Shifting Romantic Relationships Motivations: Can People Be Primed To Desire Particular Romantic Partners?

Michael William Harvey, Wayne State University


Two of the most commonly studied relationship motivations are people’s general motivations for forming short-term relationships and long-term relationships. The temporal context of relationships affects the qualities that individuals prefer in their mates, which are often different for men and women. Evolutionary psychologists suggest an evolutionary explanation for temporally differentiated relationship goals and the associated sex-differentiated mate preferences, which they call sexual strategies theory. However, recent evidence from relationship psychology and speed dating studies suggest that perhaps stated mate preferences do not affect real-life dating and mating behavior. But new research from evolutionary psychology suggests that the relationship psychologists may have overlooked an important moderator of the effect of biological sex on mate preferences: temporal context. In the current article, I propose two studies that will expand on these recent developments in mate preferences research and attempt to reconcile the discordant evidence. Ultimately, I believe these two studies will provide evidence that allows for a better understanding of the links between stated mate preferences, the temporal context of relationships, relationship motivations and interests, and partner selection. Study 1 sought to assess individuals’ current motivations for short-term and long-term relationships and whether a relationship motivation manipulation exercise would be successful in causing differential mate selection. Study 2 consisted of a 2-hour speed dating event at which participants talked with opposite-sex speed dates and pursued “matches” with them in order to examine their relationship motivations and choices in-vivo. Regression and hierarchical linear modeling techniques were used to test the hypotheses. While many of the hypotheses were not supported, the current studies made two crucial theoretical advancements: first, it illuminated the notion that most single individuals are highly interested in pursuing short-term AND long-term relationships, a notion under-appreciated and unaddressed in previous research on this topic. Second, it elucidated the notion that individuals’ relationship goals are complex and change across time and contexts, and that this complexity must be taken into account when evaluating individuals’ stated mate preferences and their behaviors in real-life dating contexts.