Changes in Attitude to Mate Selection. A Three-Year Study of Undergraduates’ Attitudes about Romantic Partners

Research Proposal

Term Paper 2013 17 Pages

Psychology - Developmental Psychology


Table of Contents


Literature review
Evolutionary perspective
Developmental perspective
Social networks influence
Relationship myths and attitude about mate selection

Mate preference in Malaysia

Data Analysis
Ethical consideration
Implication and Application


Appendix 1: Demographic Questionnaire

Appendix 2: Consent to Participate

Appendix 3: Information Sheet


Myths and attitude about romantic mate selection acquire research importance for several reasons. First, unrealistic beliefs constrain people from making practical or realistic mate selection (Larson & Olson, 1989). Second, exaggerated views about romantic partner encourage unrealistic expectations (Collins, 2003; Seltzer, 2001). Third, the belief restricts the ability to find alternate solution to relationship problems (Larson, 1988). Fourth, rational thinking and other relationship promoting factors are inhibited (Larson, 1988). A survey study on non-marital relationship among college students revealed that fifty percent of relationship terminations occur due to discrepancy between individuals’ idealistic and realistic expectations about romantic relationship (Sorenson, Russell, Harkness & Harvey, 1993). Although mate selection tended to be assortative (Buss, 1995) in nature, the likelihood of individuals to succeed in romantic relationship is depended upon the level of idealised belief and attitude within that person (Larson and Olson, 1989; Fletcher, Thomas & Simpson, 2000). Van Lange, De Bruin, Otten and Joireman (1997) posited that pro-social, competitive and individualistic orientations influence early-childhood patterns of social interaction, which affects mate selection behaviour in adulthood. Thus, idealistic view and perception about others are the reflection of socially regulated effects (Van Lange et al., 1997). Fletcher and colleague (2000) predicted that lower ideal-perception correlated with higher rates of relationship dissolution in dating couples. Van Lange and colleagues (1997) surveyed 573 individuals from Amsterdam and found significant relationship between the three types of social orientation and pro-social secure attachment theory. In another study, the researchers found higher correlation between negative relationship expectations and relationship breakups (Van Lange et al., 1997). By identifying the occurrence of attitudes and beliefs that constrain mate selection, problematic beliefs that are predominant, can be predicted. These findings can assist relationship councillors and therapists to aid troubled couples and provide a platform for implementing structured prevention oriented skills.

Literature review

Evolutionary perspective

According to Darwin (1871, as cited in Buss & Schmitt, 2011), mate selection is an evolutionary process. The characteristics of potential traits are evolved through sexual selection, and the unselected traits do not stand a chance to evolve. Buss (1995) posited that heritable traits such as intelligence are depended upon successful gene reproduction, and the chance of regeneration is much higher in intelligent people. It is also hypothesised that species that contribute higher parental investment is more selective than others and are responsible for evolution of traits and behaviours. In human, although men are said to have higher possibility in fathering children, females have greater parental investment. A bad mate selection jeopardise the sustenance of resources and for this reason, women are more selective than men in the mate selection strategy (Buss, 1995). Bokek-Cohen, Peres and Kanazawa (2008) surveyed 2956 men and women in an online-dating study in Tel-Aviv, Israel and found that even in conditions with lower female ratio, women remain more selective than men. According to Buss (1990) individuals looking for prospective mates are assortative over variables such as age, ethnicity, social disposition and physical attributes etc. Buss (1990) surveyed 37 cultures and found supporting evidence for the evolutionary theory. The findings indicated men rated physical attributes as their main preference in prospective mates and women preferred men with resource acquisition ability and paternal commitment (Buss, 1990).

Developmental perspective

Relationship models of stage and filter theories are concerned with mate selection in terms of relationship development and not from Darwin’s perspective of sexual selection. Instead, studies on stage models are focused on understanding the development of relationship and factor that constraints in a relationship process (as cited in Deal, 1988). Murstein’s (1970 as cited in Deal, 1988) stimulus-value-role stage model examine individual’s compatibility for social attributes and values over three stages of relationship development. Similarly, Kerckhoff and Davis (as cited in Deal, 1988) found that individuals evaluate social personality attributes of prospective romantic partner and filter out incompatible attributes. Although individuals who fit each other’s expectation move on to a committed relationship, but there is no guarantee that a romantic commitment will last forever (Murstein, 1970). Mate selections are also determined by successful evaluation of decisions that maximizes beneficial rewards and avoids potential costs in a personal relationship (Emerson, 1976). Several literatures, specifically on black-white intermarriage indicated that exchange of social-economic status for racial class status was evident in educated black males, whereby high numbers of black males prefer marriage to white women (Merton, 1941; Davis, 1941 as cited in Rosenfeld, 2005). However, the theory is disputable because such outcome could be the preference for selecting mates based on the similarity in education achievements (Rosenfeld, 2005). In contrast to the social exchange theory, similarity and mutual liking among couples are found to be crucial indicators of successful mate selection, which is also known as homogamous relationship (Buss, 1990; Esteve, Cortina & Cabre, 2009; Li & Kenrick, 2006). The personal beliefs and attitudes about mate selection may also influence the mate selection process (Larson, 1992). Larson (1992) proposed nine constraining romantic beliefs that pose as a threat to any romantic relationships, if left unchecked.

Social networks influence

The influence of social networks and the degree to which it affects mate selection behaviour have been extensively studied over the years (Buss, 1995; Zhang&Kline, 2009). Social environment and cultural context in which people live to a great extend determines people’s value, perception, beliefs and behaviour (Zhang & Kline, 2009; Basu & Ray, 2000). For example, compared to individualistic cultures, mate selection is a collective effort in traditional cultures (Lalonde, Hynie, Pannu & Tatla, 2004). Lalonde and colleague’s (2004) cross-cultural research revealed the influence of familial culture on the second generation South Asian Canadians but not on the Euro-Canadian ethnicity. The findings indicated the South Asian Canadians showed higher preference for mates that fit traditional attributes.

The influence of parental investment in the mate selection process cannot be denied (Trivers, 1972, as cited in Woodward and Richard, 2005). Woodward and Richard (2005) surveyed 468 undergraduate students and found higher proportion of students, both male and female rated 27 over 29 of minimum required characteristics matched the parental list of expectations (Woodward & Richard, 2005). In a similar vein, Buunk, Park and Dubbs (2008) survey of 768 participants from European, Asian and African culture found higher parent-offspring conflict with unrealistic parental expectations about children’s mate selection. The study found that children are inclined to select based on heritable fitness, whereas parents are concerned with traits related to parental investment (Buunk, Park & Dubbs, 2008). Little, Penton-Voak, Burt and Perrett (2003) studied 697 volunteers who participated in a web-based survey and assessed a similarity between both maternal and paternal traits in relation to mate preference. The study revealed positive correlation between partner selection and opposite-sex parent trait attributes (Little et al., 2003).

The effect of cultural and social stereotypes on assortative mating is also evident through age (Kemkes-Grottenthaler, 2004), race and religion (Rosenfeld, 2008), social class (Rosen & Bell, 2005), and body image (Braun & Bryan, 2006). Research indicated that higher age at first marriage prolongs the sustenance of relationship, whereas, ethnicity and religious differences increase the risk for relationship dissolution (Schwarz & Hassebrauk, 2012).

A significant research on heterogamous relationship indicated that inter-racial marriage attracts social disapproval and prejudice, which ultimately hinder individuals from seeking romantic commitment (Lehmiller & Agnew, 2006; Herek, 2000). However, even in a racially tolerant society, selective mate seeking behaviour still persists (King & Bratter, 2007; Qian, 2005). A survey study conducted in USA found that eighty percent of interracial couples dated people with lighter skin colour than people with darker skin tones because people tend to associate darker skin colours with lower earning capacity, lower social status and lower levels of education (King & Bratter, 2007 ; Qian, 2005). Similarly, inter-faith marriages are seen as non-conforming to social traditions (Larson & Olson, 2006). However, individuals living in a multicultural society are more adaptable to the idea of inter-faith marriage because compatible values are regarded more important than religious differences (Larson & Olson, 2006). On the other hand, in societies with strong religious affiliations, mate selection tends to be endogamous (Peek, 2006). More recently, Creanza, Fogarthy and Feldman’s (2012) quantitative study on interfaith relationship, revealed that culture-gene interaction may alter the natural selection pressure of culturally transmitted behaviour and vice versa.

Relationship myths and attitude about mate selection

According to Larson (2000), myths about romantic relationship are beliefs that are perceived to be true but do not hold any real substance or fact about someone or something. Attitudes and beliefs are acquired from childhood, personal experiences and social norms (Fletcher, Thomas & Simpson, 2000). Poor emotional, social interaction and social adjustment can have devastating effect on the formation of attitude and self- esteem in adult attachment (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). According to McIntosh (2000), unrealistic believes can constrain individuals from making a rational decision on mate selection. Dennison and Koerner (2008) found that adolescents from divorced families are more likely to relate marriage to unhappiness and fear getting married. The study recruited two hundred thirty eight adolescents who responded to two open-ended questions with regards to their hopes and fears about their own marriage (Dennison & Koerner, 2008). Zusman and Knox (1998), indicated that young adults find the process of choosing a prospective partner complicating. There is a large volume of literatures describing the impact of unrealistic beliefs, feelings and attitudes while searching prospective life partners (McIntosh, 2000; Caldwell & Woolley, 2008; Dennison & Koerner, 2008; Langlois et al., 2000). These studies describe unrealistic romantic attitudes are more likely to contribute to relationship dissatisfaction, disappointment and break-ups.

Larson (1992) proposed nine beliefs that constraints judgement, preference and behaviour in mate selection.

1) The one and only. Individuals who believe this do not foresee that they can be happy with any one of the several possible choices.
2) The perfect partner. This attitude constrains individuals from actively seeking prospective partners.
3) The Perfect Self. Individuals who hold this believe will not move forward in their relationship until they feel convinced that they make a perfect partner.
4) The perfect relationship. This believes that perfect premarital relationship contributes to improved happiness in married life.
5) I can be happy with anyone so long I try hard enough. According to Larson (2000) only matured, couples have the mental capacity to make a relationship work.
6) Love alone is sufficient. Individuals with this attitude would not consider other possible important factors that can strengthen or weaken a relationship.
7) Cohabitation improves married life. However, in reality, higher divorce rates and poor marital quality was found among couples who cohabitated before marriage (Dush, Cohan & Amato, 2003; Lichter & Qian, 2008).
8) The opposite complements. Studies on similarity and complementarities reveal that mate selection is homogenous (Buss & Schmitt, 2011 & Figueredo, Sefcek & Jones, 2006).
9) Mate selection is easy. People with this attitude believe prospective mates appear randomly and, therefore, would not plan or engage in goals that could increase the chance in mate selection.

Various literatures that investigated the application of attitudes about mate selection supported Larson’s (1992) view on the importance of attitudes and the detrimental effect on mate selection behaviour (Priest, Burnett, Thompson, Vogel & Schvaneveldt, 2009; Yilmaz, Gungur & Celik, 2013; Collins, 2003).

Mate preference in Malaysia

Malaysia is a multi-faith, multi-racial society with three major ethnic groups, Bumiputra, Chinese and Indian. The demographic of the four most practiced religious beliefs in Malaysia is Islam, 60.4 %; Buddhism, 19.2, Christianity, 6.3% and Hinduism, 6.3% (CIA, 2012). In a traditional community such as Malaysia, most births occur inside marriage, which directly affects the fertility level (Mat & Omar, 2000). The National Audit in 2010 reported that the mean age of women’s first marriage is between 35-39 years, and the number of men and women who remain single has been increasing (Mahari, 2011). According to the National consensus board of Malaysia (as cited in Mat & Omar, 2000), 39% of men and 31% of women remained single and unmarried. Since, the last four decades, fertility rates declined from 4.9% in 1970 to 2.3% in 2010. The lowest fertility rate is among the Chinese (1.8%), the Indians (2.0 %) and the Malays (2.8%). According to Mahari (2011), decline in the fertility rates was due to women’s preference to stay single.

The researches on mate selection in Malaysia have mainly focused on gender differences in terms of physical attraction and body shape (Swami & Tovee, 2005). Mate selection research has rarely adapted people’s personal belief and attitude. One research quoted ‘lost of love’, ‘infidelity’ and ‘emotional problems’ to have caused marriage dissolution (Chien &Mustaffa, 2008). However, the research did not employ any empirical analysis or theoretical frameworks to justify their findings. Furthermore, the application of a theoretical framework is also rare within mate selection research in Malaysia.

Hence, this study intends to address the gap in the current literature. The primary aim of this study is to understand how individual’s six reports of attitudes about mate selection change over a period of 1,095 days or approximately three-year period. The secondary aim is to identify significant differences in the attitude about mate selection among the four groups of religion. The findings from this study would provide a strategy for the establishment of educational and counselling programs.


What variables in attitudes about mate selection continue to evolve among the four groups of religions?

How do the four groups of religion vary in their attitudes about mate selection over time?



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Title: Changes in Attitude to Mate Selection. A Three-Year Study of Undergraduates’ Attitudes about Romantic Partners