Psychologist talks human mating
Evolutionary Psychologist David Buss sees human mating strategies at work during parties, on commercials and at faculty meetings.
“I may be delusional, but I see the world through the lens of human mating strategies,” he said.
Buss talked about this lens in his “Strategies of Human Mating” lecture last night in the Rutgers Student Center as a part of an annual event hosted by national Honors Society Phi Beta Kappa.
Buss said he studied human mating strategies for 20 years and published a number of books on the topic.
He once tried to steer away from the topic by studying murder. But when conducting a survey of 5,000 people, he found that 80 to 90 percent had thought about killing someone, and most of the reasons related back to mating.
“I tried to run, but I could not hide from human mating strategies,” he said.
Buss said mating strategies differ across species, culture and ecology. His research focused on the evolution of human psychology in the same way that scientists study the evolution of bipedalism or the tooth.
Some cultures practice polyandry or polygamy, while most western countries use socially imposed monogamy. People who grow up with an absent father are more likely to tend toward shorter mating relationships, he said.
“In my view, what I’ve always been interested in is what makes people tick,” he said.
As it turns out, desire is central to human life, and humans use a variety of mating strategies, he said.
Buss conducted a cross-cultural study, finding that both sexes across cultures desire to be loved.
“It turns out that’s extremely important in long-term mating,” he said.
But other qualities are highly variable across cultures. In mainland China, both sexes placed high value on virginity, which is much less desired in Sweden.
“Some things we desire in a mate seem to be highly open to cultural input,” Buss said.
Physiological sexual preferences differ in men and women because both face different adaptive problems, such as the fact that fertilization occurs internally within females, he said.
This makes them differ in their number of sexual partners and time it takes to make a relationship sexual, Buss said.
He said humans cannot perceive sexual fertility in a mate and instead rely on physical cues, such as full lips, muscle tone, health, youth and shiny hair. These cues gradually became cultural standards of attractiveness.
“There’s tremendous evidence [that health and youth] are universal standards of attractiveness,” he said.
Men may place greater emphasis on attractiveness in long-term partners, but women also place some importance on the characteristics, Buss said.
Women spend more time thinking about mating strategies because they have a harder time identifying suitable partners, he said.
People often associate natural selection with survival of the fittest, but Darwin himself noticed that certain features like the brilliant plumage on male peacocks had no explainable survival benefit, Buss said.
Darwin was puzzled because both sexes faced the same survival problems but had dramatic physical differences, so he developed a second evolutionary theory — the theory of sexual selection, Buss said.
He said whenever animals of the same sex compete for a mate, the victor’s sexual access allows him or her to pass on traits to the next generation.
All human groups live in status hierarchies where they compete for a position, giving certain groups preferential access to mates, he said.
Barry Qualls, event coordinator and secretary of Phi Beta Kappa, said the event aims to bring in a speaker whose work makes a difference in their field.
Deborah Carr, a professor in the Department of Sociology, teaches a School of Arts and Sciences signature course on normality and abnormality, Qualls said.
Carr said students in her class are interested in what constitutes normal and abnormal romantic relationships.
Erica Sewell, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she related the talk back to her introduction to social evolution course.
Sewell, who is majoring in anthropology, said her class learned about how humans have created psychological mechanisms to deal with issues related to mating and parenting.
“He actually wrote the textbook [for] that class,” she said.