Mate Evaluation Theory

Paul W. Eastwick*, Eli J. Finkel, Samantha Joel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


There are two unresolved puzzles in the literature examining how people evaluate mates (i.e., prospective or current romantic/sexual partners). First, compatibility is theoretically crucial, but attempts to explain why certain perceivers are compatible with certain targets have revealed small effects. Second, features of partners (e.g., personality, consensually rated attributes) affect perceivers’ evaluations strongly in initial-attraction contexts but weakly in established relationships. Mate Evaluation Theory (MET) addresses these puzzles, beginning with the Social Relations Model postulate that all evaluative constructs (e.g., attraction, relationship satisfaction) consist of target, perceiver, and relationship variance. MET then explains how people draw evaluations from mates’ attributes using four information sources: (a) shared evolved mechanisms and cultural scripts (common lens, which produces target variance); (b) individual differences that affect how a perceiver views all targets (perceiver lens, which produces perceiver variance); (c) individual differences that affect how a perceiver views some targets, depending on the targets’ features ( feature lens, which produces some relationship variance); and (d) narratives about and idiosyncratic reactions to one particular target (targetspecific lens, which produces most relationship variance). These two distinct sources of relationship variance (i.e., feature vs. target-specific) address Puzzle #1: Previous attempts to explain compatibility used feature lens information, but relationship variance likely derives primarily from the (understudied) target-specific lens. MET also addresses Puzzle #2 by suggesting that repeated interaction causes the target-specific lens to expand, which reduces perceivers’ use of the common lens.We conclude with new predictions and implications at the intersection of the human-mating and person-perception literatures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-241
Number of pages31
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 7 2022


  • close relationships
  • evolutionary psychology
  • initial attraction
  • person perception
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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