The Wedding Ring Effect: The Science of “You Ain’t Taking My Man!”
By Heath Shive
Among mammals, males battle each other for access to females. Stallions battle for a herd, lions battle for control of the pride, and bucks charge each other for does.
Obviously men compete with each other for prized women – even to the point of violence.
It is just as obvious – if often unstated – that women compete with each other for prized men.
And some women fight dirty. There is cheating - which is a temporary sexual affair. But there is also mate poaching - strategic acquisition of another woman's man.
Turns out, it might have something to do with what is called “the wedding ring effect.”
A married woman’s greatest competition is a single woman.
Don’t believe me?
To the science!
Mate Poaching Psychology
Psychologists Jessica Parker and Melissa Burkley peformed a study on the impact of gender and relationship status on mate poaching.
In their study, Parker and Burkley gathered 184 participants, both male and female, roughly half of whom were “attached.” One male face and one female face were chosen in pre-testing as “moderately attractive.” The women were shown the male face, and men were shown the female face.
Participants were randomly assigned to read that the target face was either single or in a current romantic relationship. The participants then rated the desirability of the person.
Whether the woman was single or attached, single men showed no difference in their attraction,
But single women showed a considerably greater interest in the target when he was attached!
Unlike single women, attached women were not more attracted to the attached man compared to the single man.
The researchers concluded that “single women were more interested in poaching an attached man rather than pursuing a single man.”
And that is the wedding ring effect!
Oddly enough, that means the single women in the study were more interested in the man that was technically less available.
In a way, it makes sense. If a woman is looking for commitment, attached men have already proven themselves capable. From an amoral standpoint, why should a single woman deal with an untested man when there is a proven man right there…with another woman?
The writer Tucker Max – and I know he is a polarizing figure – wrote something about this in his book Mate: “Sluts” aren’t derogated because women are uncomfortable with their sexuality; it’s because they’re experts at mate poaching, which is a very real threat to most women.
Men aren't the only insecure mates in the world. Attached women also have to look over their shoulders.
That might be why women always notice dress, styles, and clothing on other women.
Have you ever noticed that the Other Woman always has longer hair?
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Parker, Jessica, and Melissa Burkley. Who’s chasing whom? The impact of gender and relationship status on mate poaching. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 (4) 2009, 1016-1019
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.