Peter Todd, Lars Penke, Barbara Fasolo and Alison Lenton

Different cognitive processes underlie human mate choices and mate preferences

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA

Based on undergraduates' self-reports of mate preferences for various traits and self-perceptions of their own levels on those traits, Buston and Emlen [Buston PM, Emlen ST (2003) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:8805-8810] concluded that modern human mate choices do not reflect predictions of tradeoffs from evolutionary theory but instead follow a ``likes-attract'' pattern, where people choose mates who match their self-perceptions. However, reported preferences need not correspond to actual mate choices, which are more relevant from an evolutionary perspective. In a study of 46 adults participating in a speed-dating event, we were largely able to replicate Buston and Emlen's self-report results in a pre-event questionnaire, but we found that the stated preferences did not predict actual choices made during the speed-dates. Instead, men chose women based on their physical attractiveness, whereas women, who were generally much more discriminating than men, chose men whose overall desirability as a mate matched the women's self-perceived physical attractiveness. Unlike the cognitive processes that Buston and Emlen inferred from self-reports, this pattern of results from actual mate choices is very much in line with the evolutionary predictions of parental investment theory.