Evolutionary psychologists have identified several universal sex-specific mating preferences including that men and women place greater import on physical attractiveness and social status respectively (see here for one of my earlier posts on culture-specific versus universal metrics of beauty). That said, an increasing number of studies have shown that situational and/or environmental cues can alter an individual’s mating preferences, yet another coffin in the silly canard known as biological determinism (see my recent post on this issue here). Some readers might recall another of my recent posts (see here) wherein I discussed a study that had found that men were more likely to prefer heavier women when stressed out. In today’s post, I’d like to discuss a recent paper authored by Jose C. Yong and Norman P. Li (fellow PT blogger) and published in Personality and Individual Differences that tackles the relationship between the handling of money and shifting mating preferences.

Yong and Li had 72 men and 81 women participate in the following experiment. Individuals were asked to handle 52 blank paper strips (of the same dimension as a monetary note), 52 $2 bills (Singaporean currency), or 52 $50 bills (Singaporean currency). The task required participants to estimate the number of strips/bills that they were handling followed by a set of four questions wherein the participants would have to further handle and measure the paper strips or monetary bills. The objective was to prime the participants along one of three levels of resources (none, little, large). Once the priming task was completed, participants had to provide a numerical score corresponding to the minimal standard that they would be willing to accept in a prospective date along four variables: physical attractiveness, creativity, personability, and social level.

The hypothesis was that since monetary resources are one of several proxy measures associated with social status, and since men with higher social status can command better mating prospects, one might expect that men (but not women) will be influenced by the “money prime.” The findings were consistent with the posited hypothesis. Specifically, men who handled the greater monetary sum set higher mating aspirations than their male counterparts across the two other conditions. On the other hand, women’s mating preferences were unaffected by the experimental manipulation.

Yong and Li decided to conduct more granular analyses by focusing on each of the four attributes separately. While for women’s data, none of the four variables yielded any significant effects (i.e., the money prime was of no consequence to women for any of the four attributes), for men the sole significant attribute was physical attractiveness (i.e., the general effect was driven by this specific attribute). Men who handled the largest sum of money set higher minimal standards along physical attractiveness as compared to men across the two other conditions.

Actionable insight: If you are a female bank teller and you have your eyes on a fellow male colleague, pray that he is handling $1 bills more so than $100 bills! This puts a whole new twist on The Notorious B.I.G.'s (feat. Puff Daddy and Mase) Mo' Money Mo' Problems. ☺

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About the Author

Gad Saad

Gad Saad, Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at Concordia University and the author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct.

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