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Section 8: Attachment and Short-Term Mating

Advanced Psychology Seminar

Is Short-Term Mating the Maladaptive Result of Insecure Attachment?
Opposing evolutionary perspectives:

Those who seek out brief sexual relationships may be adaptively pursuing environmentally contingent reproductive strategies.

Our current biological design – rooted in our Pleistocene gatherer-hunter roots – strongly favors relatively enduring relationships and few sex differences in mating strategies.

Short-term Mating as Maladaptive
Insecure attachment styles have been related to one-night stands, large numbers of sexual partners, and more accepting attitudes toward casual sex.

Insecure parent-child attachment leads to maladaptive personality traits

Maladaptive personality traits emerge as insecure romantic attachments

Insecure romantic attachment associates with features of short-term mating

Therefore, short-term mating results from maladaptive personality traits

3 types of insecure attachments:

    Fearful: involves negative sense of self and others

    Preoccupied: involves negative sense of self but not others

    Dismissing: involves positive sense of self but not others

Short-Term Mating as Adaptive
Insecure attachment and short-term mating seem intertwined because they constitute a viable alternative to long-term mating as a reproductive strategy.

Humans have evolved with a conditional attachment system that produces different adult mating strategies depending upon environmental contexts.

Thus, insecure attachment styles may contribute to short-term mating in adulthood, but this form of human mating may have been adaptive on occasion in our ancestral past.

Data derived from the International Sexuality Description Project

Sample included 5,543 men and 7,898 women from 56 nations worldwide, mostly college students; ages not given

Measurements included: short-term mating interest, romantic attachment, Rosenberg’s self-esteem scale, and Big Five personality traits

Analyses: mainly descriptive and correlational

Results – Attachment Style
Short-term mating related to insecure attachment in that those who engage in short-term mating may have basic lack of self-worth (at least for women), distrust others, avoid social closeness, and have emotional instability.

Dismissing attachment was associated with increased emotional stability in some cultural regions, though in North America dismissing women were emotionally unstable.

Insecure attachment does not mediate maladaptive personality traits and short-term mating.

Results – Personality Traits
Short-term mating, for the most part, did not relate to maladaptive personality traits.

One maladaptive trait, low levels of agreeableness, related to short-term mating.

Short-term mating did relate to higher levels of self-esteem and extraversion in men. Women who were engaged in short-term mating had higher self-esteem in eastern and southern Europe but lower self-esteem in Africa and South/Southeast Asia.

Results - Age
Older men are desiring, thinking about, and engaging in more short-term mating after young singlehood, yet older men who carry through with their short-term desires appear not to possess adaptive personalities.

Sexual infidelity, regardless of age and gender, was associated with maladaptive personality traits (low self-esteem, low agreeableness, and low emotional stability)

Short-term maters were found to be related to lower levels of social withdrawal. Thus, they do not avoid closeness.

Authors' Conclusions
Short-term mating is not related to low self-esteem, social avoidance, or emotional stability; only to lower levels of interpersonal trust.

Short-term mating is not related to maladaptive personality traits but in some cases with adaptive traits, especially of high levels of self-esteem in men.

The claim that short-term mating is a specialized adaptive alternative within the broad repertoire of human reproductive strategies is, thus, strengthened.

Discussion Questions
Reflect on your response to these results. Are they surprising? If so, in what way? If not, in what way?

Do these results challenge your perspective on short-term mating? If so, how?

Review the perspective of short-term mating in your environment of origin. Do you share that perspective or challenge it? Please explain.

How might these results be incorporated into a Christian World View?

What is meant by the term “healthy sexuality?”