A new U.K. study finds that after being exposed to the prospect of wealth, many people tend to prefer more short-term relationships than they did previously. The researchers suggest that a resource-rich environment may — at least in part — help reduce the fear of raising a child alone.
For the study, researchers at Swansea University analyzed the relationship preferences of 151 heterosexual male and female volunteers (75 men and 76 women) by asking them to look at photos of 50 potential partners and to indicate whether they would prefer a long or short-term relationship with each one.
Next, the participants looked at several images of luxury items commonly related to financial wealth, such fast cars, jewelry, mansions, and money.
Finally, the participants looked at the same images of potential partners and sorted them by their preferred relationship type again. The findings show that, after seeing the images of wealth, both male and female participants chose more partners for short-term relationships compared to the original result; an increase of about 16 percent.
“Not all people prefer long-term committed relationships,” says Dr. Andrew G. Thomas, who led the study. “Evolutionary psychologists believe that whether someone prefers a short-term relationship over a long-term one depends partly on their circumstances, such as how difficult it might be to raise children as a single parent.”
“Importantly, when those circumstances change, we expect people to change their preferences accordingly,” Thomas said. “What we have done with our research is demonstrate this change in behavior, for the first time, within an experimental setting. After participants were given cues that the environment had lots of resources, they became more likely to select individuals for a short-term relationship.”
The researchers hypothesize that this occurs because humans have evolved the ability to read the environment, and in turn, adjust the types of relationships they prefer.
“For example, in environments which have lots of resources, it would have been easier for ancestral mothers to raise children without the father’s help. This made short-term mating a viable option for both sexes during times of resource abundance. We believe modern humans also make these decisions,” said Thomas.
Importantly, the researchers also found that participants changed their relationship preferences after being shown photos of dangerous animals and videos of people interacting with babies.
“We also found that other types of cues had an effect. When the participants were given cues that the environment contained young children, they were more likely to select individuals for a long-term relationship,” said Thomas.
“Dangerous environments seemed to cause both men and women to choose more long-term partners, though some women chose more short-term partners instead.”
The study is published in in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour. It was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams from the University of Nottingham.
Source: Swansea University