Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Female Choice for Men High in SDO

  • Ray GarzaEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_2604-1



Female choice for men with high SDO describes preferences for men who are competitive, formidable, anti-egalitarian, and prefer short-term mating.


In mate choice, females often face a trade-off in choosing the best possible mate where genetic quality and parental investment are prioritized. Males who exhibit good genes may also be men who are socially dominant and competitive, and therefore, more likely to be interested in short-term sexual encounters. Females seeking dominant males may be attempting to secure the benefits bestowed by them, such as access to material resources, protection from threats, and producing strong and healthy children (Kruger and Fitzgerald 2011). However, preferences for dominant males may be modulated by factors associated with fertility, relationship context, and masculinity. Recent research has found evidence on the link between social dominance orientation and political conservatism, thus, it is worth mentioning if female mate choice for socially dominant males also carries over to preferences in political attitudes associated with social dominance.

Female Choice for Men High in Social Dominance

Why do females choose males who are high in social dominance orientation as mates? Socially dominant males, as measured by the SDO, are males who are callous and manipulative, desire power, oppose income redistribution, are formidable, and tend to pursue short-term mating strategies (Sinn and Hayes 2018). Although these characteristics are also associated with low paternal investment, females who pursue dominant males are benefitting from the advantageous of males who are competitive, can obtain access to material resources, and have increased genetic quality. Access to these types of mates may be dependent on the type of relationship context that females are pursuing, such as prioritizing a short-term partner over a long-term partner. In searching for dominant males, females pursuing short-term mating may benefit from healthy offspring, immediate resources acquisition, and protection from threats. However, females searching for long-term relationships with dominant males run the risk of an intersexually competitive male who may not be willing to invest heavily in one female. Dominant males have been found to be associated with preferring short-term mating, aggressive behaviors, and having highly masculine appearances and behaviors. This contrasts with males who are considered high in prestige, who are associated with preferring long-term relationships but achieve social status through noncoercive means (Kruger and Fitzgerald 2011).

Preferences for dominant males can be modulated by fertility status. If females are to gain from choosing dominant males, then it should occur during a time period that corresponds with peak fertility, where reproductive advantageous (i.e., genetic quality) are most likely to occur. Research investigating fertility status and preferences for dominant traits in men have found that the point of the menstrual cycle that corresponds to peak fertility, as measured by hormonal fluctuations, influences dominant trait preferences. Women have been shown to prefer dominant traits when luteinizing and follicular stimulating hormones are highest, which are hormones that are associated with the fertile window. Interestingly, as aforementioned, these preferences were for short-term partners, which suggests that women may upregulate interest in cues to genetic quality during the fertile window and downregulate interest in these cues during infertile times of the menstrual cycle (Lukaszewski and Roney 2009). It is important to mention that recent studies investigating the role of hormones in preferences for dominant men have failed to find an effect for fertility status (Garza and Byrd-Craven 2019; Jones et al. 2019), suggesting that hormonal detection in dominant men is more complex than previously though.

Although it is known that women pursuing short-term mating relationships have preferred men high in social dominance, are salient physical traits able to account for those preferences? Men who display dominant and masculine physical characteristics are considered sexually attractive (Swami and Tovee 2005), and it can be argued that these physical characteristics can account for the advantageous gained from traits associated with social dominance, such as resource acquisition, and offspring and mate protection. Men with V-shaped bodies are considered physically dominant and masculine (Buunk and Dijkstra 2005), and these traits can explain the reason why females are attracted to men who are socially dominant because they have the physical capability to carry out socially dominant behaviors. Women have been known to be attentive to physical characteristics associated with dominance, such as preferring taller men, symmetrical men, and body types that resemble the android pattern, where fat distribution is deposited on the upper region of men’s bodies. Research investigating determinants of romantic partner desirability has shown that dominance and a lower waist to shoulder ratio is a reliable predictor in desirability for a one-time sexual encounter; however, dominance did not mediate the relationship between WSR and desirability for a sexual encounter (Braun and Bryan 2006). Simply put, the physical characteristics associated with dominance (i.e., low WSR) were considered desirable by women.

Do preferences for social dominance relate to preferences for sociopolitical attitudes, such as egalitarianism? Social dominant characteristics, like formidability, provide men with the tendency to be more competitive and benefit from successes in inequalities in status and resource distribution (Price et al. 2017). Just as some physical characteristics are associated with dominance, research linking social dominance with sociopolitical attitudes has shown that body formidability, as measured by a composite of upper body strength, is negatively related to sociopolitical egalitarianism and support for redistribution. In addition, body formidability has been shown to be positively related to social dominance orientation, which may suggest that men with certain types of physical characteristics indirectly display psychological attributes associated with dominant behaviors. Studies with larger samples have also demonstrated that formidable characteristics are positively related to anti-egalitarianism (Petersen and Laustsen 2018). Similarly, men with higher bicep circumferences (i.e., formidability) have been shown to be more supportive of military action, and this effect has been larger in men than women (Sell et al. 2017).

Given the relationship between formidability and sociopolitical attitudes, and women’s preferences to dominant men, what if any is the relationship between female mate choice to men with political ideologies associated with dominance, such as conservativism? Most research has focused on women’s mate preferences to men that display dominant characteristics, and most research on social dominance has focused primarily on same-sex attributions of formidability and egalitarianism. Literature on political behavior has identified patterns in political ideology identification, where attractive individuals are likely to claim Republican or conservative parties (Peterson and Palmer 2017). However, it is unclear whether female mate choice for socially dominant men also reflect preferences for political ideologies that overlap with social dominance. In addition, research should begin investigating females’ own level of dominance and political ideology and their preferences for males with similar characteristics. With this approach, testable predictions can be formulated regarding women’s mate preferences to socially dominant men, such as women’s level of social dominance and/or egalitarianism and its association with men’s physical characteristics that reflect social dominant traits (i.e., formidability, strength).


In conclusion, preferences for socially dominance men (SDO) can provide many direct benefits to women, such as resource acquisition, status transmission, and protection against threats to offspring. However, preferences for dominance is mitigated by many factors that can enhance those direct benefits, such as relationship preferences and fertility status. An important thing to note is that women’s preferences for physical characteristics associated with dominance has shown strong empirical support, yet female preferences for SDO and physical characteristics has not been explored. Lastly, given the relationship between SDO and sociopolitical egalitarianism, future research could begin investigating if female preferences for SDO men also overlap with their own political ideologies in addition to the political ideologies of potential mates.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jessica Hehman
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of RedlandsRedlandsUSA