It's Better to Settle for Mr. Okay Than Waiting for Mr. Right in Evolution

First Posted: Feb 09, 2015 07:17 AM EST

You may just want to settle for "Mr. Okay" rather than "Mr. Right." Evolutionary researchers have discovered that settling is a better evolutionary strategy than waiting for the perfect person.

"Primitive humans were likely forced to bet on whether or not they could find a better mate," said Chris Adami, co-author of the new paper, in a news release. "They could either choose to mate with the first, potentially inferior, companion and risk inferior offspring, or they could wait for Mr. or Ms. Perfect to come around. If they chose to wait, they risk never mating."

In order to investigate this phenomenon a bit further and see which strategy was the best in evolutionary terms, the scientists used a computational model to trace risk-taking behaviors through thousands of generations of evolution with digital organisms. These organisms were programmed to make bets in high-payoff gambles, which reflect the life-altering decisions that natural organisms must make, as for example choosing a mate.

"An individual might hold out to find the perfect mate but run the risk of coming up empty and leaving no progeny," said Adami. "Settling early for the sure bet gives you an evolutionary advantage, if living in a small group."

How risk averse people are correlates to the size of the group in which we are raised. For example, if we're reared in a small group-fewer than 150 people-we're much more risk averse than those who are part of a larger community.

Primitive humans probably lived in these smaller groups. This, in turn, promoted risk aversion and probably meant that humans settled rather than waited. That said, not everyone develops the same level of aversion to risk, and evolution doesn't prefer one single, optimal way of dealing with risk, but instead allows for a range of less, and sometimes more risky, behaviors to evolve.

"We do not all evolve to be the same," said Adami. "Evolution creates a diversity in our acceptance of risk, so you see some people who are more likely to take bigger risks than others. We see the same phenomenon in our simulations."

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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