Ann Arbor, Michigan - When looking for love, people take more risks with their money when they believe fewer potential mates are available.

People dig deeper into their wallets to buy big ticket items—perhaps lavish trips or expensive jewelry—as gifts or ways to boast when the dating scene is unfavorable, according to a new University of Michigan study.

However, when the environment is considered favorable—or a belief that more opposite-sex mates are available—the pursuers are likely to buy a greater variety of small ticket items.

The research sheds light on how people manage risks to mating success related to unfavorable social environments, said Joshua Ackerman, the study's lead author.

"These choices have important implications for mating behavior as well as other everyday forms of decision making," said Ackerman, an assistant professor of psychology and faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research.

When faced with risky business decisions, people typically diversify their choices by allocating funds in several options. In other words, they avoid putting "all their eggs in one basket," he said.

Ackerman and colleagues at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin used four studies to explain how a social scenario relates to diversifying financial resources in making lottery, stock-pool, retirement account and research funding decisions.

In the first study, 93 participants completed a memory test of photos about the sex ratio of males and females. They had to determine if the condition was favorable or not. Three sets of photos with 18 head shots of men and women between the ages of 18 to 35 were used.

In the next task, participants chose between two options: one $10 lottery ticket for a $10,000 prize or 10 $1 lottery tickets for a $1,000 prize each. Choosing the former would represent a decision to concentrate one's eggs in one basket, while the other choice indicated a decision to diversify.

Participants who saw an unfavorable condition in the sex ratio chose the riskier $10 lottery ticket option rather than diversifying their options.

In another study, 78 participants completed a similar memory task of viewing head shots of men and women, but then were asked about allocating resources to retirement accounts. The options were stocks, bonds and cash, but the total summed 100 percent.

The participants were told to imagine that the government was concerned that a new contagious disease would trigger a deadly epidemic within two years. Four companies would be working on a vaccine that would receive the participants' funding to prevent the outbreak.

Exposure to unfavorable sex ratios led participants to invest more in fewer retirement options than exposure to favorable ratios, the study indicated.

"That is, seeing a scarcity of opposite-sex people produced less diversification in investment decisions," he said.

The other two studies about the stock-pool and research funding had similar results.

In general, these financial behaviors occurred in situations that seemingly had little to do with mating. This suggests that people altered their choice strategy when there appeared to be a competitive disadvantage, Ackerman said.

Jon Maner at Northwestern University and Stephanie Carpenter at the University of Wisconsin co-authored the study.

The findings appear in Psychological Science.