New research provides evidence that women view a man’s romantic history as an indicator of his quality as a potential romantic partner. The findings have been published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.
“We were interested in the fact that although partner selection is a personal and private matter, the decision-making process for partner selection is not necessarily personal and private,” said study author Yoichi Amano, an assistant professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University.
“Mate-choice copying may answer the questions such as why romance is an essential topic of conversation among friends and why our mate preferences are often influenced by the opinions and behaviors of others. Previous studies have focused on literal ‘copying’ behavior, where women prefer a man that other women have chosen as a partner. Humans, however, are social animals with high cognitive abilities and may use more complex social information to make mating decisions. We conducted the study to clarify the human-specific nature of mating behavior.”
In the study, 201 Japanese female students were presented with a profile describing a 20-year-old male university student and asked to rate his attractiveness as a long-term partner and short-term partner. The profile contained information such as his favorite activities and favorite music, which remained consistent for all participants. However, the profiles varied in how they described his romantic history. For example, one profile said that he had been with his former partner for about 3 years, while another version of the profile said he had been with his former partner for only about 1 month and 1 week.
The researchers found that the female students tended to rate the man as a more attractive long-term partner when he was described as having a long relationship compared to when he was described as having a short relationship.
Female students who were sexually inexperienced also viewed the man as a more attractive short-term partner when he was described as having a long relationship, but only if the interval between his past relationships was long. But female students who were sexually experienced did not change their short-term attractiveness ratings depending on the duration of the man’s relationship.
The findings indicate that “one’s desirability as a partner is influenced by social information about the nature of past relationships (i.e., the duration and interval) as well as factors such as physical attractiveness and socioeconomic status,” Amano told PsyPost.
“The most reliable cue that indicates whether the future relationship would be a stable and a long-lasting one is none other than the experiences that one had such a relationship in the past. When we are interested in and talk about the progress and consequence of others’ romantic relationships, we might be trying to gather and exchange information about potential partners.”
The findings are in line with previous research, which has found that women tend to perceive a man with an attractive romantic partner as a more desirable mate. Men were viewed by women as more intelligent, trustworthy, humorous, wealthy, romantic, goal driven, adventurous, generous, and attentive to the needs of others when they were shown with an attractive partner compared to when the men were shown alone.
Most research, including the present study, has focused on mate choice copying behavior among women.
“We examined only female mate choice, and our study does not tell anything about mate-choice copying in males,” Amano noted. “Though men might also rely on social information in their mate choice decision, the patterns they evaluate as desirable could be different because men and women have faced different adaptive problems in evolutionary environments. Future studies should examine sex differences and context dependencies in social information use.”
The researcher noted another caveat: “We found that social information does indeed influence mate choice, but we did not know at what stage of the decision-making process it works or to what extent it contributes to the final decision. It is a future challenge to clarify the contribution of social information in the mating decision process by comparing it with well-demonstrated factors such as physical attractiveness and socioeconomic status.”
“It is important to remember that many factors, including mere coincidence, are involved in the beginning and end of a romantic relationship,” Amano added. “We should not be prejudiced against those who have less romantic experiences due to a lack of good dating opportunities or those who have not had long-lasting relationships with their ex-partners.”
The study, “Women’s Sensitivity to Men’s Past Relationships: Reliable Information Use for Mate-Choice Copying in Humans“, was authored by Yoichi Amano and Yoshinori Wakao.