Women's fear of crime and preference for formidable mates: how specific are the underlying psychological mechanisms?

Previous research shows that feelings of vulnerability, as measured by fear of crime, are associated with preferences for physically formidable and dominant mates (PPFDM), ostensibly because of the physical protection such mates can afford. In the lab and in the field, we tested whether the relationship between PPFDM and fear of crime is pronounced when the risk of crime is relatively high, and for crimes that are evolutionarily more costly. In Study 1, women were presented with daytime and night time images that featured a lone shadowy male figure, crime hotspots and safespots, and they reported their risk of victimisation in the situation depicted in the image. In Study 2, we had female participants walk through crime hotspots and safespots in a city centre during the daytime, and had them report their perceived victimisation risk for different types of crime, perpetrated by a male- versus female. Participants in Study 1 and 2 also completed a scale that measures PPFDM. In both studies, we found that PPFDM was positively associated with fear of crime in hotspots and in safespots. Additionally, fear of crime was significantly affected by risk situation (i.e., safespot versus hotspot, night time versus daytime). The relationship between PPFDM and fear, however, did not vary in relation to risk situation, perpetrator gender, or crime type, suggesting that the psychological mechanisms underlying the relationship between perceived risk of victimisation and PPFDM are general in nature. Women who prefer physically formidable and dominant mates tend to feel more at risk of crime, regardless of the situational risk factors present.