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, sex-specific 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. Limitations and future directions for research are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved) Commonly used insults appear to be tied to evolved, sex-specific cues of mate value. Typically, terms insulting men have been derogations of status/formidability and sexuality/gender, whereas terms insulting women have been derogations of physical appearance and ascriptions of promiscuity. There were virtually no sex differences in the use of common derogatory terms, and there was considerable agreement as to what terms are more insulting to each sex. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEvolutionary Behavioral Sciences
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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