Throughout nature animals use signaling behaviors to enhance mating chances—colorful plumage, frilly necks, puffed out chests, to name a few. Humans do the same thing, albeit with a wider variety of behaviors. The study examined whether conspicuous spending and volunteering might function as mating signals for homo-sapiens in the mood for nookie.
Participants in the study were divided into small groups and randomly assigned to one of two conditions: “mating” or “non-mating”. The mating subjects looked at three photographs of people of the opposite sex on a computer screen, picked which one they found most attractive, and spent several minutes writing about an ideal first date with that person.
The non-mating subjects looked at a photograph of a city scene and wrote about the ideal weather for walking the streets and looking at buildings.
All subjects were then asked to imagine that they had received some money, around a few thousand dollars, and had to choose how much they wanted to spend on a selection of luxuries (such as a new watch, new car, expensive vacation, etc) and how much they would deposit in a savings account.
They were also asked to imagine that they had some extra time available every week and had to choose how many hours they would spend volunteering at a non-profit of their choice or a hospital.
The results: men in the mating condition said they would spend significantly more money than men in the non-mating condition. For women, there was no mating effect on spending decisions.
Conversely, women in the mating condition said they would spend significantly more time volunteering than women in the non-mating condition. There was no mating effect on men’s volunteering.
What this study suggests is that conspicuous spending for men and conspicuous charity for women increase when we’ve got mating on the mind, which implies that spending and volunteering are two ways that we show our plumage to the opposite sex.
You can read about a handful of other studies on the same theme here at the New Scientist .