Mate Poaching is a scientific term coined by Schmitt and Buss (2001) used to describe “behavior intended to attract someone who is already in a romantic relationship” (p. 894). Today it is used quite commonly in the evolutionary psychology community, and given my own growing interest in the field, I will in the following try to provide a short introduction to mate poaching for those who might also find an interest in the subject.
First some statistics:
- 64 % of the men and 49 % of the women who participated in the mentioned study by Schmitt and Buss, reported that they had attempted to poach someone as a short-term mate at some point in their past.
- 32 % of the men and 22 % of the women reported having “frequently” experienced someone attempting to to poach them as a short-term mate.
In other words, if we are to believe the 2001 study, two thirds of men and about half of women have at some point tried to get with someone who were already in a relationship. More recent studies suggest that the numbers are likely to be higher than that, but for now, lets just consider these already relatively high ones.
It might not come as a huge shock to most of you, though, but I find those numbers to be quite thought-provoking. According to results from a 2006 study by Davies et al., however, general tendencies aren’t as morally bleak as suggested above:
“when given the choice, both men and women will reliably choose to mate with unattached, as opposed to attached, individuals.”
So people poach, but only when they perceive an available attached individual to be more attractive than any available unattached individuals in their social surroundings.
Here you’d probably tell me that this is merely common sense, and you’d of course be right about that. In general, using many different strategies, people almost always try to attain a long-term partner with as high a mate value as possible (what constitutes value, however is of course slightly different from person to person).
Interestingly, more than 70% of the people who participated in the 2001 study by Schmitt and Buss, reported that someone had tried to poach their partner away from them. As would be expected, people won’t as easily admit to having poached themselves as they will accuse other people of being mate poachers!
Below, a few interesting general observations drawn from the different studies cited in this post:
- Those who mate poach are more likely to score low in agreeableness and conscientiousness than those who did not on The Big Five Inventory. Roughly translated, people who poach are, in general, less compassionate and more easygoing / careless than people who don’t poach.
- Women are more attracted to attached men, but this effect is heavily influenced by the female’s ovulation cycle. Women will indeed (statistically) be more attracted to a man if he is in a relationship than if he isn’t. I am almost certain that most women reading this can remember a time in their life when they had second thoughts about a guy after he got together with, perhaps, quite an attractive woman. And I am sure that most men who has gone from being single for a long time, to being in a committed relationship, will have noticed the difference as well.
- Men find women just as attractive regardless if attached or single. According to the studies I’ve cited, men in general live up to the myth of being more “simple-minded” than women when it comes to attraction. While other aspects such as personality of course matter as well, I can at least from my personal experience with friends attest to the idea that men are quite focused on looks. I know many men who’ll say that they want someone intelligent, yet they end up going for someone based mostly on their looks.
While many of my previous posts on this blog can be though of as opinion pieces, I’ve done quite a bit of research in relation to this post. Posts based on evolutionary psychology might often contain elements that people don’t like to hear, (certainly many will disagree highly with these studies) but in the end I think that information based on empirical research is much more useful in real life than opinion pieces that you’ll find scattered all over the net when looking for dating advice.
Anyway, that is all that I can muster in terms of writing today. hope you found the concept of mate poaching interesting, and if you did, certainly feel free to like, comment on, or share this post. Thanks!
Buss, D.M. (2004). Evolutionary psychology (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Davies, A.P.C., Shackelford, T.K., & Hass, R.G. (2006a). When a “poach” is not a poach: Re-defining human mate poaching and re-estimating its frequency. Manuscript under editorial review.
Schmitt, D.P., & Buss, D.M. (2001). Human mate poaching: Tactics and temptations for infiltrating existing relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 560-584
J. Parker, M. Burkley / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 (2009) 1016–1019