Kimberly Fritzer

Alexander Martin

 

 

Cate, R., Christopher, S. F., Levin, L., & Regan, P.  (2000).  Partner Preferences:  What Characteristics Do Men and Women Desire in Their Short-Term Sexual and Long-Term Romantic Partners?  Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality.  12(3), p.1-17.  Retrieved September 30, 2001 from Gender Watch database on the World Wide Web:  http://gw.softlineweb.com.

 

Summary

 

            The researchers in this article sought to draw upon research already conducted in the area of relationship preferences as well as add new aspects rarely used in such studies.  “The primary purpose of this study was to explore systematically men’s and women’s preferences for a range of partner attributes.  An additional goal was to examine the extent to which sex and relationship context moderate these partner preferences.”  (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.10)  The authors first described several studies relevant to their own that noted these previously rarely studied characteristics, primarily similarity and sex drive.

In terms of similarity, Cate, Christopher, Levin, and Regan (2000) noted the following:

 

Theorists interested in courtship and romantic relationship development have proposed that similarity plays a key role in the process of mate selection.  Kerckhoff and Davis (1962), for instance, suggest that potential partners initially are evaluated… in terms of similarity on various social attributes… Once a potential mate has been screened on the basis of these attributes, he or she then is assessed for… similarity in terms of attitudes and values.  (p.1)

 

Reiss’s Wheel Theory of Love and Lewis’s model of dyadic formation proposed suppositions similar to that of Kerckhoff and Davis.  “Although these theories contain unique features, each of them clearly views similarity as providing the fuel that drives the mate selection process.”  (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.1)

            In terms of sex drive, Cate, et. al. (2000) noted the following:

 

Some research does suggest that men more than women prefer partners who engage in behaviors that indicate a high sex drive… and/or who are sexually available or “easy”…  However, only one study to date specifically has examined preferences for sex drive, and that study focused on the preferences of only one sex (men).  Buss and Schmitt (1993) reported that men expressed more dislike for a partner with a low sex drive in a short-term relationship than in a long-term relationship…  (p.2)

 

Previous research studies on mate selection have given surprisingly little attention to similarity and sex drive.  Cate and his colleagues. sought to expand upon such research by examining a wide range of preferences, including sex drive and similarity.  They also explored gender and relationship type (i.e. short-term and long-term)  in terms of their affect on mate preferences.

            The authors examined two theoretical perspectives in terms of their suggestions that men and women will emphasize different characteristics when considering a potential mate.  The first perspective examined was that of social role theorists.

Cate, et. al. (2000) noted that:

           

Social role theorists posit that people develop expectations for their own and others behavior based on their beliefs about sex-appropriate behavior and attributes.  Such beliefs and expectations are assumed to arise from the distribution of men and women into different social roles in natural settings; specifically the sexes are believed to possess attributes suited for the roles each typically occupies.  (p.3)

 

Social role theorists have reported that traditionally male characteristics will be valued more by women, and, conversely, traditionally female characteristics will be valued more by men.  “Other forces, including sex-specific social and cultural scripts and differential learning histories and patterns of reinforcement and punishment, undoubtedly also act to shape men’s and women’s partner preferences.”  (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.3)

            The second perspective examined was an evolutionary one.  “Evolutionary frameworks focus on distal causal mechanisms that might influence partner preferences – evolved psychological heuristics that were selected because they overcame obstacles to reproduction located in the human ancestral past and therefore maximized genetic fitness.”  (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.3)  Several factors said to generally influence partner choice are physical or genetic fitness, ability and motivation to invest in the reproductive partner and offspring, and paternity certainty.  There are also factors that are of importance based on gender.

            Cate, et. al. (2000) stated:

 

Parental investment-based models posit that women, who invest more direct physiological resources in their offspring than men, will be more sensitive to resource limitations and thus particularly attentive to a partner’s social position…  Male reproductive success… is assumed to be dependent on finding, attracting, and retaining partners who are able to produce viable offspring; men thus should be sensitive to female characteristics that reflect reproductive capacity.  (p. 3-4)

 

            Relationships can range from short-term to long-term.  Depending on the desired relationship, different characteristics become important when searching for a partner.  “For example, social, psychological, and evolutionary theorists suggest that internal, personality attributes may be of paramount importance when considering a potential long-term partner… Conversely, intelligence, honesty, and other positive, internal attributes are emphasized by both sexes when considering long-term relationship partners.”  (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.4)

            There were four hypotheses formulated by the authors prior to the study.  First, they expected a desire for internal qualities over external qualities overall.  Second, they expected a difference in preference for external qualities with respect to gender.  Third, they expected an emphasis on internal attributes for long-term partners and external attributes for short-term partners.  Finally, they predicted that men would emphasize attractiveness over women in long-term relationships but not in short-term relationships.

            The experiment was conducted by administering a questionnaire entitled “Survey on Traits Desired in a Partner” to 561 undergraduate college students from a large, Midwestern university.  Participation was both voluntary and anonymous.  “Half of the participants were asked to indicate their preferences with regard to a partner for a ‘short-term sexual relationship…’.  The other half were asked to indicate their preferences with regard to a partner for a ‘long-term romantic relationship…  All participants were instructed to choose a percentile score indicating how much of each characteristic they desired their partner to have relative to others of the same sex.”  (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.6)  The six percentile scores ranged from “90%”, which indicated that the participant would like their partner to be above 90%of other same-sex individuals on this characteristic, to “40% or lower”, which indicated that the participant would like their partner to be below average on this characteristic compared to other same-sex individuals.

            The results of this experiment coincided with the findings of applicable earlier studies.  The researchers found that internal traits were generally preferred over external attributes.  In terms of relative importance of partner attributes for both short and long term relationships, Cate, et. al. (2000) found:

 

For example, attributes indicative of an outgoing and expressive disposition (e.g. humor, friendliness, sociability, exciting personality), as well as such socially appealing traits as intelligence, warmth and kindness, and honesty and trustworthiness, were preferred to a greater degree than social status and physical appearance attributes.  In addition, and also in accord with earlier findings,… external qualities related to health and appearance were considered more important than those pertaining to social status and material resources. (p.10)

 

In terms of similarity, the authors found that “people not only pay attention to a potential partner’s personal qualities,… but also consider the likelihood that they are compatible with that individual along various dimensions.  While not rated as highly as other attributes, similarity nonetheless was considered quite desirable.” (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.10)  Of the attributes pertaining to similarity that the authors asked the participants to consider, the most important was similarity in personal values and attitudes, followed by similarity in interests and activities, social skills, and background characteristics (e.g. demographics).

In terms of sexual characteristics, “both men and women preferred that their partners rank well above average in terms of sexual passion and sex drive.”  (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.11)  Women placed higher significance on sexual passion and sex drive for a short term partner than for a long term partner.  Men placed an equal amount of siginificance on sexual passion and sex drive for both short and long term relationships.  These results suggested that “the majority of both sees regularly experience sexual desire and consider sexual desire a ‘normal’ aspect of dating relationships.  In addition, research suggests that even those men and women who choose to abstain entirely from intercourse… nonetheless feel sexual desire.  (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.11)

In terms of “Preferences for Attribute Dimensions:  Sex and Relationship Type Effects” (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.11), Cate., et. al. (2000) noted the following:

 

Relationship type clearly influenced participants’ evaluations.  Specifically when considering a partner for a casual sexual relationship, both men and women emphasized attributes related to sexual desireability and physical appeal… This result supports those reported by earlier researchers and suggests that short-term sex partners are selected primarily on the basis of external, physical characteristics.  With respect to a long-term romantic partner, however, men and women focused on similarity and on attributes related to social and personal appeal (e.g. intelligence, ambition, education, honesty, warmth).  In long-term relationship contexts, a potential partner’s ability to validate the individual’s existing beliefs and values, to participate in mutually rewarding hobbies and leisure activities, and to provide stimulating social interaction appear to be of paramount importance.  By establishing a basis for long-term, positive interpersonal contacts, such prosocial attributes may facilitate pair bonding and contribute to both relationship quality and stability.  (p.12)

 

The authors found that there were two main differences based on gender.  Men emphasized characteristics pertaining to physical appearance and sexual desireability more than women, and women emphasized characteristics pertaining to social status and material resources more than men.  “These results are in accord with predictions generated from both social context and evolutionary frameworks, as well as with previous research.”  (Cate, et. al., 2000, p.12)

            Cate, et. al. (2000) were careful to point out that:

 

Our results should not be interpreted, however, as indicating that attractiveness is unimportant to women, or that social status does not matter to men, when considering a potential partner.  To the contrary, prior research has indicated that women as well as men percieve another person’s physical attractiveness as the single most important cause of their own feelings of sexual desire, and men as well as women tend to prefer mates who are at least equal to their own current or estimated social status.  In sum, appearance and status are important, albeit differentially so, to both sexes.  (p.12-13)

 

In a conclusive description of their study, Cate., et. al. (2000) stated that:

 

Our decision was motivated, in part, by a desire to contribute to, and expand upon, the large existing literature on mate prefrences  In addition, we believe that the preferences people express for particular partner attribtues have important implications for their behavior and for their relationships with actual and potential partners…  We must note the relatively small effect sizes demonstrated in the current study… for two reasons.  First, it is highly unusual for researchers in the areas of interpersonal attraction and mate selection to conduct effect size analyses… Second, sex (and, increasingly, relationship type) often is presumed to be one of the most crucial moderator variables in the domain of interpersonal attraction and mate selection… However, the relatively small effects associated with out measured variables suggest that other factors not included in the present study may be more important predictors of mate preference.  Indeed, some research indicated that culture or country of origin accounts for a much greater proportion of the variaton in mate selection preferences than does biological sex.  In addition, preferences differ as a function of ethnicith, sexual orientation, personality type, and perceived mate value.  In sum, our results indicate that sex and relationship type are associated with mate preferences, but perhaps not to the degree that previously has been assumed.  (p. 13-15)

 

Kimberly Fritzer

Alexander Martin

 

Cate, R., Christopher, S. F., Levin, L., & Regan, P.  (2000).  Partner Preferences:  What Characteristics Do Men and Women Desire in Their Short-Term Sexual and Long-Term Romantic Partners?  Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality.  12(3), p.1-17.  Retrieved September 30, 2001 from Gender Watch database on the World Wide Web:  http://gw.softlineweb.com.

 

Outline

 

I.                    Two aspects of mate preference that have not often been researched

A.     Similarity

1.      Kerchkoff and Davis’s Theory

a.       Potential partners are initally evaluated in terms of similarity on various social attributes

b.      He or she is then assessed for similarity in terms of attitudes and values

2.      Reiss’s Wheel Theory of Love

a.       The initial stage of mate selection involves establishment of rapport

b.      Rapport is most felt for those who resemble us on social and cultural valuables

3.      Lewis’s model of dyadic formation

a.       Individuals first asses the extent to which they resemble one another

                                                                                                                                       i.      Demographic Background

                                                                                                                                     ii.      Values and Interests

                                                                                                                                    iii.      Personality

b.      Perception of similarity induces other positive emotional and behavioral responses that further propel a couple along the courtship trajectory

B.     Sexual Passion/Sex Drive

1.      Buss and Schmitt Study

a.       Only study that specifially examined preferences for sex drive

b.      Focused only on men

c.       Men expressed more dislike for a partner with a low sex drive in a short-term relationship than in a long-term relationship

II.                 Theoretical Background

A.     Arguments of Social Role Theorists

1.      Expectations based on one’s own beliefs

a.       Arise from distribution of men and women into different social roles

b.      Sexes are believed to possess attributes suited for the roles each typically occupies

2.      Preference based on stereotypes

a.       Traditionally “male” characteristics valued more by women

b.      Traditionally “female” characteristics valued more by men

3.      Sex-specific social and cultural scripts

4.      Learning histories and patterns of reinforcement and punishment

B.     Arguments of Evolutionary Theorists

1.      Preference for physical or genetic fitness

2.      Women’s preference for men who have resources and are attentive

3.      Male reproductive success

a.       Dependent on finding, attracting, and retaining partners who are able to produce viable offspring

b.      Men should be sensitive to female characteristics that reflect reproductive capacity

III.               Short-term and Long-term relationships require different characteristics in a partner

A.     External qualities important for short-term relationships

B.     Internal qualities important for long-term relationships

IV.              Hypotheses

A.     Internal qualities desired overall to a greater degree than external qualities

B.     A sex difference in preferences for external qualities

C.     Emphasis on internal attributes when considering a long-term partner and external attributes when considering a short-term partner

D.     Men will emphasize attractiveness attributes more than women in the long-term but not the short term relationship context

V.                 Participants and Procedure

A.     561 college students

B.     Questionnaire

1.      23 traits

2.      Ranked as a percentile

VI.              Importance of Similarity

A.     Internal traits preferred over external traits

1.      Outgoing disposition, intelligence, warmth, honesty preferred over social status and physical appearance

2.      Health and appearance preferred over social status and material resources

B.     Likelihood that one is compatible with another individual important

1.      Personal values and attitudes viewed most important

2.      Followed by similarity in interests and activities, social skills, and background

VII.            Importance of Sexual Characteristics

A.     Both men and women preferred that their potential partners rank well above average in terms of sexual passion and sex drive

B.     Women expected a short-term partner to rank significantly higher in terms of sexual characteristics than a long-term partner

C.     Men preferred equal amounts of passion and drive in their sex and romantic partners

VIII.         Influence of Relationship Type

A.     Short-term sex partners are selected primarily on the basis of external, physical characteristics

B.     Long-term partners are selected primarily on the basis of similarity and social and personal appeal

IX.              Two major sex differences in results

A.     Men emphasized more than women attributes related to physical appeal and sexual desirability

B.     Women emphasized more than men characteristics pertaining to social status and material resources