For 20 years researchers have been studying which personality traits are most preferred in mating. For both sexes, kindness and trustworthiness have always topped the list, well above dominance. This has presented a puzzle to researchers, who have hypothesized that women should strongly prefer intrasexually dominant men.
In Kind toward whom? Mate preferences for personality traits are target specific, professors Lukaszewski and Roney solve the riddle.
It turns out that the preference depends on who the behavior is directed toward. All previous research asked subjects how they wanted to be treated.
Both men and women strongly prefer mates who are kind and trustworthy with them, as well as with friends and family. It turns out, though, that we want our mates to be dominant with others, or outsiders. The researchers noted that in studies of fitness theory and social exchange theory kindness and trustworthiness are not applied consistently across populations.
This prediction presupposes an evolutionary history of individuals treating different classes of targets differently enough that behaviors directed toward one class of individuals did not fully predict behaviors directed toward other classes.
For example, generously providing for family does not predict altruism towards strangers. In this study, personality traits were studied as they were directed in four contexts:
- To oneself
- To one’s close friends and family
- To members of the mate’s sex
- To members of one’s own sex
The personality traits were specifically defined:
Kindness: Behaviors that deliver material resources or other forms of social support to another at a cost to oneself, or that communicate one’s willingness to do so (see Li et al., 2002).
Trustworthiness: A tendency to adhere to stated intentions and to honor commitments over time (see Cottrell et al., 2007; Fletcher et al., 1999).
Dominance: Behaviors that employ forceful or competitive tactics in order to promote desired outcomes and/or achieve status in a social hierarchy.
1. Both sexes preferred higher levels of kindness and trustworthiness directed toward them than toward others.
2. Men liked higher levels of female dominance directed toward other women than toward themselves.
3. Women preferred higher levels of dominance directed toward other men than toward themselves.
Exhibit A charts female preferences. As you see, women rank dominance toward them as low, but strongly prefer men who will rank high in status among males via dominant behavior.
This preference is stronger than the wish for their mates to treat other males with kindness. Not surprisingly, women do not wish their mates to treat their female competitors with trustworthiness, kindness or dominance.
Exhibit B charts male preferences. Men prefer just slightly less dominance than women do from their mates, and their priorities are the same. They too wish to see their female partners dominate within their own sex. Interestingly, men value female dominance in their dealings with other men – perhaps as a predictor of success in fending off poachers.
It should be noted that both male and female subjects preferred at least moderate kindness directed toward all individuals. This research is compatible with other studies of male dominance.
In How Women Really Feel About Male Dominance, I explained it this way:
Social dominance is not conferred by women, it’s awarded by other men in a process of intrasexual competition for dominance and leadership.
Men continually compete for dominance in social interactions with one another. The men who achieve the greatest rank among their peers may then display that dominance as a powerful advantage in attracting women for sex.
Women actually seek prestige, defined as “freely conferred status” by same sex peers. We let the males sort it out, and reward those males who come out on top.
It appears that men too like partners who stack up well against the competition.