What is it about?

We found that women’s preference for faces of men described as single, relative to faces of men described as attached, depended on the ovulatory cycle. Higher-fertility women (those in the middle 2 weeks of their monthly cycle) preferred single men more than did lower-fertility women (those in the first and last week of their cycle). The effect was specific to women who already had a long-term partner. This finding is consistent with the hypothesis of female "dual mating". Over evolutionary history, some women may have benefitted from having their long-term partner raise a child they had conceived with a more attractive man. If the children of these arrangements turned out to be reproductively more successful than the children of women who never strayed (whatever their circumstances), this adaptation would have spread. Single men are more available as extrapair partners than are already attached men. Thus, the effect of fertility on women’s preference for single (over attached) men may be an adaptation that increases the benefits of adultery over its costs. Note that the implication of this hypothesis is not that women gain from seeking extrapair partners—only a minority of women in a minority of circumstances would. The implication is, instead, that women have evolved to be able to flexibly implement this strategy should they find themselves in these particular circumstances.

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Why is it important?

An adaptation to stray could have evolved only if the hazard brought fruit often enough. Women, then, might be hardwired to find men more attractive when the odds of conceiving are higher rather than lower.

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This page is a summary of: The Best Men Are (Not Always) Already Taken, Psychological Science, February 2008, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02060.x.
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