2012. Vol.3, No.11, 966-973
Published Online November 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Individual Differences in First and Fourth Year College
Women’s Short Term Mating Strategy Preferences and
Margaret J. Cohen, T. Joel Wade
Department of Psychology, Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, USA
Email: t.joel.wade@buckn
Received July 19th, 2012; revised August 21st, 2012; accepted September 22nd, 2012
Using survey methodology, a cross sectional study was undertaken to ascertain whether first and fourth
year college women have different perceptions and behavior associated with short term mating prefer-
ences. It was hypothesized that after incurring significant negative or costly experiences associated with
hooking up, fourth year women would prefer men who had qualities associated with a desired long term
partner as opposed to characteristics associated with short term mating partners. The results were partially
consistent with the hypothesis. Reported preferences in a desired partner and perspective on hooking up
differ between first and fourth year groups. No difference was found between frequency and willingness
to hookup between the two groups. The findings are explained in terms of evolutionary theory, social ex-
change theory, and sexual script concepts.
Keywords: Mating Strategy; Preferences; Mating Costs
The psychological study of attraction and sexual behavior is
a complex and dynamic field. Examining various theoretical
approaches to explain one particular phenomenon creates a
holistic and inclusive framework for understanding the behav-
ior. This research seeks to examine if and why a difference may
exist in sexual behavior and preferences among traditionally
aged eighteen-year old first and traditionally aged twenty-one
year old fourth year college women, a topic not examined in
prior research. An evolutionary perspective was used to dis-
cuss traditional female sexual preferences and mating tactics
and social exchange theory was utilized to explore differences
that may exist among women in the same environment. Addi-
tionally, sexual script concepts were utilized to illuminate cul-
tural norms, particularly the college hookup culture, and the
impact the social environment has in shaping behavior.
Evolutionary Theory
Looking through the lenses of evolutionary theory, sexual
preferences and behaviors are remnants of the history of the
human species. Charles Darwin stated that the key to evolu-
tionary change over time was natural selection; behaviors that
were advantageous to the survival of a species were passed on
from one generation to the next (Buss, 1998). This theory was
expanded to include traits that differ among the sexes when
Darwin proposed his theory of Sexual Selection. This theory
suggested that specific male and female characteristics that
were successful in attracting a mate would be passed down
through generations (Buss, 1998).
Historically, men look to secure a short term female partner
who is fertile and sexually accessible while minimizing com-
mitment and investment. In contrast, men have looked to secure
a long term female who is reproductively valuable with good
genes, but would also be a good mother and wife. Women seek
men with external resources that they can secure for themselves
or their offspring and good genes. They utilize short term mat-
ing to secure immediate resources or to assess whether the man
would be a suitable potential long term mate (Buss & Schmitt,
1993). Humans secure a desired mate by utilizing sexual strate-
gies which differ by sex (Gangestad & Simpson, 2000). The
term strategy implies goal directed behavior through which
humans attempt to solve adaptive problems by seeking mates
that would have been advantageous to their ancestors in evolu-
tionary history (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). In 1972, Robert Trivers
suggested that the more parentally invested sex had to be
choosier in mate selection. The inherent difference between
men and women, the fact that women get pregnant, and men do
not, suggests that the woman has more to lose; therefore, she
must be the choosier sex (Buss, 1998).
Sexual strategies are considered universal characteristics and
allow the scholar to understand “typical” and “a-typical” male
and female behavior. Humans are said to be unaware of such
strategies, which are evolved solutions employed to solve adap-
tive problems (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). These behavioral mate-
rializations of adaptive psychological functions are activated in
specific temporal contexts which create cross cultural differ-
ences (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). These differences are the result
of the human brain having evolved the ability to adjust to spe-
cific conditions (Gangestad & Simpson, 2000).
Evolutionary theory emphasizes the way in which sexual
adaptations maximize genetic fitness, which is the ability of the
human being to survive and reproduce offspring that will sur-
vive. The theory does not adequately explain differences within
various contexts (Kenrick, Groth, Trost, & Sadalla, 1993). Why,
for example, would two women in the same context prefer and
pursue different men and different outcomes? An alternate the-
ory of male-female relations may be able to answer to this
Social Exchange Theory
Social exchange theory is an alternate approach to under-
standing sexual behavior and can explain differences within the
female species. In 1958, George Homans introduced the idea
that interactions among individuals can be viewed as an eco-
nomic exchange of both material and non-material goods
(Homans 1958; Emerson, 1976). Elements of human behavior
are governed by the success proposition, i.e., the more a person
is rewarded for certain behavior the more likely they are to
perform that behavior (Emerson, 1976). The exchange occurs
when the outcome, or profit, is considered more valuable than
the cost of the behavior. The degree of the reward dictates the
value of the behavior, simply, “profit = reward-cost” (Homans,
The value proposition explains change in behavior as a result
of change in perceived value of the outcome. When the indi-
vidual feels the profit is no longer valuable, the individual will
alter the behavior and the behavior will diminish (Homans,
1958). The more a reward is valued, the more the individual
will produce the behavior. Through the lens of social exchange
theory, choices individuals make when pursing a mate are at-
tempts to maximize gains and minimize losses, suggesting that
men and women seek sexual interactions where the benefits of
involvement outweigh the costs.
Social exchange theory accounts for individual differences
and changes in behavior, and the evolutionary approach de-
scribes universal preferences. However, these evolutionary and
economic models do not encompass a culturally relevant ex-
planation to account for the trends in sexual behavior observed
on the modern college campus (Kenrick et al., 1993).
Sexual Scripts
While theoretical frameworks provide insight into sexual
behavior, the environment in which men and women interact is
powerful in shaping the perceptions and cognitions of individu-
als. Sociologists William Simon and John H. Gagnon (1968)
have influenced the area of cognitive psychology through their
research on the sexual script (Simon & Gagnon, 2003). Cogni-
tive psychology investigates processes of thought and often
focuses on schemata, abstract structures of knowledge (Abelson,
1981). One type of schema is called a script, which is a cogni-
tive representation of ritualized, sequential events. Schemas are
triggered under environmental conditions and organize thoughts
and expectations about the appropriate sequence and proper
conduct expected in to occur in those situations (Abelson,
When individuals interact with one another they often follow
the cultural “protocol” and invoke the stereotypical norms that
exist within that society. The backbone of script theory is that
individuals are influenced by the cultural messages available to
them. They internalize cultural scripts and the scripts become
part of the individual’s cognitions, influencing perceptions and
consequently, behavior. Sexual scripts are specific to gender
and culture and often define or limit what is seen as appropriate
for men and women in sexual interactions (Frith & Kitzinger,
2001). Simon and Gagnon maintain that because sexual behav-
ior and conduct is located in the social realm, it has been so-
cially produced and maintained (Simon & Gagnon, 2003). Cul-
ture organizes the way individuals behave and perceive sexual-
ity. The context or environment is the stage through which men
and women play out various cognitive and behavioral mecha-
nisms and provides a lens through which sexual strategies and
cost-benefit analysis occur.
Integrating Theories
Evolutionary theory, social exchange theory, and cultural
scripts all contribute to understanding sexual preferences and
behavior among college women. These theories can be em-
ployed to explain qualities women desire in a mate, the costs
and benefits they associate with sexual interactions, and the
way their preferences play out in the social realm of the college
According to Buss and Schmitt (1993), women use short
term mating to evaluate men as potential long term mates.
Whereas women typically seek commitment, in an environment
where a man is not willing to commit, women will seek quail-
ties that are indicative of good genes (Gangestad & Simpson,
2000). Greater importance is placed on physical attractiveness
when evaluating men in a short term mating context (Gangestad
& Simpson, 2000). Past research has even suggested that more
symmetrical men are preferred as short term mates (Gangestad
& Simpson, 2000). If women cannot secure attractive men as
long term mates, it would be adaptive to pursue an attractive
short term mate. This is considered “good gene sexual selec-
tion” which is a controversial topic among evolutionary theo-
rists today, but implies that in favoring physically attractive
short term mates, women attempt to secure good genes that
could be passed on to potential offspring, increasing the likeli-
hood of survival (Gangestad & Simpson, 2000; Buss & Schmitt,
Through evolutionary history, females used short term mat-
ing for immediate extraction of resources such as food or pro-
tection and therefore favored observational cues such as ambi-
tion and status (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Men who can provide
access to resources are universally favored among women, but
culture determines which resources are considered valuable
(Gangestad & Simpson, 2000). Eagly and Wood (1999) found
that various resources are included in a “gender empowerment
measure”. Examples of valued resources include monetary suc-
cess or social influence (Gangestad & Simpson, 2000). Because
valued resources and status are culturally defined, it is impera-
tive to understand how such adaptations play out on an Ameri-
can college campus where short term dating is the norm (Flack,
Daubman, Caron, Asadorian, D’Aureli, Hall, Gigliotti, Mich-
ener, & Wheeler, 2007).
Hooking Up
The casual sexual encounters known as “hook-ups” have re-
placed traditional dating norms on college campuses across the
United States. Hooking up is a seemingly casual sexual en-
counter between two individuals. The hookup can occur on one
single occasion or occur repeatedly for an extended period of
time. The individuals may be strangers, acquaintances, or
friends, but have no exclusive obligation toward one another.
Some physical interaction is typical, such as kissing, but may or
may not include sexual intercourse (Garcia & Reiber, 2008;
Flack et al., 2007).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 967
The Institute for American Values conducted an 18 month
study on the attitudes and values of today’s college women
(Glenn & Marquardt, 2002). The study was a nationally repre-
sentative sample and revealed the broad and varied definition of
hooking up. Noticeable differences were found in the way black
and white women define hooking up, additionally norms and
definitions of the term “hooking up” differed greatly on various
campus environments. Despite these differences, three fourths
of the respondents stated that the term hookup commonly de-
scribes a distinctive sexual-without-commitment interaction
(Glenn & Marquardt, 2002). The ambiguity of the term “hook
up” contributes to its popularity given that women may attempt
to avoid reputational damage because hooking up does not
necessarily imply sexual intercourse (Bogle, 2008; Glenn &
Marquardt, 2002).
All campuses differ and cultural factors contribute to the pro-
liferation of hook up behavior. Flack et al., (2007) revealed that,
cases in which the social scene on a small, relatively insulated
campus is directed by a traditionally strong Greek system… [is]
likely to produce conditions that are unfavorable to women
(Flack et al., 2007: p. 154). The presence of a strong Greek
system on campus makes hooking up increasingly prevalent
and places men in control when fraternities set the scene for
gender relations on campus by dictating the atmosphere in
which hookups occur (Boswell & Spade, 1996). This pheno-
menon is intensified if men and women live and dine in sepa-
rate quarters, creating an atmosphere where most socializing
and sexual behavior occurs under the influence of alcohol, at
night, and in a bar or at a fraternity house.
Historically, women incur various dangers when partaking in
short term sexual strategies as opposed to long term mating
contexts. There is a heightened risk of contracting sexually
transmitted diseases and a greater risk of physical and sexual
abuse (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Additionally, it is easy to ac-
quire reputational damage to a desired long term mate through
short term strategies. Through evolution, men seeking long
term mates have come to disfavor cues that show women have
multiple mates. Sexual promiscuity may be interpreted as a sign
that a woman can’t obtain a long term mate or is sexually ac-
cessible. For this reason, reputational damage is more severe
for women than men because of paternity uncertainty (Buss &
Schmitt, 1993). Research on the hookup culture has demon-
strated that hooking up increases the chances that a woman
acquires a bad reputation or puts herself at risk for unwanted
sex (Bogle, 2008; Flack et al., 2007).
Hooking up poses an emotional risk to college women, this
can be intensified by the presence of fraternities or alcohol con-
sumption on campus. Alcohol consumption intensifies attitudes
and orientations toward rape culture and is often the major fo-
cus of social events on a college campus at either fraternity
parties or campus bars (Boswell & Spade, 1996). Boswell and
Spade (1996) revealed that men had control on campus when
fraternities determined the setting for male/female interaction.
The degree of conformity is intensified in a Greek system be-
cause it solidifies in-group and out-group identity creating both
“group-think syndrome” and an us/them atmosphere. Addition-
ally, men said that they didn’t hold negative attitudes toward
women on an individual basis, but when they are together in
groups they sensed peer pressure to be disrespectful toward
women. Women were aware that the conditions on campus
were not optimal; they reported feeling hurt or humiliated by
men they were hooking up with, but continued to follow the
hookup script while recognizing the injustices. If women are
conscious of the costs associated with hooking up on the col-
lege campus, one must wonder what motivates the women to
continue to partake in the culture.
Preferences and ideals do not always dictate behavior and
women often “track” their environment to determine which
tactics may be beneficial to obtain a desired outcome (Gang-
estad & Simpson, 2000). As described earlier, short term mat-
ing strategies can be utilized for more immediate access to re-
sources. Thus, many women may use hooking up as a college
sexual strategy and may use it as an attempt to enter a long-
term relationship. From an evolutionary standpoint, if women
want to enter monogamous relationships, and the only available
avenue for doing so is by hooking up, because traditional dating
does not occur, then women will partake in this cultural norm.
Garcia and Reiber (2008) surveyed 507 males and females
undergraduates to answer questions regarding their motivations
for hooking up and found that only six percent of the partici-
pants actually expected hookups to result in a traditional ro-
mantic relationship. So, the female behavior exhibited on the
college campus may seem atypical and maladaptive because it
would seem to diverge from the traditional female desire to
pursue a long term relationship. However, upon further exami-
nation, it is clear that women included in Garcia and Reiber
(2008) still want to enter long term monogamous relationships.
One can see this exposed in the data through the discrepancy
between expectations and ideal outcomes of a hookup. The
largest proportion of women (43%) hoped a traditional roman-
tic relationship would result from a hookup, whereas only 8%
actually expected this to occur (Garcia & Reiber, 2008).
Hooking up can then be seen as a behavior consistent with
the ability to alter sexual or survival tactics as a function of
current environmental conditions as Crawford and Anderson,
(1989) report. This alteration to a short term strategy is an
adaptive function that can be explained through the concept of
Darwinian algorithms, i.e., the human capability to make do-
main appropriate inferences that are adaptive to a particular
social environment. These innate specialized learning mecha-
nisms explain the way in which our judgments and choices are
dictated by our ability to organize attention to what is appropri-
ate and adaptive in a particular environment (Crawford &
Anderson, 1989). Thus, the mechanisms employed by the fe-
male college student should not be seen as constraints, but
rather as enabling devices that can be categorized as pseudo-
normal behavior, or behavior that was ancestrally maladaptive,
but is now currently acceptable and even adaptive. (Crawford &
Anderson, 1989).
Another more basic motivating factor for hooking up, that
college women typically experience, is the desire to fit in. LaP-
lante, McCormick, and Brannigan’s (1980) research indicated
that students’ actions during sexual behavior were dictated by
the sexual script. Qualities such as individual personality char-
acteristics and locus of control had little or no influence on the
sexual interactions between men and women. A later study on
sexual initiation in dating interactions (O’Sullivan & Byers,
1992) confirmed that sexual scripts are the overriding influence
on determining who initiates sexual activity.
The perceived norms about how men and women are sup-
posed to interact are increasingly influential in the hookup cul-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
ture. Because hooking up is an ambiguous term, men and
women are often unaware of the extent to which their peers are
engaging in sexual behavior. Pluralistic ignorance makes per-
ceived cultural norms and sexual scripts increasingly influential.
Pluralistic ignorance (Allport, 1924) occurs when a person
believes that their judgments or beliefs differ from what is
normal and conform to what they believe is the more desirable
or normative behavior. In an investigation of pluralistic igno-
rance and hooking up Lambert et al., (2003) revealed that plu-
ralistic ignorance characterizes the attitude of college students.
The study found that both men and women believed other
members of their gender were more comfortable with hooking
behaviors than they actually were. Because hooking up has
become the norm, students on college campuses often engage in
this behavior because they feel that others are more comfortable
with the behavior than they really are (Bogle, 2008; Lambert et
al., 2003).
Conformity is one motivator associated with hooking up.
Research in this area suggests that levels of conformity are
dependent on age. Child development studies have found that
from preadolescence to the adolescent period, conformity to
social pressure increases. The period after adolescence, through
early adulthood, is marked by a decrease in social conformity
(Costanzo & Shaw, 1966). These results may be applicable in
the study of individual differences that pre dict se xual stra tegies.
Buss and Schmitt found that short term mating is typically used
to assess value in a potential mate and short term strategies are
more frequently adopted by younger women. Increasing age
brings about diminishing returns when the woman has already
developed assessment functions and knows what she is looking
for. Therefore, with age, we see a shift from short term to long
term mating strategies (Buss & Schmitt, 1993).
The possibility that women become less interested in short
term strategies as they age was echoed in the Boswell and
Spade study. Many women stated that after the first year of
college they tire of the hook-up scene (Boswell & Spade, 1996).
With this information in mind, the present study sets out to
determine whether or not college women in a hook-up culture
alter their dating preferences in a manner consistent with the
aforementioned theories.
In the college environment, it would be beneficial for the
woman to adapt to her surroundings and alter her sexual strat-
egy when a perceived reward is no longer valued. With this in
mind, one can assume that among traditional-age college
women, a fourth year college woman’s sexual strategy would
differ from a first year college woman’s sexual strategy if there
is a change in the degree of value of the reward generated by
engaging in “hooking up” behavior. Specifically, following
social exchange theory, fourth year women may feel that the
sexual strategy they are using is no longer rewarding. However,
first year women may feel their sexual strategy is rewarding
because they have not experienced the same costs that fourth
year women have experienced. The present study examines
Focus of the Present Study
The focus of the present research will be on whether or not
there are differences in first and fourth year women’s mate
preferences and behaviors and perspectives using a cross-sec-
tional design. When the social position of a female, her age, and
her learned experiences change throughout college, these fac-
tors may alter her perspective on the value of certain rewards
associated with the original behavior. According to social ex-
change theory, if the degree of value in the reward diminishes,
the behavior will be diminished as well. Thus, the behavior of
the first year student may differ from the behavior of the fourth
year student because the fourth year student will be partaking in
behavior that generates a reward that this woman consciously
The first focus of this research will explore the mate prefer-
ences of first year female students illustrating the qualities they
look for in a male and what they consider benefits and costs
associated with pursuing men with certain characteristics. The
second focus will explore both positive and negative experi-
ences fourth year college women have encountered that may
alter their perspective in regard to the value of the reward asso-
ciated with certain behaviors. The third and final focus will be
an examination of whether fourth year women alter their be-
havior and preferences as a result of their past experiences and
how this may be more beneficial to them.
According to evolutionary theory, it would be adaptive for
women in the short term dating environment, such as the col-
lege campus, to seek out men who have characteristics that are
associated with good genes or high status (Buss, 1989) (These
qualities may or may not include athletic ability, maturity, or a
membership in a fraternity or on a sports team). Therefore, in
the present research women are expected to seek out men who
possess these aforementioned characteristics. Through social
exchange theory it is also reasonable to believe that if women
incur significant costs associated with these men, they will alter
their mating strategy and prefer hooking up with men who are
less costly and provide more benefits.
On the college campus, a clear discrepancy exists between
desired and actual outcomes of a hookup for the woman. By the
time the woman reaches her fourth year, it is likely that her
preferences will change and she will pursue different character-
istics in a mate. Following evolutionary and social exchange
theory, through adaptive mechanisms, college women are ex-
pected to alter their behavior and pursue mates who possess
different characteristics than the men they pursue in their first
year. Such characteristics would include those associated with
willingness to commit to long term relationships which these
fourth year women may come to find more rewarding.
One hundred ten women ranging in age from 18 - 22 took
part in this study. Fifty-five were in their fourth year and 55
were in their first year. Data was collected electronically via an
internet survey. Fourth year women were recruited randomly by
an email message sent through the university “Webserver”.
First year women were recruited randomly from the introduc-
tory psychology participant pool and received partial course
credit for their participation.
Participants were presented with an online link to the survey.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 969
Once they clicked on the link they received an electronic in-
formed consent form. After giving their consent electronically,
they were directed to a survey that consisted of two parts, one
which both first and fourth year women completed and a sec-
ond section that was only available to fourth year women. The
survey included demographic questions regarding current rela-
tionship status: whether the individual was in a relationship,
whether they are currently dating someone at this particular
university, and how long they have been dating that person.
Additionally, the survey also asked individuals whether or not
they participate in short term mating (“hooking up”) at this
The section of the survey completed by both first and fourth
year women asked the participants to rate (on a scale of 1 = not
very important to 5 = very important) how important various
qualities are when “selecting a man to hook-up with.” The
qualities included were attractive, willing to commit, athletic,
participation in a fraternity, participation on a sports team, in-
vites you to closed parties, intelligent, trustworthy, has cool
friends, and good sense of humor. Women were then asked to
distinguish, by answering yes or no, whether or not they con-
sidered certain potential outcomes “costs” or “benefits” to
hooking up with a senior male student. If they designated these
items as “costs” or “benefits,” they were asked to rank on a 1 =
not very significant to 5 = very significant scale how significant
these items were in making the decision to hookup. Costs items
were: dealing with his past relationships, damaging your repu-
tation, his high sexual expectations, his advanced sexual ex-
pectations, his different priorities, his higher maturity level, and
his lower maturity level. Benefits items were: hooking up in-
creases the chances of entering a relationship, you gain elevated
status among female peers, you gain elevated status among
your male peers, hooking up increases the chances that the male
will eventually enter a relationship, and hooking up increases
your ability to attend closed parties. The final question on the
first section of the survey given to both groups asked them to
“please explain your response.”
The next section of the survey was only given to fourth year
participants. The women were asked whether or not their per-
spective on hooking up has changed in the past four years. They
were then asked to rank how influential a variety of negative
and positive experiences had been on altering their perspective
on hooking up with the men at this particular college using a 1 =
not very influential to 5 = very influential scale. Positive ex-
periences items were: forming friendships and bonds with the
male students at this university, getting to know a male at this
university on a more personal or familiar level, dating a male at
this university, watching the men at this university mature, and
other positive experiences. Negative experiences items were:
feeling exploited or used by a male student at this university,
waiting for a relationship that never happened with a male at
this university, being cheated on by a male at this university,
Feeling exploited or “used” by a male at this University, being
lied to by a male at this university, being embarrassed by a
male at this University, and other negative experiences involv-
ing a male at this University. The fourth year survey ended with
an area in which the participants could enter “any other com-
All data analyses were computed using SPSS. For Phase I,
data were analyzed via a 2 (class year) × 10 (# of preferences
listed on questionnaire) mixed model repeated measures
ANOVA. An interaction occurred, F(9, 98) = 4.80, p < .001,
partial eta squared = .31, large effect (Cohen, 1969), that re-
vealed three significant differences in preferences among first
and fourth year women. Men’s participation on a sports team
was significantly more important for the first year women,
t(108) = 2.01, p < .047, (M = 2.33, vs. M = 1.89). Men’s will-
ingness to commit, t(108) = –2.05, p < .043, and a good sense
of humor, t(108) = –3.65, p < .0001, were qualities that fourth
year women found significantly more important in a potential
mate (M = 3.41 vs. M = 3.02 for willingness to commit for
fourth years and first years respectively) and (M = 4.67 vs. M =
4.12 for good sense of humor for fourth and first years respec-
For phase II, a regression was to be computed to determine
which costs and benefits predict the change or lack of change in
perspective among fourth year students. Of the 55 participants,
89 percent of the fourth year women reported a change in per-
spective. Five women reported no change in perspective. Four
out of the five women who reported no change stated that they
did not participate in hooking up. Because every participant that
engaged in hooking up, except for the one individual, who re-
ported that her perspective had changed, the regression could
not be computed to determine which costs and benefits predict
a change or lack of change. Additionally, regressions could not
be computed to determine which specific costs and experiences
predict this change or lack of change in hookup preferences.
A 2 (class year) × 8 (# of costs) mixed model repeated mea-
sures ANOVA was computed to determine which costs were
perceived as most important for first and fourth year women.
The ANOVA did not reveal any significant differences among
the first and fourth year women.
A Chi square was also computed to determine which costs
were perceived as significant among first and fourth year par-
ticipants. The fourth year group differed from the first year
group in that they rated “dealing with a senior male’s past rela-
tionship(s),” as more costly than the first year group, X2 (102) =
6.07, p < .02, (fourth years = 36 vs. first years = 25). The fourth
year women also differed from the first year women by stating
that “dealing with the senior male’s lower maturity level,” was
a significant cost, X2(101) = 9.52, p < .002, (fourth years = 31
vs. first years = 16). The first year women differed from the
fourth year women by rating “a senior male’s high sexual ex-
pectations,” X2(100) = 7.85, p < .009, (first years = 40 vs.
fourth years = 23) and the senior male’s “advanced sexual;
experience” as significantly more costly than the fourth year
group, X2(101) = 11.32, p < .001 (first years = 30 vs. fourth
years = 17). Chi Square tests were also computed to determine
what first and fourth year women found to be significant bene-
fits associated with hooking up with a senior man. The only
significant difference in perceived benefits was that first year
women perceived “the ability to get you into closed parties” as
a significant benefit associated with hooking up with a senior
man, X2(103) = 9.50, p < .002.
A Repeated Measures ANOVA was computed to see which
experiences for fourth year women, both positive and negative,
were most “influential in altering perspective on hooking up
with the males.” The ANOVA revealed that the experiences
significantly differed, F(3, 46) = 9.57, p < .0001, partial eta
square = .38, large effect (Cohen, 1969). “Forming a friendship
with a male” was the most significant positive experience fol-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
lowed by “dating a male”, (M = 3.98, SD = 1.60 and M = 3.86,
SD = 0.20 for friendship and dating respectively). The most
significant negative experience was “feeling exploited or used
by a male”, (M = 3.40, SD = 0.22). This was followed by “be-
ing lied to by a male” and “being embarrassed by a male”, (M =
3.33, SD = 0.22 and M = 3.33, SD = 0.20 for being lied to and
being embarras s ed, respectively).
Lastly, a regression was to be computed to see which ex-
periences predict change in preferences and change in willing-
ness to hookup. This was not computed since there was no dif-
ference in change in preferences and perspective between indi-
viduals who are and individuals who are not in a relationship.
Additionally, no difference was found between individuals who
are and individuals who are not willing to hookup. Finally, an
examination of the frequencies of individuals who report that
they hookup revealed no significant difference between first
and fourth yea r women.
The findings were consistent with expectations generated
based on evolutionary theory, social exchange theory, and sex-
ual script concepts. As stated in the hypothesis, according to
evolutionary theory, it would be adaptive for women in the
short term dating environment, such as the college campus, to
seek out men who have characteristics that are associated with
good genes or high status (Buss, 1989).
Both first and fourth year women selected the same four
characteristics as most important in a potential mate. The aver-
age woman in both populations found “trustworthy” “good
sense of humor” “attractive” and “intelligent” the four most
important qualities when “selecting a man to hook up with.”
These qualities all carry adaptive significance and, through evo-
lutionary theory, can be viewed as indicators of a male’s good
genes or access to resources. Intelligence may be an indicator
of future monetary success and ability to provide resources.
Being trustworthy is an indicator that the person may be willing
to commit to a long term relationship and remain faithful. A
good sense of humor may indicate a personality that is appeal-
ing to others. Well liked individuals are often popular and attain
high status among friends or within a larger community. Addi-
tionally, attractiveness is indicative of good genes (Gangestad
& Simpson, 2000; Buss & Schmitt, 1993). The women in the
present study, regardless of age, find the same characteristics
most important which supports evolutionary thinking that pos-
tulates universal preferences among different groups of women
as adaptive mating preferences.
The next hypothesis predicted a change in perspective be-
tween the two groups of women, where fourth year women, due
to costs incurred with men in the hook-up environment, would
prefer different characteristics in a mate, specifically those
associated with willingness to commit to a long term relation-
ship. Although the women in both groups found the same four
characteristics most important, a change in preference was ap-
parent. Findings indicated three statistically significant differ-
ences in the desired characteristics first and first and fourth year
women preferred in a man they wanted to hook up with. Par-
ticipation on a sports team was significantly more important for
the first year women, suggesting that this group may be more
concerned with status and good genes. First years may be more
concerned with finding a short term mate on an athletic team
because, as discussed previously, physical prowess is indicative
of good genes that are passed on to potential offspring, increas-
ing the likelihood of survival (Gangestad & Simpson 2000,
Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Additionally, membership on a team
can be a form of status amongst men, and women often employ
short term mating for immediate extraction of resources such as
status or popularity (Buss & Schmitt, 1993).
Willingness to commit and a good sense of humor were
qualities that fourth year women found significantly more im-
portant in a potential mate. Although additional research is need
to directly verify this, one can speculate that such characteris-
tics are more important in a long term mate for college women.
Temporal contexts are responsible for a preference shift, ac-
cording to evolutionary theory and according to the solutions to
appropriate problems will be employed in various dating con-
texts. If fourth year women are more concerned with finding
long term mates it would be adaptive for them to value cues to
“long term provisioning” such as a man’s commitment or long
term professional success (Buss, 1998). Here, the evolutionary
theory provides an explanation regarding adaptive mechanisms
adequately suited for each group that explain a difference that
exists between the first and fourth year women.
Social exchange theory can be employed to explore other
reasons as to why first and fourth year women had these sig-
nificantly different preferences. This theory suggests that if
women incur significant costs associated with certain men, they
will alter their mating strategy and prefer hooking up with men
who are less costly and provide more benefits.
When asked to rank certain costs and benefits associated
with “hooking up with a senior male,” the fourth year women
differed from the first year women in that they rated “dealing
with a senior male’s past relationship(s),” as more costly than
the first year group. This can be explained by the fact that after
spending four years at the same university, senior women know
more about the man’s past. The fourth year women also dif-
fered from the first year women by stating that “dealing with
the senior male’s lower maturity level,” was a significant cost.
The fourth year women often stated in the comments section of
the survey that they were ready to move on from college life
and felt more mature than the men on campus. Alternatively,
the first year women differed from the fourth year women by
rating “a senior male’s high sexual expectations,” as signifi-
cantly more costly than the fourth year group.
The first year women seemed especially concerned with a
damaged reputation, whereas the older women discussed more
disappointment associated with a hookup that never turned into
a relationship. In the comment section of the survey, one first
year woman explained that hooking up with a senior man was
costly because of:
the damage it could do to your reputation when joining a
sorority and other things. If you dont meet his high sexual
expectations than things will become awkward and abruptly
end. Also; if hes on a sports team or in a frat, most likely all of
his buddies will know that youre reserved and therefore it
may give you a reputation of being a prude.
One can see that this is quite different from one of the many
fourth year women who discussed the personal remorse she had
experienced and associated with hooking up with the men at her
university. She stated that, “I think that one of the biggest
problems is that only hooking up allows for girls to get hurt
when they expect more out of the relationship and they only get
a hookup.
The commentary provided by the fourth year women focused
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 971
more on emotional issues such as feeling used and disappointed
when they expected a relationship to emerge from the hookup.
This commentary is consistent with the quantitative results of
the present research which revealed that “feeling exploited or
used” was the most perspective altering experience the women
had encountered throughout college. One fourth year woman
stated that, “senior males are unwilling to commit and cling to
the college guy routine. It is most definitely not worth being in
such a relationship; girls are always mistreated. Unlike the
first year group, the fourth year women did not list any signifi-
cant benefits associated with hooking up with the senior class
men. In contrast, first year women perceived “the ability to get
you into closed parties as a significant benefit associated with
hooking up with a senior class man.
It is not simple enough to state that first year women find
hooking up more beneficial than fourth year women. An ex-
amination of the frequencies of first and fourth year women
revealed no statistically significant difference between groups
in willingness to engage in hooking up. Both groups incur sig-
nificant costs when associated with hooking up and each group
seems very aware of what these costs are. Almost all of the
fourth year women stated that their perspective on hooking up
had changed, but there is no indicator that their willingness to
engage in this behavior has diminished. The data suggests that
experiences have impacted the way the women perceive the
men on campus. Fourth year women rated “forming a friend-
ship with a male” as their most significant positive experience
followed by “dating a male.” The most significant negative
experience was “feeling exploited or used by a male,” followed
by “being lied to by a male” and “being embarrassed by a
male.” Although the data showed a clear change in perspective
among these women and recognition that certain experiences
have, in fact, altered their perspective, one cannot directly con-
clude that changed preferences constitute a change in behavior
or that women actually pursue different men. Additional re-
search is needed to verify the purported link between attitude
and behaviors here.
Research suggests that on the college campus, a clear dis-
crepancy exists between desired and actual outcomes of a
hookup for women (Garcia & Reiber, 2008). Glenn and Mar-
quardt (2002) report an emergence of common themes that
women discussed when asked how they felt after hooking up.
The highest percentage of women reported feeling “awkward,”
and it is suggested that these awkward feelings may be a result
of confusion as to what actually happened during the interac-
tion and confusion as to what feelings and expectations are
appropriate. “Wanting More,” was another common theme that
was exhibited in the current research. Historical analysis re-
veals that this phenomenon is new to courtship patterns. In
traditional dating societies, the man risked rejection by asking
the woman out on another date. Today, women do not know if
the men will or will not pursue a relationship. They may feel
hurt or disappointed, but blame themselves if they want more
out of the hookup. The women constantly stated that they
should “know better” than to get disappointed if the man does
not pursue a relationship or even acknowledge the woman the
next time he sees her (Glenn & Marquardt, 2002).
The purpose of this research was not to examine women’s
motivations for hooking up. Past research suggests that one
reason women do engage in hooking up is because they are
looking for a long term relationship. The findings in this re-
search echo those of Bogle (2008). Bogle’s (2008) research
provides endless insight into the dynamics between men and
women on a college campus. But, for the purpose of the present
study, Bogle’s (2008) data can be used to help explain the issue
of changed perspectives between the first and fourth year col-
lege women. Bogle (2008) found that, “when men and women
first enter college they seem to be on the same page. The first
year is a time when all students can test limits. But, after the
first year, things change. Mens and womens goals in the
hookup culture diverge; men enjoy the status quo, while women
begin to want something more” (Bogle, 2008: p. 97). Bogle
(2008) not only examines differences in perspective that exist
between men and women, she also provides adequate explana-
tion as to why the woman’s perspective changes over time.
Bogle (2008) states that those unhappy with the hookup script
begin to understand that it is one of the few ways to eventually
enter a relationship. Bogle’s (2008) explanation supports the
findings of this research which show that women “become in-
creasingly relationship oriented after their first year. While
many women were still willing to hook up, they wanted hookup
encounters to turn into some semblance of a relationship
(Bogle, 2008: p. 97).
The commentary obtained in the present research also sup-
ports Bogle (2008) and Glenn and Marqardt’s (2002) research.
The present research provides an explanation as to why fourth
year women at a University engage in hooking up after incur-
ring significant emotional costs. One participant stated that,
While this is not something I have personally experienced; I
have seen many lasting relationships form between two seniors
in their final year of school. So yes for some I can see the po-
tential benefits associated with hooking up with a senior male
that outweigh the costs. It seems likely that fourth year women
hope to acquire a long term relationship from their hookups.
This may be an explanation as to why their perspective has
changed, but their willingness to engage in hookup behavior is
the same as the first year group. Additionally, one can see that
first and fourth year women seek out different characteristics in
a potential man, many of which are evolutionarily adaptive for
women to prefer in long term mates. One participant summed
up these findings when she stated that:
For me personally, I am much more selective in who I am
even willing to hook up with senior year than I was earlier in
college. Therefore, I am hooking up with better guys-nicer,
more mature, and I am more comfortable with myself and what
I want so am less pressured by the boys/friends. I think many
senior males also are more likely to be looking for a relation-
ship, so hooking up at this point has a greater chance of that it
would lead to dating or a relationship.
The findings in this research are consistent with evolutionary
theory, social exchange theory and sexual scripts theory. The
characteristics that first and fourth year women value most,
intelligent, trustworthy, attractive, and good sense of humor, are
all adaptively valuable. The differences that exist in preferences
are consistent with the different qualities women value in short
term mating contexts compared to the qualities they value in
long term environments. These findings suggest that first year
women are more concerned with the short term adaptive quali-
ties whereas fourth year women are more concerned with the
long term adaptive qualities.
From a social exchange theory perspective, the finding that
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 973
“getting into closed parties” was viewed as a beneficial out-
come of hooking up, explains why first year women will con-
tinue to pursue a man who can provide this, until getting into a
closed party is longer a desired outcome from a hookup. Sexual
scripts can also provide some explanation as to why both
groups of women continue to engage in the hookup culture
although each incurs significant costs associated with the be-
havior. The fourth year women stated that various experiences
have been influential in altering their perspective on this culture.
At the same time, the fourth year women still feel as though
this behavior is normative and can lead to a relationship.
This study sought to uncover a difference in perspective and
behavior among fourth and first year college women. Although
differences were observed, the study was cross-sectional and
not longitudinal. A cross-sectional design allows one to infer
that women have changed their preferences and strategies. But,
a longitudinal design would best allow one to actually deter-
mine that women have actually changed their preferences and
Future Study
To more directly determine if women change their prefer-
ences and perceptions a longitudinal study should be conducted
where women are tracked over their four years of college. Ad-
ditionally, research examining men’s preferences and percep-
tions should be implemented. Research examining men could
provide insight as to what men expect in hooking up with a first
or fourth year woman. This would allow one to determine
whether or not men have different intentions when interacting
with each group of women which may explain why the women
pursue different characteristics in their first and fourth years of
college. Furthermore, it would be informative to examine the
differences between first and fourth year men. If men are
seemingly disadvantaged in their first year due to having low
status, behavior and preferences are likely to shift by the time
the man acquires a higher status as a fourth year student.
Additional research with other ethnic groups would increase
the scope of the research also. The national sample that was
studied by Glenn and Marquardt (2002) revealed that a marked
difference existed between white and black students regarding
the way they defined the term “hooking up”. That research also
found that children of divorce are more likely to have hooked
up and engage in hookup behavior more frequently. So, utilize-
tion of a more diverse sample may allow one to see additional
patterns and trends related to short term mating strategies.
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