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

If mating motivations can indeed affect our mental processing in the form of changes in levels of creativity, can it go even further by affecting lower levels of perception? Could it determine what catches our eye and does not let go of our attention? Recent experiments provide confirming evidence (Maner, Gailliot, & Rouby 2007). When primed with a mate searching goal, participants’ attention was captured (they were less quick to switch attention to another stimulus) by primes of attractive-looking compared to average-looking members of opposite sex, but only for sexually unrestricted participants. On the contrary, when primed with mate guarding goals, participants’ attention was captured by physically attractive members of their own sex, but only for participants who were concerned with potential same- sex competitors. Motivations of mate searching and guarding can direct attention to persist on functionally relevant stimuli (mates or rivals, respectively) in a very early phase of processing and in a fast and automatic manner.

In conclusion, evidence from comparing humans with other polygamous primates indicates that we have adaptations for short-term mating. Also, behaviors of extra-marital sex, poaching, and jealousy across cultures confirm these adaptations. However, abundant psychological, neurological, and anthropological evidence shows that humans have evolved adaptations for long-term monogamous relationships. It has been concluded that people can choose the most adaptive mating strategy depending on their quality as a mate and shifts in ovulation (for women), age, environment, and local mating pool. Moreover, recent evidence shows how influential mating relevant goals can be for our psychological functioning – starting from low-level processing to elaborative displays of creativity. The mating and dating business is not a fairy-tale scenario for most of us; it deals more with finding the best trade-offs between what you can get for what you invest. So keeping track of what is out there and what you need, what you and your partner are willing and/or able to give seems to be an “adaptive strategy”. However, keep in mind that mating goals bias our attention in an automatic manner.


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