It can be hard to know what makes someone want to really commit to someone else for the long haul — and what makes them seem like fun for just the night. People react to each other in unpredictable ways when it comes to love, and as a new study finds, our environments may be the reason why. New research from Swansea University looked at how different environmental and circumstantial changes affected our preferences for short- or long-term relationships and found that an abundance of wealth increases the desire for a short-term relationships rather than longer ones.
The researchers asked 151 heterosexual male and female volunteers to look at pictures of 50 potential partners. With each partner, they would have to say if they would prefer a short- or long-term relationship. Then they were shown a lot of images of luxury items like fast cars, jewelry, mansions, and money — you know, just general baller stuff. When they were asked to look at the pictures again and repeat the experiment, there was a 16 percent increase in short-term relationship choices. The increase was true for men and women. So you show us a big pile of money and we're more interested in a short-term fling. It may seem like we're all superficial hedonists, but it's actually not that simple.
In real life (instead of an experiment), it's not as straightforward as seeing a bunch of diamonds and wanting to have a fling. Instead, the research suggests that repeated exposure over time — if we keep getting cues about a certain type of environment or circumstances — could change the type of mate that we look for.
"Our findings suggest that we may have evolved a psychological 'organ' which tracks the environment and calibrates our relationship desires accordingly," Dr. Andrew G. Thomas, who led the research, tells Bustle. "How the presence of this mechanism affects our real life mating behavior is likely to depend on how sensitive it is. It’s unlikely that showing your partner pictures of jewelry and fast cars will cause them to become promiscuous. If our mate preferences were that fragile, then enduring relationships wouldn’t exist. However, if someone were to be exposed to strong and persistent cues that their environment has changed in some way (e.g. following a job promotion, or during an economic recession), then that might cause them to change the type of relationship they want."
But It's Not All About The Money, Money, Money
Interestingly, money wasn't the only factor that influenced our desire for a short- or long-term relationship. When participants were given environments that suggested young children were around, they were more likely to pick long-term partners. But dangerous situations were an interesting case — although for the most part they made people go for longer relationships, some of the women in the study showed an increase in short-term partner preferences after being shown dangerous environments. So there are a lot of different factors at play affecting how we view our relationships.
The researchers think there's a very good reason for this — and it all comes down to evolution. "Not all people prefer long-term committed relationships," Thomas said in a press release. "Evolutionary psychologists believe that whether someone prefers a short-term relationship over a long-term one depends partly on their circumstances, such as how difficult it might be to raise children as a single parent. We think this happened because humans have evolved the capacity to read the environment and adjust the types of relationships they prefer accordingly. For example, in environments which have lots of resources, it would have been easier for ancestral mothers to raise children without the father's help. This made short-term mating a viable option for both sexes during times of resource abundance. We believe modern humans also make these decisions."
It makes total sense that our environment would change the kind of relationship that we want, especially because, historically, there's a good reason for it. And, it happens in such varied, complex ways that you may not even notice it happening. So if you've got an urge to settle down or an itch for a fling and you're not sure why, there may be some clues in your environment.