I know you’re all still very interested in the subject of evolutionary psychology. Given that, I’ve collected a short selection of readings that may interest you. First, we start with the incomparable Scicurious and her Friday Weird Science feature.
The handsome stranger clutched her shoulders, supporting her as she swooned. The suddenness and violence of the robbery and her rescue disoriented Beverlee, and for a few moments she did not know where she was. But as she began to be conscious of her surroundings, she was increasingly aware of the tall, firm man she leaned against, of his big hands clasped around her shoulders, warm through the thin linen of her chemise.
She looked up hesitantly through her lashes, and into the dark, deep eyes of her rescuer. As their eyes met, a shock seemed to pass through them both. He leapt backward, and for an instant Beverlee felt the loss of his touch, the coldness where his hands had touched her. But the moment passed, and gathering himself, her rescuer spoke.
“Christmas” he said, flatly. “Bride baby cowboy doctor secret lady.” And each word sang deep in Beverlee’s spirit, tapping something deep in her she hadn’t known existed: the desire to find a long term mate that would provide food and shelter while she had loads of babies.
–from the romance novel I will someday write.
Sci takes a look at the methods behind a study purporting to show that inherent tendencies in female mating strategies are reflected in Harlequin romance titles. Hey, now, come on. They looked at 15,000 titles. How can a sample size that large not represent good science? I doubt I’ll spoil much to let to you know that Sci will tell you. She’ll also be hilarious as she does it.
Once you’re done with Sci’s post, turn your attention to NPR and Barbara King’s science blog.
Of the 100 “top science stories for 2012” chosen by Discover Magazine, I am most fascinated by #42: “The Myth of Choosy Women, Promiscuous Men.” It reports a serious challenge to an experiment that has remained a touchstone in evolutionary biology for over 50 years.
The study, on fruitfly mating, was done in 1948 by geneticist A.J. Bateman. Bateman showed that the male insects’ strategy was to mate with many females, whereas the females’ strategy was to be discriminating in their choice of partners. Male reproductive success, in other words, correlated positively with number of mates, but female reproductive success did not.
Now, ecologist and evolutionary biologist Patricia Gowaty and her colleagues Yong-Kyu Kim and Wyatt Anderson have repeated that study. They conclude something startling: Bateman blew it.
Bateman’s study has been fundamental to much theorizing on sex-specific mating strategies. His 1948 paper has been cited more than 2,000 times. The idea that females are choosy and males are promiscuous due to inequalities in parental investment is referred to as Bateman’s principle, despite much subsequent evidence that mating strategies are much more varied than such a principle would account for. It will be interesting to see what impact this new study will have on citation of the original study and of derived work.
Now, if you think I’m only going to point you to sources critical of evo psych, you’re wrong. Evolutionary Psychology, an open source journal in the field, has a special issue out on applied evolutionary psychology. (See Issue 5 at the bottom of the 2012 archive.)
How can evo psych help us solve the problems of the world? There are a number of ways suggested by the papers in this issue. One of them in particular caught my eye “Attractive skin coloration: Harnessing sexual selection to improve diet and health“. And how does sexual selection improve health? It can get us to eat more fruit and vegetables. Sort of. From the extract:
We argue that the benefits to appearance may motivate individuals to improve their diet and that this line of appearance research reveals a potentially powerful strategy for motivating a healthy lifestyle.
That, of course, is just the abstract, but this is an open-source journal. The relevant portion of the article?
The impact of fruit and vegetable consumption on skin color could be utilized in a similar way to promote healthy eating. The empirical studies outlined above allow quantification of the impact that carotenoid pigmentation has on skin color. Coupled with this, existing image manipulation techniques (e.g., Burt and Perrett, 1995; Stephen et al., 2009) can be used to transform images of participants’ own faces along a skin color axis to accurately illustrate varying degrees of fruit and vegetable consumption (Figure 1). We propose that individuals could view manipulated images of their facial photograph alongside existing effective dietary intervention techniques such as setting dietary goals and self-monitoring progress (see Pomerleau, Lock, Knai, and Mckee, 2005).
It is important to highlight the results of psychophysical studies to intervention participants. Individuals may be more strongly motivated to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption if it is made clear that even modest dietary change is sufficient to confer perceptible skin color benefits (e.g., Whitehead et al., 2012c). It is also important that participants recognize the rapidity of the impact on skin color (Whitehead et al., 2012c) as existing dietary interventions typically concentrate on long-term benefits to health and overlook shorter-term incentives.
The researchers took data on the skin color change caused by increasing the fruit and vegetables in one’s diet (giving one a slightly more warm color), assumed that this effect scaled, created pictures based on this, discovered that people thought warmer skin tones indicated better health. They then connected this to attractiveness and concluded the above.
Now, it’s worth noting that the average picture was decided to be optimally healthy with an increase of six servings daily. Given that current recommendations in a 2,000-daily-calorie diet is nine daily servings, this suggests that college students engaging in dreadful dietary habits (assuming that serving portions are consistent internationally).
That points us toward the interesting part of these findings. Despite the presumably strong selection pressure for visible cues of health, this study makes it appear that we’re not particularly driven to eat a class of foods that creates this visible cue of health. That would seem to limit the applicability of this particular finding. It would suggest that whatever use would be derived from telling people that they would look more attractive if they ate more fruits and vegetables would come from the data-transmission involved. In other words, it would come from the social/cultural transaction and not from our brains inherently recognizing the adaptive nature of a diet change.
I haven’t read the rest of the studies yet, but I’m looking forward to them.