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When faced with high stakes, such as whether or not the participant will mate, the better strategy – evolutionarily speaking – there is less risk to go with “Mr./Ms. Right Now” than waiting for “Mr./Ms. Right” rather than risk never finding that person. Researchers at Michigan State University discovered it is in human nature to make the safe choice of “Mr./Ms. Okay” rather than hold out for “Mr./Ms. Perfect.”
The study focused on risk life-changing choices was conducted by Chris Adami, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics and Arend Hintze, Ph.D., a research associate and both from MSU. Together they co-authored a paper on their findings. Adami and Hintze used a computational model to track risk-taking behaviors through generations of evolution.
They used digital organisms which were programmed to make choices in life-changing situations that natural organisms would make, such as the choice of a mate. A variety of variables were tried that affect risk-taking behavior and determined that there are conditions that affect the decision-making process. One such condition for this study was that the decision must be a life-changing event, such as choosing a mate. The pay-off being having offspring by choosing early or gamble to not have offspring by choosing to wait.
The size of the group a subject was associated with affected the amount of risk an individual was willing to take. If the group was 150 or smaller, the less likely they were to gamble compared to those in larger groups. Perhaps that is because there is a smaller pool from which to choose. Another factor could be the pressure that any action taken has high visibility within a small group.
In humanity’s early history people lived in small groups and the choice of a mate limited. Still in more modern times, the group does not necessarily pertain to population. Within a population, there can be any number of groups and the influence of the group can affect the members.
Choosing a mate early insures being involved in the evolutionary process when offspring arrive. Waiting for the perfect mate involves the risk of being completely left out of evolution. The early choice, going with “Mr./Ms. Right Now” is a better or at least there is less risk than waiting for “Mr./Ms. Right.” Choosing early was often the choice made by humans in less modern times.
The study also revealed that evolution does not have only one way of dealing with the gambles in life. Some people are less inclined to gamble while some more inclined to do so, and that there are instances where the higher risks actually contribute to evolution.
In today’s world, the question remains, Is choosing “Mr./Ms. Right Now” less of a risk than waiting for “Mr./Ms. Right?” With a larger population worldwide and even groups within a given population larger than some villages used to be, the choice remains a gamble. If children are part of the decision, perhaps “Mr./Ms. Right Now” is the choice to make as this study suggests. If not, perhaps waiting for “Mr./Ms. Right” is a better choice.
By Ailey Hines
Photo by TR Haun Flickr Page – License