Men aren’t the only ones who are negatively affected by the dating game. Recently I highlighted a series of studies showing that men’s competition with each other for mates can lead to poor financial decisions such as racking up credit card debt. But competition for dates can adversely affect women in even more unhealthy ways.
When women compete with other females for mates, they are more likely to consider engaging in unhealthy behaviors. After being shown pictures of attractive males (potential mates) and attractive females (potential rivals), women were more willing to engage in unhealthy and risky behaviors such as frequent tanning and taking dangerous diet pills. Interestingly, only unsafe behaviors that may benefit attraction and dating were elevated; thinking about attractive mates and rivals did not lead women to become more risky in other aspects of their lives (e.g., exposure to dangerous chemicals).
In a second study, the researchers showed that women’s willingness to be unhealthy resulted from lowered perceptions of vulnerability and risk. Under normal circumstances, being fully aware of the risks associated with unhealthy behaviors generally discourages folks from engaging in those behaviors. In this study, however, thinking about mating skewed their assessment of risk; they actually believed that unhealthy behaviors were less dangerous than they normally did.
In short, women may sacrifice their health and well-being in hopes of attracting mates, sometimes with dire consequences. Pursuing love, it seems, makes both women and men do stupid things.
Hill, S. E., & Durante, K. M. (2011). Courtship, competition, and the pursuit of attractiveness: Mating goals facilitate health-related risk taking and strategic risk suppression in women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 383-394.
Dr. Benjamin Le - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le's research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.
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