Are high-quality mates always attractive?
Katharina Riebel et al., 2010
Sexual selection theory posits that females should choose mates in a way that maximizes their reproductive success. But what exactly is the optimal choice? Most empirical research is based on the assumption that females seek a male of the highest possible quality (in terms of the genes or resources he can provide), and hence show directional preferences for indicators of male quality. This implies that attractiveness and quality should be highly correlated. However, females frequently differ in what they find attractive. New theoretical and empirical insights provide mounting evidence that a female’s own quality biases her judgement of male attractiveness, such that male quality and attractiveness do not always coincide. A recent experiment in songbirds demonstrated for the first time that manipulation of female condition can lead to divergent female preferences, with low-quality females actively preferring low-quality males over high-quality males. This result is in line with theory on state-dependent mate choice and is reminiscent of assortative mating preferences in humans. Here we discuss the implications of this work for the study of mate preferences.
"What explains these divergent preferences? Theoretical models of statedependent mate choice point out that individuals in poor condition should be less attracted to high-quality mates when they cannot defend them, risk being deserted by them or are unlikely to be accepted by them in the first place. If pursuing these mates is likely to waste time or energy, it may pay to avoid highquality mates altogether and target lowquality partners instead. Holveck & Riebel’s work provides the first empirical evidence for this prediction, showing that high-quality males are not the most attractive mates for all females. Together with studies on other species this adds to growing evidence that attractiveness judgments may be closely related to the chooser’s own state."
"Birds of a feather flock together."