Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Sandra Schneider, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cynthia Cimino, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kenneth Cissna, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cathy McEvoy, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joseph Vandello, Ph.D.


Decision making, Mating behavior, Attachment, Emotion, Relationships


Selecting a mate is one of the most important and complex decisions that we make in our lives. Research on human decision making has found that we often use simple rules of thumb or heuristics to facilitate complex decision-making tasks (e.g., Gigerenzer & Todd, 1999; Kahneman & Tversky, 1972, 1973; Tversky & Kahneman, 1974, 1983). Recent research has focused on the use of affect or emotion as heuristics that have a strong influence on a variety of decision making contexts (Damasio, 1994; Finucane, Peters, & Slovic, 2003; Loewenstein, Weber, Hsee, & Welch, 2001; Mellers, 2000). The emotion we most closely associate with the context of choosing a mate is the emotion of love. The focus of this paper is on how love may serve as a heuristic to facilitate and guide our mate choice decisions.

In order for falling in love to serve as an effective heuristic for making mate choice decisions, it should be triggered by characteristics that are adaptive from a mate satisfaction and evolutionary perspective. In Study 1, an attempt was made to ascertain the range of characteristics that people feel are most important to the experience of falling in love by asking participants to generate important partner characteristics for falling in love, casual sex, and marriage. In Study 2, the relative importance of the top characteristics was further refined using a Q-sort methodology. It was found that characteristics important to falling in love corresponded closely to those important for marriage. However, attractiveness and characteristics indicating that a person is enjoyable to be around, warm towards others, and an effective and honest communicator were seen as more important to falling in love than marriage.

In Study 3, the role of falling in love as a simplifying heuristic for long-term mate choice decisions was assessed using a policy capturing approach. Results indicated that falling in love functions as a decision criterion only when partner characteristics are at their best levels. The implications of these findings for the role of falling in love as a heuristic for long-term mate choice decisions are discussed.