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date: 13 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Social judgments are made under uncertainty and pose one of the fundamental challenges of social living. Some of these judgments are also systematically biased—sometimes toward optimism and sometimes toward pessimism. For example, men optimistically overestimate women's sexual interest, whereas parents pessimistically worry about small children to an excessive extent. Error management theory (EMT) aims to bring a wide variety of seemingly disconnected biases under one theoretical umbrella. EMT proposes that when the costs of false-positive and false-negative errors were asymmetrical over evolutionary history, natural selection designed social judgment adaptations biased in the direction of the less costly error. For example, a man could falsely infer that a woman is sexually interested (a false-positive error) or fail to detect her interest (a false-negative error). Because the reproductive costs of missing a sexual opportunity were high for ancestral men, natural selection might have favored a bias in men that leads them to overestimate a woman's sexual interest. In this chapter, we review cognitive biases operating in mating relationships, friendships, coalitions, and kinship that can be understood in light of EMT. We discuss challenges for the future and present new predictions.

Keywords: bias, cognitive bias, error management theory, rationality, relationships, romantic relationships, sexual misperception, friendship, kinship, coalitions

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