Evolutionary Versus Social Structural Explanations for Sex Differences in Mate Preferences, Jealousy, and Aggression
Jennifer S. Denisiuk Rochester Institute of Technology
This review discusses how two theories--evolutionary psychology and social structural theory--apply to mate preferences, jealousy, and aggression. It compares explanations from both theories for each sex difference. Evolutionary psychology maintains that sex differences develop biologically as people adapt to changes in the environment. The main focus in evolutionary psychology is reproduction of future generations. Social structural theory maintains that sex differences result from changes in society and social roles occupied by men and women. Social structural theory also draws upon cultural explanations.
This paper compares the perspectives of evolutionary psychology and social structural theory on sex differences in jealousy, mate preferences, and aggression. These two theories shed somewhat different lights on the origins of sex differences between men and women. Both theories discuss sex differences in mate preferences, jealousy, and aggression. Explanations from the two theories are compared and contrasted.
Evolutionary psychologists have developed a theory to explain the origins of differences between men and women. Evolutionary psychology is the most well-developed theory explaining sex differences (Wood & Eagly, 2002). From the evolutionary perspective, human sex differences reflect the pressure of differing physical and social environments between females and males in primeval times. It is believed that each sex faced different pressures and that the differing reproductive status was the key feature in life at that time. This resulted in sex-specific evolved mechanisms that humans carry with them--these are the causes of sex-differentiated behavior. The two sexes developed different strategies to ensure their survival and reproductive success. This explains why men and women differ psychologically: They tend to occupy different social roles (Eagly & Wood, 1999). Evolutionary psychologists explain sex differences as based on differing parental investment. Because women invest greatly in reproduction of offspring, they have developed traits that help improve the chances that each offspring will survive. Men are less concerned with reproduction and are less choosy about mates (Wood & Eagly, 2002). Evolutionary psychologists view sex-evolved dispositions as psychological tendencies that have been built in genetically. Environmental factors act as cues that interact with evolved predispositions to yield sex-typed responses (Eagly & Wood, 1999). This explains the difference in each sex's perspective on reproduction.
Explanations for Sex Differences
The social structural theory states that the critical cause of sex differences is social structure. Because men and women tend to have different social roles, they become psychologically different to adjust to their social roles (Eagly & Wood, 1999). The differences between genders are not based psychologically but are influenced socially. It is believed that situations faced by each sex are variable in societies and cultures and historical periods and that there are changes are in responses to technology, ecology, and social organization. Because men are bigger and stronger, they are given more attention and respect in our society. Physical sex differences influence the roles held by men and women, because one sex will accomplish certain activities better than the other sex. Each performance by one sex determines its placement in the social structure. With physical differences, each sex is believed to develop traits according to placement in the social structure. Men who have roles of great power and good standing in society show more dominant behavior, whereas women's roles are normally classified with lesser power and status and will produce more subordinate behavior. Social structural theory views sex differences as built-in tendencies to attempt to accommodate assignment to social roles (Eagly & Wood, 1999). This theory emphasizes that mate selection by women is not only focused on reproduction of childen but also on power and social status. Mate selection is women's way to move up the social ladder.
Mate PreferencesSeveral considerations influences a person's selection of a suitable mate. Evolutionary psychology indicates that characteristics that people seek in mates depend on their sex and whether it is a short-term or a long-term mating. Women are limited in the number of children they can have during their lifetime. Men have no restriction when it comes to reproduction. Both men and women compete for their choice of mate. Women will seek a mate who has resources to support their parental efforts, whereas men will seek a mate for reasons different from wanting to be a parent. This establishes a difference in views toward mating for each gender because each will have their own expectations (Eagly & Wood, 1999). A man has two possibilities for multiplying copies of his genes: He can either aim for quantity or quality of offsprings. With quantity, a man can impregnate as many women as possible without staying around to help raise any of the children. With quality, a man can stay with one female partner and have fewer children, but he will be present during their upbringing (VanLeuwen, 2001). Women have a limit on how many children they can have and a time limit on when they can bear children. Because of these limits, women are strongly motivated to ensure that the children they have will have the physical and psychological traits necessary to survive and to be able to reproduce successfully (Looy, 2001).
Physical appearances play a big part in mate selection. Women prefer men with more symmetrical features; clear, unblemished skin; and white sclera of the eye, because these features indicate good health, which also means "good" genes. Women also prefer that men have masculine features, such as strong jaw, facial hair, broader shoulders, narrower hips, and a muscular build, because these indicate sufficient testosterone for fertility. When it comes to age, most women prefer older guys who are intelligent, have high social status, and have money, because these indicate that they have enough power to obtain resources that are needed for survival or offspring. All these things come into consideration as a woman proceeds to select a mate, because a long-term commitment is what she has in mind.
Men have their own preferences in physical appearance of their mate. Men's main interest is to impregnate a mate to have children. Men tend to seek relatively young woman with full lips, breasts, and hips, and a smaller waist, because these indicate sufficient estrogen levels to successfully birth a child. Men also look for facial symmetry, shiny hair, clear skin, and white sclera. Men are less concerned about the social status of their chosen mate.
Because women are often limited in social power, they will seek advancement through their mate. They will look for a mate who has the characteristics of power, good earning capacity, and higher education, because these will boost a woman's social standing. Men are judged on being good providers, so when women are in a search for a mate, they tend to look for someone who can provide what they lack. Men will seek a mate who has qualities of being nurturing, a good cooker, and ability to perform domestic tasks (Howard, Blumstein, & Schwartz, 1987). The marital system is based on the man being the breadwinner and the woman being a homemaker. This favors the age gap in marriage. Wives who are younger than their husbands tend to have lesser wages, social status, and education. With differences in age, education, and income, it is easier to establish the power differential (Eagly & Wood, 1999). Men who marry younger women have nothing to gain but a wife who will tend to meet his needs. When a woman marries a man, she will gain social identity, power, economic support, and emotional support.
JealousyJealousy is defined as an emotional state that is aroused by a perceived threat to a relationship or position. It motivates behaviors that counter the threat (Buss, Larsen, Westen, & Semmelroth, 1992). Jealousy is a reaction related to fear and rage, and it makes one want to protect, maintain, and prolong the association of love. Evolutionary psychologists believe that the cues that trigger sexual jealousy are weighted differently in men and women. From the man's perspective, a sexual infidelity will result in uncertainty in paternity of their children, which often leads to sexual jealousy. Sexual infidelity acts as a cue that triggers sexual jealousy among men. For women, their mate's sexual infidelity does not jeopardize a woman's assurance in parenthood. The child remains hers no matter what. If her mate becomes interested in another woman, this will result in a loss of his time, attention, energy, resources, protection, and commitment to her children. This loss is essential to her child's survival and is a cue for sexual jealousy (Buunk, Angleitner, Oubaid, & Buss, 1996). Women are more prone to react negatively when they or their children are deprived of emotional support; this will trigger jealousy. Men, on the other hand, will become angry if they suspect their wives of sexual infidelity.
Social structural theory views jealousy as threatening one's relationship with one's mate because of physical appearance rather than reproduction. In men, jealousy is triggered by cues that may indicate sexual infidelity. This occurs when their mate smiles at another man, especially if he is younger, better looking, and has higher status. As a result of this jealousy, the man will engage in behaviors that ensure that he monopolizes sexual access to his mate. Women, on the other hand, will be more concerned about emotional infidelity, because they depend greatly on the resources their mate makes available to them. If a woman's mate is emotionally connected to another woman, then she will receive reduced commitment. Jealousy in women is triggered by cues related to emotional connection or the presence of a younger and more attractive woman (Looy, 2001). There is also a double-shot hypothesis against the evolutionary perspective. In this hypothesis, it is believed that individuals feel that emotional infidelity implies sexual infidelity. Emotional infidelity is thus increasingly distressing (DeSteno & Salovey, 1996).
AggressionMale aggression can be viewed as sexual jealousy and possessiveness, which arise from paternal uncertainty (Archer, 1996). When a male is not sure if his child is indeed his, he will become jealous, which will bring out aggressiveness in him as he tries to find out the child's paternity. Male aggression often results into rape and violence. Archer (2000) discussed how sexual and physical aggression are more common in men than women. Men tend to be aggressive outside of the relationship, whereas women tend to be aggressive inside the relationship. When it comes to physical aggression, women are more likely to scratch their mate. Some will kick, slap, or shove their mate in anger (Archer, 2000). It is usually supposed that the man is the one who will act physically aggressively, but it has been shown that women are not always fearful to show physical aggression toward a man.
There are indeed sex differences and explanations for the reasons behind them by both evolutionary psychology and social structural theory. With evolutionary psychology, sex differences are viewed as dependent on reproduction and changes that occur are biologically as people adapt to changes in the environment. In social structural theory, sex differences are viewed as influenced socially by roles of men and women. Social structural theory is not mainly focused on biology but on cultural and social practices. The two theories may have different explanations for why there are sex differences and how sex differences influence each sex, but they agree that each difference is impacted by changes in the environment. If there is a change in environment, then evolutionary theory maintains that people will adapt to the change biologically, and social structural theory maintains that people will adapt culturally and socially as their status changes. Both theories provide insight into why there are sex differences, and knowing the explanation will enable people to understand one another better.
Published in January 28, 2005 Vancouver Sun
Is the 21st Century Man Really Careless With His Sperm?Chelsey L. Cummings
Rochester Institute of Technology
According to the evolutionary theory of mate preferences, men have no restrictions in their choosing of mates. Men compete for their mates and therefore strive to prove they are the "best choice" for a woman. Evolutionary theory states that men either go for quantity or quality when deciding their reproductive goals. Quantity refers to the fact that a man may mate with many women indiscriminately in order to ensure that there will be a greater chance of reproductive success. Quality refers to a man choosing the most desirable mate who will produce the most genetically successful offspring. Going for quality also implies that the man will be around to help raise the children and protect them, which are seen as advantageous for a society (VanLeuwen, 2001).
Men, through various theories, have been described as preferring females who appear young and able to bear many children. Therefore, women who have full lips, breasts, and hips, and a smaller waist are seen as more attractive, because these characteristics are associated with being able to be healthfully impregnated. According to evolutionary theory, men also look for a woman with a symmetrical face, clear skin, and shiny hair, because they enhance a youthful appearance. Unlike women, however, men are less concerned with social status, because they feel they will be the provider in the relationship.
Men in the 20th century were often described as sexually loose and free by American culture and the media. Now, in the 21st century, however, it seems as though the perception of men is changing. Instead of going for quantity, more men may be leaning more towards quality. With the current information on sexually transmitted diseases and other negative ramifications of multiple sex partners, men are learning that more is not always better.
Youthful appearance also may not be so desirable as it is proposed by evolutionary theory. For example, a growing trend that began in Hollywood is the "May-December romance" in which young men, usually in their mid-twenties, are seeking women who are often double their age. These men claim that they like a woman with experience, a woman who has seen and done things in her life. Although many of these women may be at an age at which reproduction is not such a successful option as when they were younger, this newer male preference disputes the evolutionary theory, which states that men are completely motivated in mate selection by reproduction.
The 21st century has also seen the dawning of the "metro-sexual man." This man is highly concerned with personal looks and feelings. These men are often described in the media as being more effeminate, not necessarily homosexual, but more in tuned with a woman's way of thinking. This new mindset in men could affect the way men select their mates. Instead of merely superficially basing selection on looks, more men are apt to desire a mate who is more intellectually and spiritually stimulating.
Therefore, evolutionary theory may need to be changed to reflect the evolution of the times. Whereas men were once thought of as careless sexual individuals, purely motivated by the desire to reproduce, they may now have a deeper side in which the drives behind mate selection are not so simplified. Hence the question is posed: Is the 21st man really careless with his sperm?
Sex Differences May Be AnomalousKory Sinha
Rochester Institute of Technology
People choose to mate with a certain others for many reasons; current theories attempt to explain these reasons. As discussed in Jennifer S. Denisiuk's paper, two major theories arise from evolutionary psychology and social structural theory, both of which attempt to explain mate selection and gender differences.
Although evolutionary psychology and parental investment theory provide robust ideas for gender differences in mate selection, there are a great many anomalies in terms of both individuals' sexual motivations and techniques of mate selection. In modern western society and other cultures around the world, some aspects of our past evolutionary adaptations may not be so relevant anymore. Sex drive strength has been shown to be much greater in men (Baumeister, Catanese, & Vohs, 2001), but the reasons why are not entirely clear and may not necessarily be attributable to evolution. Mere sex drive and reproduction may not even be the same construct. Evolutionary psychology focuses on reproduction of genes. There currently seem to be an increasing number of people in society who do not even want to reproduce or perhaps cannot reproduce naturally. With current technology and other means of child acquisition, people can have children when they otherwise could not.
Some individuals do not even wish to bear or raise children but merely wish to mate due to pure sexual drive. If the primary goal were reproduction and survival of one's genes, then sex without conception seems useless. Especially with current contraception, casual sex without consequences for child rearing is more feasible. Given that men are presumably less concerned with their offspring, they are supposed to be more apt to have more casual sex partners, at least openly. This finding could result from evolutionary reasons and potential ability to mate with many partners, but could also be due to societal pressures against women's admitting having too many partners--that is, if the truth were known, both men and women may be promiscuous. On the other hand, Pedersen, Miller, Putcha-Bhagavatula, and Yang (2002) found that both men and women desire to settle down at some point in their lives and that continuous short-term mating is atypical. Due to societal factors and other factors such as diseases, there may be a higher likelihood of the majority of people settling down with one mate.
Denisiuk's paper also discussed gender differences in jealousy, with the evolutionary viewpoint being that men are more concerned with sexual infidelity and woman with emotional infidelity, whereas social structural theory relates jealousy more to physical appearance. Sex differences in jealousy regarding fidelity may, however, be a methodological artifact. DeSteno, Barlett, Braverman, and Salovey (2002) suggested that women are not necessarily more concerned with emotional fidelity per se, but that emotion fidelity serves as a cue to sexual infidelity, which equally concerns both sexes. Therefore, social structural theory perhaps provides a better explanation than evolutionary psychology for sex differences in jealousy.
The Importance of Sex Differences in AggressionMari M. Taylor
Rochester Institute of Technology
Throughout history, many psychologist and other theorists have tried to explain the differences between males and females. One important difference involves aggression and why it occurs. Evolutionary psychologists believe that aggression is linked through genes and has been maintained biologically as people have adapted to a changing environment. Social structural theorists believe that sex differences in aggression are due to the influence of society and its social structure. In Denisiuk's paper, "Evolutionary Versus Social Structural Explanations for Sex Differences in Mate Preferences, Jealous, and Aggression," the topic of aggression was briefly discussed, but the area of aggression and the sex differences related to aggression need to be explained in a more detail.
The oldest and probably best-known explanation for human aggression is the view that human beings are somehow "programmed" for violence by their basic nature. Such explanations suggest that human violence stems from built-in tendencies to aggress against others. The most famous proponent of this theory was Sigmund Freud, who held that aggression stems mainly from a powerful death wish (thanatos) possessed by all persons. This instinct is initially aimed at self-destruction but is soon redirected outward, toward others. A related view suggests that aggression springs mainly from an inherited fighting instinct that human beings share with other species (Lorenz, 1974). In the past, males seeking desirable mates found it necessary to compete with other males. One way of eliminating competition was through successful aggression, which drove rivals away or even eliminated them through fatal conflict. Because males who were adept at such behavior were more successful in securing mates and in transmitting their genes to offspring, this may have led to the development of a genetically influenced tendency for males to aggress against other males. Males would not be expected to aggress against females, because females view males who engage in such behavior as too dangerous to themselves and potential future children, resulting in rejection of them as potential mates. For this reason, males have weaker tendencies to aggress against females than against other males. In contrast, females might aggress equally against males and females, or even more frequently against males than other females (Hilton, Harris, & Rice, 2000).
Social structural theory rejects the instinct views of aggression, but has its own alternative view. This view is that aggression stems mainly from an externally elicited drive to harm others. This approach is reflected in several different drive theories of aggression. These theories propose that external conditions cause a strong motive to harm others. The aggressive drive then leads to overt acts of aggression (Berkowitz, 1989). Social structural theory maintains that there is a sex difference in type of aggression. For example, men are more likely to show hostile aggression, in which the primary objective is inflicting some kind of harm on the victim. Women are more likely to show instrumental aggression, in which the primary goal is not to harm the victim but attainment of some other goal, such as access to valued resources. Therefore, females are more likely to engage in various forms of indirect aggression, which makes it difficult for the victim to know that they have been the target of intentional harm-doing. Such actions include spreading vicious rumors about the target person, gossiping behind this person's back, telling others not to associate with the intended victim, or even making up stories about that person (Strube, 1984). In addition, research indicates that gender difference with respect to indirect aggression are present among children as young as 8 years old and increase through age 15, and they seem to persist into adulthood (Bjorkqvist, Lagerspetz, & Kaukiainen, 1992). Men and women also differ with respect to one other kind of aggression: sexual coercion. Such behavior involves words and deeds designed to overcome a partner's objections to engaging in sexual behavior, and it can range from verbal tactics such as false proclamations of love to threats of harm and actual physical force (Mussweiler & Foster, 2000). Some social structural theorists believe that this difference arises in part because males show greater acceptance than females of the idea that aggression is a legitimate and acceptable form of behavior (Hogben, 2001).
When investigating sex differences, aggression is a complex topic that should be discussed in detail. Evolutionary psychologists and social structural theorists have offered many important theories that explain why males and females are different from each other and in what context differences exist. It is hoped that this peer commentary will add to the discussion of aggression in Denisiuk's paper.
Sex Differences: A Universal PerspectiveLoreen A. Thompson
Rochester Institute of Technology
As I read the paper "Evolutionary Versus Social Structural Explanations for Sex Differences in Mate Preferences, Jealousy, and Aggression" by Jennifer S. Denisiuk, I thought of how the paper related to my life. I tried to draw the parallels and prove or disprove the arguments on differences between men and women based on my own experiences. I believe that the paper covered a range of subjects that are very common in the everyday scenarios of male and female interactions.
The paper progressed from a discussion of evolutionary psychologists' view of the origins of differences between men and women to the social structural theory. Both theories seem to complement each other, although for purposes of the paper they were placed in opposition. The paper shed light on aspects of male and female differences that produce results such as "invisible fathers," male aggression, and female jealousy. It was clearly noted how the differences came about and the impacts those differences have on male and female interactions. The paper generalized male and female behaviors into groups of common behaviors. What is not clear to me is to what extent is this generalization true. Does it cross cultural and racial boundaries, existing in varying demographics?
I disagree with the view of evolutionary psychologists who see "sex-evolved dispositions as psychological tendencies that have been built in genetically." Based on my knowledge of anthropology, the evolutionary theory fails to explain why, if the disposition toward sex differences is based on genetics, different cultures around the world have women in charge, who have what are perceived to be "males tendencies" (e.g., being aggressors) in the eyes of western society and are the bread-winners of the household. Around the world one can find differences in the way men and women chose their mates. In our society, mate prefernces may be based on looks and the like, but in other societies things are quite different. There appears to be a thin line between the social and evolutionary theories. I find the theories lacking, because they do not support a universal view. In other words, for these theories to hold up, they would have to apply globally, across the board.
The author should have included the socialization theory, which is one theory on the determinants of sex differences. The socialization theory sates that boys and girls become different because boys a reinforced by parents, teachers, and the media for being masculine and girls for being feminine." Boys and girls are treated differently across cultures--different expectations are placed on them, which impact their choice of mates.
I feel that cultural socialization weights heavily on people's preferences in mate selection. In my opinion, the author neglected to discuss a very large aspect of what creates differences between men and women. Several other theories provide alternative explanations for why sex differences occur, such as hormonal and adaptive problems; these theories would have provided a larger subject area for comparison and contrast.
Are Both Theories Outdated?Jennifer S. Denisiuk
Rochester Insitute of Technology
All four commentaries I received shed a light into how outdated were two existing theories discussed in my paper. These commentaries went into depth on how evolutionary theory is outdated in terms of its perspective toward male reproduction. Evolutionary theory states that men either decide to have many children with several different women or to settle down with one particular woman and have a certain number of children. Men strive for success in having numerous children. Evolutionary theory also maintains that men tend not to be present in the children's lives but that act like an absent father and that not much concern is put into raising a child. Now that we are in the 21st century, are things any different? Are contemporary men more concerned about reproduction, and do they want to be present in their child's life?
Cummings discussed how men of the 21st century are no longer careless about reproduction and how they are leaning more toward staying with one woman, having children with her, and being present in the childhood experience. Her commentary states that because of the presence of sexually transmitted diseases and other negative possible consequences of being promiscuous, more men are interested in limiting their sexual activity to one particular partner and in raising a family. Mate selection has also been changing, because not many women are entirely family-oriented. More men in our time are marrying women not entirely for reproductive purposes but because they genuinely want to be with their mates, and having children is not always the primary reason for marriage. Because things have changed, existing evolutionary theory is outdated and needs revision. This definitely sheds light on how outdated the theory may be and how men of our century are dramatically different from men in the previous century.
Sinha went into depth about how the reasons for sex drive and reproduction may not be attributable to evolution. He explained that evolution may not play a part in reproduction. Not everyone marries for the sole reason of reproduction. Some may not even want to bear children, and some who were not able to bear children are now able to become parents thanks to our current technology. Sex drive is not present entirely for the reason of having children, but casual sex with protection is common for the mere enjoyment of sexual intercourse or intimacy with a partner, without the goal of having a child.
Taylor discussed how the reasons for aggression need to be explained in depth. She discussed theories that state that humans are programmed to be violent as basic human nature rather than something that is triggered by circumstance. Freud went into detail about how aggression is a built-in tendency and how we are born to be violent toward others when threatened. This commentary went into detail about how aggression is explained by each theory, and it added an in-depth explanation about aggression that was lacking from my paper.
Thompson explained how both theories may explain common differences in men and women but how they may not clearly explain if the differences are applicable in different racial groups or different cultures. Evolutionary psychology explains that genetics is the source of built-in tendencies in men and women. Thompson explained that women in different cultures may have male tendencies because of their specified culture and that the evolutionary theory would not be applicable at all. The existing theories according to Thompson are found to be lacking, because they do not support a universal view. For these theories to be authenticated, they would have to apply globally. This commentary stated that cultural socialization theory should had been explained in the paper, because cultural influence has a huge impact on sex differences in men and women. This may be a better explanation for sex differences than the two existing theories discussed in the paper.
All the commentaries have shed light on areas of my paper that may be found lacking or outdated. These commentaries are somewhat more modernized and are backed up by current theories that may better explain sex differences.
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