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Norman Li, MBA, PhD

Professor of Psychology

Singapore Mangement University

School of Social Sciences







Psychology Today blog

Social Psychology Network

Lab staff

Budget allocation materials





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My overall research objective is to uncover the intricate processes that underlie human psychological mechanisms. In carrying out this objective, I utilize an interdisciplinary approach. This involves drawing from both social psychological theory, with its emphasis on individual differences and interactions, and evolutionary theory, with its focus on adaptive functioning and link to findings in areas including ethology, anthropology, and biology. In addition, microeconomics, with its emphasis on the marginal cost/benefit analyses in which individual agents engage, is especially useful when viewing competitive social processes and adaptive tradeoffs.


In examining human social behavior, I favor not only the use of effective experimental methods that social psychologists have devised, but also the incorporation of analytical tools from other disciplines. For instance, using methods from microeconomics, my colleagues and I were able to address a paradox in the mate choice literature: although social and evolutionary psychologists have pointed out why physical attractiveness should be important to men and status should be important to women, these characteristics never show up at the top of the lists when people have considered their ideal mates. By applying a budget allocation process and a mate screening paradigm, we were able to effectively distinguish between characteristics in a potential mate that are “necessities” and those that are “luxuries.” Our studies revealed that when considering long-term mates, men tend to prioritize finding a sufficient level of physical attractiveness, and women tend to prioritize obtaining sufficient social status. In other words, when looking for mates, most people ideally would like to have well-rounded mates who are attractive, intelligent, creative, financially well-off, etc. However, when choices are highly constrained, men tend to treat physical attractiveness as a necessity whereas women treat attractiveness as a luxury, and social status as a necessity (Li, Bailey, Kenrick, & Linsenmeier, 2002; Li & Kenrick, 2006). Budget allocation materials can be accessed in the above link.


I have also published in the areas of dynamical systems – its integration with evolutionary psychology (e.g., Kenrick, Li, & Butner), hormones and mating strategy (Durante & Li, 2009), and the adaptive functions of humor (Li et al., in press). The hectic modern world is different in many ways from the small, close-knit villages that humans and their brains evolved in. In this regard, I am interested in examining how modern cultural inputs interact with otherwise adaptive mechanisms to affect mental health.


Much of my research looks at mating. Considerations of mating are central to reproduction, and thus, evolutionarily important. As such, mating permeates the affect, cognitions, and behaviors of people in all cultures. So, it is a great area to analyze (plus it is never dull). Nevertheless, an important aspect of my research is that the tools that are developed in my lab can be applied rewardingly to investigate other domains of social and business life. If you work in mating or in any other area, chances are that these methods can be used in your lab. Similarly, your methods may be applicable in mine. I welcome new collaborators to contact me.