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Evolutionary biologist: Fabulous looks only lead to heartbreak

Which partner is most likely to cheat: the one chosen for love or the common sense choice? A Finnish evolutionary biologist explains why men and women cheat. He also explains how to avoid ending up with a fickle partner.

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Image: Lasse Isokangas / Yle

Evolutionary biology docent Markus J. Rantala doesn’t own a television. This could be purely coincidental or it could be a strategic choice as, at least judging by his statements, it’s one way to reduce the chances of being cheated on.

"When you go online there are always really beautiful people. It’s the same on television, in magazines and everywhere else. Such forms really don’t reflect the average population,” says Rantala. "Therefore, if you want a good relationship, you should reduce exposure to the media. Your partner looks a lot better after that.”

Rantala also points out the growth of social media. Both men and women can access a myriad of different services, such as Facebook or the dating application Tinder, to get feedback about their external appearance.

"A person’s estimation on the relationship market is based on how the other gender relates to them. If a man is married to an average woman and can have a flirtation with much more attractive partners it can feed dissatisfaction with their own partner,” adds Rantala.

Is cheating in the blood?

In 2007, Osmo Kontula from the Family Federation of Finland published a study on infidelity. Of the male participants in the study nearly half had been unfaithful in their lifetime and of the female, one in three.

According to Rantala, from an evolutionary historian’s perspective, the figure is nothing alarming.

"Evolutionary history is full of betrayal. We cheat because our ancestors have done so. Those who behave in a certain way carry forward the genes for those behavioral characteristics – that's why they’re so common,” he says.

Professor Rantala claims that natural selection has shaped the human mind in such a way as to make us pleasure seekers. In other words, we chase things that achieve that goal -- for example sex.

However, the evolutionary biologist is quick to point out that while some people might have a genetic inclination for deception, genes don’t force anyone to be unfaithful.

"Similarly, genetics can make people feel hungry, but they don’t force people to eat,” he says.

Who should you pair up with?

Rantala has a few tips on how to avoid heartbreak. He says that the more good-looking a man, the more likely he’ll betray his partner, and the less he’ll invest in in family affairs.

"Less attractive men compensate for their looks by being better husbands. Average people are much happier than, for example, Hollywood stars,” Rantala claims.

According to the professor, women with high levels of estrogen – that is, the female hormone – are more likely to deceive. Women's betrayal is also explained by the fact that in many cultures women are no longer economically dependent on men. A woman can come and go as she pleases.

However, from an evolutionary perspective, the stakes are higher when a woman cheats. Unlike a man, she runs the risk of pregnancy and, for a female, quantity of children may be less important than the quality of the family environment.

The biologist’s last tip is, however, somewhat more hopeful. If it wasn't a natural science, it could even be called romantic -- or at least, idealistic.

"If you’re in a relationship and you have to think about whether or not you want to be with someone else, then you should leave,” Rantala advises. "Because if you’re really in love you never think about who you want to be with. It’s best to get married only when you’re really swept off your feet.”

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