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Sexual Selection and Mate Choice

readings - introduction - exercise instructions - homework - instructor hints


Buss, D.M. 1994.  The Strategies of Human Mating. American Scientist . 82: 238-249

McGraw, K. J. 2002. Environmental predictors of geographic variation in human mating preferences. Ethology 108:303-317. PDF File

Otta E, Queiroz RDS, Campos LDS, da Silva MWD, Silveira MT. 1999. Age differences between spouses in a Brazilian
    marriage sample Evolution and Human Behaviour . 20: 99-103.  PDF File

Introduction for students

Today we will be using personal ads from local papers to test hypotheses concerning mate choice and sexual selection in humans.

Males and females of most species have different priorities when it comes to choosing mates, primarily because of a differential investment in gamete production and offspring rearing. This differential investment of energy in reproduction usually results in females being more "choosy" in their mate selection than males, although there are many species in which the opposite is true, and in others when males and females are equally choosy. How do humans approach mate selection. Try to formulate your hypotheses based on sound biological predictions from theories about sexual selection!

Exercise Instructions

1. Write up your own personal "personal ad", seeking a mate (with a view to marriage) before reading this week's reading!

2. Then read Lonely Hearts paper and answer the following questions:


Pose a hypothesis related to human mating preferences that is predicted by sexual selection theory and use lonely hearts ads (in a local paper or on the web) to test the hypothesis. Prepare to present your results to the class.

Possible hypotheses to investigate using lonely hearts ads:

Instructor hints

Other possible exercises

Marriage Announcements
: Look at the New York Times wedding annnouncements and other papers from different cities - What trends can be observed about assortative mating, according to age, education level (as a proxy for earning potential?), race (if pictures permit), etc. Compare the results from the wedding announcements with those from the lonely hearts ads - are the results the same (i.e. do patterns of dating closely follow patterns of mating?). If there are differences between mating and dating, suggest some possible explanations.
Observational studies of humans on college campuses. Students form groups and pose a hypothesis that can be answered by observing human behavior on campus. Instructors should check with their Research Conduct offices to determine whether special permission to use human subjects is necessary, however, encourage students to observe people in public areas without direct interference. Ideas: assortative mating according to height, age, etc.