Literary Darwinism

Kruger, D.J., Fisher, M.L., Strout, S.L., Clark, S., Lewis, S., & Wehbe, M. (in press). Pride and Prejudice or Family and Flirtation? Jane Austen's depiction of women's mating strategies. Philosophy and Literature.

Jane Austen was an intuitive evolutionary psychologist; her perennial popularity may be because her works excel at all three kinds of adaptive advantage Denis Dutton proposed to explain the pervasiveness of fiction. Contemporary readers readily identify her characters' mating strategies based on a brief personality sketch assembled from her novels. Predictions of hypothetical behaviors by four characters from Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park clustered into long-term and short-term mating strategies, and ratings were consistent with characters' actual strategies. Participants also accurately matched characters to their actual behaviors as portrayed in the novels. Overall, participants were wary of characters with short-term mating orientations and participants' preferences in hypothetical scenarios protected their own reproductive interests. Thus, Austen's character descriptions provide low-cost, low-risk surrogate experiences of encounters with realistic personas, and promote understanding of others' motivations and behaviors in order to regulate one's own behavior adaptively. Our findings help to advance the emerging field of Literary Darwinism, as well as the understanding of women's sexuality.


Kruger, D.J., Fisher, M.L., Strout, S.L., Wehbe, M., Lewis, S., & Clark, S. (2013). Variation in women's mating strategies depicted in the works and words of Jane Austen. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 7(3), 197-210.

We hypothesize that distinct mating strategies are identifiable in the female characters created by popular British author Jane Austen. Although Austen wrote her novels in the early 19th Century, and consequently the novels reflect social constraints not applicable to similarly aged women in modern Western societies, we contend that research participants can accurately identify the mating strategies of characters and express relationship preferences consistent with their own fitness interests. Austen's characterizations of women's mating strategies are remarkably similar to depictions in the modern literature of Evolutionary Psychology. We use personality descriptions of four primary characters assembled from passages in Austen's novels, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. When selecting characters with whom to form a hypothetical long-term romantic relationship, participants preferentially chose those who successfully established long-term relationships in the novels. Participants generally favored characters who exemplified short-term mating strategies, such as those who generally valued partners more so for the direct benefits they provided rather than emotional connection, for non-committed sexual relationships.


Carroll, J., Gottschall, J., Johnson, J.A., & Kruger, D.J. (2012). Graphing Jane Austen: The Evolutionary Basis for Literary Meaning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


Johnson, J., Carroll, J., Gottschall, J., & Kruger, D.J. (2011). Portrayal of personality in Victorian novels reflects modern research findings but amplifies the significance of agreeableness. Journal of Research in Personality, 45, 50-58.

All literature embodies an implicit theory of personality and human nature (Hogan, 1976). The research described here investigates the implicit personality theory embedded in the behavior of 435 characters in 143 canonical Victorian novels. Characters were rated on the Web by 519 scholars and students of 19thcentury British literature. Ratings included the characters' goals, success in achieving goals, mate preferences and strategies, and personality according to the Five Factor Model. Results suggest that novels by Victorian authors largely reflect personality and human nature as understood by modern personality psychology, but Victorian authors amplify the significance of agreeableness and thus, whether intentionally or not, encourage cooperative impulses in readers.


Carroll, J., Gottschall, J., Johnson, J.A., & Kruger, D.J. (2011). Paleolithic politics in British novels of the nineteenth century. In M. Collard & E. Slingerland (Eds.), Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities (pp. 385-408). New York: Oxford University Press.


Carroll, J., Gottschall, J., Johnson, J.A., & Kruger, D.J. (2010). Imagining human nature. In B. Boyd, J. Carroll, & J. Gottschall (Eds.), Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader (pp. 211-218). New York: Columbia University Press.


Carroll, J., Gottschall, J., Johnson, J.A., & Kruger, D.J. (2010). Paleolithic politics in Victorian novels. In B. Boyd, J. Carroll, & J. Gottschall (Eds.), Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader (pp. 490-506). New York: Columbia University Press.


Carroll, J., Johnson, J.A., Gottschall, J. Kruger, D.J., & Georgiades, S. (2010). Quantifying tonal analysis in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Style, 44, 164-188.

The Mayor of Casterbridge is in basic ways an unusual novel. Its protagonist, Michael Henchard, has personality traits and motivational dispositions that are more typical of antagonists than of protagonists, and Hardy's own perspective on the events seem remote and detached, thus discouraging the reader's own emotional involvement in the story. We collected data from 85 readers about the characters in Mayor and about the readers' emotional responses to the characters. This data suggests an interpretive structure very different from that which is embodied in the interpretive history of the novel. Our data suggest that readers of this particular novel do not commonly experience passional involvement with the protagonist or with the other characters. As many critics of the novel have recognized, Hardy identifies closely with the perspective of Henchard's step-daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, and, for Elizabeth-Jane, the spectacle of Henchard's career culminates in a state of compassionate, detached meditation. That also is a form of resolution, but it is a form different from that of passional involvement with the protagonist.


Carroll, J., Gottschall, J., Johnson, J., & Kruger, D.J. (2009). Human Nature in British Novels of the Longer Nineteenth Century: Doing the Math. Philosophy and Literature, 33, 50-72.

Three broad ambitions animate this study. Building on research in evolutionary social science, we aimed (1) to construct a model of human nature-of motives, emotions, features of personality, and preferences in marital partners; (2) use that model to analyze some specific body of literary texts and the responses of readers to those texts, and (3) produce data- information that could be quantified and could serve to test specific hypotheses about those texts.


Johnson, J., Carroll, J., Gottschall, J., & Kruger, D.J. (2008). Hierarchy in the Library: Egalitarian Dynamics in Victorian Novels. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 715-738.

The current research investigated the psychological differences between protagonists and antagonists in literature and the impact of these differences on readers. It was hypothesized that protagonists would embody cooperative motives and behaviors that are valued by egalitarian hunter-gatherers groups, whereas antagonists would demonstrate status-seeking and dominance behaviors that are stigmatized in such groups. This hypothesis was tested with an online questionnaire listing characters from 201 canonical British novels of the longer nineteenth century. 519 respondents generated 1470 protocols on 435 characters. Respondents identified the characters as protagonists, antagonists, or minor characters, judged the characters' motives according to human life history theory, rated the characters' traits according to the five-factor model of personality, and specified their own emotional responses to the characters on categories adapted from Ekman's seven basic emotions. As expected, antagonists are motivated almost exclusively by the desire for social dominance, their personality traits correspond to this motive, and they elicit strongly negative emotional responses from readers. Protagonists are oriented to cooperative and affiliative behavior and elicit positive emotional responses from readers. Novels therefore apparently enable readers to participate vicariously in an egalitarian social dynamic like that found in hunter-gatherer societies. We infer that agonistic structure in novels simulates social behaviors that fulfill an adaptive social function and perhaps stimulates impulses toward these behaviors in real life.


Kruger, D.J. & Fisher, M. (2008). Women's life history attributes are associated with preferences in mating relationships. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 245-258.

Life history theory (LHT) is a powerful framework for examining relationship choices and other behavioral strategies which integrates evolutionary, ecological, and socio-developmental perspectives. We examine the relationship between psychological and behavioral indicators of women's life history attributes and hypothetical relationship choices with characters representing short-term and long-term male sexual strategies. We demonstrate that psychological indicators of women's life history strategies are related to predicted and actual behaviors in mating relationships. Women with insecure attachment styles, especially those with negative evaluations of both themselves and others (fearful attachment), were more likely to consider men with attributes indicating short-term mating strategies for short-term and long-term relationships than women with a secure attachment style. Women with relatively unrestricted sociosexuality were more likely to predict they would have sexual affairs with men in general, with the tendency being generally stronger when considering men with attributes indicating short-term mating strategies. Those who scored high on self-monitoring were also more likely to predict having sexual affairs and short-term relationships with these men. These and other findings demonstrate the usefulness of a life history approach for understanding women's relationship choices.


Kruger, D.J., & Fisher, M. (2005). Alternative Male Mating Strategies are Intuitive to Women. Current Research in Social Psychology, 11, 39-50.

In this investigation, female college students (291) read brief sketches of characters from 19th Century novels exemplifying alternative male mating strategies. The proper hero "dad" advertises high potential for paternal investment by being compassionate, romantic, and industrious, whereas the dark hero "cad" advertises high genetic quality by being competitive, dominant, and brave. Women preferred the "dad" for long-term relationships, but were more likely to choose the "cad" for brief sexual relationships. These preferences were expected, as they benefit the women's reproductive success. Participants also inferred critical attributes and behaviors from the character descriptions that omitted this information.


Kruger, D.J., & Fisher, M. (2005). Males identify and respond adaptively to the mating strategies of other men. Sexualities, Evolution, and Gender, 7, 233-244.

We recently demonstrated that alternative male mating strategies were readily comprehended by college aged women who were given a brief character sketch of personality features consistent with each strategy. In the current study, we confirmed that college aged males are also able to identify traits and tendencies associated with long term "dad" and short term "cad" mating strategies. Participants were aware of the cad's greater tendency for mating effort and success with women and the dad's greater suitability for long term relationships and potential for paternal investment in offspring. There was some preference for dads rather than cads in social alliances. Participants also predicted responses to these characters in ways that would benefit their own reproductive success. Participants' personality attributes, hypothetical behaviors, and actual behaviors generally corresponded with their judgments of their similarity to the character descriptions.


Kruger, D.J., Fisher, M., & Jobling, I. (2005). Modern reactions to characters in British Romantic literature reflect alternative mating strategies. In D.S. Wilson & J. Gottschall (Eds.), The Litererary Animal. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.


Kruger, D.J., Fisher, M., & Jobling, I. (2003). Proper and dark heroes as dads and cads: Alternative mating strategies in British Romantic literature. Human Nature, 14, 305-317.

Empirical tests described in this article support hypotheses derived from evolutionary theory on the perceptions of literary characters. The proper and dark heroes in British Romantic literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries respectively represent long-term and short-term mating strategies. Recent studies indicate that for long-term relationships,women seek partners with the ability and willingness to sustain paternal investment in extended relationships. For short-term relationships, women choose partners whose features indicate high genetic quality. In hypothetical scenarios, females preferred proper heroes for long-term relationships. The shorter the relationship under consideration, the more likely women were to choose dark heroes as partners.


See also: Mating strategies