Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Evolutionary Psychology - Men Do Everything They Do in Order to Get Laid?

I posted the first two parts of this a while back, but there have been several more sections since them. I wanted to collect all them here in one place. Each section, unless otherwise noted, is the beginning of the particular post.

Essentially this is an evolutionary psychologist's view on masculinity, which suggests that men do what they do - whatever that might be - to get laid (marriage and procreation). Partially true at best.

First of all, gay men are some of the great artists and most productive members of any society, so that rules out the procreation argument, although there is still the getting laid part. And then there are men like me who have no intention of ever producing offspring (and some women fall into this camp as well).

Finally, his argument assumes to a certain degree that evolution has ended in human beings (which is patently false and has been well-documented of late), and he makes this argument in another post at his blog - Why human evolution pretty much stopped about 10,000 years ago.

Human beings in general, and men in particular, are much more complicated than he gives us credit for, but then he names the game right up front - his blog is called

Since the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago and the birth of human civilization which soon followed, humans have not had a stable environment against which natural selection can operate. For example, a mere two centuries (10 generations) ago, the United States and the rest of the Western world were largely agrarian; most people were farmers. In the agrarian society, men achieved higher status by being the best farmers; those who possessed certain traits that made them good farmers had higher status and thus greater reproductive success than others who didn’t possess such traits.

Then, only a century later, the United States and Europe were predominantly industrial societies; most men made their living working for factories. Traits that make men good factory workers (or, better yet, factory owners) may or may not be the same as the traits that make them good farmers. Certain traits – such as intelligence, diligence, and sociability – probably remained important, but others – such as a feel for nature, the soil, and animals, and the ability to work outdoors or forecast weather – ceased to be important, and other traits – such as punctuality, the ability to follow instructions, a feel for machinery or mechanical aptitudes, and the ability to work indoors – suddenly became important.

Now, only one century later, we are in a post-industrial society, where most people work neither as farmers nor factory workers but in the service industry. Computers and other electronic devices become important, and an entirely new set of traits is necessary to be successful. Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson (and other successful men of today) may not have made particularly successful farmers or factory workers. All of these dramatic changes happened within 10 generations, and there is no telling what the next century will bring and what traits will be necessary to be successful in the 21st century.
Current research suggests that evolution can occur within a single generation through epigenetics. Granted we are not talking about changes in DNA, but we are talking about sometimes drastic changes in DNA expression (genes turned on or off). This is just one such article:
A fascinating article by Marcus Pembrey and co-workers,1 published in this issue of the European Journal of Human Genetics, suggests that the behaviour (or environment) of prepubescent boys could influence the phenotype of their sons and grandsons.
Some factors are behavioral (as in the above study), but more likely the trigger will be environmental - endocrine disruptors, xenoestrogens, carcinogens, and so on.

To say that human evolution has ceased in silly at best. And to say that men exist solely to get laid and reproduce is equally silly (in my mind). Even so, I wanted to present these articles as an example of what we are up against in reshaping the view of who men are and what we want in life.
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Men do everything they do in order to get laid I


It is not difficult to find personifications of the age-genius curve. Paul McCartney has not written a hit song in years, and now spends much time painting. Bill Gates is now a respectable businessman and philanthropist, and is no longer the computer whiz kid of his earlier years. J. D. Salinger now lives as a total recluse and has not published anything in more than three decades. Orson Welles was mere 26 when he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane, which many consider to be the greatest movie ever made. (In the words of the singer-songwriter Jill Sobule, in her song “Heroes” (Album: Pink Pearl), “Orson Welles peaked at 25, ballooned before our eyes, and he sold bad wine.”) There are some exceptions. Some artists, writers, and scientists remain productive into their middle and old ages, just as there are a few career criminals who commit crimes all their lives. But, in general, the pattern of youthful productivity holds for most, regardless of what field they happen to be in.

What is the reason behind all of this? Why do criminals usually desist from committing crimes as they age? Why does the productivity of creative geniuses also often fade with age? I’ll address these questions in my next post.

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Men do everything they do in order to get laid II

In a previous post, I explain that, regardless of what they do, whether they be geniuses or criminals, men’s productivity has an identical age profile. It quickly peaks in late adolescence and early adulthood, and then equally quickly declines throughout adulthood. What explains this common age profile?

It turns out that a single evolutionary psychological theory may be able to explain the productivity of both creative geniuses and criminals over the life course. According to this theory, both crime and genius are expressions of young men’s competitive desires, whose ultimate function in the ancestral environment would have been to increase reproductive success.

As I explain in an earlier post, there are reproductive benefits of intense competitiveness to men. In the physical competition for mates, those who are competitive may act violently toward their male rivals. Their violence serves the dual function of protecting their status and honor, and discouraging or altogether eliminating their rivals from future competition. Their competitiveness also inclines them to accumulate resources to attract mates by stealing from others, and the same psychological mechanism can probably induce men who cannot gain legitimate access to women to do so illegitimately through forcible rape. Men who are less inclined toward crime and violence may express their competitiveness through their creative activities in order to attract mates. . . .

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Men do everything they do in order to get laid III

Female choice

The similarity between Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, and the criminals (in fact, all men in evolutionary history) points to a very important concept in evolutionary biology: female choice. In all species in which the female makes greater parental investment than the male (such as humans and all other mammals), mating is a female choice; it happens when the female wants it to happen, and with whom she wants it to happen, not when and with whom the male wants it to happen.

The power of female choice becomes quite apparent in a simple thought experiment. Imagine for a moment a society where sex and mating were entirely a male choice; individuals have sex whenever and with whomever men want, not whenever and with whomever women want. What would happen in such a society? Absolutely nothing, because people would never stop having sex! There would be no civilization in such a society, because people would not do anything besides have sex. This, incidentally, is the reason why gay men never stop having sex: there are no women in their relationships to say no. Sexually active straight men on average have had 16.5 sex partners since age 18; gay men have had 42.8.

In reality, however, women do often say no to men. (In my experience, they always do.) This is why men throughout history have had to conquer foreign lands, win battles and wars, compose symphonies, author books, write sonnets, paint portraits and cathedral ceilings, make scientific discoveries, play in rock bands, and write new computer software, in order to impress women so that they will agree to have sex with them. There would be no civilization, no art, no literature, no music, no Beatles, no Microsoft, if sex and mating were a male choice. Men have built (and destroyed) civilizations in order to impress women so that they might say yes. Women are the reason men do everything. . . .

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Men do everything they do in order to get laid IV

Why does marriage settle men down?

There is something else that crime and genius have in common. Just as age does, marriage depresses both tendencies.

Criminologists have long known that criminals tend to “settle down” and desist (stop committing crime) once they get married, while unmarried criminals continue their criminal careers. But criminologists tend to explain this phenomenon from the social control perspective pioneered by the criminologist Travis Hirschi (the same Hirschi of the team who first discovered the age-crime curve). Social control theorists argue that marriage creates a bond to the conventional society, and investment in this bond, in the form of a strong marriage, makes it less likely that the criminal would want to remain in the criminal career, which is incompatible with the conventional life. Men must therefore desist from crime when they get married in order to protect their investment in conventional life; in Hirschi’s language, married men develop a “stake in conformity.” Marriage also increases the scope and efficiency of social control on the criminal. Now there is someone living in the same house and monitoring the criminal’s behavior at all times. It would be more difficult for the criminal to escape the wife’s watchful eye and engage in illicit activities.

The social control explanation for the effect of marriage on desistance from crime makes perfect sense, until one realizes that marriage has the same desistance effect on perfectly legal, conventional activities, such as science. A comparison of the “age-genius curve” among scientists who were married at some point in their lives with the same curve among those who never married shows the strong desistance effect of marriage on scientific productivity. Half as many (50.0%) unmarried scientists make their greatest contributions to science in their late 50s as they do in their late 20s. The corresponding percentage among the married scientists is 4.2%. The mean age of peak productivity among the unmarried scientists (39.9) is significantly later than the mean peak age among married scientists (33.9). . . .

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Men do everything they do in order to get laid V

Enjoying the fruits of their labor

The social control perspective on the desistance effect of marriage on crime is at best incomplete if marriage has the same desistance effect on scientists. Unlike criminal behavior, scientific activities are completely within conventional society and are thus not at all incompatible with marriage and other strong bonds to conventional society. Unlike criminals, scientists are not subject to social control (by their wives or others), since scientific activities are not illegal or deviant in any way.

I believe an evolutionary psychological theory provides a much simpler and more parsimonious explanation for the desistance effect of marriage for both crime and science, in the form of a single psychological mechanism that predisposes young men to compete and excel early in their adulthood but subsequently turns off after the birth of their children (which quickly followed pair-bonding and regular sex in the absence of reliable means of birth control in the ancestral environment). After their marriage and children, male scientists do not feel like spending hours and hours in their labs, just like married criminals do not feel like taking great risks and committing crimes. But neither scientists nor criminals know why.

From the evolutionary psychological perspective, reproductive success is the end, and everything men do (be it crime or scientific research) is but a means to this ultimate end. From this perspective, the question of why marriage depresses crime and scientific productivity misses the whole point. Does it make sense for men to continue empmloying the means even after they have achieved the ends they were trying to attain with the means? This is why married men are less likely to engage in a whole range of risk-taking behavior, like driving fast, which are designed indirectly and unconsciously to attaract women. Indeed, automobile insurance statistics clearly show that married men have fewer car accidents. . . .

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Men do everything they do in order to get laid VI

[whole post]

A postscript on the media

My paper on the crime-genius connection, which reports the age profile of scientific productivity and the desistance effect of marriage on science, was published in the August 2003 issue of the Journal of Research in Personality. As soon as the issue was published, it was picked up by the media, first by The New Scientist and Nature Science Update, and then it spread like wildfire. Eventually, it was featured in newspapers on every single continent, except for Antarctica.

As often happens in reporting on scientific studies (mine or otherwise), the media got it completely wrong. Here is a sample of the headlines:

A researcher says marriage ruins a beautiful mind (Boston Globe)

Marriage and children kill creativity in men (ABC news online, Australia)

Scientists and crooks, be single (The Telegraph, India)

Feeling sexy makes me a better writer (Independent, UK)

Marriage is not good for science and crime (The Telegraph, UK)

Marriage is bad for creativity (UPI)

If you have been following my posts in this series, you would quickly realize that all of these headlines and articles completely miss the point. My findings don’t mean “marriage is bad for creativity”; in fact, it’s the opposite. They show that creativity is good for marriage. Creative and successful men get married and can stop working, while their less talented counterparts must remain single and continue working in order to attract mates. Similarly, my findings do not mean “marriage is not good for science and crime”; they mean science and crime, if you do them well, are good for marriage in that you can then find a woman who would marry you. And they certainly don’t mean “feeling sexy makes me a better writer”; they mean a better writer feels sexy because he gets laid.

As I explain in my last post, from an evolutionary psychological perspective, marriage and reproductive success are the ultimate goals, and everything men do are the means to the goal. All of the headlines above assume that there is something inherently good about scientific genius or creativity, and marriage and children somehow get in their way. There is absolutely nothing good about scientific genius or creativity except as a means toward reproductive success. Even though they may not be aware of it consciously, men do everything they do in order to get laid, and scientific research is no exception.


Anonymous said...

If you really believe that men write songs, domestic animals, build bridges, play soccer, and study biology just to impress women and get laid, how odd it must seem to you that women do those very same things.

Peter M. said...

Just because our internal desires were wired up to maximize mating possibilities, doesn't mean we are consciously doing everything to get laid.

On the level of our consciousness, we do thigns we find rewarding. Perhaps
the evolutionary reason these things are rewarding to us is because of the survival-reproduction value having those desires gave us, but we are not
thinking about it on that level. Likewise, when we are hungry and eat, we aren't thinking "this is good for my survival and reproduction value", we just want to eat and it will feel good if we do, and eleviate the disease of hunger.

This is an important distinction to make.

It's like why do women enjoy going out to clubs and dancing? They tell you they do it because they enjoy dancing, and I believe them. But the reason they do is because being sexy and visible gives them an interenal reward. They don't kno wwhy, an dthey don't question it. The evolutionary reason their brains are wired to feel rewarded for that behaviour may be that this is good for reproductive success, but that's not their conscious motivation.