London - All's fair in love and war – and women aren’t above using dirty tricks such as gossip and spreading rumours to get a man, according to research.
Women routinely use “indirect aggression” including criticising a competitor’s appearance, spreading rumours about their sexual behaviour and social exclusion.
Dr Tracy Vaillancourt, of the University of Ottawa, said females have a particular tendency to use this strategy against attractive and sexually available peers in the mating game.
Writing in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, she said it is an “effective approach” widespread among girls and women at the peak of their reproductive value.
Research shows 52 percent of 15 year old girls use indirect aggression over all other forms, compared with one in five boys of the same age.
As well as reducing the risk of physical danger to themselves, the aggressor can also make it appear as if there was “no intention to hurt at all.”
For females, it is more important they stay alive so their offspring’s chances of survival improves, and hence their own fitness.
Historically among humans, and current in many developing countries, offspring survival is inextricably linked to maternal survival.
Research has also shown females typically direct this aggression at other females, and the victimisation of other increases in relation to mating motives.
The use of indirect aggression also increases with age and is used at a similar rate during adolescence and young adulthood.
Dr Vaillancourt said: “The fact indirect aggression is primarily used by teenage girls and young women, who direct their aggression at same sex peers, is in keeping with the hypothesis indirect aggression is used in the context of competing for mates.”
Studies have shown being physically attractive puts women at risk of being indirectly victimised by other females. In addition, there is evidence females are intolerant of same sex peers who are perceived as too sexually available.
This could be because sex is a limited resource women use to negotiate with men and scarcity gives women an advantage.
Dr Vaillancourt said: “That is, females, not males, suppress the sexuality of other females and they do so by using informal sanctions such as ostracism and derogatory gossip.
“In other words, females punish other females who seem to make sex too readily available using indirect aggression. There are some studies supporting this line of reasoning.”
In one experiment, young women were randomly assigned in pairs to either an attractive female dressed in sexy clothing or in a conservative manner.
Video recordings showed with the exception of two women, all of the participants who engaged in indirect aggression were assigned to the sexy woman.
In a follow up experiment, Dr Vaillancourt demonstrated the sexy woman was perceived as a sexual rival.
Indeed, the women said they would not want to introduce her to a boyfriend, or to allow him to spend time alone with her.
Dr Vaillancourt said: “A clear way indirect aggression serves an individual’s goal is by reducing her same sex rivals’ ability, or desire, to compete for mates.
“This is typically accomplished in a concealed way which diminishes the risk of a counter attack.
“Although indirect aggression is used effectively by girls and women in a manner that reduces the aggressor’s risk, it is not used without peril.”
Indeed, the derogation of a rival carries the risk of increasing the number of competitors by drawing men’s attention to her, signalling to others you are unkind which may inadvertently lower your own mate value and lead to a confrontation which may escalate to physical aggression.
Dr Vaillancourt added: “These risks notwithstanding, the benefits of using indirect aggression seem clear. Fewer competitors and greater access to preferred mates, which in ancestral times would have been linked to differential reproduction rates, the driving force of evolution by sexual selection.” - Daily Mail