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Animals display a wide variety of display traits whose function is to attract the opposite sex, yet in many species, female mating preferences are inconsistent both from female to female and over time. Current models of sexual selection cannot sufficiently explain this variation. We propose a new hypotheses, called “Inferred Attractiveness”, that proposes that young females that observe the mate choices of older females may make mistakes in their inference of which traits these older females find attractive. Previous models of social learning of preferences assume young females copy the preferences of older females exactly, as if they were reading their minds. We show with a series of mathematical models that if young females instead infer that the most unusual trait of a chosen male is the attractive one, all of the between-female and temporal variation seen in nature results. PLoS Biology

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