Evolutionary explanations of relationship breakdown
According to evolutionary theorists, women prefer mates with resources.
However this assumes that men are willing to share these resources with
them. As these resources are very important to females, female rejectees will
experience higher costs associated with losing the emotional investment of
What does the evolutionary theory assume about the reason we form
Why therefore may women place a higher value than men on emotional
As females value emotional commitment, males threatened by a break-up
might increase commitment as a strategy to maintain sexual access.
What strategies may a male faced with rejection adopt?
Buss (1993) shows that males prefer sexual variety, so sexual infidelity is more
likely in males, and can be used as a tactic to end the relationship or to find a
replacement prior to the break-up.
According to the evolutionary theory what characteristics are new partners
likely to possess compared with ex-partners?
Men want new partners who…. Women want new partners who….
Those who end the relationship might be perceived negatively by their peers,
and any damage to their reputation might affect their chances of mating in the
future. This might motivate individuals to behave sympathetically towards
their partner during the break-up!
Adaptive nature of coping behaviour following break-up
(break-up, get on the Buss)
Feminist perspective -Historically, women have had
lower social status and less economic resources than
men. Today across all cultures women earn less than
If a woman wishes to improve her position in society
by seeking a wealthy partner can we put this down to
evolution or are these the effects of culture? (can the
two concepts be separated?)
-Nichols (1985) argues that evolutionary explanations focus solely on ultimate
causes (biological differences between the sexes) and neglect important
contemporary causes, such as cultural factors and impact of tradition
Evaluation of evolutionary theory-
Explain / elaborate on each of the following points
-Does not account for gay relationships
- Does not account for straight couples who choose not to have children.
-/+Can’t be verified or tested
-Explanation for all behaviour - therefore non-falsifiable. (e.g. promiscuous
males / monogamous males ….
-Assumes ultimate causes of behaviour (ignores proximate causes)
-reductionist (all relationship behaviour reduced to one set of causes)
+Evidence of universality (e.g. Buss 1989) (see extra hand-out as extension
How do you think evolutionary theory would explain;
Women/men who choose to leave a relationship which has produced
Women/men who choose to leave a relationship which has not
Couples who don’t want children
Gay couples who adopt children