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Thread: Evolutionary Biology: Primal Relationships? page

  1. #1
    SerialSinner's Avatar
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    Ok, here we go.


    The base premise here is that human nature is not a blank slate, and that attraction has hard-wired + cultural components. The extent to which cultural influences usurp hard-wired traits, I am sure, varies a lot from community to community.


    About seeking gene quality: while evidently not binary, I do think it's easier to talk about bad quality than good quality. The way I see it, it's not about seeking genetic optimization, but about minimizing genetic pitfalls. I think we both can agree on that phenotype, especially in less developed communities, can provide relatively trustworthy indicators about presence/lack of serious genetic issues: health, symmetry, build and "alpha-maleness" are good examples of them.


    Discriminating good gene carriers from bad ones is so important, that the trait of judging genetic quality based on phenotype was probably strongly positively selected in humans.


    As for increasing variability through sexual reproduction, Google Scholar offers some papers suggesting a bias within ovulating in favor of good men with phenotypical indicators of "good genes". I don't have access to the full articles, but here they are anyway:


    http://tinyurl.com/n23owt

    http://tinyurl.com/loxgc8

    http://tinyurl.com/nvevkq


    Regarding the pursuit of genetic variation as a way to increase genetic fitness, it would be interesting to see if there is any correlation between mixed ethnicities and attractiveness. I tend to see a pattern where people tend to find exotic people more attractive than average, but that's my perception only.


    About access to resources and attractiveness in males:


    http://tinyurl.com/lgtz8l

    http://tinyurl.com/n793ta

    http://tinyurl.com/dfk3ur

    http://tinyurl.com/mlfs5m


    I also want to, again, stress how closely related status and potential Male Parental Investment are. Granted, the relationship will probably change depending on criteria such as population size, cultural aspects of private property, general resource availability, etc.


    The hunter-gatherer community you mentioned could be an exception. But I would be mo+re inclined to think that, even in that culture, a high status does come with some more subtle perks. And any perk which increases access to food, security, comfort, and even leisure time would qualify as Male Parental Investment.


    I do believe that men who exhibit typical alpha male character traits is globally considered more attractive that their opposite. Picturing extremes is useful to illustrate this point. I think we can agree on that weak, timid, submissive, insecure men can be labeled as unattractive regardless of culture. Why? My take is that they are simply not "properly equipped" to prosper and therefore offer an attractive degree of MPI.


    It would also make sense to expect women who already have access to plenty of resources would be more prone to select long-term partners based on more sophisticated indicators such as academic degrees, or taste in music. Poor women would tend to focus more on access to resources and less on, for example, their philosophical stand on libertarianism.


    I think that addressing patterns showing women's apparent bias in favor of a prospective good MPI as more of a cultural construct than a hard-wired trait leaves more questions unanswered than the other way around. and I think it makes complete sense.

    “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” -Oscar Wilde
    "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -George Bernard Shaw
    "The trouble with jogging is that the ice falls out of your glass." -Martin Mull

  2. #2
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    First responses before I go merrily skipping off to read the links (and make dinner, and figure out something to blog about, and oh dear)...


    "About seeking gene quality: while evidently not binary, I do think it's easier to talk about bad quality than good quality."


    It is. The point I'm mostly trying to make sure stays central is that easier to talk about does not necessarily equate to more accurate. Game theorists, for example, rely on strict good-bad models, but the models only exist in order to prove something plausible- not to accurately describe the way things actually happen.


    If I wanted an easy offhand example, I'd point to body types found among Inuit versus Maasai- one type is optimal for an arctic environment, the other for a desert, and which is "good" and therefore attractive is probably not so much hardwired into our genes (human populations don't differ THAT much genetically) as something cultural norms develop to reinforce.


    "I think we both can agree on that phenotype, especially in less developed communities, can provide relatively trustworthy indicators about presence/lack of serious genetic issues: health, symmetry, build and "alpha-maleness" are good examples of them."


    I think we do, but we're probably going to get good and hung up on "alpha male" as a term and concept. This is a concept that has gotten revisited a lot in recent years in primatology especially, and it's turned out to be much less clear-cut than first apparent. There are high-status apes, for example, that get all the obvious mating advantages- but not all the males choose to exert a lot of effort fighting their way up the heirarchy, and instead choose to spend their time making friends with some of the females, who later give them mating opportunities without having to beat the crap out of some other guy first. He winds up with a steadier and more reliable supply of offspring than he would if he tried to fight his way through stronger and meaner males that ARE physically and temperamentally suited to be at the top of the ladder. His life is less stressful in the bargain, too.


    Given that human societies- hunter-gatherer and non- tend to be less rigidly structured than those ape and monkey societies, I'm even more dubious about "alpha male" versus "beta male" as the way to sort males, especially as we seem to be disregarding female status and heirarchy at the same time even though they exist to the same degree. I'm also wondering if "masculinity" isn't a better term.


    "Discriminating good gene carriers from bad ones is so important, that the trait of judging genetic quality based on phenotype was probably strongly positively selected in humans."


    Hey look! A point of complete agreement! Shiny!


    "Regarding the pursuit of genetic variation as a way to increase genetic fitness, it would be interesting to see if there is any correlation between mixed ethnicities and attractiveness."


    I would really, really like to see this as well. It's an inclination based purely anecdotally, but when I'm reading travel writing and journalism involving haring off to exotic places, it seems like the bulk of the praise for the attractiveness of the local inhabitants is for places at which lots of ethnicities have converged and the local gene pool is very mixed- like the Phillipines, the Caribbean islands, and Brazil.


    "I also want to, again, stress how closely related status and potential Male Parental Investment are. Granted, the relationship will probably change depending on criteria such as population size, cultural aspects of private property, general resource availability, etc."


    I'm pretty sure I know what you mean with this term, but a full definition might well be helpful. The thing is, male parental investment isn't really a binary description either; if we're going to take into account the whole sweep of human culture- and we should- polygamous societies have the most direct reflection of status as a direct correlate to getting mates, sometimes with the woman's wishes not even considered at all. The more mates (and children) a male collects, the more thinly spread he is- and the less actual investment each woman receives. This also opens him up to the scenario I mentioned in the earlier thread- the woman hooking up with the high-status male for the resource stability, but sneaking off to sleep with other males. Call it following her heart (or gonads, and women are just as capable of doing that as men), or call it maximizing genetic variability.


    "I do believe that men who exhibit typical alpha male character traits is globally considered more attractive that their opposite."


    Defining typical alpha male traits would help here, I think. For example, when I talked about different strategies in heirarchical social primates above, I didn't mention that some of them still lose out- there are different ways for a male to be successful, but it's still entirely possible to be a monkey loser. I think we can definitely agree no one is particularly attracted to those who can't make any strategy work for them.


    "It would also make sense to expect women who already have access to plenty of resources would be more prone to select long-term partners based on more sophisticated indicators such as academic degrees, or taste in music. Poor women would tend to focus more on access to resources and less on, for example, their philosophical stand on libertarianism."


    Okay, but why does this have to be a biological thing at all? What you've basically just said is that high-status women can afford to be picky and lower-status women have fewer choices because they have economic constraints. This doesn't need to be wired in- and it's arguable that if choices change with economics, then economics are the most likely explanation for those choices.


    "I think that addressing patterns showing women's apparent bias in favor of a prospective good MPI as more of a cultural construct than a hard-wired trait leaves more questions unanswered than the other way around. and I think it makes complete sense."


    I think I need to clarify the overall point I was trying to make here.


    We make the assumption that men are attracted to phenotypic indicators of fitness- young, healthy, and feminine- and I'm arguing that not only does this make sense, but it makes less sense to assume that exactly the same thing isn't true of women- they are sexually attracted to young, healthy, and masculine. If both men and women have status differentials, it makes little sense to assume that status is the primary driver of attraction for women rather than phenotypically-indicated fitness but this factor doesn't figure in for men- especially when female heirarchies tend to be hereditary, women handle most of the child care (making sure the Groklings survive to reproductive age), and therefore a woman's female relatives are providing a major degree of investment as well. That female-relative pattern isn't just isolated to hunter-gatherer villages, it tends to show itself to greater or lesser degrees across a wide variety of human cultural constructs.


    Basically, if there are multiple paths to success for both sexes, why assume that attraction is very hardwired at all except toward "healthy and fertile"- with the rest being mostly culturally mediated?


  3. #3
    SerialSinner's Avatar
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    "It is. The point I'm mostly trying to make sure stays central is that easier to talk about does not necessarily equate to more accurate."


    We agree on this. As we discussed before, genetic variability is desired, so it would make no sense to be on the look out for a specific set of genes. Humans appear to be avoiding genetic defects while ensuring plasticity via the increase of variability.


    While not accurate regarding who to necessary select, I think we could focus on "unconscious rules" regarding who not to select. The more evident genetic issues become through phenotype, the more certainty I believe we could have that some phenotypes will be excluded regardless of culture.


    "If I wanted an easy offhand example, I'd point to body types found among Inuit versus Maasai-..."


    I would make sense to think that health and standard deviation from the "cultural mean" would be key issues here. In this sense, I completely agree on that culture is very important, as each would provide a unique "aesthetic benchmark" to judge others. But again I believe we could eventually settle on a set of transcultural, universal mating deterrents. This is where I see EP becoming very helpful.


    On a side note, it would be interesting to see which phenotypical cues are taken into account for mate selection amongst communities that tend to be covered up all most of the time.


    "I think we do, but we're probably going to get good and hung up on "alpha male" as a term and concept"


    I think this is a very valid concern, as it would be easy to get caught up on this as well. What you say about beta males having their own successful strategy to mate, I think, is not too related to male-female attraction.


    In your example, the beta has to work his way into a female one way or another. But at the end, I think it's about mating frequency and diversity of partners, and therefore higher success in perpetuating their (in theory, better genes).


    The bottom line would then be, if statuses granting more reproductive success are linked to attraction. I believe they do.


    "Hey look! A point of complete agreement! Shiny!"


    Shiny indeed! But then, if we have evolved a very effective way to interpret phenotypical indicators as cues for, at worst, lack of genetic drawbacks, and given that our species is, in civilized terms, pretty new; wouldn't it make sense that humans do share a basic and predictable set of indicators for mate selection regardless of culture?


    "The more mates (and children) a male collects, the more thinly spread he is- and the less actual investment each woman receives."


    Exactly. This is why, in polygamous societies, wealth is directly proportional to the number of wives. If the MPI gets too thinly spread, I don't see any incentive for a woman to share a man with others, when she could get a similar MPI from a monogamous relationship, or another powerful polygamous man.


    "This doesn't need to be wired in- and it's arguable that if choices change with economics, then economics are the most likely explanation for those choices."


    I think this is an interesting point. On one side, I think that economics (again, understood as access to resources)is always involved in mate choice. I, actually, see economics as a more "biological" than cultural variable.


    What is the effect of environmental stress on mate selection? I think this is a hard question. My take is the following: in abundance of resources, mate selection by females would be more concerned on maintaining this availability rather than necessarily increasing it.


    I believe the idea above is supported by how inter-caste/status relationships tend to be frown upon trans culturally, mainly when the male is of a lower caste/status than the female.


    "If both men and women have status differentials, it makes little sense to assume that status is the primary driver of attraction for women rather than phenotypically-indicated fitness but this factor doesn't figure in for men- especially when female heirarchies tend to be hereditary"


    I think that our approach might differ on the following:


    - I understand personality/character as phenotype, and therefore subject of being used as cue for the presence of good genes in mate selection.

    - I approach status as an indicator of underlying attractive traits/circumstances, not necessarily as an attractive trait itself. Status, I believe, has a strong correlation with *potential* MPI, hence it's attractiveness.


    "Basically, if there are multiple paths to success for both sexes, why assume that attraction is very hardwired at all except toward "healthy and fertile"- with the rest being mostly culturally mediated? "


    I think group selection would start to overlap with individual selection. Each component of the group serves it's own role and contributes to the stability of the whole.


    From within a group, what would "good genes" be then?. I think we could agree on that non-deleterious genes would make it into that category. But I would also think that some genes are more... crucial, if you like, than others. That being said, it would make sense to evolve a mechanism to ensure these crucial genes are kept in the gene pool. Here is where alpha males and attraction would start to play a big role.

    “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” -Oscar Wilde
    "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -George Bernard Shaw
    "The trouble with jogging is that the ice falls out of your glass." -Martin Mull

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    You two need to take your big brains and start you own forum! ;-)


    You make me feel STUUUUUUUUUUUUUUPID........


    Carry on.........


    (Blah!)


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    I like reading / seeing nerdier nerds than myself


    Let me go back and re-read all that....


    As said - Carry on!


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    Interesting conversation! I am currently reading a book that has a discussion of this topic. The book is The Well-Dressed Ape. It's pretty entertaining. (SS - I hope you didn't link to that - I didn't read all the links)


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    Ha, I agree with Sass! I feel so intellectually puny...yet, unfortunately, my small brain was paired with a big mouth.


    Is the central conundrum seeking to determine if attractiveness is based upon indicators of reproductive ability or social status? While the former is necessary for initial conception, successful transmission of genes through matured offspring is equally contingent upon the latter. It would seem that both factors would be situationally variable, although reproductive ability would have more universal standards (as in asymmetrical indicators of congenital defects and such).


    Also, what do you think of the cosmetic enhancement? Does the ability and prevalence of humans to consciously alter their phenotype present an obstacle to the natural genetic selective process? Or is this simply an expression of social status, to be able to afford the luxury of emulating a more desirable underlying genotype?


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    SerialSinner's Avatar
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    Sorry guys for the potentially dense and boring topic of conversation. Don't be fooled by the apparent complexity of science jargon, the main concepts are really very simple. The jargon is useful amongst colleagues for the sake of clarity though.


    Shine, I think that, in humans, the key issues are both reproductive ability and social status. It's not the same in all species though.


    Take sea turtles, for example. They invest zero time in taking care of their offspring. But they lay lot's of eggs, hoping that some of them (usually a small percentage) will eventually reach the sea and make it to adulthood.


    Human reproductive strategy is very different though. We have very small litters, but invest a lot of effort and resources in making sure they make it to puberty.


    This is why think that parental investment is also key in our species reproductive success, and that therefore it should be a source of attraction for both sides.


    From the male perspective, the goal would be to make sure his investment is well placed (ie, that he is not raising other male's child). For women, the goal would be to secure the parental investment for her child.


    The above paragraph is very aligned with typical jealousy patterns amongst humans. As opposed to men, women tend to be more mortified by emotional infidelity than a sexual one:

    http://tinyurl.com/nqlk78


    Emotional attachment is a good predictor of Male Parental Investment. Adultery should be of great concern for a man because he might be investing on someone else's kid.


    Also, and I am saying this from a western perspective, it's worth noting the big asymmetry when it comes to judging attractive qualities in men and women. It's more important for a man to not be a loser, than to be attractive. Women, on the other hand, tend to be judged more from a physical perspective, which is usually related to their ability to make and deliver healthy babies (Shine, here is where I believe the makeup and other artificial enhancements come into play).


    The reason why I love evolutionary psychology is that it helps us guys, and with some success I believe, to understand women. And the opposite surely applies as well.

    “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” -Oscar Wilde
    "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -George Bernard Shaw
    "The trouble with jogging is that the ice falls out of your glass." -Martin Mull

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    sorry for another (involuntary) long post...


    And Yummy thanks for the book suggestion. I added it to my half.com wish list.

    “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” -Oscar Wilde
    "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -George Bernard Shaw
    "The trouble with jogging is that the ice falls out of your glass." -Martin Mull

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    Your first one today brought up a number of thoughts, all scattered- today has been hectic. Will hopefully be able to respond tomorrow, and I'll just post the scattered version if they don't cohere by then.


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