Charles, Nora (2012-02). Visual Attention to Reproductively Relevant Stimuli: The Role of Sex-Linked Biological and Social Factors. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Research examining interest in stimuli associated with evolved reproductive motivations has demonstrated sex differences in preferences for potential mates and infants, as well as traits and states associated with increased attention to same-sex rivals. Manipulations of reproductive motivations (e.g., mate searching) have also been shown to affect visual attention to these types of stimuli. Most of this work has focused on physical attractiveness in adult targets, which evolutionary theories of mate preferences suggest is less important than social status for women's mate selection, and no research to date has measured patterns of visual attention to infants. Additionally, the stimuli used in past research tend to have low ecological validity and it is not known whether the preferences displayed generalize to the perception of more realistic stimuli. Finally, the potential effects of circulating testosterone on attention to reproductively relevant stimuli have been studied only in very limited ways in men. In the current project, participants self-reported personality traits and characteristics associated with relationships and sexuality, provided samples for analysis of circulating testosterone, were selected to undergo either a jealousy inducing or anxiety-inducing priming task, and were shown low and high ecological validity stimuli displaying reproductively relevant figures. Major findings include more similarity between the sexes than is usually assumed and weaker preferences for potential mates with high mate value in high ecological validity scenes than low ecological validity scenes. Suggestions for future research include applying the theory of strategic pluralism to within-person variability in attention to reproductively relevant stimuli.

publication date

  • December 2011