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Sexual Relationships

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Sexual Relationships

When a male penguin falls in love, it searches the beach to find the perfect pebble to present to the female it hopes to attract. It seems that choosing a partner is a natural part of life for animals as well as humans. But what is it that influences whom we choose to be with and why in sexual relationships?

Sexual Relationships Sexual selection penguin StudySmarterPenguin in the snow, Pixabay

Sexual selection theory

Sexual selection theory is an evolutionary explanation for why we choose our partners. Characteristics that are beneficial to survival and aid reproductive success are passed on through genes. So if someone has these characteristics they would be more successful in reproduction. Through evolution, features that are attractive to the opposite sex are developed and passed on. Yet, there are also issues with this theory.

When certain features, although deemed attractive by the opposite sex for reproductive purposes, exist, they come at a cost to the species.

A brightly coloured male bird is preferred by the female bird, and this increases their chances of mating, however, this bird is also more likely to be spotted by its predators.

So there is a cost-reward principle here.

There are two types of sexual selection, inter-sexual selection and intra-sexual selection.

Anisogamy

Anisogamy is part of the evolutionary process of sexual selection. It refers to the fusion of reproductive cells (sperm and egg) that differ in size and form.

In sexual selection, anisogamy suggests that we pick our partners based on an innate need for survival and reproduction. It suggests that women are much more invested in their sexual partners because they only produce a finite number of eggs, whereas men are much less selective because they can reproduce more often and over a longer period of time.

Inter-sexual selection and intra-sexual selection

Inter-sexual selection and intra-sexual selection refer to how biological differences between men and women affect sexual selection.

  • Inter-sexual selection - when one gender selects their partner of another gender based on their characteristics. This is a preferred female strategy (so the females pick who to mate with), as females have to invest a lot more in reproduction (carrying the baby to full-term). Thus, they are pickier when it comes to choosing their partner, such as a male who is fit and healthy who will be able to provide for her.

  • Intra-sexual selection - this is a male strategy. As females are picky about who they will choose as their partner, males are in competition with each other to be the one chosen. This has led to the physical differences between males and females, 'dimorphism', as throughout the generations, the larger male would be able to defeat his rivals and be the successful one.

Many studies investigate sexual selection:

  • Buss (1989) landmark study of 10,000 adult partner preferences. Buss found that while women emphasize resources and skills when looking for a partner, men emphasize younger age and attractiveness.

  • Clark and Hatfield (1989) study of sexual behaviour on university campuses. The study found that men were much more willing to have sex with a stranger than women were.

However

  • Strassberg and Holly (2003) conducted research where they placed advertisements of women seeking males. The advertisements depicted women with a range of qualities such as 'slim and attractive', 'sensual and passionate', 'financially independent and ambitious'. They found that the advertisements where the women were described as 'financially independent and ambitious' were the most successful with males. This contradicts the evolutionary theory of sexual selection that males are predominantly interested in young and attractive females when choosing a partner.

The question remains: can these evolutionary explanations for sexual selection explain modern relationships?

Factors affecting attraction in sexual relationships

Numerous factors affect how we choose our partners and many psychologists have developed theories to explain this. The Journal of Social Psychology found that men fall in love much faster than women and often say 'I love you' first, but why are people attracted to each other in the first place?

Self-disclosure: sharing is caring

Self-disclosure states that we become attracted to partners by sharing personal information with them. This is especially the case if both parties share personal information equally. Altman and Taylor (1973) developed the Social Penetration Theory, which states that there is a gradual sharing of information between partners over a period of time, which creates the basis for a deep partnership.

Advantages of self-disclosure as a factor affecting attraction

  • Self-disclosure has been proven to increase attraction in multiple studies

  • Self-disclosure is supported by Cooper and Sportolari's 1997 'Boom and Bust' theory and research. This theory states that relationships which begin with a lot of self-disclosure (sharing) are too intense and too fast and end up breaking down. This is because disclosure has not been built on a proper foundation of trust and mutual understanding.

Disadvantages of self-disclosure as a factor affecting attraction

  • Nomothetic approach (an approach is nomothetic when it is generalized to all): self-disclosure assumes that self-disclosure appeals to everyone

  • Cultural bias: self-disclosure has been proven to improve attraction but only in western societies. Therefore, to suggest that self-disclosure is a global motivator of attraction is culturally biased.

  • Correlational research: most research into self-disclosure is correlational. This means that it is not possible to establish a direct cause and effect relationship between attraction and self-disclosure.

Physical attractiveness

According to Charles Darwin, attraction is a key part of sexual and romantic relationships. He even said that it is so important that animals will even strive to be attractive in 'times of great suffering'. This theory of attraction is linked to evolutionary theory. It suggests that features generally considered attractive, such as facial symmetry, fitness, etc., are often signs of fertility and health.

Walster et al. (1966) suggested that people choose romantic partners if they have a similar level of physical attractiveness to themselves. Dion et al. (1972) found that physically attractive people were also rated highly on positive personality traits such as kindness.

Advantages of physical attractiveness as a factor affecting attraction

  • Supported by research from Dion and Walster et al.

  • Cross-cultural: physical attractiveness has been proven to affect attraction in many cultures.

Disadvantages of physical attractiveness as a factor affecting attraction

  • Contradicted by other theories such as self-disclosure theory in online relationships. This theory states that the absence of physical attraction in online relationships actually helps increase attraction and self-disclosure.

  • Subjective: everyone finds different characteristics attractive, which suggests that we cannot generalize physical characteristics as a factor of attraction.

  • Beta-bias and a nomothetic approach: this approach assumes that physical attraction is a factor that affects everyone's attraction, but men's attraction is more affected by physical attractiveness than women, as studies such as Buss (1989) have shown.

Filter theory

Kerckhoff and Davis (1962) suggested several factors or 'filters' people use when choosing a partner. The first filter included sociodemographic characteristics such as physical proximity, education, and class. A second filter, similarity of attitudes, suggests that people considered those who shared their core values more attractive. A third filter, complementarity, states that each partner should display characteristics or skills the other lacks.

Sexual Relationships Filter theory StudySmarterFilter theory, Canva

Advantages of filter theory as a factor affecting attraction

  • Supported by research such as Winch (1957) who found that similarity of interests, attitudes, and personality traits was important at the start of a relationship, whilst complementarity was important in the long term.

  • Face validity: the theory makes sense in real life, for instance that people filter potential partners by using factors such as geographic location (proximity allows you to see that person more often).

Disadvantages of filter theory as a factor affecting attraction

  • Contradicted by research such as Anderson et al. (2003), Davis and Rusbult (2001). Anderson et al. (2003) suggesting that instead of couples being similar from the start of a relationship, they become more similar as time goes on. Davis and Rusbult (2001) found that a couple's attitudes become aligned over time, suggesting that similarity of attitudes is an effect rather than a cause of a relationship.

  • The theory today: filter theory states that relationships must pass through filters but nowadays there are different ways for people to connect, such as online relationships, these show that success does not necessarily depend on these filters.

  • Cultural bias: many filters, including 'similarity of attitudes', may be more important in Western societies than other societies.

Sexual Relationships - Key takeaways

  • Sexual selection theory is an evolutionary explanation for why we choose our partners. There are two types of sexual selection, inter-sexual selection and intra-sexual selection.
  • Inter-sexual selection is when one gender selects their partner of another gender based on their characteristics. This is a preferred female strategy as females have to invest a lot more in reproduction (carrying the baby to full-term). Thus, they are pickier when it comes to choosing their partner.
  • Intra-sexual selection is a male strategy. As females are picky about who they will choose as their partner, males are in competition with each other to be the one chosen.
  • There are a number of theories that attempt to explain why people form romantic relationships. Some psychologists think that our attraction is an innate, evolutionary force.
  • Anisogamy is part of the evolutionary process of sexual selection. It refers to the fusion of reproductive cells (sperm and egg) that differ in size and form. In sexual selection, anisogamy suggests that we pick our partners based on an innate need for survival and reproduction.
  • There are lot of factors psychologists have found that influence attraction such as self-disclosure, physical attractiveness and filter theory.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sexual Relationships

Altman and Taylor (1973).

Anisogamy is part of the evolutionary theory of sexual selection. It refers to the fusion of different cells (sperm and eggs) during reproduction.

Inter-sexual selection is when someone selects a member of the opposite sex. Intra-sexual selection is when someone tries to be chosen by the opposite sex.

Some psychologists think our preference for physical attractiveness is evolutionary because it can be a sign of positive personality traits and health.

Sociodemographic, the similarity of attitudes, and complementarity.

Final Sexual Relationships Quiz

Question

What are some important studies about sexual selection?

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Answer

Buss (1989), and Clark and Hatfield (1989).

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Question

What are the three factors affecting attraction?

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Answer

Self-disclosure, physical attractiveness and, the filters in Kerchoff and Davis' 1962 filter theory eg physical proximity

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Question

What are some negatives of physical attractiveness as a factor affecting attraction?

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Answer

It is culturally and beta biased, contradicted by research, subjective, takes a nomothetic approach, and mainly applies to short-term relationships.  

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What are some advantages of filter theory as a factor affecting attraction?

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Answer

It is supported by research and has face validity.

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Question

How does anisogamy affect sexual selection?


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Answer

Women have fewer reproductive cells (eggs) than men (sperm) so this means women are much more selective and often engage in inter-sexual selection. In contrast, men are less selective as they have more reproductive cells and engage in intra-sexual selection.

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Question

What is self-disclosure? 

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Answer

Self-disclosure is sharing information with a partner.

Show question

Question

How does physical attractiveness influence attraction? 

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Answer

Psychologists such as Dion et al. (1972) found that people with physically attractive features were rated highly for positive personality traits such as kindness, suggesting that physical attraction makes you view people favourably.

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Question

What did Walster find influenced attraction? 

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Answer

How much the other person looked like themselves.

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Question

What kind of filter did Kerchoff and Davis (1962) suggest affects attraction? 

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Answer

Sociodemographic status.

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Question

What, according to Kerchoff and Davis, are the filters affecting attraction?

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Answer

 Sociodemographic characteristics, similarity of attitudes, and complementarity.

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Question

Jess is turning 50 in a couple of years and she is worried about finding the perfect man. She wants kids and is running out of time. What might psychologists say to explain Jess's search? 

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Answer

Jess's situation is an example of inter-sexual selection, where women seek out male partners. This is because their eggs are fewer in number and frequency than male sperm, she is also running out of time before she reaches menopause, meaning she must be more selective when choosing a man.

Show question

Question

An attractive woman is walking down the street. Lydia sees her blue eyes and cute smile and says to her friend, ‘wow that girl is so good looking and she has such kind eyes! I bet she’s lovely’. 

What psychological explanation of attraction is Lydia displaying?

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Answer

She is reflecting the idea that physical attractiveness is a major factor affecting attraction and even influences how people view personality. As Dion's research showed, people think that attractive people also have positive personality traits.

Show question

Question

What is one advantage of using physical attractiveness to explain attraction?


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Answer

It is cross-cultural, which means that although the specific physical characteristics that different cultures find attractive vary, physical attractiveness is often a factor affecting attraction across many cultures.

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Question

What is complementarity? 

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Answer

The idea that partners should display characteristics the other lacks in order to balance each other out.

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Question

When did Buss carry out his study on university campuses?

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Answer

1989.

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Question

How can anisogamy explain human reproduction?

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Answer

Anisogamy refers to the fusion of different between male and female cells during reproduction. If women only produce a finite amount of eggs in a set period of time, they are more selective of their partners, whereas men's surplus of sperm and ability to reproduce over a long period of time means that they are less selective and aim to be chosen by females.

Show question

Question

Evolutionarily speaking, which sex is most likely to engage in inter-sexual selection?

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Answer

Women. They have fewer reproductive cells (eggs) and it takes much more time and energy to produce offspring meaning they need to carefully choose their sexual partners.

Show question

Question

What did Buss discover in his 1989 study? 


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Answer

He found that in all countries, females place more importance on resource-related characteristics such as ambition, high intelligence, and good financial prospects. In contrast, men preferred younger partners and placed more value on attractiveness and modesty, values that reflect a woman's ability to reproduce.

Show question

Question

Evaluate evolutionary explanations of human reproduction. 


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Answer

There is research to support evolutionary explanations such as Waynforth's and Dunbar and Buss's studies. However, it remains the case that much has changed since humans evolved and humans do not need to rely on their sexual partners for survival, meaning the theory lacks temporal validity.

Show question

Question

Give an example of an evolutionarily desirable characteristic for sexual selection?


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Answer

In men, strength and physical fitness are desirable as they indicate they can protect and provide for offspring.

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Question

 Why are evolutionary explanations of sexual selection disputed? 


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Answer

They are not applicable today. We no longer need evolutionary characteristics to survive. Eg women don't need men for resources

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Question

In Clark and Hatfield's study, how many men agreed to sex?


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Answer

75%

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Question

In Clark and Hatfield's study, how many women agreed to sex?


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Answer

None

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Question

Which sex is more likely to engage in intra-sexual selection?


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Answer

Men

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Question

What is term is given to the fusion of different cells during reproduction?


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Answer

Anisogamy

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Question

What mode of sexual selection is also known as 'female choice'?


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Answer

Inter-sexual selection 

Show question

Question

 Briefly describe Waynforth and Dunbar's study 


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Answer

Waynforth and Dunbar reviewed 'lonely hearts' columns in American newspapers and found that whilst women described themselves in terms of youth and physical attraction, men described themselves in terms of resources. This supports evolutionary theories of attraction which suggest that women seek partners who will support them, while men want to reproduce as much as possible.

Show question

Question

Why would waist to hip ratio be a factor affecting sexual selection?


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Answer

It can be an indicator that a woman is not pregnant (if she has a small waist) meaning she could be a potential mate.

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What is an evolutionary desirable characteristic in men?


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Answer

Having resources

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Question

Who did Singh use in their study of waist to hip ratio?


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Answer

Miss America winners

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Question

 Self____ is a factor affecting attraction.

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Answer

Disclosure

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Question

Information sharing is known as what in the context of attraction?

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Answer

Self-disclosure 

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Question

Who developed filter theory?


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Answer

Kerchoff and Davis

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Question

What is Kerchoff and Davis' theory of attraction?


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Answer

The Filter theory 

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Question

When did Kerchoff and Davis develop filter theory?


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Answer

1962

Show question

Question

Which psychologist discovered that physical attractiveness makes people think you have positive personality traits?


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Answer

Dion

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Question

What kind of attitudes need to be similar in order to maintain a relationship according to Kerchoff and Davis' filter theory?


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Answer

Partners should have shared attitudes towards morality, ethics, politics etc.

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Question

 'Dave and I just get on so well! He loves doing the washing but I hate it so I do the dusting instead which he hates! ' 


What part of Kerchoff and Davis' filter theory is described here?


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Answer

Complementarity 

Show question

Question

‘You have such beautiful eyes, you must be a lovely and kind person.’ 


What does this compliment reveal about physical attractiveness?


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Answer

That people link physical attractiveness to positive personality traits.

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Question

‘We share everything: our hopes, dreams, even what food we like!’ 


Why, according to some psychologists, might this quote be the sign of a successful relationship?

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Answer

The sharing indicates the partners self-disclose much, meaning they have greater intimacy.

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Question

What psychological theory could you use to explain why dating apps show the distance between you and a potential match? 


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Answer

According to Kerchoff and Davis, physical proximity is one of the first filters we put potential partners through.

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Question

Self-disclosure must increase in_____ and depth over time.


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Answer

breadth

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Question

What psychological reasons could you use to explain why dating apps use photos as the main point of attention?


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Answer

We often assume things about a person from their looks. If we find someone attractive we might also think they are a good or healthy person.

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Question

What is social penetration theory?


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Answer

It is the idea that over time we share more with our partners and that leads to more emotional intimacy.

Show question

Question

_____ attractiveness is a factor affecting attraction.

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Answer

Physical

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Question

The ______ effect is when people link physical attractiveness with positive personality traits.

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Answer

Angel

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Question

Who proposed the matching hypothesis and when? 

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Answer

Walster et al. (1966).

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Question

According to the matching hypothesis why do people look for partners with a similar level of attractiveness to them?


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Answer

To avoid rejection. 

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Question

What is one strength of the halo effect as an explanation for attraction? 

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Answer

It is supported by Palmer and Peterson (2012) study in which attractive people were judged as more knowledgeable and politically competent than unattractive people. 

Show question

Question

The_______ hypothesis explains attraction as an attempt to find a partner who is a similar level of attractiveness to you. 

Show answer

Answer

Minimising

Show question

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