Thursday, May 14, 2009

Why Gentlemen prefer Blondes

"Nothing makes sense in biology - except in the light of evolution."

Of course, this truism directly applies to the bizarre nature of female sexuality.

[If you think of it - isn't it amazing that there is any theory at all that can explain why mass murderers get more love letters than your average well behaved and educated white collar worker with house, car and six digit income.]

But, let's not forget - it is applicable to male sexuality, too.

We tend to shake our heads at the female lust for a man with power above all else.

However, this is in part due to the fact that the male preference for young women with visual beauty above all else is the societal standard.

We have learned to accept that beauty, in the form of symmetrical facial structures, well developed sexual dimorphisms and there like are equal to "attractive". We have difficulty understanding that high social status/dominance has the same effect on the other gender. The female preference for male power is not ingrained in our culture (yet) to the extend that we accept the male preference for female beauty as a given (and this may change).

Thanks to the prevailing dogma, men still have limiting beliefs about their looks (as opposed to "appearance"). It is hard to realize for a man socialized in our times that whether or not you are handsome simply does not matter. And likewise, women (still) fail to realize that it is their looks only that count and are pron to Sysiphus-esque work on their appearance in order to increase their mating market value. Not realizing that their attempts of gaining social proof by surrounding themselves with hordes of men have the opposite effect.

Yet, even the male lust for young, well formed women is somewhat bizarre and rather strange if you manage to rid yourself completely of the socialization we all share (or take on the female perspective):
How come we don't give a flying fuck about who she is if we are horny and out on a hunt for pussy? Why does it not matter at all if she is smart, well educated, generous, warm, loving, funny - if she is not hot/fat/ugly/old?

Evolutionary theory predicts both, women blinded by a man's power/influence/social status - and men blinded by what signals health and fertility.

But how far does the explanatory power go?

Master Dogen and I have hinted in previous posts on how evopsych approaches to seduction - for all its benefits - sometimes turns into the ridiculous.

While there certainly is truth in women trying to get beta "Provider" males to commit and spend their resources for nestbuilding purposes, all the while lusting for "Lover" sperm received through rough sex, it does not take a Ph.D. to understand that effect if black fingernail polish on women might be different from the effect of a peacock's tail on a hen.

The key is to be rational about Game.

Think before you act.

A sober, inquisitive mind(set) is what separates those who successfully apply the collective insight the "community" gathered during recent years from suckers who fall for catch phrases or those who spend (three digit amounts of) money for listening to someone's random thoughts on how to "score".

When it comes to Evolutionary Psychology and its spinoffs for "pickup", the problem is one that is well known to life scientists as "Adaptionist Storytelling":

The innate problem of lack of verification (or better: falsification) of any historical claim has been a criticism of evolutionary explanations of anything ever since Darwin wrote "The Origin of Species".
The problem is that one can explain almost anything and everything by assuming it gave humans some kind of evolutionary advantage during hominization.

This can be demonstrated by the wealth of theories (and the impossible task of pitting them against each other to find out which is true) for some of the "mysteries" concerning human behavior - the odd things humans do that do not seem to increase their fitness, such as:

- women living long after their menopause
- homosexuality (documented for many more animal species)
- female orgasm (Yeah. Why? Seriously.)
- suicide
and so on.

This problem of a whole field of science has inspired one of my favorite researchers to submit a paper that was supposed to persiflage "adaptionistic" ideas (the guy happens to be featured in this week's issue of the New Yorker).

It's title:

"Why Gentlemen prefer Blondes"

Its theory:

"Several authors have suggested that certain florid displays of secondary sexual characteristics - such as the peacock's tail or the rooster's bright-red wattles - may serve the purpose of 'informing' the female that the suitor is healthy and free of dermal parasites (6, 7). I suggest that being blonde, or light-skinned, serves a similar purpose. Every medical student knows that anemia, (usually caused by intestinal parasites), cyanosis (a sign of heart disease), jaundice (liver disease) and skin infection are much easier to detect in fair-skinned individuals than in brunettes."

This is as brilliant as it is funny. No wonder. The author managed to be among the most successful vision scientist before becoming the leading expert for phantom limb pain (and therapy) before becoming the leading expert on synesthesia. And just recently he even got a newly discovered (by him) dinosaur species named after him.

Be as it may, I love the paper for the nerd joke in its first sentence (in which he inappropriately cites a good friend of his, with whom he shares a certain reputation of flirtatiousness):
"It is well known - although rarely acknowledged in polite company - that in Westem cultures there exists a distinct esthetic/sexual preference among men for blondes over brunettes (Anstis S M, personal communication)."

The paper got famous (somewhat surprisingly since it was burried in a lowe level journal lacking peer-review).

More surprisingly, it was taken seriously.

People must have missed the tongue-in-cheek last sentence of the paper (emphasis mine):
"Although originally intended as a satire on ad hoc sociobiological theories of human mate-selection, I soon came to realize that this idea is at least as viable as many other theories of mate choice that are currently in vogue."

The fact that the author of the study publicly declared it a hoax after realizing that this reality had gotten lost on some made no difference whatsoever. To this date, one can find defenders of the idea - after all, who could prove it wrong?

This history of a joke gone bad simplifies the danger of evolutionary explanations of human behavior.

We tend to grant "sciency" (sounding) explanations more authority than others. This is a good thing in general. But it opens the door for pranksters, and worse - cranks. Your own sharp mind is your best weapon to delineate fact from fiction since there are also cranks on the other side of the fence claiming that "all evolutionary psychology is pseudoscience" (often for obvious moralistic reasons since people like to mistake the "is" for the "ought", and vice versa).

If you go through the world with open eyes, aware of the fallacies of the mind that betray all of us. If you refrain from mistaking anecdotes as statistical evidence. If you test your ideas (and other people's claims) by wagering on them. If you subscribe to the notion of lifelong learning. If you do all these things, you will be able to derive for yourself what is lijkely to be true and what is likley to be wrong.

I, for one, do not prefer Blondes.

(Then again, I am not a true gentleman either).


  1. Aw Damn, 11, you stole my thunder. I read your post quickly, eager to post my oh-so-witty reply, which was to be... I don't prefer blondes, either!

    Though they'll do, in a pinch.

    More to your serious point: anecdotes don't equal science. But they can be a healthy corrective for smelling out other people's bad science. That is to say, the very fact I don't really care for blondes (give me a Latina hottie or Asian princess any day), should make my warning sirens go off when I read a paper that tries to claim that yes, scienticians say I really do.

    PS: How depressing that the hoax-warning in that paper went unheeded. Do you know the story of Ern Malley?

  2. hadn't dated a blonde in years. or an American woman for that matter.

  3. I'm with Roissy that female attractiveness is fundamentally physical and mostly consistent from guy to guy. But I'm always interested in the individual variations between men. What effect does imprinting from your youth have? For instance, I stop dead whenever I see a girl who looks very similar to any of my 3 major teenage girlfriends/crushes. Is it just these very particular types or is my whole system a little warped due to them? I find it hard to untangle.

  4. An interesting cautionary note to those in the PU community who jumps too fast to evopsych. Certainly raised my own consciousness of the issue.

  5. From the neck down, the blonde in the photo is great. That face is kinda tough though.........Sunworshipping isn't for blondes. It ages them tremendously.

  6. Hey guys. I've decided to stop lurking and start adding my thoughts to the discussion. Stop by my pad and hit me with your best shot. I'd appreciate the feedback.

  7. @691

    Awesome. I just checked out your blog. I'll be commenting there shortly!


    You said it man. Butterface big time.