.

Both men and women overwhelmingly chose positive levels of warmth/trustworthiness when pitted against status/resources (with levels of attractiveness/vitality kept constant) regardless of whether long-term or short-term liaisons were considered.

However, when attractiveness/vitality was contrasted with warmth/trustworthiness, the results were much more stereotypical! Men desired much higher levels of attractiveness/vitality for both a fling and long-term relationship than women did.

Both men and women tended to maintain or even increase the importance given to attractiveness and vitality when shifting from long-term to short-term relationships, but to lower the importance assigned to warmth and trustworthiness.

“The results were generally as expected”, the authors said, “…the sex differences were marked for both long-term relationships and short-term flings; however, unexpectedly, sex differences disappeared when respondents were considering a casual date”.

Fletcher, G. J. O., Tither, J.M., O’Loughlin, C., Friesen, M. & Overall., N. ( 2004). Warm and homely or cold and beautiful? Sex differences in trading off traits in mate selection. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 659-672.