According to sexual selection theory and costly signaling theory, men benefit from signaling costly mate qualities to attractive women. To date, several studies have investigated whether men use conspicuous altruism to attract women, but the findings are mixed. This study investigated whether men being observed by an attractive woman engage in competitive economic altruism in three social dilemma games — the Dictator Game, Trust Game (2nd mover), and Public Goods Game — in comparison to men being observed by a non-attractive woman. Results showed that altruistic contributions in the games were not significantly larger in the attractive observer group than in the non-attractive observer group. Exploratory analyses did reveal, however, that amongst participants with an attractive observer only, dispositional generosity had a strongly positive effect on altruism while dispositional dominance had a negative effect on altruism. Moderating effects of key individual differences suggest that the mixed findings within the empirical literature may be attributed to the existence of multiple male courtship signaling strategies. As such, the findings suggest a promising way for future studies to identify different signaling strategies, but until the findings can be replicated with specific hypothesis-driven studies they should be considered with caution.
Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 2013, Vol 11, Issue 3, p. 131-150