Are males who are manipulative more attractive to females?
Manipulation can be in the form of deception, coercion, distractions and other methods to influence the knowledge or actions of others to fulfil one’s own purpose (Whiten & Byrne, 1988a, 1988b, as cited by Sterelny, K & Fitness, 2003) and has been related to the Machiavellian personality trait (Novgorodoff, 1974). It has been suggested that manipulative men are more attractive to females than non-manipulative men. Is it the case that males who are manipulative are more attractive to females? Can females see through deception or are they fooled by a skilled manipulator? This shall be discussed in the following paper with reference to issues that may arise in the evidence.
An important aspect of intrasexual mate competition is that of making oneself more attractive to members of the opposite sex (Buss, 1988a, as cited by Buss & Deddon, 1990). Sex differences in the tactics have evolved (Buss & Deddon, 1990). For example, it has been demonstrated that men tend to emphasize their resources, such as money or property, in order to attract a female (Buss, 1988a, 1988b, as cited by Buss & Deddon, 1990). The use of vocabulary can demonstrate intelligence and subsequently demonstrate their “fitness” to potential mates (Miller, 2000). Buss and Deddon (1990) highlighted the tactics employed by individuals when attempting to make them appear more attractive to the opposite sex. Acting nice, giving compliments and displaying an image of sophistication have been shown to be tactics employed by both men and women in order to increase their attractiveness to seduce a potential mate.
Manipulation of appearance is most commonly found in courting behaviour in an attempt for sexual reproduction (Crawford & Krebs, 1998). Dawkins (1976) stated that when searching for perspective mates females look for a male who appears to be an honest picture of good health with resources to provide for a family. In support of this idea, Buss (1989) conducted a self-report study examining the values females have when searching for a potential mate. Buss found that females valued cues to resources, such as ambition and property. With regards to manipulation, successful manipulators may be able to create a better image of themselves and their resources, which could then result in them being more attractive to females, as the male appears to be able to provide for her and her offspring. In spite of this, the extent to which this is the case comes into question as such ideas and findings may have little relevance in modern society, as mating and sex has changed dramatically since our evolutionary past, such as the increase of short-term sexual partners among males and females, condom use and the changes in the views of women. Modern day women have well-paid jobs and thus they may not need a man to support her or her offspring and so the use of manipulation in relation to resources would be of no use and not make males more attractive to females. In this sense, the usefulness of such a theory and such research is limited.
Evolutionary psychologists believe that sexually selected traits, such as attractiveness, function as an indication of good health, consequently if this is manipulated females may mistakenly attribute better health to such individuals. In an experiment with self-report measures using photos to assess the health of stimulus males and females, it was found that attractive individuals were inaccurately rated as healthier than others. It was concluded that attractiveness reduced the health recognition accuracy (Kalich, Zebrowitz, Langlois & Johnson, 1998). In this sense, males who are able to effectively manipulate their appearance to look more attractive to females will be inaccurately perceived as being more healthy and less likely to be infertile or have a sexually transmitted disease, thus as a consequence these males will be more attractive to females. Nevertheless, the extent to which this attractiveness is due to perceptions of good health is questionable in relation to the males’ manipulated appearance, which may result in this attractiveness. A problem with this study is the potential effect of confounding variables, such as social desirability or the “screw you” effect, wherein the participants may have responded in a particular way in order to affect the findings. Such problems may reduce the validity and reliability of the conclusions drawn. The use of deception or trying to hide the aim of the study can resolve such issues, however, such tactics are unethical and psychologists must aim to protect their participants from any potential harm otherwise it could influence the standing of psychology within the scientific community. It should be hoped that the participants in this study responded truthfully in order to aid psychological research and ensure that the findings that people inaccurately attribute good health to attractive people is valid.
In a similar sense to the above study, Feingold (1992) conducted a meta-analysis examining the findings of experimental and correlational research on the characteristics associated with physical attractiveness. Feingold found that both types of research found positive associations related to physical attractiveness. It was also found that a positive correlation indicated that greater attractiveness was related to lower manipulative characteristics. A problem with correlation is that is only demonstrates association rather than cause and effect. Thus, it cannot be determined that males who are not manipulative are seen as more attractive by females. Nonetheless, such findings are useful as it gives indication that there is a link between the two variables and that further research is needed. Therefore future research needs to focus on finding out if there is a causal relationship between manipulation and attractiveness. A second problem with studies using meta-analysis is that they can suffer from inadequate conclusions, particularly if the original research data was poor or biased, thus any implications generated from such studies could be ineffective and useless. A further problem with meta-analysis is that it could suffer from bias, either researcher bias or that of publication bias, which is bias created from unrepresentative research, as research with nil scores do not get published, hence the data that is used in meta-analysis could already suffer from bias and be unrepresentative to the true picture of the subject matter. Researchers can avoid bias by finding unpublished studies and using the data from such studies alongside other data, creating a more representative analysis of the outcomes. Such problems can be resolved by the researcher actively seeking to counter such problems by choosing studies with large samples and by assessing the quality of the studies themselves, therefore adding more weight to the conclusions drawn. It must be hoped that Feingold’s research upheld ideals of truth and that the data was not influenced by bias so that the conclusions produced can be trusted.
The notion of an evolved cognitive adaptation of a Machiavellian intelligence allows understanding that primates and humans can predict and manipulate other individuals’ behaviour (Crawford & Krebs, 1998). Machiavellianism refers to aspects of an individual’s personality which can be manipulative and controlling or dominant which have been associated with increased attractiveness (Novgorodoff, 1974).
Novgorodoff (1974) conducted a study in a laboratory setting with self-report measures using a sample of 144 male and female psychology undergraduates all pre-tested for Machiavellianism. The aim of the study was to examine the relationship between Machiavellianism and attractiveness of the other participants. It was found that low scoring Machiavellian men were more attracted to low scoring Machiavellian women than highs, and vice versa, and that high scoring Machiavellian women will be more attracted to high Machiavellian men than low scoring individuals. A problem with this study is that the laboratory setting can create an unnatural situation in which the participants may not feel comfortable in and thus their responses may be false or not true to life, as factors within this unnatural environment may cause them to respond in ways they believe they should rather than responding in ways they normally would do. If this were the case the results of such a study would likely to be low in internal and external reliability and also low in ecological validity resulting in the findings of the study being of little use to the greater community. A further, similar problem with this study is that of the sample. As the sample was made up of psychology students this may have led to invalid and unreliable results as the participants would have been more aware of the nature of the experiment and may have responded in ways in which they believed the researcher wanted. Thus, the sample can be said to be unrepresentative of the wider population and the results may not be generalizable, which reduces the usefulness of the findings. On the other hand, a strength of this study is that the participants may have been unaware that they had been tested for Machiavellianism, which may have resulted in the participants being unable to guess the aim of the study and thus avoid them from responding in an invalid manner.
In contrast to the above study, Touhey (1977, as cited by Figueredo, Sefcek & Jones, 2006) found that individuals high in Machiavellianism showed little or no attraction to individuals of similar Machiavellian scores. Therefore, it could be said that males who are manipulative, would be more attractive to non-manipulative females than manipulative females.
From this it can be said that there is contradicting evidence with regards to Machiavellianism or manipulation and attractiveness. If the male is a successful manipulator, so much so that the female is unaware that she is being manipulated then perhaps then the male will be more attractive. This could then explain the contradictions in research findings. Thus, future research should focus on this issue and try to reduce the contradictions in research.
Animal studies have investigated the notion that manipulative males may be more attractive to females. These studies have also produced contradictions in evidence regarding manipulation and attractiveness.
In an animal study, Moore, Gowaty and Moore (2003) found that female cockroaches avoided males, even dominant males, if they were attempting to manipulate them through the use of pheromones. This is supported by a previous study by Moore, Gowaty, Wallin and Moore (2001), which adds weight to the findings of the former study. This would suggest that male cockroaches that are manipulative are not more attractive to females and thus less reproductively successful.
Another animals study investigating the mating behaviours of leks found that females prefer manipulative males than non-manipulative males (Kirkpatrick & Ryan, 1991, as cited by Kokko, Brooks, Jennions & Morley, 2003). This was supported by other animals studies (Andres & Morrow, 2003, as cited by Kokko, Brooks, Jennions & Morley, 2003).
An obvious problem with these studies is that of extrapolation, as it is difficult to generalize the behaviour of cockroaches or any other animal to that of the sexual selection of human males and females. Hence, the findings of the above studies have little use for human populations, unless they use animals similar to us, such as primates, however, these studies do have use for the animal or insect worlds and aid understanding of manipulation and attractiveness in light of animals.
In conclusion, from the evidence, males who are manipulative and use manipulation to make them appear to have more resources or a higher social station, are more attractive to females to a certain extent. This may have an evolutionary advantage in which enables males to be reproductively successful, though this advantage may be reduced by adaptations evolved in females. It has been found that males who are manipulative are more attractive to females than non-manipulative males; however, there is refuting evidence to suggest that the opposite is, in fact, the case. Alongside refuting evidence, the methodological issues, problems with bias and other confounding variables, make the results of such studies questionable. It appears that there may be more weight for the notion that females are attracted to non-manipulative males. Manipulative males may have been more successful in the past but due to evolved tactics in females and possibly changes in society and empowerment of women has resulted in women being less attracted to manipulative men as they are able to see through any male deception. Future research should concentrate on investigating such strategies and try to resolve any contradictions in the evidence.
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