Recently, I had the opportunity to present my work at an evolutionary psychology independent conference (EPIC). It was truly an amazing opportunity and a wonderful experience for presenters and audience members alike. Both alumni and current members of the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology lab presented their own research at this conference within a standard 15 minute time slot. The conference was open to the public, and audience members included several faculty members, various interested college students from near and far, and even local high school students interested in psychology and evolutionary studies. I was privy to hear about the evolutionary psychology behind music and emotional intelligence, how evolutionary psychology is truly interdisciplinary, and even the evolutionary psychology behind ostracizing people, among other topics.
My current thesis work evaluates the existence of what I call partner insurance. This is what I presented at EPIC, and it was a blast (Watch the full video here). Partner insurance is like other types of insurance, but for your love life. In case of flood, fire, breakup, divorce…. an individual may have a Mr./Ms. Plan B. My research only studies this phenomenon in heterosexual women, so my data reveal frequencies of Mr. Plan B’s and which characteristics in women are predictors of having a Mr. Plan B.
Previous research has demonstrated that college women, on average, have 3.78 Mr. Plan B’s (Dibble & Drouin, 2015), and that roughly 2/3rds of all college students who are in a committed relationship will openly admit to having at least one Mr./Ms. Plan B (Dibble, Drouin, Aune, & Boller, 2015). YEAH. When I mentioned this, the whole audience had the same reaction you’re probably having now – silence and immediate nail-biting. Well, fear not. According to my preliminary analyses, this is something women grow out of. Women who report having a Mr. Plan B are significantly younger than those who do not. I argue that this phenomenon may be a bit more localized to just college students or young adults, in general.
That being said, I still scared the shit out of many of the guys in the room (whoops – sorry about that). Overall, my data reveal that roughly 20% of women in committed relationships will report having a Mr. Plan B, and there are other predictors of this besides age. As it turns out, women who are more narcissistic, women who tend to lack remorse for their actions, and women who are generally a little more detached from morals are the ones who report having a Mr. Plan B. Not a great picture, I know. The silver lining is that if and when this work is published, it should add to the body of literature on human mating strategies.
And here’s where Darwin comes in – keeping evolutionary theory in mind might help to explain partner insurance in this case. Intrasexual competition is one of various mating strategies. This occurs when members of the same sex compete for a mate. We might see this in animals when male elk compete with other male elk using their antlers. In humans, a simple example would be Sally telling Janice that her hair looked great, when really, Janice desperately needed a hairbrush. Research has demonstrated that women who are more narcissistic and follow the other same characteristics listed above are generally more competitive for mates (Carter, Montanaro, Linney, & Campbell, 2015). Partner insurance – having a Mr. Plan B – could simply be another mating strategy in the form of intrasexual competition. By holding onto a Mr. Plan B, a woman arguably keeps a potential mate inaccessible to other competing females.
So, is having a Mr. Plan B smart? Having car insurance is certainly a wise move, but partner insurance? On the one hand, we could argue that having a backup boyfriend might be adaptive. A woman who organizes her life in such a way that she is in and out of frequent relationships might be someone who would benefit from having partner insurance. However, we could also make a very strong case that partner insurance would serve as a serious threat to an existing and otherwise healthy relationship.
My intent at EPIC was never to scare the s*** out of the men in the room, nor is that the intent of this blog. I’m hoping this work will be recognized soon, and we can continue to gain understanding about how humans interact in the world through a Darwinian lens. Meanwhile, I’m going to go help Janice.
Carter, G. L., Montanaro, Z., Linney, C., & Campbell, A. C. (2015, February). Women’s sexual competition and the Dark Triad.Personality and Individual Differences, 74, 275-279.
Dibble, J. L., & Drouin, M. (2014, May). Using modern technology to keep in touch with back burners: an investment model analysis. Computers in Human Behavior, 34, 96- 100.
Dibble, J. L., Drouin, M., Aune, K. S., & Boller, R. R. (2015, June 11). Simmering on the back burner: communication with and disclosure of relationship alternatives. Communication Quarterly, 63(3), 329-344. doi:10.1080/01463373.2015.1039719