Monday, February 9, 2009

"Someday we'll live on Venus
And men will walk on Mars
But we will still be monkeys
Down deep inside"

There are two kinds of scientists studying what might be underlying human mate choice (i.e. finding out whatever it is that a man needs to get laid consistently).

On the one hand we got (social) psychologists. Their conclusions are by and large consistent with mainstream thinking: "Men want hotties" while "Women seek men with brains and money". Only recently have things started to move in this field, and researchers find "surprising" results that explain why Game works: we (esp. women) say we want one kind of partner but fall for a completely different type, non-neediness is a turn-on, men's body language (and sexual/romantic interest) is easy to read, the more men the choosier the women but if women put in the effort of approaching, they become less choosy.

On the other hand, there are primatologists (and evolutionary psychologists as an extension).

Their old model was simple: Males want all the sex they can get, and women grant it to select individuals only.

The two factors deciding on whether or not a male ape or monkey got some action were:
1) his dominance rank (i.e. alpha or beta males)
2) female mate choice

Classical theory assumed that these factors are separate and independent of each other.

A male had to achieve a certain rank by (often literally) beating its competition. Dominance rank was seen as the result of male-to-male competition. Alpha males were physically keeping other males from mating, thereby ensuring the valuable ressource of poon (ovaries).

The other factor was female choice. Since females do not mate with alpha males exclusively, it was believed that their preference for certain males was independent of their rank. The only reason the alphas got laid more often was their physical dominance over other males.

This soon proved wrong.

For several reasons:

- Females prefer high ranking males
Even in our closest relatives, females solicit more sex from high ranking males.
Interestingly, female monkeys orgams more often if they copulate with higher ranking males. So pleasure could be a proximate reason.
The ultimate reason is believed to be the higher quality of sperm that alpha males might possess (i.e. the promise of "sexy sons").
Another possibility is that there is a rank-transfer, i.e. females can gain rank by gaining high ranking males (this is related to the role of the selectivity of male mate choice; I will expand on that in a later post).

- (high ranking) Males are selective about females. It is not just females who chose. Females compete (heavily) for the best mates.

- Ovulation shifts between long term versus long term mating strategies.

- Group size (and other factors) alter female selectivity

- Primates are likely to experience sperm competition

What does that mean for humans?

The fact that rank is not neccessarily established through physical dominance is revealing. While this is certainly a factor in human societies, it is not the only one (ever been beaten up by your boss?).

Yet, there is ample reason to believe that women are more attracted to alpha male-like behavior (conveyed status) and (possibly) a large amount of money/ressources (socioeconomic status).

This leaves space for an interesting dilemma.

Who decides about rank (if it is not physical violoence)? What role does the female choice play?

It is conceivable that alpha status is (co-) established through female choice, i.e. women 'decide' or 'create' high ranking men by preferentially sleeping with them (the resulting hend and egg problem is similar if not related to that of the sexually successful son hypothesis).


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