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The functionality of risk-taking: mating motivation, relationship status, and sex differences

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Men may engage in financially risky behaviors when seeking mates for several reasons: Risky behaviors can signal to potential mates one's genetic fitness, may facilitate success in status competition with other men, and may be a necessary strategy for gaining

Men may engage in financially risky behaviors when seeking mates for several reasons: Risky behaviors can signal to potential mates one's genetic fitness, may facilitate success in status competition with other men, and may be a necessary strategy for gaining sufficient resources to offer potential mates. Once in a relationship, however, the same financial riskiness may be problematic for males, potentially suggesting to partners an interest in (extra-curricular) mate-seeking and placing in jeopardy existing resources available to the partner and the relationship. In the current research, we employed guided visualization scenarios to activate either a mating motivation or no motivation in single and in attached men and women. Participants indicated their preference for either guaranteed sums of money or chances of getting significantly more money accompanied by chances of getting nothing. As predicted, mating motivation led single men to become more risky and attached men to become less risky. These findings replicated across different samples and measures. Interestingly, in all three studies, women exhibited the opposite pattern: Mating motivation led single women to become less financially risky and attached women to become more risky. Thus, two additional experiments were conducted to explore the potential causes of this effect. The results of these latter experiments support the "mate-switching" hypothesis of risk-taking in attached women. That is, women who are able (i.e. have high mate value) were more risky in order to exit an undesirable relationship and move into a better one.

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2012