Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

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Parental Investment as Mating Effort

  • Mozer de Miranda RamosEmail author
  • Gabriela de Queiroz Cerqueira Leite
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_2922-1



Parental care is a strategy used to attract and select partners for mating.


Parental investment can be understood as a mating strategy according to evolutionary theories. In some species belonging to animal kingdom, as well as in humans, the search for sexual partners considers characteristics such as sexual strategies, energy investment, and the chances of perpetuating genes. Thus, investment in parental care emerges as an effective strategy for attracting and selecting partners, primarily associated with long-term strategies.

Care for the Offspring as a Strategy of Sexual Competition

The human animal has primary goals for organizing their life, among them mating and genetic perpetuation. During the history of humankind, several parental and reproductive models were tested to reach more advantages and less disadvantages. The most perpetuated mating strategies are related to life history strategies, with short-term and long-term strategies. They would be characterized precisely by the emphasis given to the relationship, partner providing and fidelity (Giudice et al. 2015).

Sexual mating strategies are sets of adaptations that guide the investment and reproductive effort of an individual, defined as genetic programs or decision-making rules – conscious and unconscious – that individuals use to direct their efforts to behaviors that have specific objectives (Gangestad and Simpson 2000). Each sexual strategy influences how individuals choose and identify their sexual partners.

In a simplistic analysis, long-term strategies are usually associated with women, since they are the ones that need to invest more energy to carry and then ensure the survival of the offspring. While men are often associated with short-term strategies, they can quantitatively fertilize multiple partners simultaneously, without necessarily bearing the burden of women’s energy investment, thus increasing their chances of reproductive success. However, men and women present short- and long-term strategies; gender differences would only imply trends of more or less selectivity, not patterns. In addition, socio-environmental conditions, the search for good genes, and resources can influence the variability of the strategies adopted. It is in this context that the provision of parental care for the offspring, by men and women, presents itself as an important strategy for the effectiveness of procreation and genetic perpetuation. Both genders can benefit from this strategy; after all, parental care can contribute to offspring survival, success, and longevity (Gangestad and Simpson 2000; Shiramizu and Lopes 2013).

Parental investment comprises all forms of investment that parents offer in favor of offspring in a way that increases their chances of survival and reproduction (Gangestad and Simpson 2000; Manfroi et al. 2011). The provision of parental care is, on the one hand, a mating strategy and, on the other, a strategy for ensuring the generation of descendants. In species where there is a conflict of interest about reproductive strategies, as observed in mammal species, especially some species of primates, parental investment can serve as a way for males to conquer females. In the dispute between quality and quantity, offering care to the offspring can be an important success factor in the selection process of females (Smuts 1995).

There is a strong relationship between parental investment and sexual selection (intersexual attraction x intrasexual competition), which implies that the sex that invests more in the offspring tends to be more demanding in choosing sexual partners (intersexual attraction), while the sex that invests less would compete for the conquest of the opposite sex with more investor potential (intrasexual competition). Thus, the theory of sexual strategy considers that the choice of partners does not occur by what they may represent in the sexual act but by the role they may play as the father or mother of a future offspring (Borrione and Lordelo 2005).

It is possible to exemplify the relationship between intersexual attraction and intrasexual competition, with the fact that women necessarily invest more time and resources in the offspring, from the fertilization process to child care, which depends on the woman; thus, the female sex would be more selective in the choice of possible sexual partners, which makes it the sex of greater intersexual attraction, whereas men are less discriminating and tend to exert greater intrasexual competitiveness (Buss and Schmitt 1993).

Despite there being a biological, evolutionary, and sociocultural justification for women to exert more parental investment on their offspring, men can also invest in their offspring from birth. When this occurs, it is possible that they are adopting parental investment as a mating effort and are also more selective in choosing their partners (Geary 2016).

Increased parental investment may be essential for the reproductive success of couples in diverse contexts, and it consists of multiple strategies of care, supply, and attention directed to the offspring. Some species depend on advanced levels of investment to achieve reproductive fitness, such as humans, who have prolonged gestational periods that result in an immature baby that relies on intensive and continuous care (Manfroi et al. 2011; Trivers 1972); however, other species of mammals and birds also require intensive care during and after birth.

Considering parental investment as part of a long-term sexual strategy, it is possible to identify advantages and disadvantages in its use, since it is a strategy that calls for monogamy and the choice of high-quality partners who invest in the offspring. For men the disadvantages are related to limited access to other partners, as well as the requirement for strict paternal care and investments; the advantages are linked to greater paternity certainty and the increase in the chances of the offspring to survive until reproductive age. For women, adopting the parental investment strategy has direct benefits, such as resources, protection, care, and transfer of status to the offspring; among the disadvantages faced by women is the fact that men with better genes are often not available for stable relationships (Gangestad and Simpson 2000).


Mating strategies differ slightly between the sexes. It is common for men to opt for short-term strategies, while women are more likely to use long-term strategies. From an evolutionary perspective, it is possible to affirm that during the evolutionary process of human beings, men faced dilemmas between spending time and energy in raising children or in mating, while women are divided among the partners who offer parental care and have material resources or indications of good genes. Although the human species is characterized as a kind with high parental investment, the variability in the amount of parental investment offered to the offspring would be able to influence sexual selection of partners and the adopted mating strategy.



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Authors and Affiliations

  • Mozer de Miranda Ramos
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gabriela de Queiroz Cerqueira Leite
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyFederal University of SergipeSão CristóvãoBrazil

Section editors and affiliations

  • Kevin Bennett
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPennsylvania State University, BeaverMonacaUSA