It’s true: all the taken men are best

Yes, it does appear to be true. And ladies: Do not ever take your guy for granted.   ~5700 12:31 17 August 2009

by Andy Coghlan / New Scientist.com

Eyes off my man (Image: Matt Baron/BEI / Rex Features)

Eyes off my man (Image: Matt Baron/BEI / Rex Features)

Women: do you have a man? If you do, better beware. Chances are that some lone female has her eye on him.

A new study provides evidence for what many have long suspected: that single women are much keener on pursuing a man who’s already taken than a singleton.

“The single women really, really liked the guy when he was taken,” says Melissa Burkley of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, who conducted the “mate-poaching” study with her colleague Jessica Parker.

They asked 184 heterosexual students at the university to participate in a study on sexual attraction and told the volunteers that a computer program would match them with an ideal partner. Half the participants were single and half attached, with equal numbers of men and women in each group.

Meet Mr Right

Unknown to the participants, everyone was offered a fictitious candidate partner who had been tailored to match their interests exactly. The photograph of “Mr Right” was the same for all women participants, as was that of the ideal women presented to the men. Half the participants were told their ideal mate was single, and the other half that he or she was already in a romantic relationship.

“Everything was the same across all participants, except whether their ideal mate was already attached or not,” says Burkley.

The most striking result was in the responses of single women. Offered a single man, 59 per cent were interested in pursuing a relationship. But when he was attached, 90 per cent said they were up for the chase.

Men were keenest on pursuing new mates, but weren’t bothered whether their target was already attached or not. Attached women showed least interest and were slightly more drawn to single men.

Stamp of approval

Burkley and Parker speculate that single women may be more drawn to attached men because they’ve already been “pre-screened” by other women and found to be satisfactory as a mate, whereas single men are more of an unknown quantity.

Burkely said that similar mate-poaching strategies have been reported in birds and fish. But previous studies of people had only asked whether participants found other potential partners attractive, so she designed hers to specifically probe whether participants would pursue a relationship.

“The next question is why,” says Burkley. So in further studies, she plans to further explore women’s motives for pursuing “taken” partners. Apart from the explanation of “pre-screening”, another possibility, she says, is that in US society, women are socialised to be competitive, so they derive self-esteem by mate poaching from rival women.

Other researchers say the study provides interesting insights into mate poaching. “It tells us something about the role of social desirability in mate preference,” says Fhionna Moore of the University of Abertay Dundee, UK, whose own research has shown that richer women are more choosy about mates.

Journal reference: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.04.022

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