Tough economic times could cause men to become more “prepared for sex,” claims Omri Gillath, a social psychology professor at the University of Kansas, in a recent research report. “Men want to breed, or spread their genes, when environmental cues signal overall low survivability.”

While the findings might not come as a complete surprise, they could have broader implications when taken outside the lab and into society.

Gillath’s findings, which will be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in November, are the first to show a link between low survivability cues and sexual preparedness in men using both behavioral and physiological measures as compared to patterns of maturation and reproductive behavior over a period of time.

In the two-part study, men and women were exposed to sexual images after viewing images focused on death, to mimic low-survivability conditions, or dental pain. Gillath reported men's heart rates increased more when exposed to death before viewing sexualized images.

The research also reinforces some differences between the genders, specifically, that women, unlike men, do not respond to environmental cues of low survivability with increased sexual appetite. In fact, Gillath found that pregnancy, breast feeding and longer-term nurturing of their children, prevent women from doing so. 

“When the environment is secure, men invest in their existing kids and existing partner and prefer long-term mating strategies,” Gillath says.

“If you’re a guy who’s just gotten fired and your perception is that you’re not going to survive and be able to support your family, you might experience the extreme sensation of wanting to have sex and spread your genes.”

“It’s like living on the savannah without water and discovering you don’t have enough fruit and the animals are scarce. In such times, as a man you might be inclined to spread your genes.”

Taking Emotion out of Difficult Times

Surveys notwithstanding, people have been affected and do behave differently in economic distress, according to Sam Llanio, founder and managing partner at Constellation Financial Advisors Inc. in Towson, Md.

Diane Taylor, a certified financial planner and managing partner at Freedom Advisors Inc., agrees. “I’m seeing lots of fear.”  

Llanio and Taylor offer the following tips to take some of the stress out of investing, and reduce the economic turmoil in your own personal life:

Start early. Partners should develop a like-minded strategy when developing financial goals and discuss the status of their investments regularly.

Adopt a holistic strategy when investing in your 401(k). Avoid duplication of asset classes. For example, if your spouse’s plan has a better growth fund, go with that one.  

Create buckets of money for different time frames and purposes, including rainy day fund. Emergencies happen, being prepared will keep you out of financial ruin. Invest with the thought that “someday you will lose your job,” Taylor says. Denial will require you to finance with debt and the ramifications will spiral.

Think before taking action. Any of us can act irrationally. “People will hold off on car repairs, but buy cigarettes,” says Llanio.  

Adopt a life through rose-colored glasses outlook. Market swings and economic trends are normal, beef up your financial literacy to understand and accept that.  

Avoid the herd mentality. “A lot of people make investment decisions based on "coffee talk,” says Llanio, which can lead to bad investments.

Review your account(s), but not every day. Most clients are invested in five to seven account programs, and it’s important to keep up with what and where your money is invested. But do not review your portfolio every day, it will make you nervous and lead you to time the market which can cause trouble.

Have your own spending and/or savings fund. This liberates, creates independence and prevents either spouse from asking permission for that special purchase. 

Establish credit and a savings account. If you’re a nonworking spouse, this readies you for unexpected challenges, like death or divorce, along the way.