I have heard from some of my female friends that their female friends often cause drama, and guys usually do not have those. They also admit that they could not stand the gossips or remarks that others (girls) spread about them. What do you think? Do girls gossip more than boys in general? There might be some hidden evolutionary forces behind these questions.

Darwinian sexual selection (1871) explains the dynamics of mate selection (sexual selection), along with other “hostile forces” in selecting our genes. Sexual selection comprises two parts: intrasexual competition and intersexual mate choice. In humans, intrasexual competition usually refers to male-to-male competition, and intersexual mate choice, female mate choice.

Due to differences in parental investment (Trivers, 1972) (eggs are more expensive than sperms, plus carrying and feeding babies milk) and reproductive lifespans (females have menopause; females will lose potential to have babies) and potential offspring in life (females take a long time to have babies, even when there are multiple males available while males can procreate as long as he has viable willing mates), males and females have different characteristics and reproductive strategies and (Buss, 2003). Males usually tend to engage in physical, intense, risky competition for potential status, resources, and mates (for e.g. silverback gorilla alpha males got the opportunities to mate with all females).


In humans, our physical size differences between men and women and population genetic studies also indicate an intense sexual competition among males, rather than females (Betzig, 2012; Underhill et al., 2000). In terms of biological interests, females usually focus on the qualities of the mate, rather than the quantity. However, sexual selection neither implies that females do not engage in intrasexual female-to-female competition nor states that males are not choosy at all. And this article briefly touches on this very aspect of female-female competition and strategies from mate selection perspectives.

Overall, females tend to engage in less risker competition rather than physically dominant competition because the risker competition could result potential deaths and genetic dead-end. (For males, it would be more like all or nothing competition.) Females, I think, seem to use behaviors that involve the use of gossip and rumors in beating up potential female rivals. I found this interesting wikihow article called how to steal a boy friend. Surprisingly, the article has been read 95,821 times, as of the moment I am reading it.

In Fisher and Cox (2011), participants reported how they would compete with same-sex rivals for mates if they sense that there is a rival competing for mate attention.The reported themes of competition categories include 1. self-enhancing (making your appearance physically more attractive in variety of ways), 2. rival derogating (chastise your rivals in personalities or telling potential mates that the rival is promiscuous, gossiping flaws, negativities of the rival, etc.), 3. rival manipulating (telling the rival (fake friend, I guess) that she looks good in unattractive clothing, making the rival feels self-conscious, telling her that the potential mate is no good, etc.) and 4. mate manipulating (guarding your own mate, do or tell things your partner wants to hear). Self-enhancing strategies were rated highest (definitely do strategy), compared to other three strategies, in rival competition. The authors also found that females in romantic relationship rated significantly higher on derogating other female rivals than those who are not in romantic relationship.

Such indirect aggression in sexual competition between females appear highest in adolescence and young adulthood when fertility is at the peak (Dunson et al., 2002) and when competition for potential rival is most noticeable (Campbell, 1999). The younger women also gossiped more about rivals than older women (Massar et al., 2012).

Female-female competition is also argued to be linked to greater body dissatisfaction and eating pathology such as bulimia and anorexia among female undergraduates (Faer et al., 2005). Ferguson et al. (2011) found that intrasexual competition between attractive potential rival female influences body dissatisfaction. In the study there were 2 manipulations: the attractiveness level of the female and the presence of attractive male. The first manipulation involved attractively dressed and “sexy” females who wear make up and the same female, dressed in shabby attire without make-up. The second manipulation involved the presence of absence of attractive man in the room. Ferguson et al. (2011) found that the ratings of bodily satisfaction in female participants were lowest in the condition when the thin attractively dressed woman was present in the presence of attractive man in the room, compared to other three conditions. The effect was also most pronounced in female participants who were thin; the authors interpreted that thin women were most threatened by the attractive female confederate (most direct rival?).

Not surprisingly, attractive adolescent girls (Leenaars et al., 2008) and women (Arnocky et al., 2012) also suffered from other female verbal attacks (either in the form of gossip or rumors) at a higher rate than unattractive females. (Males are highly drawn to “attractive” females. I am planning to write an article on Darwinian aesthetic in the future. What features and why the features are attractive/ beautiful to us).

Is mate derogation an effective competition strategy? It seems to confer some fitness advantage to some extent. White et al. (2010) reported that adolescent girls who used indirect sexual competition strategies tended to have had earlier sexual intercourse than those who have been the targets of sexual competition. Pellegrini and Long (2003) also found that dating popularity was associated with indirect competition among adolescent girls.

The last but not least, female-female competition does not always give one competitive advantages for fitness. In fact, derogation could draw one’s mate attention to the chastised rival female. The strategy could also result in one’s own social costs (for e.g. one might be perceived by others as unkind and terrible individual as well as inflicting detrimental and “unintentional” consequences in victims of female competition. Paquette and Underwood (1999) reported that girls were significantly more affected and distressed by female competition remarks than boys. Kaltiala-Heino et al. (1999) also reported that adolescent girls who were victimized by their peers’ remarks were at greater risks for suicidal ideas than adolescent boys.

The final message is that be more considerate about making remarks on someone’s characteristics and being a part of rumor cycle. Also be open-minded when hearing rumors or gossips! Those could be very detrimental and psychologically harmful to target victims! I guess if we know what we are up to (evolutionary forces), we might be more in conscious control of our decisions before we even make them. I also hope this brief article gives brief evolutionary insights into why some females make nasty remarks on each other.


My understanding of this intrasexual competition primarily stems from review/ experimental articles. I am grateful to all these authors (linked below) for their insights and all other authors. Read more about them here:


Arnocky, S., Sunderani, S., Miller, J. L., & Vaillancourt, T. (2012). Jealousy mediates the relationship between attractiveness comparison and females’ indirect aggression. Personal Relationships19(2), 290-303. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2011.01362.x

Betzig, L. (2012). Means, variances, and ranges in reproductive success: Comparative evidence. Evolution and Human Behavior33, 309-317.

Buss, D. M. (2003). The evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating (2nd ed). New York: Basic Books.

Campbell, A. (1999). Staying alive: Evolution, culture, and women’s intrasexual aggression. Behavioral And Brain Sciences22(2), 203-252. doi:10.1017/S0140525X99001818

Darwin, C. R. (1871). The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. London: John Murray.

Dunson D. B., Colombo, B., & Baird, D. D. (2002). Changes with age in the level and duration of fertility in the menstrual cycle. Human Reproduction, 17, 1399-1403.

Faer, L. M., Hendriks, A., Abed, R. T., & Figueredo, A. J. (2005). The evolutionary psychology of eating disorders: Female competition for mates or for status?. Psychology And Psychotherapy: Theory, Research And Practice78(3), 397-417. doi:10.1348/147608305X42929

Ferguson, C. J., Munoz, M. E., Contreras, S., & Velasquez, K. (2011). Mirror, mirror on the wall: Peer competition, television influences, and body image dissatisfaction. Journal Of Social And Clinical Psychology30(5), 458-483. doi:10.1521/jscp.2011.30.5.458

Fisher, M., & Cox, A. (2011). Four strategies used during intrasexual competition for mates. Personal Relationships18(1), 20-38. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2010.01307.x

Leenaars, L. S., Dane, A. V., & Marini, Z. A. (2008). Evolutionary perspective on indirect victimization in adolescence: The role of attractiveness, dating and sexual behavior. Aggressive Behavior34(4), 404-415. doi:10.1002/ab.20252

Massar, K., Buunk, A. P., & Rempt, S. (2012). Age differences in women’s tendency to gossip are mediated by their mate value. Personality And Individual Differences52(1), 106-109. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.09.013

Pelligrini, A. D., & Long, J. D. (2003). A sexual selection theory longitudinal analysis of sexual segregation and integration in early adolescence. Journal Of Experimental Child Psychology85(3), 257-278. doi:10.1016/S0022-0965(03)00060-2

Paquette, J. A., & Underwood, M. K. (1999). Gender differences in young adolescents’ experiences of peer victimization: Social and physical aggression. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly45(2), 242-266.

Trivers, R.L. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual selection and the descent of man, 1871-1971 (pp. 136–179). Chicago, IL: Aldine. ISBN 0-435-62157-2.

Underhill, P. A., Shen, P., Lin, A. A., Jin, L., Passarino, G., Yang, W. H., et al. (2000). Y chromosome sequence variation and the history of human populations. Nature Genetics, 26– 358-361.

White, D. D., Gallup, A. C., & Gallup, G. J. (2010). Indirect peer aggression in adolescence and reproductive behavior. Evolutionary Psychology8(1), 49-65.

Kaltiala-Heino, R., Rimpelä, M., Marttunen, M., Rimpelä, A., Rantanen, P. Bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation in Finnish adolescents: School survey. British Medical Journal, 319, 348-351.


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