The dominance dilemma: Do women really prefer dominant mates?


  • Jeffrey K. Snyder, Department of Anthropology, UCLA Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture and The College of William and Mary; Lee A. Kirkpatrick, Department of Psychology, The College of William and Mary; H. Clark Barrett, Department of Anthropology, UCLA Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture.

  • The authors thank Martie Haselton, Daniel M. T. Fessler, Rob Boyd, Joan Silk, and Francisco Gil-White for their comments on this work. The authors also express gratitude to multiple reviewers, editors, and the participants of the studies herein.

Jeffrey K. Snyder, UCLA Department of Anthropology, 341 Haines Hall, Box 951553, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1553, e-mail:


Previous research has led to a widely accepted conclusion that heterosexual women prefer mates who are high in dominance. Three experiments designed to distinguish dominance from prestige and examine moderating contextual factors challenge this conclusion. College women at 2 U.S. universities evaluated hypothetical, potential mates described in written vignettes. Participants in Study 1 preferred a high-prestige to a high-dominance target. With dominance and prestige manipulated independently in Study 2, participants preferred high to low prestige but also preferred low to high dominance. Participants in Study 3 preferred high to low dominance, but only (a) when displayed in the context of an athletic competition and (b) in ratings of attractiveness and desirability as a short-term (vs. long-term) mate.