While humans may consider themselves highly sophisticated beings, a new study says that when it comes to choosing a mate, we resort to the most basic of selection processes: looks.
Despite claims by individuals to the contrary, physical beauty is the key trait men look for, according to research by Indiana University cognitive scientist Peter Todd. Women, on the other hand, are choosier but tend to pick men who can offer material wealth and security that is on par with how the women perceive their own attractiveness.
"Evolutionary theories in psychology suggest that men and women should trade off different traits in each other, and when we look at the actual mate choices people make, this is what we find evidence for," Todd said in a release in advance of his study, which is to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Ancestral individuals who made their mate choices in this way — women trading off their attractiveness for higher-quality men and men looking for any attractive women who will accept them — would have had an evolutionary advantage in greater numbers of successful offspring."
The study used a speed-dating session to compare what people said they wanted in a mate with whom they actually chose. Speed dating is where men and women have a number of "mini-dates" that last only a few minutes, giving them only a short time to decide whether they would like to go on a proper date with that person.
At the end of the mini-date, the men and women must check a box on a card to indicate whether or not they would like to see the other person again.
Todd and his research colleagues say speed-dating events are a "microcosm where mate choices are made sequentially in a faster and more formalized fashion than in daily life."
In the study, 46 adults in a speed-dating session in Germany were asked to fill out a questionnaire that assessed themselves and their ideal mate, grading traits such as physical attractiveness, financial status, health and parenting qualities.
Most said they wanted a mate like themselves, yet when the sessions began, the men sought the more attractive women. The women, meanwhile, were drawn to material wealth and security, and set their standards according to how they viewed their own attractiveness.
The study also found that men wanted to see half the women they met again, while the women wanted to meet only a third of the men again.
Todd said he plans to conduct several other speed-dating sessions to confirm the findings.
"Speed dating lets us look at a large number of mate-choice decisions collected in a short amount of time," he said. "It only captures the initial stage of the extended process involved in long-term mate choice. But that initial expression of interest is crucial for launching everything else."