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Charles darwins theory of natural selection

Darwin observed several facts which contradicted his theory of natural- or survival selection, one of which was the dazzling plumage of peacocks that appeared to have nothing to do with survival, and in fact seemed to be more of an open invitation to potential predators. The fact that peahens prefer to mate with males who have the most brilliant and luminescent plumage, and that males are often larger than females in species in which they need to engage in physical combat in competition over females, (Crawford & Krebbs, 2008) lead to Darwin’s second evolutionary theory: the theory of sexual selection. Competition among members of the same species for reproductively relevant resources is the pillar of Darwin’s (1859) theory of natural selection (West-Eberhard, 1979) and he proposed two primary ways in which sexual selection could operate. Firstly, intrasexual competition; consisting of competition between members of one sex, the result of which leads to mating access with the opposite sex, and secondly, intersexual selection or preferential mate choice. Intersexual selection refers to the tendency of one sex to choose as mates certain members of the opposite sex based on specifically desired qualities. Darwin referred to intersexual selection as “female choice” because he observed that throughout the animal kingdom females were prone to be more discriminating than males in their mating choices, (Crawford, Crebs 2008). In the past several decades the evolutionary perspective on interpersonal attraction and mate selection has gained increased attention and proposes that humans are governed by rules of attraction and mate selection that prioritize the conception, birth, and survival of their offspring. (Mahfouz, et al. 2008). Intrasexual selection in humans appears to operate mostly indirectly, through social hierarchies, rather than through direct competition as can be observed in the animal kingdom, e.g. two antelopes locking horns in combat over a female. In this way patterns of sexual selection do not immediately involve environmental changes, and neutral or even dysfunctional traits could potentially develop through female choice (Buss, 1986). This begs the important question; what are the preferred characteristics valued by human beings when it comes to mating?

One of the main strategies of competition in mating is to make oneself more attractive than others of the same sex by use of specific tactics and displaying certain resources (Buss, 1988). Trivers (1972) further illuminated Darwin’s theory of sexual selection when he suggested that the one driving force behind sexual selection is the relative parental contribution of both sexes in their offspring. Males should adopt a reproductive strategy which maximizes the opportunity to mate, and females should adopt a strategy that relies on choice, only mating once the best male out of a number has been identified. According to Buss (1986) under conditions of female choice, males are expected to display the traits most valued by females, and may compete for elevation in hierarchies while women tend to favour high-status men. Buss (1988) conducted a number of studies with the hypothesis in mind that patterns of human intrasexual competition can be predicted from knowledge of mate selection criteria, and examined preferences in partner choice. He found three replicated sex differences; men more than women preferred mates who were physically attractive, and women more than men preferred mates who showed good earning potential and who were college educated. Thus, it would seem that females can increase their reproductive success by choosing a man of high status with sufficient resources, thereby able to provide material security to successfully raise offspring. Males, on the other hand, increase their reproductive success by choosing women who are receptive, fertile, and possesses characteristics suggestive of being a good mother (Singh, 1993). Where as the reproductive value of a man can be easily assessed by looking at external symbols of power such as social- and economical standing, women’s reproductive value is concealed. However, from an evolutionary based perspective it is assumed that physical attractiveness is primarily a reflection of a woman’s reproductive success (Buss, 1987), and is portrayed in this way by certain desired physical characteristics like full lips, clear skin, clear eyes, an abundance of hair, symmetry, good muscle tone, youth (Buss, 1993) and lower body mass (Swami and Furnham, 2007). From an evolutionary viewpoint, both sexes should have evolved a preference for mates that possess these desired qualities, increasing levels of competition to project such characteristics and ensure reproductive success.

The number of options available when deciding on a mate has become potentially overwhelming in modern times. Not only are there more people in our local environment, but modern dating methods present us with more options than humans have previously had to deal with. However, research suggests that mate qualities valued by people offline are the same as those valued by people online (Lenton, et al., 2008), and that online interaction is driven by the same needs as face-to-face interaction. Thus, online interaction should not be regarded as a separate arena but as an integrated part of modern social life (Wellman & Hathornthwaite, 2002). A study by Hitch et al. (2005) which looked at desirable qualities as projected on online dating sites found the most striking difference across gender to be related to earnings and education. Although both sexes show a preference for partners with higher incomes, this preferences is much more pronounced for women, as also found in Buss’ studies. It was also found that although users prefer a partner with a similar education level, men tended to have a strong dislike for a better educated partner, where as women avoided less educated men. In another study focused on the importance attached to physical attractive qualities, Hancock and Toma (2009) studied profile pictures of women on dating websites by looking at self-presentation and in particular at levels of deception in the form of the number of discrepancies as contained in photographs . They assumed that from an evolutionary perspective youthfulness and physical attractiveness would be qualities valued more by women than by men, and found that women’s photographs were indeed less accurate, with discrepancies relating to mentioned weight, hair length and age as preferred by men, and higher incidences of retouching photos. Although earlier studies focused on self-presentation on internet dating websites, researchers have recently shifted their attention to self-presentation in less anonymous settings like social networking sites. A study by Ellison et al. (2006) found that people tend to act differently in social networking environments when compared to those interacting in anonymous settings. This finding had vast implications in identity formation in the online world, as it basically indicated that online self-presentation varies according to the nature of the setting. Along with dating sites, friend-networking websites like MySpace and Facebook have become very popular, and offer a highly controlled environment for self-presentational behaviour- an ideal setting for impression management (Mehdizadeh, 2010). A study by Zhao (2008) examined identity construction on Facebook, with the main hypothesis being that Facebook users would engage in what internet dating sites users engage in- the presentation of their hoped-for possible selves, defined as socially desirable identities an individual aim to construct, in this case online. They distinguished between implicit identity claims, which involved the display of photos and profile pictures, and explicit identity claims, involving verbal descriptions of the self under the “About me” section of facebook. However, it was found that this was the least elaborated of identity strategies and photos were mainly used for identity construction. Results were consistent with internet dating studies and the way in which a self which is more socially desirable was projected. The construction of the self online has been found to differ between the sexes because different kinds of social roles come into play during interpersonal communication (Archer, 1989). Women, unlike men, tend to place greater importance on sexual-interpersonal aspects of self-definition, and a review of gender differences in identity development revealed few gender differences, apart from in the areas of sexuality and family roles, supporting findings that relationships are more important to women’s identity formation than to men’s (Manago, 2008). Research highlights that it is critical that social scientists don’t view Cyberspace as one generic space, but rather to consider how different spaces online are constructed (Whitty, 2007). Specific characteristics of internet communication may affect gender self-presentation, and the way in which Facebook allows users to present a very strategic presentation of their selves and to control what remains hidden and what is revealed, makes it a fascinating medium to study.

The objectives of the current study was to look at the effect of gender and relationship status on the projection of reproductively valued qualities on Facebook from an evolutionary perspective. From an evolutionary viewpoint one would expect similar gender differences as was found in Buss’ studies, with women placing more of an emphasis on physical attractiveness and youth and the way this is projected on Facebook, and men projecting qualities which portray status and competitiveness. The projection of sociability was correlated with “warmth” and it was predicted that women would score significantly higher on the projection of this characteristic, with single women scoring significantly higher overall. Important to note is that the projection of these mentioned reproductively valued qualities would be of an unconscious- and implicit nature, considering that Facebook is primarily seen as a social networking website, rather than as a virtual arena designed to meet members of the opposite sex, as is the case with online dating websites. Both gender and relationship differences in the projection of physical attractiveness, competitiveness, nurturing qualities, status and sociability were predicted. It was predicted that married persons, already being in a position of long term mating, would project these qualities significantly less than single persons.

There were four main hypotheses:

Hypothesis one: Single males will score significantly higher on projected status and -competitiveness than single females.

Hypothesis two: Single females will score significantly higher on projected physical attractiveness, -nurturing qualities and -sociability than single males.

Hypothesis three: Single males will score significantly higher on both projected status and -competitiveness in comparison to married males.

Hypothesis four: Single females will score significantly higher on projected physical attractiveness, -nurturing qualities and -sociability than married females.

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