Loser Effect: Early Female Friendships Help Males Win Mating Game [Study]

The loser effect is real. You gotta impress the girls. If a male fails to attract female friendships early in life, he could have trouble attracting a mate as an adult.

That’s the conclusion of a new study from a French team published last week in Proceedings Of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. The lead author is Mylene Mariette from the University de Saint-Etienne in France.

Fortunately for a lot of guys, the research was conducted on zebra finches.

In the study, young male zebra finches were placed in situations where they could form friendships with another male or with a young female.

What biologists call the loser effect is already well-established in the context of fighting between males. A male who has lost a previous fight is more likely to be pushed around and bullied again.

And, in turn, the loser is more likely to be rejected by potential female partners.

Here’s a report on the loser effect in fish, for example. A smaller fish could win out over the bigger one if he was more confident and more aggressive.

Now the French team said that there’s another loser effect.

A male who couldn’t form a successful friendship with a female as a juvenile will have trouble attracting a mate as an adult.

Apparently, even female zebra finches gossip among themselves about who’s worth hooking up with. Dr. Mariette told the BBC, “We know that animals are able to pick up chemical cues from others…[T]hey may…want to know how attractive he is.”

And if the social loser male wasn’t viewed as attractive in the past, he’s much less likely to be viewed as attractive now.


It almost sounds like you’re doomed from a pretty early age. Once a social loser, always a social loser.

But Dr. Mariette denied that was the case. She told the BBC, “He’s not a loser for life” but he might go after less attractive females instead.

OK. I guess.

The team said they didn’t have enough data to say if the social loser effect extended to humans. But if you’re a guy and didn’t have a good friendship with a girl as a teen, I’d be worried.

[zebra finch pair photo credit: jpmatth via photopin cc]