Social Influence, Desirability and Relationship Investment: The Effects of Resourcefulness and Sexual Permissiveness

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of social information about a prospective mate on evaluations of attractiveness, social desirability, and desired relationship. Men and women rated opposite-sex targets with (or without) peer information on the target's relative level of resourcefulness and sexual promiscuity: that is, high resourcefulness/high promiscuity, low resourcefulness/low promiscuity, or no peer information. The findings indicated no effect of these variables on physical attractiveness; however, on ascriptions of social desirability, men and women differed as a function of the social information condition. Likelihood of engaging in sex. dating and marriage with the target varied as a function of sex. Deeper levels of engagement (i.e., dating, marriage) were affected by the type of social information available to judges. Results are discussed in terms of sexual strategy theories of mate preference.

Keywords: mate preference, sexual strategy, social influence

Evolutionary perspectives on mate selection have focused on the role of differential parental investment for males and females as the basis of mate selection (e.g., Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Trivers, 1972). Varied investments between women and men have been linked to differences in the valued characteristics of potential mates, two of which are resourcefulness and sexual permissiveness. These traits have differential value to men and women, and their value varies as a function of mating strategy (i.e., short- vs. long-term). The present study was designed to assess the relative impact of these variables when presented as social information about a prospective mate, on both perceptions and desirability to invest in a relationship.

Buss and Schmitt's (1993) sexual strategy theory declares that mating strategies are aimed at solving different adaptive problems for males and females. Valued characteristics in prospective mates are those that solve adaptive problems; for example, for males, the problem of sexual access is resolved by partners who are sexually permissive, or the problem of questionable paternity is resolved by loyal and faithful partners. Buss and Schmitt have found that characteristics reflecting resourcefulness (including willingness to invest resources and resource-potential) - for example, ambition, industry, social status, educational level, financial and job prospects - are particularly valued by females. Of course, the same cue might resolve a different adaptive problem for females; for example, the cue of fidelity (for females) may help resolve the problem of a prospective mate's commitment or abandonment possibilities. Given that the sexes differ in terms of the prominence of their sexual strategies - for example, short-term mating represents a larger component of male mating strategies than of females' mating strategies - the value of the cues that service these strategies expectedly, vary. For men, sexual permissiveness of a woman holds benefit for a short-term strategy but poses a risk for a long-term mating strategy. For women, sexual permissiveness is regarded as undesirable for either sexual strategy, a finding suggesting that women (more than men) use short-term mating to evaluate longterm mating prospects (Buss & Schmitt). As a relationship demands a greater degree of investment, the value ascribed to fidelity increases for both sexes (Buunk, Dijkstra, Fetchenhauer, & Kenrick, 2002).

Not all cues we require to judiciously assess prospective mates are visibly apparent, leaving us with uncertainty when assessing prospective behaviors. We may rely on social information to reduce this uncertainty. The weight assigned to such social information may vary as a function of its valence (Feingold, 1992), with negative (compared to positive) information about a prospective mate possibly assigned greater weight because of its reflection on cost (rather than benefit) for future offspring survival. …