Original article:

Is risk taking used as a cue in mate choice?

Evolutionary Psychology 4: 367-393 Andreas Wilke, Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany and Center for Behavior, Evolution and Culture, UCLA Department of Anthropology, 341 Haines Hall, Box 951553, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1553, USA. Tel.: +1-310-666-7930; Fax: +1-310-206-7833. E-mail: wilke@ucla.eduJohn M. C. Hutchinson, Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany, hutch@mpib-berlin.mpg.dePeter M. Todd, Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany and School of Informatics and Cognitive Science Program, Indiana University, USA, pmtodd@indiana.eduDaniel J. Kruger, Prevention Research Center and Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, USA, kruger@umich.edu


More frequent risk taking among young men than women has been explained as a sexually selected trait, perhaps advertising male quality. We investigated this hypothesis in three studies. (1) Young men and women rated how attractive they would find it if a potential partner took various specific risks. A domain-specific risk inventory allowed us to distinguish whether risk taking is attractive generally or only in certain domains. Both sexes reported social and recreational risk taking as attractive (the latter not always significantly so), but other domains of risk taking as unattractive (ethics, gambling, and health) or neutral (investment). The sexes differed markedly little. Parallel studies in Germany and the United States yielded very similar results. (2) We asked subjects to predict how attractive the other sex would find it if the subject performed each risky behavior. Both sexes were rather accurate (which could be merely because they assume that the other sex feels as they do) and sex differences in attractive risk taking are not explicable by sex differences either in attraction or in beliefs about what others find attractive. However, our data could explain why unattractive risks are more often taken by men than women (men slightly underestimated the degree of unattractiveness of such risks, whereas U.S. women overestimated it, perhaps because they themselves found such risk taking more unattractive than did U.S. men). (3) Both members of 25 couples reported their likelihood of engaging in specific risky behaviors, their perception of these risks, and how attractive they would have found these behaviors in their partner. One hypothesis was that, for instance, a woman afraid of heights would be particularly impressed by a man oblivious to such risks. Instead we found positive assortment for risk taking, which might be explained by a greater likelihood of encountering people with similar risk attitudes (e.g. members of the same clubs) or a greater compatibility between such mates. Finally, contrary to the assumption that taking a low risk is likely to be less revealing of an individual’s quality than taking a high risk, we found a strong negative


Risk taking, domain specificity, sexual selection, mate choice, risk perception.

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)

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