‘Forever and a Day’ or ‘Just One Night’? On Adaptive Functions of Long-Term and Short-Term Romantic Relationships

Human mating strategies are also sensitive to the ratio of men and women in the local environment. For instance, it has been shown that women become more sexually unrestricted as the sex ratio decreases, that is, when women outnumber men in the mating pool. One explanation is that in cultures where there are fewer men than women, men become a limited resource, and women engage in short-term mating more frequently in order to compete with other women. On the contrary, when sex ratios are high – men outnumber women - men have to meet women's desires for long-term relationships in order to be able to compete. In a cross-cultural study mating strategies were correlated with the national sex ratio (Schmitt, 2005). Results showed that women indeed become more unrestricted and willing to engage in short-term mating as sex ratio decreases.

To summarize, it seems that people are able to modify their mating strategies if conditions – either individual or environmental circumstances - have changed (for example, a childless woman who is approaching the end of her reproductive years might be more likely to engage in short-term mating than a woman who is in the beginning of her reproductive years).

What are the implications of adaptations for different mating strategies for human psychological processing?
A compelling example shows how far two seemingly unrelated domains mating strategies can reach. In mythology and literature the idea of Muses inspiring artists is long-existent (e.g. the 9 Muses in Greek mythology). Also, popular language discusses how inspiring falling in love can be, anecdotal evidence shows that women are attracted to artists (e.g. groupies of rock bands), while artists become more successful when women are present to be impressed (see for example periods from Pablo Picasso's work). In a set of experiments researchers investigate the effects of mating motivations on creativity (Griskevicius, Cialdini & Kenrick, 2006). Participants were shown pictures of attractive opposite sex members, and were consequently asked to pick one and imagine a date with him or her. They then completed a task to assess creativity. Results show that for men primes of attractive women increased their level of creativity, irrespective of it being a short-term or long-term mating context. However, creativity of women increased only when they were primed with a desirable long-term mate. These findings can be explained by theories of sexual selection (Darwin, 1871). Human creativity, like peacock’s tail, might have evolved because it is preferred by the opposite sex. It is a good indication of genetic fitness as it is costly to maintain. Some forms of creativity are undoubtedly beneficial for survival, whereas some creative displays – like poems, melodies and, drawings have higher social value than survival value (Miller, 2000). Additionally, this study also demonstrates gender differences – for men primes of both short-term and long-term mate triggered increased creative displays, whereas for women only long-term mate prime evoked higher creativity display, to further illustrate implications of different mating strategies of men and women.

article author(s)