Social learning and human mate preferences: a potential mechanism for generating and maintaining between-population diversity in attraction

Anthony C. Little, Benedict C. Jones, Lisa DeBruine, Christine A. Caldwell

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Inspired by studies demonstrating mate-choice copying effects in non-human species, recent studies of attractiveness judgements suggest that social learning also influences human preferences. In the first part of our article, we review evidence for social learning effects on preferences in humans and other animals. In the second part, we present new empirical evidence that social learning not only influences the attractiveness of specific individuals, but can also generalize to judgements of previously unseen individuals possessing similar physical traits. The different conditions represent different populations and, once a preference arises in a population, social learning can lead to the spread of preferences within that population. In the final part of our article, we discuss the theoretical basis for, and possible impact of, biases in social learning whereby individuals may preferentially copy the choices of those with high status or better access to critical information about potential mates. Such biases could mean that the choices of a select few individuals carry the greatest weight, rapidly generating agreement in preferences within a population. Collectively, these issues suggest that social learning mechanisms encourage the spread of preferences for certain traits once they arise within a population and so may explain certain cross-cultural differences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)366-375
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological sciences
Issue number1563
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2011


  • social transmission
  • facial attractiveness
  • copy
  • learning
  • prestige bias
  • culture
  • guppy poecilia-reticulata
  • human female preferences
  • sexual selection
  • face preferences
  • imitative behavior
  • cultural variation
  • coturnix-japonica
  • choice
  • beauty

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