Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in Anthropology



Major Advisor

Kristin Snopkowski, Ph.D.


John Ziker, Ph.D.


Kathryn Demps, Ph.D.


Prior studies have attempted to establish how human altruism has evolved, including theories of kin selection, reciprocal altruism, and costly signaling. Recent investigations have explored the evolution of altruism as the result of sexual selection, where individuals may exhibit altruistic behavior because it is preferred by potential mates. In this study, I examine how altruistic behavior toward different people (family, friends, strangers, or general altruistic acts) is preferred when considering potential short-term and long-term mates. While previous research has examined this question using college-aged heterosexual participants, this study uses a more diverse sample, including individuals who identify as LGBTQ, those of varying ages, and those who identify as childfree. Seven hypotheses were tested to understand how preferences for altruistic behavior vary based on individual characteristics. An on-line survey was conducted and over 500 participants responded. Results show that women prefer potential mates who behave altruistically toward strangers more so than men; when examining long-term relationships, people prefer potential mates who behave altruistically toward family; and that an individual’s self-reported altruistic behavior is positively correlated with an individual’s preference for altruistic behavior in a mate. Surprisingly, some hypotheses were not confirmed. For instance, there is no difference between preferences for altruistic behavior in potential mates based on sexual orientation. When examining women’s preferences for altruistic behavior in potential mates based on reproductive status, I found that post-reproductive women have a greater preference for altruistic behavior that is directed toward strangers or general altruistic behavior as compared to reproductive aged women. The results of this thesis provide insights into the evolution of human altruism.