How intrasexual competition manifests itself in humans

By Hanan Parvez

Our evolved psychological mechanisms are not only shaped by natural selection but also by sexual selection. While naturally selected traits are primarily those that help us to survive, sexually selected traits are those that help us to successfully reproduce.

Imagine there’s a number floating above everyone’s head ranging from 0 to 10 that describes how attractive that person is to the opposite sex. Let’s call it mate value. An individual with a mate value of 10 is the most attractive to the opposite sex and an individual with a mate value of 0 is the least attractive.

The theory of sexual selection predicts that each individual will try to display a higher mate value since higher mate value is directly proportional to one’s reproductive success. It also predicts that individuals will try to decrease the mate value of other members of their own sex, so as to decrease competition and better their own chances- a phenomenon known as intrasexual competition.

Intrasexual competition is observed in both men and women. It basically states that mate preferences in one sex establish domains of mate competition in the opposite sex, with the end-goal being to increase one’s own mate value while decreasing that of a competitor.

Intrasexual competition in men

Since women value resources, men compete with each other to acquire and display resources in mate competition. Acquiring and displaying resources increases the mate value of men.

Therefore, men are more likely than women to display resources, talk about their professional successes, boast about their high-status connections, flash money and the things that money can buy- cars, bikes, gadgets, and brag about their accomplishments.

This behavior also extends to social media. Men are more likely than women to upload photos and profile pictures that display their expensive cars, bikes, branded laptops and so on. I’ve even seen many of my male friends display their ID cards of the top-notch companies that they work for. 

Just as a male peacock displays its beautiful feathers to attract a female and increase its mate value, a male human displays his resources.

Since women also value physical strength, some men who’re endowed with a great physique don’t shy away from displaying topless photos in their profiles.

Now, these are all different ways by which males increase their mate value. But there’s also another way to better one’s own chances of reproductive success i.e. decreasing the mate value of other males.

In general, to decrease the mate value of other men, men undermine their resources-gaining ability, status, prestige, and power.

Men decrease the mate value of other men by calling them "unsuccessful", "mediocre", "unambitious", "loser","sissy", "poor" and so on. They think along these lines and give a subtle message that they're better than other men...

"Since I'm derogating other men with these epithets I'm free from all of them."

man derogating another man

Intra-sexual competition in women

Since men primarily value physical beauty, women compete with each other to appear more beautiful. They use cosmetics and make-up, wear beautiful dresses and in extreme cases even go under the knife to increase their mate value.

Naturally, in order to decrease the mate value of other women, women use tactics to undermine their physical beauty somehow. They make fun of other women's appearance, size, and shape of the body. Also, women are more likely than men to comment negatively on another woman’s dress, her makeup, her fake nails and eyelashes, her silicone breasts, how badly she’s done her hair and so on.

"Women seem to be extraordinarily observant about the physical imperfections in other women's appearances and take pains in the context of intrasexual competition to point them out publicly, thereby drawing attention to them and amplifying their importance in men's attentional field", writes David Buss in his text Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind.

Since men looking for a long term partner value fidelity, women also try to decrease the mate value of another woman by calling her "promiscuous" or mentioning that "she’s had many partners in the past" and therefore will not make a good long-term mate. This is the subtle subconscious message that she's sending...

"If she's not a good mate then I know what it takes to be a good mate and so I am one."

Since women are typically more social than men, they can effectively use weapons such as gossip, rumour and slander to decrease the mate value of other women.

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