Singles, take note. A recent University study shows that a person’s attractiveness to the opposite sex may depend on how his or her last relationship ended.
A November article published in the scientific journal Evolutionary Psychology entitled “Rejection Hurts: The Effect of Being Dumped on Subsequent Mating Efforts” describes a study that revealed that men and women are less attracted to potential romantic partners who were dumped in their previous relationships. The study also shows that while women were more attracted to men who dumped their last girlfriends, men were less attracted to women who dumped their last boyfriends.
Led by Rackham student Christine Stanik, the study examined 198 University students — 102 females and 96 males. The study involved reading fake dating advertisements, with the students rating how much they wanted to date, be in a serious relationship with or have sex with the people in the ads. The subjects first rated their potential partners after reading general information about the person and then again after finding out how the person’s last relationship ended.
In each scenario, the target had either dumped his or her last partner, had been dumped or had chosen not to provide information about the breakup.
Stanik and her collaborators, Phoebe Ellsworth, a Frank Murphy distinguished professor of law and psychology at the University of Michigan, and Robert Kurzban, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania designed the study to look at how people consider the opinions of others when assessing a potential romantic partner.
This type of “social learning,” the study states, is especially valuable in situations in which the “correct answer” is ambiguous and the cost of learning is high, as is the case when choosing a mate for reproduction.
When it comes to dating, the study states that a person can save time gathering information about another person by talking to a previous partner who has invested a lot of time in the relationship and already has a lot of information about the person in question.
“In many cases, like online dating, people only have information from the target person,” Stanik wrote in an e-mail interview. “However, when a person tells you about how his or her last relationship ended, or how he or she has fared on the dating market in general, it gives you some sense of how others, who have more information, have evaluated him or her.”
Stanik and her colleagues hypothesized that having been dumped by a previous partner would lessen a person’s attractiveness to the opposite sex — a hypothesis that was supported by the results of their study.
Stanik, Kurzban and Ellsworth didn’t, however, have any official predictions for how participants would react to the other two breakup scenarios. Stanik wrote that she was surprised to find a difference in the way men and women reacted to finding out their potential partners ended their last relationships.
The study’s results show that finding out a man had rejected his last partner significantly increased a woman’s desire to have sex with him but didn’t affect her desire to have a long-term relationship with him.
For men, learning that a woman had rejected her last partner didn’t affect a man’s desire to have a sexual relationship with her but decreased his desire to have a long-term relationship with her.
Stanik said she isn’t sure what to make of these results but would be interested in conducting further research.
While the study revealed interesting information about how social learning impacts mate assessment, Stanik said, it didn’t provide any insight into why men and women reacted the way they did.
“In future research we’d like to examine this process in more detail so we can understand what it is about knowing a person was dumped or knowing the person did the dumping that influences people’s decisions about whether or not they would like to date them,” she wrote.
Ellsworth said it was also surprising how participants reacted to potential partners who chose not to disclose how their last relationship ended. That group was meant to serve as the neutral group in the study, she said.
“It turned out it wasn’t neutral at all,” Ellsworth said.
Though women felt more strongly, Ellsworth explained that both genders showed less interest in having either a sexual or a long-term relationship with a person who chose not to disclose the details of his or her last breakup.
For all three situations, the study showed that subjects’ opinions were varied more when they were considering partners for a long-term relationship as opposed to a sexual one.