Settling for “Mr. Okay” rather than waiting for the perfect mate may be in our nature, according to a new study.

Tracing back to the earliest humans, researchers from Michigan State University noted it is a better evolutionary strategy to take the “safe bet” when stakes are high, such as whether we mate or not.

“Primitive humans were likely forced to bet on whether or not they could find a better mate,” said Chris Adami, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and molecular genetics and co-author of the paper. They could either choose to mate with the first, potentially inferior, companion and risk inferior offspring, or they could wait for Mr. or Ms. Perfect to come around. If they chose to wait, they risk never mating.”

“Settling early for the sure bet gives you an evolutionary advantage, if living in a small group,” he continued.

For their study, Adami and his co-author Arend Hintze, Ph.D., an Michigan State University research associate, used a computational model to trace risk-taking behaviors through thousands of generations of evolution with digital organisms. These organisms were programmed to make bets in high-payoff gambles, which reflect the life-altering decisions that natural organisms must make, for example choosing a mate.

Adami and his team, who tested many variables that influence risk-taking behavior, concluded that certain conditions influence our decision-making process. For example, the decision must be a rare, once-in-a-lifetime event and have a high payoff for the individual’s future, such as the odds of producing offspring.

How risk-averse we are correlates to the size of the group in which we were raised, the researchers noted. If reared in a small group — fewer than 150 people — we tend to be much more risk-averse than those who are part of a larger community, the researchers contend.

“We found that it is really the group size, not the total population size, which matters in the evolution of risk aversion,” Hintze said.

However, the researchers note, not everyone develops the same level of aversion to risk. The study also found that evolution doesn’t prefer one single, optimal way of dealing with risk, but instead allows for a range of less — and sometimes more — risky, behaviors to evolve.

“We do not all evolve to be the same,” Adami said. “Evolution creates a diversity in our acceptance of risk, so you see some people who are more likely to take bigger risks than others. We see the same phenomenon in our simulations.”

The research was published in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal.

Source: Michigan State University

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