Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Understanding Promiscuity in Strategic Friend Selection from an Evolutionary Perspective

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Understanding Promiscuity in Strategic Friend Selection from an Evolutionary Perspective

Article excerpt

Two studies assessed sex differences and the effects of relationship status and a person's own promiscuous proclivities in strategic friendship formation. In Study 1, participants generated overt and subtle promiscuity cues. In Study 2, a different sample of participants reported their willingness to befriend a person based on these overt and subtle promiscuity cues as well as cues of non-promiscuity and positive and negative non-sexual behaviors. Women more than men sought friendships with same-sex people showing positive non-sexual behavior and cues of non-promiscuity, but women did not show greater aversion than men to subtle or overt promiscuity cues in potential friends. Men and women in relationships were less likely to befriend promiscuous people and more likely to befriend non-promiscuous people than those not in relationships. Finally, promiscuous and non-promiscuous men and women showed preference for friendships with people showing levels of promiscuity similar to their own.

Same-sex friendships represent a fundamental aspect of human social interaction. Festinger, Schacter, and Back's (1950) seminal study which discovered the link between proximity and liking sparked much research on numerous facets that influence our odds of turning stranger into friend. Such facets include social skills (Friedman, Riggo, & Cassella, 1988), physical attractiveness (Patzer, 1985), and availability (Berg & Clark, 1986), to name a few (see Fehr (1996) for a review). Researchers have also examined sex differences in friendships. Men invest in friendships with other men to facilitate hierarchies of status and power (Baumeister & Sommer, 1997). Cross and Madson (1997) report that women nurture friendships for socio-emotional bonding that revolve around group activities such as sewing, food preparation, and child care. Relative to male friendships, female friendships are characterized by affiliative behaviors such as smiling, disclosure, and attention to others (Baumeister & Sommer, 1997).

More recently, psychologists have explored friendship formation within the framework of evolutionary psychology, tracing friendships to the ancestral conditions under which humans evolved (Tooby & Cosmides, 1996). Evolutionary psychology encompasses a broad area of psychology that attempts to explain behavior in terms of the adaptive challenges that humans have had to face in the struggle to survive. Evolutionary psychologists have examined opposite-sex friendships and the potential for opposite-sex mating opportunities arising from such friendships (e.g., Bleske-Rechek & Buss, 2001) as well as same-sex friendships and the benefits and challenges posed by these friendships (e.g., (Bleske & Shackelford, 2001). In terms of friendships overall, the theory of reciprocal altruism proposed by evolutionary psychologists suggests that providing benefits to non-relatives could be adaptive under some circumstances, as such benefits would be returned in the future (e.g., Cosmides & Tooby, 1992). According to Tooby and Cosmides, friendships provided numerous adaptive benefits including food, shelter, and access to potential mates, all of which increase people's chances of survival and reproduction.

Despite the adaptive benefits provided by friendships, same-sex friendships also carry risks. The strong similarity between same-sex friends may drive them to compete for mates by displaying the same characteristics preferred by the opposite sex (Bleske & Buss, 1998; Buss, 1984, 1985; Schmitt & Buss, 1996). Same-sex friends may be more successful than strangers in stealing their friends' mates because of the similarity they share with their friends and the time they spend with their friends and their friends' mates (Bleske & Shackelford, 2001). Clearly, then, people face a dilemma when selecting same-sex friends. On the one hand, people want and need to have same-sex friends because of the numerous benefits of friendships. …

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