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Durham University

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Boothroyd, L.G. & Vukovic, J. (2019). Mate Preferences Across the Lifespan. In The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology and Behavioral Endocrinology. Welling, L.M. & Shackelford, T.K. Oxford University Press. 143-159.

Author(s) from Durham


Humans show preferential responses to ‘attractive’ individuals from the first hours of life onwards. However, these early preferences are subject to later development, both in terms of increasing agreement on general attractiveness, and the emergence of preferences for specific dimensions of attractiveness relevant to mate choice. Here we firstly outline key aspects of mate choice and consider evidence for their hormonal mediation in adults of reproductive age. We then examine preferences for these traits across key periods of hormonal changes, namely: infancy, puberty, and menopause; and consider potential hormonal mediation arguments for the mate choice changes observed during these periods. We find overall that expression of specific preferences is ambiguous in infancy, but there is clear evidence that preferences become stronger in late childhood and adolescence (albeit subject to disruption around puberty). There is also a modest evidence base suggesting a decline in some preferences at menopause in women. Across the developmental and lifespan literature, however, there is a critical lack of studies assessing hormones directly. We close with key recommendations for future research.