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How Poachers Steal Others' Partners, and Who They Target

These personality traits may explain part of why people stray (or want to).

Key points

  • Between 30 to 50 percent of people have engaged in attempted mate poaching.
  • The dark triad trait of psychopathy predicted making more poaching attempts.
  • Men said that they had experienced being more successfully poached.
Jealous man watching

Imagine the following scenarios:

  • A man constantly attempts to make his friend’s wife laugh and often compliments her on her appearance. He then tells her that she is too attractive for her husband and suggests that she should have a one-night stand with him instead.
  • A woman behaves in a sexually provocative way in front of her friend’s boyfriend. When the friend is away, she invites the boyfriend to have sex with her.

Somewhere between 30 to 50 percent of people have engaged in behaviour referred to as "attempted mate poaching" on at least one occasion (Davies, Shackelford & Hass, 2007). How successful are mate poachers in their attempts? Who are their likely targets? And more distressingly, who are the potential victims whose partners get poached away from them?

It may be that mate poaching is related to personality. This was investigated by Igor Kardum, Jasna Hudek-Knezevic, David Schmitt, and Petra Grundler. These researchers looked at mate poaching in relation to the big five personality traits of extraversion, neuroticism, openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness, and the dark triad traits of Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism, to assess whether any of these characteristics were related to mate poaching behaviour (Kardum, Hudek-Knezevic, Schmitt, & Grundler, 2015). Mate poaching was assessed with the Anonymous Romantic Attraction Survey outlined below, consisting of five questions on mate poaching experiences (Schmitt and Buss, 2001).

  • Poaching attempts: Have you ever attempted to attract someone who was already in a romantic relationship with someone else for a short-term sexual relationship with you?
  • Successful Poaching: If you have tried to attract someone who was already in a romantic relationship, how successful have you been?
  • Being the victim of poaching: While you were in a romantic relationship, have others ever attempted to obtain your partner away from you for a short-term sexual relationship?
  • Being the target of poaching: While you were in a romantic relationship, have others ever attempted to obtain you away from your partner as a short-term sexual partner?
  • Being successfully poached: If others have attempted to obtain you as a short-term sexual partner, how successful have they been?

Overall, the researchers found that extraversion was related to all mate poaching behaviours outlined above, for men and for women. The outgoing nature and behaviour of extraverts may well facilitate poaching behaviour, as extraversion is generally seen as a desirable trait and is more generally sought by potential romantic partners. It may also explain the outgoing behaviour needed to make mate poaching attempts.

In terms of sex differences and personality in relation to mate poaching experiences, the researchers found the following.

Mate poaching attempts

Men said that they had engaged in this more than women. Furthermore, the dark triad trait of psychopathy predicted making more poaching attempts. It is certainly likely that psychopathy, characterised by a lack of empathy or feeling for others, goes together with the behaviour needed for making poaching attempts. Individuals high in psychopathy may also be more likely prioritise mating efforts over parenting, which may also motivate them to pursue multiple relationships.

Successful poaching

Overall, women rated themselves as more successful in their poaching attempts than men. In terms of sex differences in dark triad traits and successful mate poaching, the researchers found this to be more important for successful poaching in women, compared to men. This may be explained by the fact that high levels of dark triad traits in men may be more likely displayed as violent behaviour, whereas in women, dark triad traits may be related to displays of sexual availability necessary for successful mate poaching.

Being a victim of poaching

The researchers report that they found no relationship between sex or personality and being the victim of a poaching attempt.

Being the target of mate poaching

Women reported that they were more frequent targets of poaching, compared to men. In terms of the dark triad traits, psychopathy was found to be associated with being the target of mate poaching. To speculate, maybe psychopathy and a lack of feeling for one’s partner leads to displays of sexual availability to others, which may be seen as a signal for being a potential poaching target.

Being successfully poached

Men said that they had experienced being more successfully poached compared to women. Dark triad traits predicted this for men but not for women. It may be that these high scores on dark triad traits make men more open and responsive to poaching attempts. This would be consistent with an evolutionary explanation whereby men higher on dark triad traits seek to increase their potential to have offspring.

There are, however, several limitations to the above study. First, the average age of participants was just 21 years old, a specific group, and one in which mate poaching may happen more easily. Second, the study focuses on short-term mate poaching only, and it is possible that the findings may vary if long-term mate poaching were also considered. Nevertheless, with some 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women having reported pursuing someone else already in a relationship, and of those pursued, 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women succumbing to the advances of their pursuers (Schmitt and the International Sexuality Description Project, 2004), the findings reveal much about how personality and dark triad traits are related to mate poaching.

Facebook image: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock


Davies, A. P. C., Shackleford, T. K. & Hass, R. G. (2007). When a “Poach” is not a Poach: Redefining Human Mate Poaching and Re-estimating its Frequency. Archives of Sexual Bahaviour. 36, 702-716.

Kardum, I., Hudek-Knezevic, J., Schmitt, D. P., & Grundler, P. (2015). Personality and mate poaching experiences, Personality and Individual Differences, 75, 7-12.

Schmitt, D. P., & Buss, D. M. (2001). Human mate poaching: Tactics and temptations for infiltrating existing mateships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,80, 894–917.

Schmitt, D. P., & International Sexuality Description Project. (2004). Patterns and Universals of Mate Poaching Across 53 Nations: The Effects of Sex, Culture, and Personality on Romantically Attracting Another Person's Partner. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(4), 560–584.

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