Why Do Men and Women Want Different Things?

Do we choose our partners based on adaptations humans formed a million years ago, or on the realities of modern life?

Regular readers of my blog will probably have realized from the links I share (or from my Twitter stream) that sexism and gender issues are subjects which matter to me. Unfortunately, a lot of my discussions about gender get sidetracked by a ”pop evolutionary” story based on naïve evolutionary psychology. We “evolved on the plains of Africa,” the story goes, where our preference in partners was shaped by biological needs; modern gender roles and partner preferences reflect these ancestral adaptations. It’s a nice story which does a great job of justifying the existing patriarchal structure, but is it true? That’s a huge question which is unlikely to be settled by a single study. Nevertheless, Marcel Zentner and Klaudia Mitura, a pair of psychologists at the University of York, decided to take it on.

The problem isn’t that the evolutionary story is necessarily untrue, but rather that it’s often assumed to be self-evidently true, perhaps because it dovetails nicely with the existing social order. The basic argument is that the sexes evolved different preferences in a partner based on their different roles and needs. Pregnancy and nursing cost an enormous amount of energy, so females are supposed to prefer a partner who can provide plentiful resources, which is why wealth and status are attractive in males. By contrast, males don’t have to worry as much about cost but are expected to look for youthful partners who will be more fertile. If these differences are hard-wired into male and females brains by evolution, they should be the same across cultures, which is precisely what a series of studies across 37 countries found.  The amount of difference wasn’t consistent, though, being larger in areas like the Middle East and North Africa and smaller in Scandinavia. Zentner and Mitura point out that this doesn’t fit with the evolutionary theory; after all, if evolution has shaped the sexes’ preference in partners, why would the difference be larger in some countries than in others?

An alternative is that what we look for in a partner is shaped more by social factors, like roles in marriage and employment, than by evolutionary history. According to this theory, inequality between the sexes shapes our perception of gender roles, leading males and females to look for different qualities in a partner; as the sexes become more equal, these differences should become smaller or disappear.  For example, women are less likely to be concerned about their partner’s ability to provide resources in societies where they can support themselves by working.  “There was accumulating evidence that gender differences in mental abilities, such as math performance, vanish in gender-equal societies,” said Dr. Zentner, so the duo set out to see if the same was true for how we pick our partners.

[I]n countries with a higher level of gender equality, like Finland and the Philippines, there wasn’t much difference between what males and females preferred in a partner, while in countries where the genders were unequal, such as Turkey, Korea and Mexico, the sexes tended to have very different preferences.  

This is hardly the first time the “social theory” has been tested, but the results from earlier studies were generally ambiguous.  Although inequality between the sexes seemed to affect preferences, the effect disappeared when other factors, such as different levels of affluence, were taken into consideration.  The existing measures of gender inequality didn’t take these factors into account, making it difficult to understand exactly what was happening.  To overcome this, Mitura and Zentner used the Gender Gap Index (GGI), introduced in 2006 by the World Economic Forum to overcome the problems of earlier metrics.  The GGI is designed to measure the extent to which a country has narrowed the gap between men and women; it controls for factors like wealth and explicitly measures outcomes rather than policy efforts.

The pair used an online questionnaire to learn about the preferences of nearly 3,200 people from 10 countries; the participants were asked to rate the importance of different characteristics in a partner, ranging from social status and good looks to chastity, education or being a good cook and housekeeper.  The researchers calculated the difference in preferences between males and females for each factor individually and as a combined average.  Comparing these differences with the countries’ GGI scores revealed a strong pattern: in countries with a higher level of gender equality, like Finland and the Philippines, there wasn’t much difference between what males and females preferred in a partner, while in countries where the genders were unequal, such as Turkey, Korea and Mexico, the sexes tended to have very different preferences.  To confirm these results, the researchers also reanalyzed the data from earlier studies and found the same effect. Although the results cast serious doubt on the evolutionary story, Dr Zentner warned that it shouldn’t be ruled out, saying ”the capacity to change behaviours and attitudes relatively quickly in response to societal changes may itself be driven by an evolutionary programme that rewards flexibility over rigidity.”

I’m guessing there are still going to be people who stick to the evolved-and-adapted story of gender roles and partner preferences. Actually, that’s fine. This study certainly isn’t perfect.  For one thing, it doesn’t address the difference between sex and gender or consider what effect transgender or genderqueer people might have on their survey.  In fact, the results don’t really address the issue of whether or how humans have evolved sex-specific criteria for picking a partner. However, they do clearly show that even if evolution has shaped what we look for in a lover, this hard-wiring can be overcome by how we are socialized.  Results like these show us to be more than simple automata; rather than using evolutionary history as an excuse to reinforce existing power structures, we should strive to create societies that overcome our flaws.

Ref
Zentner, M., & Mitura, K. (2012). Stepping Out of the Caveman’s Shadow: Nations’ Gender Gap Predicts Degree of Sex Differentiation in Mate PreferencesPsychological Science, 23 (10), 1176-1185 DOI: 10.1177/0956797612441004

 

This was previously published on Inspiring Science.

Read more on Sex & Relationships.

Image credit: Lord Jim/Flickr

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About Sedeer El-Showk

Sedeer el-Showk is a biologist but is trying to become a science writer. He has a background in evolutionary biology and plant genetics and is deeply enamored with language in every form.
Sedeer has always had too many hobbies (including reading & writing poetry, camping, cooking, photography and playing piano) and too little time. These hobbies have fallen by the wayside since he started a science blog, Inspiring Science, where he writes about biology, from recent research to basic science, and tries to remind us that while human beings are unique, we aren't special. Read more from Sedeer on his blog or follow him on Twitter (@inspiringsci).

Comments

  1. wellokaythen says:

    Another problem with pop evo bio explanations is that they tend to assume that there is only one mating pattern that is “natural” to humans. If we could just find that one and only one way that humans are “supposed to be,” we could just end the debate.

    Instead, maybe we should be open to the possibility that humans are to some degree “naturally” adaptive or flexible in their mating habits. There are animal species that have different mating patterns within the same species, usually because of living in different environments. Monogamous and mating for life in one ecological zone but not that way in another ecological zone. In those cases there are multiple mating patterns that could be considered more natural – none of them is more natural or unnatural than the others. Natural selection does not always lead to the one single best way to do something. The possibility of many and diverse mating practices may be built into us. Putting all your eggs in one basket (so to speak) could be contrary to human’s survival as a species.

    Even if we could reduce it all to the “original Africa” environment, from what I understand there is some evidence that hominids first appeaedr in an area with a highly mixed environment, where forest, savannah, plains, and hills were all close to each other. Perhaps the earliest hominids survived and thrived precisely because they were not a “one size fits all” species. In fact, perhaps we are particularly well-suited to climate change because we are so flexible in our social habits.

    It may be an unfounded assumption that our earliest ancestors had only one way of mating and only one rule for finding a mate. Why do we assume there is only one evolved way to do it?

    • Exactly!!! I think you’ve hit on one of the biggest problems with “pop” evo-psych. Why can’t humans have evolved flexible mating strategies to fit different circumstances?

      Another

      • wellokaythen says:

        I just re-read the article and saw that Zentner made the exact same point:

        ”the capacity to change behaviours and attitudes relatively quickly in response to societal changes may itself be driven by an evolutionary programme that rewards flexibility over rigidity.”

        No credit for originality, though I prefer the American spelling of “program” ….. : – )

    • Jonathan G says:

      Hmm, it would seem to me that although our ancestors may have originally arisen by evolution on the plains of Africa, we as a species have proven ourselves to be tremendously adaptable by, well, adapting to virtually every environment on the planet! I’d say that the fact that we’re so adaptive and flexible in other respects lends some significant weight to the idea that we’re flexible in mating habits…

    • I find that the only people who have this assumption are those critiquing evolution – using it as an ideological hammer to bash something they do not really understand.

      Steven Pinker is probably the most well-known, so called, evolutionary psychologist – with his best work on the topic provided in The Blank Slate.

      I challenge anyone to provide a passage from the book, in proper context, that makes the sort of claims being trotted out here. Warning: I have the book and have read it cover to cover twice.

      Evolution = statistical algorithm implying variance and no “one way” of anything.

      It is well known that humans have a sweet tooth. Some cultures reduce their sweet intake. This is proof that a sweet tooth is a social construction.

      • wellokaythen says:

        I think we’re actually in agreement. I’m talking about the popular use of a *misunderstanding* of evolutionary biology. I’ve seen it not just with people trying to debunk evolution but also people who want to prove that our gender roles are totally hardwired. I’m talking about the posts on the GMP that say things like “our caveman days.” That view of human evolution tends to suggest there’s only one natural way for humans to be.

    • Exactly!!! I think you’ve hit on one of the biggest problems with “pop” evo-psych. Why can’t humans have evolved flexible mating strategies to fit different circumstances?

      Another problem I have is the fundamental misunderstanding that many people have about what it means to say that we evolved to do something or to be a certain way. People confuse that with a “purpose.” Like evolution “wants” us to be a certain way, and if we aren’t acting that way, we are “wrong” or “unnatural.” In fact, evolution has no “purpose.” It provides no meanings. The meaning you find in life is up to you. Reproduction, for example, is not your “purpose” as dictated by “evolution.” Evolution is not God, sending you to hell for not following its rules. Pop evopsych starts to sound sometimes a lot like a conservative religion. Men, thou shalt like fertile females. Females, thou shalt be hypergamous. Trying to find life lessons from evolution is bunk.

      • Sorry for double post. Not sure how that happened

      • wellokaythen says:

        And, not just in different environments and different contexts, but maybe within the same local population humans have evolved the capacity for multiple mating practices. Heck, even within the life of one individual there can be multiple kinds of approaches to finding a sex partner.

        I think we can all agree that humans in the aggregate are clearly *capable* of all sorts of mating patterns. The fact that we are so omnicapable is very suggestive to me. Perhaps that capability has been a key part of the survival of the species.

        If “nature” “wants” us to behave in only one way, then why does nature “let” us behave in all these other ways as well?

        I totally agree on the personification of nature thing. Who says that the universe has any desires or plans or feelings? Did Hurricane Sandy actually have any “wrath”?

  2. Hunter @Green Detective says:

    And a 2008 study in the Journal of Family Psychology found that women with supportive spouses experienced less marital strain and in turn, were better at tolerating relationship stresses. The researchers also suggested that partners who are satisfied with their relationship are in a better position to provide support when the other partner experiences stressful events.

  3. Hank Vandeburgh says:

    Sex at Dusk absolutely nails it, and clearly shows the genetic templates for gender roles (which can vary on the surface, of course.) Occam’s razor suggests we start with the bio-genetics, then move to the messier socially constructed stuff next, if at all. Also, there are some key biological differences between tropical and non-tropical people, which I’ll write an article on shortly. I read the chapter in SAD on genetic reasons for gender conflict last night, and it’s hands the best thing I’ve ever read on gender.

  4. Took a closer look at the study by Zentner and Mitura: they unfortunately grouped all mate preferences together, leading to a forced washed out conclusion. Some specific details:

    They found that status related preferences are diminished in high gender parity nations, yet also found that the Good Looks preferences of men were the largest in the high gender parity nations.

    They also found that in low gender parity nations the Good Looks preferences are near equal for both men and women. What??? It seems that in low gender parity nations the men are much more progressive when it comes to female sexual attractiveness……

    The authors grouped all types of mate preferences together, washing out differences among preferences. I’m guessing they had a bigger more important point to make by the mash up.

    Preferences are either attenuated or amplified by the surroundings: should have been the conclusion – some preferences are decreased, while other are increased, when shifting from a low gender to a high gender parity nation.

  5. Not buying it says:

    @ sedeer

    I don’t believe in painting Evolution in general with a politically correct brush either, since nature is not necessarily about equality & justice, survival ,adaptation are paramount & nature trumps ideology every time & always including gender differences in human beings, ask yourself are finding the answers you want in your evolutionary psychology research or are letting the chips fall were they may as a good researcher & a scientist.

    Google ” the gender equality paradox ” Sir.

  6. I don’t think there is a single woman out there (I can’t speak for men but I’m pretty sure it’s probably the same) that picked their mate based on future progeny. Never once in my life did I look at a man and think ‘oh, he will give me good strong babies and provide well for me’ (and I grew up in the 50s when women were expected to be subservient wives and mothers). I’m pretty sure neither of my husbands looked at me and thought ‘she will be the best receptacle for my sperm’. If that was so, less strong and attractive people would never mate and we know that’s not true. The fact is that reproduction (otherwise known as sex) is the strongest biological imperative there is and people will have sex with just about anybody when they are in the grip of that imperative. If we women all made selections based on ability to provide we would not be shacking up with worthless shiftless men, we wouldn’t marry down the social scale. Back on the plains of Africa, babies were the by product of sex, not the point.

  7. I’m really tired of these supposed “takedowns” of evolutionary psychology.

    To begin with, when we study uncontroversial subjects (I.e. not sex) there’s really no debate. The best example is cheesecake. Throughout the western world, many people will admit to liking cheesecake despite the fact that it’s filled with empty calories and will likely contribute to a heart attack. We evolved to like foods such as cheesecake because they are energy-dense (with calories = energy), and we evolved in a place were there often wasn’t enough food eat. We like things that have a lot of fat and sugar, and so we like cheesecake. Today, it will probably kill us, but because we “needed it” thousands of years ago, we still want it.

    Now, here’s the key: cheesecake does not occur naturally. We respond the way we do because we want fat and sugar, and even though the majority of cheesecake consumers aren’t actually in need of an emergency dose of fat and sugar, they still want the fat and sugar. In other words, the artificial situation that is “cheesecake” does not actually override our base evolved impulses; we want th fact and sugar even if we’re already overweight.

    The extension to sex should be little different, but those who are unhappy with the subsequent conclusions throw up straw men to try and fight off the inevitable.

    Example: when confronted with a comment like Ellen Abbott’s above, where she claims that women do not consider offspring when rating a mate, just think about cheesecake. Does the average cheesecake consumer ask themselves “Will this cake meet my needs for fat and sugar?” or do they think “Eating cheesecake will make me feel good.”? Similarly, the average woman need not think “Will he make a good father?” she need only think “Will he make me feel good?”.

    Finally, just to be clear about the problems with the above study, ask yourself “Do the people in Finland ACTUALLY want those things in a mate, or do they just know what the socially polite answer is in a more equal society?”

    If the study had looked at the social status of the men that women actually date (how many doctors do ou see dating barista?) then the authors would have a point. At present, they’ve only proven that people in more liberal societies are better primed to give more liberal answers to survey questions.

    • QuantumInc says:

      Claiming that the people in these studies are in any way lying isn’t a fair point. Yes a study examining behaviors is a good idea, and would be revealing if it had different results, but you can’t know that until such a study is completed. The fact is someone did the science and got these results. To claim that someone could be lying to themselves and to researchers just because it disagrees with your beliefs is incredibly intellectually dishonest. In fact the argument works just as well in the opposite direction, how many women claimed they wanted a strong, high status, rich guy when in reality they could go for a starving artist type? Certainly the people in the countries with high social gender differences place a lot of pressure on people to perform their gender roles. If anything the social pressure is greater as a gender similar type country probably values freedom of gender expression.

      • I never said they were lying.

        When asked “Do you want to lose weight?” the majority of people in Western societies answer “Yes,” and they are telling the truth. However, that doesn’t mean that mean that they actually change their underlying behavior, and indeed, we know that they don’t.

        It’s entirely possible that the people who were surveyed were absolutely 100% telling the truth. That doesn’t mean that their survey responses reflect their actual preferences.

        Someone who “wants to lose weight” but then proceeds to not exercise and consumer fatty foods clearly has a preference for not exercising and consuming fatty foods. This DOES NOT mean that they were lying when they said “I want to lose weight,” but it does mean that a desire to lose weight simply does not reflect their actual underlying preferences.

        Similarly, someone can be 100% telling the truth when they say “I want a partner who exhibits qualities X, Y, and Z” while simultaneously only dating people who exhibit quality Q. This doesn’t mean that they are lying about wanted X, Y, and Z, only that they have a revealed preference for quality Q.

        Studies have confirmed, time and again, that the men women find attractive vary both with the woman’s internal hormonal cycle, and the testosterone levels in the man. Likewise, studies have shown, time and again, that men with more money and more power have an easier time attracting women. This does not make any woman a “liar” for saying she wants a mate with “a sense of humor and a kind personality” but it does reveal an unstated preference which we cannot deny.

        • wellokaythen says:

          I wonder. Is it the *existence* of greater wealth and power, or the *appearance* of greater wealth and power that seems to make such a big difference?

          I’m little skeptical about some of the interpretations of hypergamy, because the “wealth and power” tends to be a moving target, often defined so broadly as to be not very useful. It could mean a hundred different things: physical attributes, bank statements, earning potential, reproductive potential, family heritage, political power, childrearing skills, erudition, even artistic talent. The man who can change the tire, and the man who can order someone else to change the tire, same difference. The wide definition of “sexual capital” is so big sometimes that it looks pretty useless as a concept.

    • Sedeer El-Showk says:

      Zentner & Mitura actually acknowledge the use of self-reported preferences as one of the weaknesses of their study, but say they did it to make their findings comparable with previous work. They also say that future work “might include implicit measures of mate preferences” which would address this criticism. Another important point they raise is the difference between mate preference and ultimate mate choice, which is probably influenced by too many factors to depend on preference in a straightforward way.

      I kind of like the cheesecake analogy. As I said in the article, though, I’m not convinced that this study tells us very much (if anything) about what kinds of mate preferences we may have evolved. It does, however, show that we’ve either evolved flexible mate preferences or that we can overcome whatever fixed preferences we have. Evolution may have gifted us all with a sweet tooth, but how much of an impact that has varies with sociocultural circumstances. I think this study makes a similar case for mate preference, though you’re right about the problem with self-reporting.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Among other things, humans’ behavioral baggage which can be traced to evolution is manifested in propensities, not hard-wired unvarying responses to stimuli. Some people eat snails, for heaven’s sake, when they’re hungry. Some get to weighing half a ton and others suffer from anorexia. So “Hungry-Eat” isn’t followed by only one behavior.
    Presuming evpsych is true, women aren’t attracted to studly men because they like studly men. They’re attracted because those women who were had more surviving offspring and those who were not didn’t leave the genes for attraction to the non-studly.
    Various studies showing changes in perception of attractiveness as manifested in the high-T male face vary by time of month. Means something.
    Problem is, we lack any longitutidinal studies of generations in a Cro Magnon hunting band. In fact, nobody I know of ever laid eyes on a cave man.
    Other problems: The ratio of adult female remains in Paleolithic times to male remains indicates female infanticide was likely. And the ring-finger to index-finger ratio as a proxy for high-T and its concomitant promisicuity, aggressiveness and propensity for violence shows that the likely Paleo band was more men than women and most of the men were likely to be aggressive and possibly violent. Which means women’s choice in matters of sex back then is probably overrated.
    OTOH, listening to one of those interminable Time-Life old music ads–I recognized about 90% of them from late Fifties to maybe mid Sixties–I heard lines from a song I’d forgotten for decades:
    Johnny get angry
    Johnny get mad
    Give me the biggest lecture I ever had.
    I want a brave man.
    I want a cave man.
    By Joannie Sommers.
    Don’t recall the rest of the thing but I do recall having wondered WTF. Yelling at a girl makes you brave? You yell at a girl and she thinks you’re brave? You have to be brave to yell at a girl? Girls want you to yell at them to prove you’re brave? They want to be yelled at?
    I had not thought about what makes a hit–and this was one. It means that a lot of people scratched up what it cost to get the single, with the purpose of playing it fifty or a hundred times. It meant that radio stations which wanted audience played it over and over and you couldn’t get away from it. Had to mean something.
    Saw Hannah Rosin interviewed on C-Span about her book The End of Men. Got to a discussion about whether men should be dominant. Well, at least in terms of putting a foot down when it comes to choosing a restaurant. You may slay an entire battalion of Iraqi Republican Guards and rescue seventeen kids from a burning orphanage but if you don’t put your foot down about the restaurant, you’re a wussy loser.You’ll be viewed with contempt. This is known as the Red Pill.
    Either women are really fixated on restaurants or they use it as a metaphor for a more general issue. Related to evpsych?

  9. Evolution is so much more complicated than can be put into a few statements. We have moved so far away from our natural environments and we call this adapting…but is it adaptation when “cheesecake” is wreaking eventual havoc on our bodies and will lead to our demise…or is that merely surviving in a state of resilience.
    The concept that people chose mates based on how awesome their offspring will be is not a conscious thought, it’s subconscious and biologically based. But as suggested by mike L, it’s convoluted by the reality of instant gratification, just like cheesecake. Our bodies aren’t even prepared to consume dairy from animals, we don’t have the enzymes for digesting it but it doesn’t kill us andt cheese has a chemical compound similar to opiates… We often aren’t really in tune with our natural self anymore.

    • Google “supernormal stimuli”. Our evolutionary urges can easily be hijacked by things that are bigger, more exciting, more stimulating than we actually need. Good book on the topic is Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose (Hardcover)
      Deirdre Barrett
      http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0057DC3VY by

  10. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    As a northern European of mixed Germanic and Celtic heritage, I am able to digest cheese, and cheesecake, for that matter. My people, like many Indo-Europeans, herded cattle for generations.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    Hank. Millenia, even. Note that the Irish equivalent of the Iliad is The Cattle Raid of Cooley.
    Yup, we ran cattle, hired out to fight and we can eat cheesecake. Funny how some folks’ problem is supposed to be everybody’s problem. Quick, tell Bloomberg we like cheesecake and he’ll take it away from us.

  12. Hank Vandeburgh says:

    An Bo Cullaighn if I remember rightly (spelling probably wrong.) Note that good old Indo-European root, “bo,” for cow.

  13. Hank Vandeburgh says:

    Still reading Sex at Dusk. I think Saxon starts to have problems when she starts grabbing parts of the empirical qualitative anthropological research, after making a great theoretical entrance. Much of it seems to project Western prudery onto people who have multipartner cultural arrangements. I tend to believe that the Margaret Mead Samoa type arrangement might have held more sway more of the time. (This in spite of Freeman’s badly supported critique of Mead.) I think that Ryan is fairly silly, as Saxon points out, but her approach is marred by a little too much triumphalism and sarcasm (even exclamation points!) Human female genitals seem to be designed for prolonged pleasure a little too much for such prudery to have actually existed on a large scale in multipartner societies. Saxon will later explain involuntary female arousal as a device for protecting a woman’s genitals during forced or multiple sex, but this seems a little forced, itself. I think that sex is fairly polyvalent.

  14. wellokaythen says:

    I like the cheesecake analogy. There’s some merit to that explanation. We do seem to be hardwired to desire fat and sugar, and that’s one of the reasons so many people crave candy and cookies. So, gender roles are to sexual biology what cheesecake is to the physiology of craving.

    But, there are some problems with this analogy.

    First, not everyone has a “sweet tooth,” and those who do have very different levels of it. Some people can’t take more than a bite of the average cheesecake because it’s “too sweet.” Some people (am I right, ladies?) crave salty savory things much more than sugary, fatty things. So, there’s no reason to assume that mate selection is determined by only one biological drive. Perhaps the desire for stereotypically studly men is like the craving for sugar, while the desire for cerebral, geeky types (that happens, right?) is like the craving for salt. Both are “natural” or “hardwired” things found within human brains.

    Second, our brains are programmable to some degree anyway. When I was a kid, I pigged out on Reese’s Pieces one Halloween and made myself totally sick. To this day, the sight of them or thought of them turns my stomach. I still like sweet stuff, but there are whole categories of similar candy that I just can’t even stand the sight of. The smell of Reese’s Pieces makes me salivate, but not in a pleasant way….

    Finally, the appeal of food and sex partners seem to have different mechanisms. A lot of sexual attraction is based on looks, but we don’t crave cheesecake because of how it looks. We crave it because of previous experience with sugar. If you’ve never seen a cheesecake before and never tasted it, or never tasted refined sugar at all, you would have no clue whether you might like it. If you’ve never had sex, though, and don’t even know much about sex, you still have attractions to some people. You already like him even before you try him for the first time.

    Yes, I know I’m overthinking this. : – )

    • The mechanism appears different (sweets vs sex) but I think that’s because sweet food is more akin to a particular kind of sex. I think craving calorie dense food in general, whether fatty or sweet, is more on a par with craving sex in general. Sweets might be more like, well, everyone can add their particular sexual proclivity here.

      As a mechanism to possibly explain some preferences, it very well could be that our distant ancestors had evenly distributed and therefore almost statistically random preferences for height and body type and so on. Those preferences might have been influenced by genes and some of those preferred traits might have enhanced survivability or a correlated trait might have, and so more offspring were born and with both the trait that enhances survivability and the genes for the preference. Henece the tendency for some traits to more often be preferred today.

      And doesn’t this stuff really only make sense in the aggregate as that relates to tendencies in a group. If straight women as a group tend to prefer X trait in men, that does little to predict what a particular women will prefer. It also says little about how strong a preference for X will be. However, it may matter to a man with the X trait. If X is preferred by 75% of women and preferred to the extent that its a must have by 25% of women, then a man with X trait may have a very different dating life compared to a man lacking X, other things being roughly equal, which of course they may not be.

  15. Sedeer El-Showk says:

    Thanks for all the thoughtful comments; I’m really glad that my article managed to spark some discussion & debate!

    There’s something I’d like to clear up: I’m arguing that gender preferences aren’t influenced by evolution, nor do I think this is what Zentner & Mitura’s study shows. I said as much in the closing paragraph. The main point, in my opinion, is that social factors can reshape mate preferences, despite any underlying evolutionary pressure. I like studies like this because the remind us that mate preference, mate choice, etc are complicated traits that shouldn’t be reduced to simplistic “just so” evolutionary stories. I don’t think this study is the last word on the subject by any measure, but it’s certainly a useful example when debating with people who want to use evolutionary arguments to support certain kinds of behaviour, social organization, etc.

  16. Not buying it says:

    Sedeer,

    It’s far from simplistic is what some of us are arguing too, Nature & the mechanism it uses ( Evolution can not avoid any current circumstances & realities facing that entity it’s working on but definitely it influences all the possible outcomes, way more than any ideology driven research would like to observe & believe.

  17. “. If these differences are hard-wired into male and females brains by evolution, they should be the same across cultures, which is precisely what a series of studies across 37 countries found. The amount of difference wasn’t consistent, though, being larger in areas like the Middle East and North Africa and smaller in Scandinavia. Zentner and Mitura point out that this doesn’t fit with the evolutionary theory; after all, if evolution has shaped the sexes’ preference in partners, why would the difference be larger in some countries than in others?

    Um, perhaps because any intellectually respectable evolutionary psychologist is *not* claiming that culture has no effect. The above results showed consistent differences between men and women across cultures, but differences in degree between cultures – precisely what the idea that a certain percentage of human behavior is heritable (and ultimately shaped by biological evolution) while a certain percentage is environmental/cultural is in fact exactly what evolutionary psychology would predict. Of course, the reality is even more complex than that, since ultimately heritable and environmental influences on mind and behavior are so strongly interactive, that truly separating “nature” from “nurture” is not entirely possible.

    I never tire of linking to this paper by Frans de Waal, showing what a truly intelligent, nuanced evaluation of evolutionary psychology actually looks like. Something the gender blogging milieu could learn a thing or two from: http://www.emory.edu/LIVING_LINKS/LL_2009/pdf_attachments/dewaal_evpsych_2002.pdf

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