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Men, women evaluate losses differently in mating contexts, researcher says

Thu, 02/28/2013

LAWRENCE – Much research in psychology and economics has shown that people are “loss averse,” meaning they tend to weigh losses more strongly than equivalent gains. For example, people are more motivated by a loss of $100 than a gain of the same amount.

But a University of Kansas researcher says the phenomenon of loss aversion isn’t necessarily universal across all situations – and it can vary significantly among men and women, particularly when it comes to mating.

In a series of experiments, KU assistant business professor Jessica Li and her colleagues – Douglas Kenrick and Steven Neuberg from Arizona State University, and Vladas Griskevicius from the University of Minnesota – demonstrated a significant difference in loss aversion between men and women in a mating-motivation condition as compared to a control condition. In particular, while women’s loss aversion remained unchanged in the mating context, men’s loss aversion was erased altogether.

“We found that activating a mating motivation had no impact on how women weighed potential losses and gains, but it basically erased, and sometimes even reversed, loss aversion for men,” said Li. “That is, in a mating scenario, men are less concerned about potential losses and more concerned with potential gains.”

In addition, Li and her colleagues conducted experiments using a self-protection condition and found that loss aversion increased for both men and women. In other words, being fearful or concerned for their safety caused men and women alike to want to protect against potential losses.

Taken together, Li’s research suggests that the phenomenon of loss aversion isn’t as universal or domain-general as some researchers have thought it to be. And more broadly, Li said, it suggests that researchers should consider an evolutionary perspective in explaining loss aversion.

“Our research is different in that it proposes an evolutionary perspective to the idea of loss aversion,” said Li. “While much past research has considered loss aversion to be a fairly universal human bias, an evolutionary perspective suggests that loss aversion might be an adaptive bias in some life domains – like self-protection – but not in others.”

An immense amount of research in economics and decision-making has been devoted to documenting the many “errors” and “irrational” biases – like loss aversion – that appear to riddle the human brain. But according to Li, an evolutionary perspective suggests that this approach can be misleading.

“Rather than being riddled with errors, the human mind is optimized to solve recurring problems in the ancestral environment,” Li said. “Not only are humans excellent intuitive thinkers when information is presented in an ecologically relevant way, but the biases themselves represent neither errors nor irrationalities in the evolutionary sense. Instead, human biases would be expected to vary across different evolutionary situations because such domains present different costs and opportunities. Consistent with this logic, we find that loss aversion can be exacerbated, erased and even reversed when the context is the evolutionarily crucial domain of mate-seeking.”

So does this mean that men are fearless when it comes to mating?

“Well, not exactly,” Li said. “But they certainly think differently in a mate-seeking context. And from an evolutionary perspective, that appears to be beneficial.”



Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here: http://bit.ly/1awodaa
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

.@KU bschool 's KIP team includes @KU _SADP students in all-ages housing project. http://t.co/c6Ss0FsWLL #KUworks http://t.co/FW0eI69uRi
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


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