David Buss

(1953 - )

Compiled by Faith Pressnell (December 1999)

Buss Biography
Time Line

David Buss was born on April 14, 1953 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is the son of Arnold H. Buss and Edith H. Nolte and has one older brother and one younger sister. Buss has lived in several different places throughout his life, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Austin, Texas; Berkeley, California; and Ann Arbor, Michigan. He earned his Bachelor of the Arts Degree in psychology at the University of Texas in 1976 and his Ph. D. at the University of California at Berkeley in 1981. Buss interests include the outdoors and sporting activities; including skiing, tennis, squash, and disc golf as well as going out to movies, reading, learning to cook, and playing with his two children, Ryan and Tara.

During his early academic years, Buss's records were undistinguished except for math which was his favorite subject. The rest of his grades were C's and D's. The activities that he pursued while in school were private fantasy, chess, and avoiding aggressive youth gangs that were in the school and on the streets. He dropped out of high school when he was 17. He worked a 12-hour graveyard shift at a truck stop in New Jersey pumping gas and bumping tires. After he was threatened by a truck driver, Buss decided to go back to school and earned his high school diploma by taking night classes.

In spite of insufficient grades, Buss entered the University of Texas at Austin by drawing a lucky number in a trial lottery system. Buss excelled for the first time in academics while pursuing creative fiction, classical flute and tennis. While he was there, he developed a powerful interest in psychology which was nurtured by several teachers. One in particular, Ken Craik, started a very exciting intellectual exchange that culminated in a decade long research collaboration and friendship. Together they developed the act frequency approach to personality which focuses on understanding dispositional regularities in human's everyday lives.

Buss has had an active teaching and research career. After completing his Ph. D. in 1981, he accepted a position as Assistant Professor at Harvard University. This was a fertile intellectual environment for Buss. While he was here, he developed an active research program and returned to his love of evolutionary psychology. A group of Harvard students favored Buss and spent a sizable portion of their Harvard days and nights working on Buss's research. He was promoted by Harvard to Associate Professor, but decided to leave and join the psychology department as Associate Professor and the Research Center for Group Dynamics as Faculty Associate at the University of Michigan in 1985. While he was at the University of Michigan, he got the chance to develop his interest in evolutionary psychology. Buss was elected to be a fellow at the Center of Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences in 1986. In 1996, he left the University of Michigan and began teaching psychology at the University of Texas in Austin. His research focuses on such aspects of the human personality as sexuality and its relationship to sexual selection as presented in Darwin's human evolution theory. For example, Buss looks at mate selection in humans and the methods that humans use to end an unproductive relationship.

He has been active on many different boards and directorships, having served on the Board of Directors for the International Society for the Study of Individual Differences (1995- 1998), the Executive Council for Human Behavior and Evolution Society (1994-1998), director of the International Consortium of Social and Personality Psychologists (1990-present), only to name a few.

Throughout his career, Buss has received many awards and honors. He won the Hoopes Prize for Supervising Award-Winning Summa Cum Laude Honors Thesis at Harvard University in 1984. In 1988, he won the A. P. A. distinguished scientific award for early career contribution to psychology. In 1989, Buss won the distinguished faculty recognition award from the University of Michigan and the G. Stanley Hall Award by the American Psychological Association in 1990. Some of his honors include being placed in the Who's Who in American Education, keynote speaker for several different events, and a lecturer for the Louis Clark Vanuxem at Princeton University in March of 1990.

Buss is highly respected for his study of human mating strategies by the scientific community, but his interpretations are controversial, and often challenge the dominant beliefs in society. In fact, he has been threatened several times for his interpretations.


Dr. David Buss applies the modern evolutionary theory to explaining human behavior. Considering the evolution of jealousy, he notes that jealousy is a powerful emotion that often attends long-term romantic and sexual relationships, and concludes that it is the emotion that is closely linked with spousal abuse and homicide. Jealousy is often viewed as a sign of immaturity and insecurity, but may in fact represent a profoundly adaptive solution to the problems posed by real threats to a relationship. He explored sex differences in jealousy and the role of jealousy in sexual and romantic relationships in evolutionary terms.

Buss's The Evolution of Desire (1994) portrays humans as remarkably similar to their ancestors in that they employ a set of hard-headed strategies designed to obtain the best mate possible, even if it means ruthlessly dumping a partner. He found that men andwomen seek out the mates who best suit their reproductive needs. Women look for men ho will commit to long-term relationships and men seek women who appear best able to conceive and give birth to healthy and strong offspring. He also described ways that humans end relationships that are unproductive throughout time.

Evolutionary psychology has emerged as a new theoretical perspective and seeks to synthesize the guiding principles of modern evolutionary theory with current formulations of psychological phenomena. The central concepts are adaptation and natural selection. The evolutionary concepts of natural selection and adaptation have been increasingly incorporated in the areas of cognitive, developmental, social, personality, and clinical psychology. There is much confusion about these central concepts, but they can be traced back to several factors. Foremost, psychologists typically receive no formal training in evolutionary biology. And, the psychological mechanisms to examine this theory are new, and with the newness comes confusion with many false starts. Psychologist dating back to Darwin's time have had a wariness about evolutionary approaches, and finally that there are genuine differences in scientific opinion about which concepts should be used, what the concepts actually mean, and how they should be applied.

Evolution is the changes over time in organic structure. It was hypothesized long before Darwin, but he supplied the causal mechanism in the form of natural selection that had long since been missing. Darwin wanted not only to explain why life-forms have the characteristics they do and why these characteristics change over time, but also to account for the particular ways in which they change. His answer to all of these questions of life was his theory of natural selection.

The theory of natural selection has three essential components: variation, inheritance, and selection. These provide the raw materials for evolution. It was found that only a few of these variations are passed down from parents to offspring and that only those characteristics that are inherited play a role in the evolutionary process. Selection was the third important criteria in his theory. Those who were desirable, produce more offspring while those who were not produced very few if any offspring. In order for an organism to pass on their traits, they must reproduce. The criteria for reproduction is survival. Therefore, it took on a critical role in Darwin's theory of natural selection. He envisioned two classes of evolved variants-survivors and reproductive competitors. The natural selection theory unified all living creatures. Today, the evolutionary process of natural selection has been refined in the form of inclusive fitness theory. Hamilton discussed the measure of an individual's direct reproductive success in passing on genes through the production of offspring as classical fitness, but this was too narrow to take into account the effects of evolution by selection. He proposed that organism's genes could be passed on regardless of whether the organism directly reproduced offspring. This implied that the parental care is merely a special case of caring for kin who carry copies of one's genes in their bodies. This was how classical fitness was expanded to inclusive fitness. Inclusive fitness is not a property of an individual organism, but rather a property of its actions or effects. It can be calculated from an individual's own reproductive success plus the effects the individual's actions have on the reproductive success of his or her genetic relatives.

In Psychological Sex Differences: Origins Through Sexual Selection (March,1995), Buss states that evolutionary psychology predicts that males and females will be similar in all the domains in which the sexes have faced the same or similar adaptive problems. When men and women face substantially different adaptive problems in some domains throughout the evolutionary history of humans they develop different adaptive structures or behaviors. Therefore women have developed particular adaptations that men do not have. Some of these adaptations are a cervix that dilates, mechanisms for producing labor contractions and the release of oxytocin in the blood stream during childbirth. There are different information-processing problems faced by men and women in some adaptive domains. Men have faced the problem of uncertainty of paternity inputative offspring. This has been a problem throughout time and has led men to behave in ways that increased their likelihood of paternity and decreased the odds of investing in children who were putatively theirs but whose genetic fathers where other men. While men faced this problem, women have faced the problem of securing a reliable or replenishable supply of resources to carry them through pregnancy and lactation, especially when food was scarce. For this reason, women prefer mates who showed the ability to accrue resources and the willingness to provide them for particular women. Buss states that from an evolutionary psychological perspective there are several key questions about sex differences. These questions are (a) In what domains have women and men faced different adaptive problems? (b) What are the sex-differentiated psychological mechanisms of women and men that have evolved in response to these sex-differentiated adaptive problems? (c) Which social, cultural, and contextual inputs oderate the magnitude of expressed sex differences?

Most people equate evolution with natural selection or survival selection. Darwin believed there to be a second theory of evolution: the theory of sexual selection. Acording to Darwin, sexual selection is the causal process of the evolution of characteristics on the basis of reproductive advantage as opposed tosurvival advantages. There are two forms of sexual selection. The first is where members of one sex can successfully outcompete members of their own sex in a process of intrasexual competition. The second in where members of one sex can evolve preferences for desirable qualities in potential mates through the process of intersexual selection. For humans, both causal processes, preferential mate choice and same-sex competition for access to mates, are prevalent among both sexes and probably has been throughout human evolutionary history.

There are strong sex differences that occur reliably in domains closely linked with sex and mating. The psychological sex differences are patterned in a manner that maps precisely onto the adaptive problems men and women have faced over human evolutionary history. Evolutionary psychology perspectives also offer several insights into the broader discourse on sex differences. It shows that neither women nor men can be considered superior or inferior to the other. Although it found that sex differences originated through a causal process of sexual selection, it does not imply that the differences are unchangeable or intractable. Third, it is difficult to believe that attempts to change the status quo would be very effective if they are undertaken in ignorance of sex differences that truly exist. In this case and many others, knowledge is power. This theory of sex differences has been capable of predicting and explaining a large number of precise, detailed, patterned sex differences discovered by research guided by evolutionary psychology. It offers a heuristic tool to guide investigators to the particular domains in which the most pronounced sex differences and similarities will be found.

One of Buss's studies examined mate retention tactics in married couples. He studied 214 individuals divided equally among men and women. All of the participants had been married for less than a year. The participants engaged in three separate episodes of assessment. First, a confidential biographical questionnaire cataloged self-report of acts of mate retention and a measure designed to assess tactics. Next, the participants were evaluated in a laboratory session independent of their partners. During this session, each participant reported their perceptions of their partner's physical attractiveness and completed a measure of suspected future infidelity of their partner. Finally, the couples were interviewed to provide independent assessments of physical attractiveness. They found that the couples were in their mid-20's on average and the average background SES was middle class. They looked at 19 mate retention tactics and how well men and women performed these tactics. 90% of the husbands and 96% of the wives reported never performing an act of violence against a rival. With the remaining 18 tactics, approximately 75% of husbands and wives reported some nonzero level of performance of the relevant component acts. Men reported a significantly higher use of resource display as well as a significantly greater use of submission, debasement, and intrasexual threats. Women reported a greater use of verbal possession signals and punishment of mate's infidelity threat. They looked at mate retention as a function of partner's age and found that men married to younger women reported devoting greater effort to the adaptive problem of mate retention, including greater partner concealment, emotional manipulation, commitment manipulation, verbal signals of possession, possessive ornamentation, intrasexual threats and violence against rival men.
Table The potential confound in this study in the fact that the relationships where so young and that men's mate retention is a function of the length of the relationship and relaxes as the couple become more secure in their relationship. Another confound was the age of the man. It is thought that perhaps younger men are more insecure about holding on to their partners. The only confound that held was that the length of relationship positively covaried with men's reported use of jealousy induction. In conclusion, men's mate retention efforts were liked clearly with the youth and therefore the reproductive value of their spouses. Women's mate retention was linked with their own age, with younger women guarding their partners more intensely than older women. Mate retention as afunction of perceived attractiveness was significant for males. Men married women who they perceived to be physically attractive and reported a greater resource display, appearance enhancement, verbal signals of possession and intrasexual threats than did men who married women they perceived to be less physically attractive. Whereas women who married men who they perceived to be physically attractive devoted less effort to mate retention than women who perceived their husbands to be less attractive. Women who married men they thought attractive reported less use of jealousy induction, punishing their partners threats to be unfaithful, sexual inducements, and husband derogation.

The results of this study provide strong support for the general hypothesis that the sexes differ not merely in the tactics used to keep a mate, but also in the variables that affect the intensity of mate retention efforts. Men exhibit resource display as a mate retention tactic while women were more likely to use appearance enhancements to retain a mate. Men reported greater use of submission and debasement and intrasexual threats as mate retention tactics while women used more verbal possession signals and were more punishing of their partner's infidelity threats. Also, men were more likely than women to justify their extramarital sex and experience less guilt when they engaged in it. Men's mate retention tactics are clearly linked with youth and perceived physical attractiveness of their wife, while women's mate retention tactics are linked with the effort their spouse allocated to status striving. Finally, it was noted that particular forms of mate retention may be early indictors of the physical abuse of wives. It was found that many had high levels of mate concealment, vigilance, and derogation of mate.

Time Line

1953 Born April 14, in Indianapolis
1976 Bachelor of Art at the University of Texas
1981 Ph. D. from Berkeley
1981 - 1985 Instructor of Psychology at Harvard University
1985 - 1996 Instructor of Psychology at the University of Michigan
1996 - present Instructor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin
1996 Won Who's Who in American Education


Buss, D.M. (1989). David M. Buss. American Psychologist, 44(4), 636-638.

Buss, D.M. (1995). Psychological Sex Differences. Origins Through Sexual Selection. American Psychologist, 50(30), 164-171.

Buss, D.M., Haselton, M.G., Shackelford, T.K., Bleaske, A.L., & wakefield, J.C. (1998). Adaptations, Exaptations, and Spandrels. American Psychologist, 53(5), 533-48.

Buss, D.M. and Shackelford, T.K. (1997). From Vigilance to Violence: Mate Retention Tactics in Married Couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(2), 346-361.



http://www.galenet.com/servlet/GLD/hits?c=1&u=CA&t=KW&s=2&r=d&o=Data Type&n=10&l=d&NA=David+Buss



[History Home Page] [Psychology Department Home Page]