Ugly or Weak? Insults Target Sex-Specific Cues of Mate Value

Marissa A. Harrison, Susan M. Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Insulting comments are meant to demean a target. From the lens of evolutionary psychology, we theorized that the most used insults could be tied to evolved, sexspecific cues of mate value. We predicted that participants would ascribe as more insulting to men or to women phrases that derogate sex-specific cues of mate value. We analyzed both qualitative and quantitative data from 136 survey participants (age M = 21.2, SD = 6.1). Predictions were supported by notable consensus, and there were largely no sex differences in insult use. Most insults targeted at men derogated formidability/status and sexuality/gender, and most insults targeted at women derogated physical appearance and ascribed promiscuity. These qualities have been shown to be salient cues to mate viability for each sex, respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-383
Number of pages13
JournalEvolutionary Behavioral Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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