Functional Flexibility in women’s commitment-skepticism bias

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If a woman overestimates her romantic partner’s commitment, the cost to her fitness—reproduction without an investing partner—can be considerable. Error Management Theory predicts that women have an evolved bias to be skeptical of men’s commitment in a relationship, which reduces the likelihood of making a costly false positive error. However, because error probabilities are inversely related, this commitmentskepticism bias simultaneously increases the likelihood of missed opportunities, or false negatives. False positives when gauging a partner’s commitment are the more costly error for women, but missing an opportunity to secure a genuinely high-quality mate can also be quite costly. We predicted and found that women’s mating cognitions are functionally flexible, such that women do not exhibit the commitment-skepticism bias when faced with behavioral evidence that a male partner is willing to commit (Study 1). This suggests that relationship-enhancing behaviors are one contextual cue that may lessen the bias. However, not all relationship-enhancing behaviors are equally diagnostic of a person’s true commitment intent. When comparing men and women’s commitment thresholds, we found that women require more behavioral evidence than men do to feel certain of their partner’s commitment to them (Study 2).


Published in Evolutionary Psychology, 2015. 13(2): 283-298