Drew H. Bailey, Kristina M. Durante , and David C. Geary (2011)
We tested the hypothesis that men are particularly sensitive to individual differences in the attractiveness of women of the same mate value as themselves and less sensitive to variation among women of lower or higher mate value. We first assessed sensitivity to variation in women's attractiveness by asking men (n=148) to choose the more attractive of two photographs of the same target woman (n=116), photographed once at ovulation, when estrogen—a hormone that has been found to increase women's attractiveness—is known to be high, and once during a nonfertile phase of the cycle. Across all women, men did not rate the picture of the ovulating woman as more attractive (p>0.10), but they did rate this picture as more attractive for women of similar mate value to themselves. When we increased the implicit costs of mate pursuit by presenting a photograph of a boyfriend before presenting the woman's photographs, men showed higher sensitivity to variation in the attractiveness of women of equal and lower mate value, and less sensitivity or preference for the nonovulating photograph for women of higher mate value. Furthermore, experimentally increasing men's self-perceived mate value by providing false “datability” feedback shifted their sensitivity to variation in the attractiveness of women of higher mate value than the men's baseline. The results suggest that men's mate searching is calibrated to the relative mate value of themselves and prospective mates and varies dynamically with the cost–benefit tradeoffs of pursuing such a relationship.