In humans, females are the high investing sex meaning that they invest more in their offspring than the males.
Nine months of gestation followed by years of feeding, nurturing and caring means paying a huge price in terms of time, energy, and resources.
Due to this, there is a pressure on women to select the right mates that are not only genetically sound but are also willing and able to help her invest in their offspring, especially in the context of long-term mating strategy.
Making the right mate choice is important for a woman because it’s likely to ensure her own reproductive success. Any error or misjudgment on her part, however, could mean that her huge efforts go to waste or that her reproductive success stands threatened.
One of the psychological mechanisms that women have evolved to increase the probability of making the right mate choice is called mate choice copying.
Say you move to a new city that’s very alien to you. You have no idea how things work there. What do you do to survive and adjust?
You simply copy those around you.
As soon as you arrive at the airport, you do what your fellow passengers do to reach the exit. At the subway station, you see a bunch of people lined up and assume it to be the place where tickets are sold.
In short, you make many calculations and predictions based on what other people do and they mostly turn out right.
In psychology, this is called the social proof theory and states that when we’re uncertain we follow the crowd.
Mate choice copying is very similar to the social proof theory in the way it works.
When selecting a mate, women have a tendency to evaluate what mates other women have selected in order to give themselves a better idea about which mate is worth selecting and which is not.
If a man is attractive to a lot of attractive females, a woman concludes that he must have a high mate value i.e. he must be a good mate.
Otherwise, why would so many attractive women fall for him in the first place?
Studies have shown that women rate men as attractive when they see other women smiling or positively interacting with them. Interestingly, when a women look at an attractive male, they’re more likely to spontaneously smile, thereby reinforcing mate choice copying for other women.
It’s easy to see the potential benefits that mate choice copying can offer to a woman. Evaluation of the male traits usually takes a lot of time and mate choice copying can provide women with useful shortcuts that they can use to aid their mate selection.
Mate choice copying is also the reason why women find committed men attractive. If a man has been deemed worthy enough to commit to by a woman, then surely he must be a good catch.
Women often complain that ‘all the good guys are taken’ or that there are ‘no good men around’. The truth is the other way round. They perceive all the taken guys as good.
Mate choice copying in the bedroom
One of the common sources of conflict between couples in the bedroom is regarding foreplay. Women usually complain that men pay little attention to foreplay. They deem men who can stimulate them to orgasm as competent.
When asked why they like men who can stimulate them to orgasm, women naturally respond in terms of the pleasure that they gain from orgasm.
But, according to animal communication expert Robin Baker, the advantages a woman gains from selecting the more competent men are biological as well as sensual.
Basically, a woman uses a man’s approach to foreplay and intercourse to gain information about him.
A man who’s able to arouse a woman and stimulate her to orgasm signals that he has past experience with other females. This, in turn, tells her that other women have also found him attractive enough to allow intercourse.
The more effectively he stimulates her, the more experienced he should be- and hence greater the number of women who’ve so far found him to be attractive.
Mixing her genes with him, therefore, may produce sons or grandsons who’re also attractive to women, thereby increasing her own reproductive success.
Yorzinski, J. L., & Platt, M. L. (2010). Same-sex gaze attraction influences mate-choice copying in humans. PLoS One, 5(2), e9115.
Jones, B. C., DeBruine, L. M., Little, A. C., Burriss, R. P., & Feinberg, D. R. (2007). Social transmission of face preferences among humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 274(1611), 899-903.
Eva, K. W., & Wood, T. J. (2006). Are all the taken men good? An indirect examination of mate-choice copying in humans. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 175(12), 1573-1574.