Systematic cognitive biases in courtship context: women's commitment–skepticism as a life-history strategy?
Kerstin Cyrus et al.; 2011
According to error management theory (EMT) [Haselton M.G., & Buss D.M. (2000). Error management theory: a new perspective on biases in cross-sex mind reading. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 81–91], evolved psychological mechanisms can lead to systematic cognitive errors whenever costs of false-positive and false-negative decisions have been asymmetrical over evolutionary history. In a courtship context, sex differences in reading commitment intent in a potential partner seem to be a result of these psychological mechanisms. EMT predicts a bias in women toward underperception of men's commitment intentions. Haselton and Buss found evidence for a commitment–skepticism bias in studies testing young women. These findings have not been replicated yet in the published literature. The present two studies compared postmenopausal women with fertile women in a German sample, extending EMT with a life-history perspective. According to the original commitment–skepticism hypothesis, women err on the side of underestimating prospective mates' commitment to avoid the high costs of pregnancy without support. We hypothesize that for postmenopausal women the costs of errors would be more equal or possibly reversed, such that these women face greater costs of missed opportunities with investing partners who could assist them in caring for extant offspring and grand offspring than from falsely assuming that a partner was committed. Therefore, we hypothesize that commitment–skepticism will not occur in postmenopausal women. Confirming our predictions, whereas we replicated the commitment–skepticism in the younger sample, postmenopausal women did not show a bias toward underinferring men's commitment intentions.