Share this post

Introducing Dr. David Buss

  • The Huberman lab podcast is hosted by Andrew Huberman, a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford school of medicine. His guest today is Dr. David Buss, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas Austin and a founder of the field of evolutionary psychology.
  • Dr. Buss's laboratory researches the strategies humans use to select mates in the short and longterm, as well as the use of deception, status assessment, emotions, mate poaching, and biological influences in mate selection.
  • Dr. Buss has also authored books, such as The Evolution of Desire and When Men Behave Badly, that discuss the darker aspects of mating behavior and strategies to ensure healthy relationships. This discussion will provide listeners with valuable knowledge about the real science of human mate selection and mating strategy.

Choosing a Mate

  • Mate choice is a complex behaviour stemming from Darwin's theory of sexual selection which has two causal processes.
  • Intrasexual competition is when members of the same sex compete for sexual access to the opposite sex and preferential mate choice is when members of the same sex agree on desired qualities in potential mates.
  • Human mate choice is unique in that it depends on mutual selection. Studies show that both men and women look for different things in transient mates compared to long-term ones.
  • Men and women compete for access to the most desirable partner and display characteristics that will make them more desirable. Evolution then favours these characteristics and they become more common over time.

Long Term Mates: Universal Desires

  • Men and women desire qualities such as intelligence, kindness, mutual attraction, and love in a long-term mate. There is evidence of universal preferences in this regard across 37 cultures.
  • Sex differences do exist, with women preferring qualities such as good earning capacity, slightly older age, and the qualities associated with resource acquisition.
  • Men, on the other hand, prioritize physical attractiveness, chastity, and fidelity. Additionally, some qualities are highly variable across cultures, such as the importance of religion, social status, and ambition. Overall, long-term mating is an important and unique aspect of human behavior.

What Women & Men Seek in Long-Term Mates

  • Across cultures, women attend to the attention structure, which is a key determinant of status, when assessing potential mates.
  • Men, on the other hand, prioritize physical attractiveness more than women, which is associated with youth and health. Physical attractiveness cues such as clear skin, symmetrical features, and low waist-to-hip ratio are not arbitrary, but instead indicate reproductive value.
  • Women bear the burden of reproduction, making it important they make wise mate choices. Men are not just superficial creatures, but instead there is an underlying logic to why they prioritize physical attractiveness.

Age Differences & Mating History

  • There is a noticeable age gap between men and women when it comes to long-term mates selection.
  • Studies have found that men prefer women who are about three to four years younger than them, while women prefer men who are about three and a half to four and a half years older than them. This age gap is reflected in marriage statistics in the US, with the age gap increasing the more times a man gets remarried.
  • Preferences for virginity is a universal sex difference, with men usually placing more value on it than women. This difference has been replicated in numerous cultures and has remained unchanged. However, over time, the importance of virginity has varied from culture to culture, with it decreasing in some cultures, such as China.

Deception in Courtship

  • People often lie on online profiles when it comes to mate selection, with men usually exaggerating their income, status and height and women generally shaving off 15 pounds from their weight.
  • There are also tips on how to take the best selfie or photoshop photos to make them more desirable. Eventually, the truth comes out and people do find out. It is important to meet the person and interact in order to get a more accurate beat on the person, as physical cues tend to overwhelm written statements.
  • Additionally, it is important to assess qualities over time, such as emotional stability, in order to have a successful relationship.

Emotional Stability

  • The podcast talks about the importance of assessing emotional stability before entering a long-term relationship.
  • It suggests going on a trip together to an unfamiliar environment as a way to assess how someone responds to stress.
  • It also mentions laboratory studies of stress and tools to combat it, providing more incentive for people to develop self-regulatory mechanisms. Overall, it emphasizes the need to assess emotional stability when considering a long-term relationship.

Lying About Long-Term Interest

  • Deception has been present in mate selection for a long time, but modern technology has opened the door for new forms such as Photoshopping. Men tend to exaggerate aspects such as their feelings for a woman, and how similar they are in values and religious orientations.
  • In ancestral times, people had social reputation to rely on, but modern environments make it easier to deceive as people can easily close one profile and open another. Thus, the modern environment increases the opportunities for deception.

Short-Term Mating Criteria, Sliding Standards & Context Effects

  • In terms of sexual partner choice, physical attributes are more important for women than for men. Men are willing to lower their standards for short-term mating, while women prioritize "bad boy" qualities.
  • Women also use mate copying as a heuristic, which is why some famous people are deemed attractive even if they are not necessarily so.
  • Women's attraction to men can be very context-dependent, with status and attention structure playing a role. Men, however, tend to focus on physical cues regardless of context.

Sexual Infidelity: Variety Seeking & (Un)happiness & Mate Switching

  • Infidelity in committed relationships is something that people often keep secret, which is why it is difficult to gauge how frequently it occurs. According to the Kinsey studies, around 26% of married women and 50% of married men have committed infidelity at some point in their marriage.
  • The primary motive for men is usually sexual novelty, whereas for women it is usually unhappiness with their partner, both emotionally and sexually.
  • There are two competing hypotheses as to why women commit infidelity, the dual mating strategy hypothesis and the mate switching hypothesis.
  • Evidence suggests that the mate switching hypothesis, which is women looking to either leave their current partner or trade up, is more likely to explain women's infidelity.

Genetic Cuckolds, How Ovulation Impacts Mate Preference

  • Genetic Cuckold is when a man believes he is the genetic father of a child, but it is not actually his. Initial evidence suggested that women prefered more masculine and symmetrical men when ovulating as a way to get better genes.
  • However, subsequent studies have failed to replicate this finding and called into question the dual mating strategy notion.
  • The main switching hypothesis is now endorsed as a better explanation for this phenomenon, which is when a woman mates with a different partner in order to increase the genetic diversity of her offspring.
  • Genetic Cuckold rates are quite low, estimated at 2-3%. The cuckoo bird is an example of this behavior, where the bird sneaks its eggs into the nest of another bird, essentially offloading its parental investment.

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Cheating, Concealment

  • Women tend to have more long-lasting affairs than men, who usually have more transient affairs.
  • Women are more likely to form emotional attachments with their affair partners and men tend to have multiple affair partners. It is easier to meet more people via online communication, but it is also easier to get caught due to digital record-keeping and surveillance.
  • Additionally, it is becoming easier for partners to hack into each other's phones and computers to uncover affairs. Therefore, it is important to take extra caution when engaging in infidelity.

Emotional & Financial Infidelity

  • Emotional infidelity is when someone becomes emotionally close to another person and shares intimate or private information. Financial infidelity is when someone keeps financial information from their spouse such as having secret bank accounts or buying designer items.
  • A study of the show 'Cheaters' found that men tended to be more concerned with sexual infidelity while women were more concerned with emotional infidelity.
  • Financial infidelity is less explored but is an important issue. Both men and women can engage in financial infidelity, such as diverting resources to one set of relatives over another.
  • People tend to have a broad definition of infidelity, with women being more likely to include emotional and financial infidelity.


  • This conversation discusses the use of contraception and its possible evolutionary roots. A couples counselor has observed that arguments between couples revolve around the use of contraception. It is suggested that the act of not using contraception may be more intimate than using it.
  • It is unknown if there are evolutionary roots to this, as condoms are relatively recent. Finally, the withdrawal method is not a very effective form of contraception.

Status & Mating Success

  • Mating and status have a reciprocal link in that having desirable mates can lead to higher status, and higher status can lead to access to a wider pool of potential mates.
  • People are consciously and unconsciously aware of what they find attractive in terms of mating, with some things being mostly unconscious, such as the evolutionary logic behind food preferences.
  • Studies have shown that if an unattractive man is with a stunningly beautiful woman, people will likely assume he has high status.
  • There is a lot of research being done on the topic of status and what leads to it, exploring the connection between mating and status.

Jealousy, Mate Value Discrepancies, Vigilance, Violence

  • Jealousy is an evolved emotion that serves the purpose of keeping people together and protecting them from losing their investment in the relationship. It is triggered by cues of infidelity, mate poachers, and mate value discrepancies.
  • People can respond to jealousy in a variety of ways, ranging from vigilance to violence. Intimate partner violence is a sadly common occurrence in relationships, with men often using violence as a way to reduce their partner's perceived mate value.
  • There is also evidence of women using violence against their partners in certain situations, although it is not as common.

Specificity of Intimate Partner Violence

  • Intimate partner violence is highly specific depending on the circumstances. One interesting fact is that when a woman gets pregnant, she is more vulnerable to physical violence.
  • The man is more likely to direct blows to her abdomen when he suspects he is not the father of the pregnancy.
  • It is hypothesized that the function of this violence is to terminate the pregnancy by a rival male, as opposed to deterring the woman from infidelity or from leaving the relationship. It is also thought that the violence is used to sequester the woman and keep her all to himself.

Mate Retention Tactics: Denigration, Guilt, Etc.

  • This statement describes how people use a variety of tactics, from psychological manipulation to violence, to reduce the mate value discrepancy and protect their partners.
  • These tactics, referred to as mate retention tactics, are an evolutionary phenomenon in all species, but particularly humans who are wired to make more of themselves and protect their young.
  • However, it is important to note that happy relationships still exist and evolutionary psychology and neuroscience can merge at a deeper level to explain this behavior.

Narcissism, Machiavellianism, Psychopathy

  • The Dark Triad is an individual difference between people, consisting of three personality characteristics; narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.
  • Narcissism is characterized by an exaggerated sense of self worth and entitlement, Machiavellianism is the pursuit of an exploitative social strategy, and psychopathy is a lack of empathy. People high in the Dark Triad are more likely to be sexual deceivers, sexual harassers and perpetrators of sexual violence.
  • Men tend to be higher in the Dark Triad than women, with an estimated 1% of women and 4% of men displaying clinical levels of psychopathy. The combination of Dark Triad traits and a dispositional pursuit of a short-term mating strategy can be particularly dangerous.


  • Stalking is a form of harassment with multiple motivations, but the most frequent is mating motivation. About 80% of stalkers are men and 20% are women.
  • One of the scariest aspects of stalking is that it can work. It can work by planting psychological seeds or threatening potential suitors, and it can even work in the longterm if potential suitors are scared off.
  • However, it is not very successful in general, as it only works in about 15% of cases. Stalking usually occurs when the stalker is of lower mate value than the victim, and the stalker is trying to prevent the victim from finding a better partner.

Influence of Children on Mate Value Assessments

  • Mate value discrepancy plays a significant role in relationships, and having children can negatively impact a woman's mate value. Women often display paternal instinct in their online profiles to demonstrate their caretaking capabilities.
  • Generally, having children is seen as a cost and not a benefit to the potential mate because they will have to invest resources and time into them.
  • Men tend to seek mates that are younger, as they are less likely to already have children. Successful men with higher mate value are more likely to attract women with children because they have the resources to invest in them.

Attachment Styles, Mate Choice & Infidelity

  • Attachment styles formed in early childhood may play a role in the stability of long-term relationships. Secure attachment styles are generally conducive to long-term relationships, while avoidant attachment styles can create difficulty with intimacy and a higher probability of infidelity.
  • Anxious attachment styles can create problems of its own, such as being overly clingy and absorbing what is known as a "high relationship load". Frequency of responses to text messages may be correlated with the level of anxiety in a relationship.
  • There may be an asymmetry between expectations of response latency for the two partners in a relationship. Further research in this area could be beneficial for understanding how attachment styles influence long-term relationships.

Non-Monogamy, Unconventional Relationships

  • In the modern environment, people are attempting to maximize their evolved desires while keeping quiescent other evolved aspects of their sexual psychology.
  • Polyamorous relationships are an example of this, where people are often attempting to overcome aspects of their mating psychology, such as jealousy, by allowing their partner to be with someone else.
  • There is a sex difference in the motivations for engaging in polyamory, with men desiring sexual variety and women often agreeing to a polyamorous relationship as a mate retention tactic.
  • Pornography is another example of this, where people can parasitize their desire for sexual variety without actually engaging in it. However, there are potential risks associated with this, such as the brain becoming wired to observing sexual acts rather than engaging in them.

Mate Value Self Evaluation, Anxiety About the Truth

  • Mate selection is a complex process that involves assessing one's own mate value and the mate value of potential partners.
  • Self-esteem is thought to be one internal monitoring device that tracks mate value, however there is also a consensual mate value determined by the opinion of the general population.
  • In addition to these two aspects, there are individual differences in mate value, for example, one might place a higher value on a partner who is steeped in Russian literature.
  • Accurately assessing mate value is challenging due to the large number and complexity of components that make up mate value.
  • Albert LSU ran an experiment on himself to overcome his own mating anxiety by asking 50 women out on dates and found that the rejections weren't as devastating as he had expected. Cognitive behavioral desensitization can be a useful tool in tackling mating anxiety.

Self Deception

  • Robert Trivers proposed an hypothesis that self-deception is a successful form of deception. This hypothesis states that if one truly believes in something, they become more successful in convincing others of it.
  • Animals often take each other at their own word and, due to this, people tend to overestimate those who are self-confident and underestimate those who are insecure. People high on psychopathy are very good at deception, however, it is unclear whether they are good at self-deception.
  • Self-deception is a fascinating concept and is seen across many examples in the human population. It is important to be aware of this phenomenon and to dig deeper when it appears to be occurring.

The Future of Evolutionary Psychology & Neuroscience

  • Evolutionary psychology and neuroscience are both fascinating fields of study, and are gradually merging and coming together.
  • There is already research into the effects of vasopressin on Prairie voles, but the effects on humans may be different. Ultimately, the goal of this collaboration is to understand the underlying machinery of the psychological mechanisms that drive processes.
  • An example of this collaboration could be a brain imaging study on jealousy. This collaboration between evolutionary psychology and neuroscience could lead to some interesting results.

Books: When Men Behave Badly; The Evolution of Desire, Textbooks

  • People are interested in learning about the work of a renowned author, who has written several books on various topics. His most recent book is called When Men Behave Badly and deals with the conflict between the sexes and aspects such as deception in internet dating, financial and emotional infidelity, intimate partner violence, and stalking.
  • He has also written a textbook called Evolutionary Psychology, The New Science of the Mind which is widely used, as well as The Evolution of Desire, Strategies of Human Mating.
  • His work is well regarded, and he is open to collaborating with others to merge neuroscience and evolutionary psychology.