Relationships are best between people of similar desirability, research shows


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Everyone remembers those old high school movies where the ultra nerdy teen falls in love with the prettiest girl in the whole school. The movie starts with the girl who knows nothing about the geeky protagonist that most people wouldn’t consider a strong partner, but by the end she has fallen for him too. It’s a classic romantic movie formula.

However, new research from the University of Missouri suggests that these relationships are best left to the movies.

Sean Prall, an assistant professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Science, traveled to northwestern Namibia in southern Africa to study the behavior of Himba, a group of semi-nomadic agro-pastoralists. There he discovered that not only people who are equally desirable are more likely to get into a relationship relationbut they are also more likely to experience success within that relationship.

In northern Namibia, he interviewed people about the desirability of others in the community. With this information, they estimate each person’s “partner value,” a measure that describes how likely people are to want to be in a relationship with someone. They then analyzed their relationship status.

They found that people with similar partner values ​​were more likely to be in a relationship with each other, and they also had better relationship outcomes. Prall said this is different from most desirability research because it focuses on people’s actions and less on their expressed preference, which can be influenced by social pressures.

“We were interested in this because much of the anthropological work on human mating patterns is based solely on people’s preferences,” Prall said. “This research focuses on people’s actions. Sure, you could say you prefer someone who is considered really desirable, but that’s heavily influenced by societal norms. What do you do in that relationship? How are things going? That was what we were looking at.”

Before the 2019 COVID-19 pandemic, Prall and his research partner, Brooke Scelza, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, would spend more than a month living with Himba herders every summer to research human behavior.

Prall has spent five years studying the population† During that time, he and his team analyzed data on marriages, parenting decisions, children’s healthfood insecurity and even how picky people are with their partners. While much of his previous research is specific to this population, Prall said the findings of this study could be applied to a broader context. He said the characteristics of the population were perfect for the kind of information they collected.

“This has been a great population to look at these questions because everyone knows each other and most of them date and marry within the population,” Prall said. “You can ask them how much they would like to be in a relationship with a certain person because they really know that person. That’s how people have been working together for thousands and thousands of years, not online, but with people in your community.”

“The effect of mating market dynamics on mate preference and relationship quality among Himba herders” was published in scientific progress

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More information:
Sean Prall et al, The effect of mating market dynamics on mate preference and relationship quality among Himba herders, scientific progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciaadv.abm5629

Quote: Relationships are best between people of similar desirability, study finds (2022, June 21) retrieved June 26, 2022 from

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