Are You More Interested In Someone Who Is Already Taken?

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Highly likely. 

A new study provides evidence for what many have long suspected: women are much keener on pursuing a man who’s already taken than a singleton.

Researchers from Oklahoma State University conducted this mate-poaching study by asking 184 heterosexual students at the university to participate in a study on sexual attraction and told the volunteers that a computer program would match them with an ideal partner. Half the participants were single and half were attached, with equal number of men and women in each group.

Unknown to the participants, everyone was offered a fictitious partner who had been tailored to match their interests exactly. The photograph of “Mr. Right” was the same for all women participants, as was that of the ideal women presented to the men. Half the participants were told their ideal mate was single, and the other half that he or she was already in a romantic relationship. Everything was the same across all participants, except whether their ideal mate was already attached or not.

The most striking result was in the responses of single women. Offered a single man, 59 per cent were interested in pursuing a relationship. But when he was attached, 90 per cent said they were up for the chase. Men were keenest on pursuing new mates, but weren’t bothered whether their target was already attached or not. Attached women showed least interest and were slightly more drawn to single men.

A Stamp of Approval

Burkley and Parker, the researchers of the study, speculate that single women may be more drawn to attached men because they’ve already been “pre-screened” by other women and found to be satisfactory as a mate, whereas single men are more of an unknown quantity. But what else motivates women to pursue “taken” partners? Apart from the explanation of “pre-screening”, another possibility, they say, is that in US society, women are socialized to be competitive, so they derive self-esteem by mate poaching from rival women.

Implications for Gay Couples

While this was conducted with heterosexual couplings, it’s not hard to extrapolate these findings to male-male or female-female couples as well since the concept of “pre-screening ” is not hetero-exclusive. And going by the conclusion the researchers offer, gay men should be even more likely to pursue these semi-unattainable mates because they are socialized, more so than women, to be competitive.  

Source: “Who’s chasing whom? The impact of gender and relationship status on mate poaching” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2009.

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