One of the top qualities that we look for in a long-term partner is kindness, according to an international study by Swansea University. Researchers had over 2,700 college students from across the globe build themselves an ideal lifelong partner by using a fixed budget to “buy” characteristics. While traits like physical attractiveness and financial prospects were important, the one that was given the highest priority was kindness.
The study compared the dating preferences of students from Eastern countries, for example Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and Western countries such as the UK, Norway and Australia.
Students were given eight attributes they could spend “mate dollars” on: physical attractiveness, good financial prospects, kindness, humour, chastity, religiosity, the desire for children, and creativity. While there were some differences in behaviour between Eastern and Western students – there were also some remarkable similarities. People typically spent 22-26% of their total budget on kindness, and large parts of their budget on physical attractiveness and good financial prospects, while traits like creativity and chastity received less than 10%.
The research team also found some interesting sex differences – both Eastern and Western men allocated more of their budget to physical attractiveness than women (22% vs 16%) while women allocated more to good financial prospects than men (18% vs 12%).
The principle researcher, Dr Andrew G. Thomas, believes that studying mate preferences across cultures is important for understanding human behaviour. “Looking at very different culture groups allows us to test the idea that some behaviours are human universals. “If men and women act in a similar way across the globe, then this adds weight to the idea that some behaviours develop in spite of culture rather than because of it.”
The results also showed a difference in a partner’s desire for children, which was a priority only for Western women. “We think this may have something to do with family planning,” said Thomas. “In cultures where contraception is widespread, a partner’s desire for children may predict the likelihood of starting a family.
“In contrast, in cultures where contraception use is less widespread, having children may be a natural consequence of sex within a relationship, making actual desire for children less relevant.”
Objective: Mate choice involves trading‐off several preferences. Research on this process tends to examine mate preference prioritization in homogenous samples using a small number of traits and thus provide little insight into whether prioritization patterns reflect a universal human nature. This study examined whether prioritization patterns, and their accompanying sex differences, are consistent across Eastern and Western cultures.
Method: In the largest test of the mate preference priority model to date, we asked an international sample of participants (N = 2,477) to design an ideal long‐term partner by allocating mate dollars to eight traits using three budgets. Unlike previous versions of the task, we included traits known to vary in importance by culture (religiosity and chastity).
Results: Under low budget conditions, Eastern and Western participants differed in their mate dollar allocation for almost every trait (average d = 0.42), indicating that culture influences prioritization. Despite these differences, traits fundamental for the reproductive success of each sex in the ancestral environment were prioritized by both Eastern and Western participants.
Conclusion: The tendency to prioritize reproductively fundamental traits is present in both Eastern and Western cultures. The psychological mechanisms responsible for this process produce similar prioritization patterns despite cross‐cultural variation.
Andrew G Thomas, Peter K Jonason, Jesse D Blackburn, Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, Rob Lowe, John Malouff, Steve Stewart‐Williams, Danielle Sulikowski, Norman P Li