The wedding ring effect

Ransom Riggs

In the human world as in the animal kingdom, it seems to hold true: forbidden fruit is sweeter. Among humans, it's a psychology known as the "wedding ring effect" which, though it hasn't exactly undergone rigorous scientific testing, holds that unavailable dudes attract more attention from ladies. (The opposite isn't necessarily true: guys don't seem to care what's on a woman's finger when sizing up their prey.)

In the animal world, this kind of behavior is known as "mate-choice copying," and it's observable in several species of fish and birds -- and especially in guppies. Also known as guppy syndrome, it often finds females ignoring the most objectively desirable mates (ie, the largest, most colorful male guppies) for males that have already been coupled with by other females, even if they're smaller and duller in color than other, unattached males. Since it's hard to really get into the psychology of a guppy, we have to project a human interpretation on what we see: the females assume there's something special -- if subtly so -- about males who've already been chosen as mates.

So the question is, is the wedding ring effect a human-level analogue to the mate-choice copying we can observe in the animal kingdom? Is it possible to extrapolate this behavior to ourselves? Has anyone experienced the guppy effect/wedding ring effect firsthand?

Story via DamnInteresting.
Photo by Dr Anne Houde.