Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Accidental Swingers

Finally having time to browse our fellow blogs again, I stumbled upon a great post that Talleyrand just put up, explaining how cognitive dissonance (mis)leads men into thinking that their marriage is great, because it is not.

This is not as surprising as it sounds. The same absurd phenomenon has been well established to cause people to believe that having children makes them happy, while it clearly doesn't.
It might also aide men in trusting an unfaithful wife.

How can that happen? How can we blind ourselves staring into counter-evidence?

Well, as a wise man once said: "Intelligence is the most fairly distributed resource on this planet. Every one thinks he's got enough of it."

People do not just like to believe that they are smart, they are convinced of it. We are so certain about our own ability to great judgment, that any evidence to the contrary gets dismissed. We are quick to even confabulate when necessary, just to avoid admitting defeat.

This gets particularly dangerous when our own (poor) decisions get social support. And the common societal lies about the "fulfillment" of marriage (or having kids) will help any married man find tons of reasons why things are great, even when his lifetime happiness is at a low.

Things are not much different when it comes to female infidelity. Society makes men believe that is them who are "pigs", constantly on the hunt for quick satisfaction. Women, they tell us, are interested in long term relationships, stability and commitment (with a few "sluts" being the only exception). It follows that the main danger to a broken vow of monogamy is a man's wandering eye.

A man facing evidence of a cheating wife, thus finds himself in the familiar situation of cognitive dissonance ("I am not the kind of guy to fall for a slut!"), supported by outdated societal gibberish on human sexual behavior.

A recent study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reveals the direct result from this peculiar situation: When estimating the rate of non-paternity (the frequency of children born as the result of cuckoldry), men will provide significantly lower numbers than women.

Even more interestingly, married men and men with children produced lower estimates of paternity fraud than their bachelor counterparts.

Of course, the causality is unclear. It is conceivable that the type of men who tends to marry and have kids is generally less cynical than the guys who shy away from commitment. It is also possible that bachelor's have a biased idea of female sexuality, since they see how women behave outside of relationships (and if they engage in affairs, they inevitably deal with women who cheat).

More so, the authors even speculate that although men should have deep (evolutionary-rooted) interest in the realistic assessment of the "discrepancy between social/legal paternity and genetic paternity", "women may have an enhanced ability to assess paternity and may have superior insight into women’s sexual infidelity". In other words, women know about themselves and how likely they are to cheat, whereas men are left in the dark.

Either way, a rather parsimonious explanation for why married men and fathers have high(er) belief in female fidelity is the cognitive dissonance that could ensue from assuming the contrary.

This is somewhat surprising. Cognitive dissonance is not necessarily hurting a man's ability to procreate when it comes to marriage and children. On the contrary, a man's naivety when it comes to his fatherhood should be facing considerable evolutionary pressure (i.e. men who were too trusting got weeded out during evolution).

One way to find out more about this issue is to relate the estimates to actual rates of human on-paternity (it could be, for example, that even men overestimate its occurrence and therefore still are in the evolutionary "go"). As the authors point out, we still lack any good data on that one. There is a vast discrepancy between "indirect" methods such as emotional closeness or the testicle-to-body-ratio, and actual genetic data (which will always be biased given that it inevitably stems from distrusting/consenting parents).

The authors point out that there are likely is cultural and socioeconomic variation in the actual rate of paternity fraud, but conclude from a large body of literature that 10% is not too far off. If that is correct, most married men lie to themselves when it comes to female infidelity.

10 comments:

  1. Aren't there methods for large scale estimation of succesful reproduction using genetic data? I recall something about 80% of history's females vs 40% of males reproducing. Something along those lines.

    I think both you and the authors may be over estimating the importance of intellectual understanding of issues such as paternity. It seems emotions are far more powerful as behaviorial drivers than actual understanding. Ie, it doesn't matter so much what men think they know, if their behavior doesn't match their knowledge. And there's a ton of situations where our behavior does not match up to our stated opinions

    I suspect a measurement of the putative father's feelings towards a child would match up pretty closely to the risk of false paternity.

    Further, the genetically optimal behavior for a man 20% likely to be cuckolded is probably about the same as one 1% likely to be cuckolded. His genes would still want another shot at banging out another off-spring. So it's entirely possible that men not on the top end of the status hierarchy are predisposed to accept the possibility of cuckoo's eggs in exchange for some possibility of siring children of their own.

    I think avoiding cognitive dissonance is a poor explanation as it doesn't explain why the cognitive dissonance itself haven't been selected away.

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  2. all things being equal...it is easier for women to cheat. that, in my mind, offsets the willingness of men to pursue cheating. therefore, i'd bet the rates of infidelity are closer than men or women would like to admit. i remember reading somewhere a study that insisted women were far more likely to lie even on anonymously given surveys...such is the pressure to conform to societies expectations....even in anonymity, women are unwilling to admit such foibles....lest we men catch on.

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  3. Too late now for women, were on to them and all the ugly truths of their nature.

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  4. women overall providing higher HNP estimates than men (14.5% vs. 9.1%).

    The men are not that deluded. I would bet 9.1% is closer to the real figure than 14.5%.

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  5. @ Anonymous:

    I recall something about 80% of history's females vs 40% of males reproducing.
    I do not doubt that number, and we have even linked to it before in this blog, put I have yet to find the study that came up with it. Most people (including us) got it from a talk by Roy Baumeister at a 2007 APA meeting. He did not cite any study, nor do PubMed or PsycInfo. At this stage it seems more like an internet meme.

    I think both you and the authors may be over estimating the importance of intellectual understanding of issues such as paternity.
    The Maury Povich show (even if fake) reveals quite a bit about how men feel about paternity issues.

    I suspect a measurement of the putative father's feelings towards a child would match up pretty closely to the risk of false paternity.
    So do the researchers. According to these studies, the rate of human non-paternity is somewhere around 12.5%.

    Further, the genetically optimal behavior for a man 20% likely to be cuckolded is probably about the same as one 1% likely to be cuckolded.
    You contradict yourself (see above statement). Any difference in probability is likely to alter behavior. We are closer with siblings than with cousins, for example.

    it's entirely possible that men not on the top end of the status hierarchy are predisposed to accept the possibility of cuckoo's eggs in exchange for some possibility of siring children of their own.
    Interesting theory. A natural tendency of beta males to overestimate their chances of paternity in order to prevent them from giving up? It would certainly explain the paradox that I alluded to in my post.

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  6. @sfer:
    The men are not that deluded. I would bet 9.1% is closer to the real figure than 14.5%.

    And what do data do you base that estimate on?

    Most studies using indirect methods are closer to the women's estimate.

    DNA tests are the only way to obtain direct measurements, but they are likely to stem from biased samples. It is impossible to get unbiased samples for DNA testing, since it almost always requires the mother's consent (and she knows!).

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  7. Studies cited at GNXP indicate there's a very bimodal distribution of fraudulent paternity - i.e. actual DNA determined paternity not matching claimed paternity. The routine high numbers, 30% and even 40% non-matching, come from commercial DNA testing outfits. They are only called in to test in the vast majority of cases where there's dispute and substantial doubt about the paternity.

    Studies done of randomly selected populations have found that among men with a high confidence of paternity, non paternity is found in America in about 2.5% of cases.

    Non paternity happens most in the lower classes and most of all in the lowest. Among the Maury Povitch skanks in other words.

    But yeah, if a professional guy marries a "former" slut, he's asking for trouble. Especially since I'd bet serious money that the blended rate of 10% non paternity is going up among gen Y. Remember most of the testing was done among people older than that when the feminist pro slut changes had so much set in.

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  8. The slutty wife's cleverest trick was convincing mankind that she doesn't exist.

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  9. Doug:

    Non paternity happens most in the lower classes and most of all in the lowest. Among the Maury Povitch skanks in other words.

    Same as saying the women having sex before marriage are only from the lower ranks.

    Everything speaks for a high non-paternity rate, starting with our sperm. If the risk was not high, we would not create the blockers, the killer, and then, some inseminators.

    Also women tend to cheat when in ovulation, tend to engage risky copulation when in heat.

    I am with Glowing Face Man here.

    You have to think of a woman as women, not an individual.

    Without having to agree on this, women as a group collective are cooperating to keep the curtains in front of mens eyes.

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