Socio-sexuality and episodic memory function in women: further evidence of an adaptive “mating mode”

David S. Smith, Benedict C. Jones, Kevin Allan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The functionalist memory perspective predicts that information of adaptive value may trigger specific processing modes. It was recently demonstrated that women’s memory is sensitive to cues of male sexual dimorphism (i.e., masculinity) that convey information of adaptive value for mate choice because they signal health and genetic quality, as well as personality traits important in relationship contexts. Here, we show that individual differences in women’s mating strategies predict the effect of facial masculinity cues upon memory, strengthening the case for functional design within memory. Using the revised socio-sexual orientation inventory, Experiment 1 demonstrates that women pursuing a short-term, uncommitted mating strategy have enhanced source memory for men with exaggerated versus reduced masculine facial features, an effect that reverses in women who favor long-term committed relationships. The reversal in the direction of the effect indicates that it does not reflect the sex typicality of male faces per se. The same pattern occurred within women’s source memory for women’s faces, implying that the memory bias does not reflect the perceived attractiveness of faces per se. In Experiment 2, we reran the experiment using men’s faces to establish the reliability of the core finding and replicated Experiment 1’s results. Masculinity cues may therefore trigger a specific mode within women’s episodic memory. We discuss why this mode may be triggered by female faces and its possible role in mate choice. In so doing, we draw upon the encoding specificity principle and the idea that episodic memory limits the scope of stereotypical inferences about male behavior.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)850-861
Number of pages12
JournalMemory & Cognition
Issue number6
Early online date7 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • adaptive memory
  • episodic memory
  • mate choice
  • faces
  • sexual dimorphism


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