Tag Archives: mating

Unpromising promise?

Marriage usually involves sharing and exchanging a huge bunch of things. Love, sex, childcare, money, cooperation in finding a mutually agreeable place for the knives to live, etc. For all of these but one, you can verify whether I’m upholding my side of the deal. And for all but one, I can meaningfully promise to keep my side of the deal more than a day into the future. Yet the odd one out, love, is the one that we find most suited to making eternal promises about. Are these things related?

Romantic idealism: true love conquers almost all

More romantic people tend to be vocally in favor of more romantic fidelity in my experience. If you think about it though, faith in romance is not a very romantic ideal. True love should overcome all things! The highest mountains, the furthest distances, social classes, families, inconveniences, ugliness, but NOT previous love apparently. There shouldn’t be any competition there. The love that got there first is automatically the better one, winning the support and protection of the sentimental against all other love on offer. Other impediments are allowed to test love, sweetened with ‘yes, you must move a thousand miles apart, but if it’s really true love, he’ll wait for you’. You can’t say, ‘yes, he has another girlfriend, but if you really are better for him he’ll come back – may the truest love win!’.

Perhaps more commitment in general allows better and more romance? There are costs as well as benefits to being tied to anything though. Just as it’s not clear that more commitment in society to stay with your current job would be pro-productivity, it’s hard to see that more commitment to stay with your current partner would be especially pro-romance. Of course this is all silly – being romantic and vocally supporting faithfulness are about signaling that you will stick around, not about having consistent values or any real preference about the rest of the world. Is there some other explanation?


Subconscious stalking?

Just seeing another person look at something can tend to make you like it a bit more than if you see them looking in another direction:

In this study, we found that objects that are looked at by other people are liked more than objects that do not receive the attention of other people (Experiment 1). This suggests that observing averted gaze can have an impact on the affective appraisals of objects in the environment. This liking effect was absent when an arrow was used to cue attention (Experiment 2). This underlines the importance of other people’s interactions with objects for generating our own impressions of such stimuli in the world.

The authors suggest this is because people really do tend to look at things more if they like them, and that another person likes something is information about its value. This makes sense, and even more if we assume that the ancestral environment contained fewer eye catching people paid to prominently give items their attention.

Is observing the eye movement of others an earlier version of facebook? (picture: xkcd.com)

Is observing the eye movement of others a precursor to facebook? (picture: xkcd.com)

Another possibility though is that people want to have coinciding tastes to those around them often, so we are not so much interested in clues to the item’s inherent value, but directly in the other person’s values. In that case if we evolved nicely we would react more to some people looking than to others.

Sure enough, this study found that such an effect seems to hold for attractive people, but not unattractive:

In a conditioning paradigm, novel objects were associated with either attractive or unattractive female faces, either displaying direct or averted gaze. An affective priming task showed more positive automatic evaluations of objects that were paired with attractive faces with direct gaze than attractive faces with averted gaze and unattractive faces, irrespective of gaze direction. Participants’ self-reported desire for the objects matched the affective priming data.

Added: These days we can discover (and adapt to) many people’s likes and dislikes prior to meeting them extensively, as long as they post them all over Facebook or the like. If the tendency to coordinate our values based on minor cues was good enough to evolve, does the possibility of doing so much more effectively via online stalking give a selective advantage to those who use it?

Do fetching models stave off shallowness?

Many complain that prevalent advertising portraying an inaccurate proportion of humanity as inhumanly attractive causes people to think attractiveness is more important than it should be. This is unlikely.

Prevalent advertising portraying an inaccurate proportion of humanity as too attractive is blamed for misinforming people on the value of attractiveness.

Unattractive females, both self rated and judged externally, find features of male physical attractiveness, such as facial masculinity and voice, less appealing than attractive females do.

This study suggests such behavior is to avoid wasting effort on guys who won’t be interested. That hypothesis beats the others because women’s preferences adapt fast to circumstances. In the study women saw pictures of other women who were more or less attractive. As their own perceived attractiveness went down or up accordingly, their preferences for male facial masculinity did too.

Do physically unattractive people actually believe one another to be hot? This study suggests not:

When less attractive people accept less attractive
dates, do they persuade themselves that the people they
choose to date are more physically attractive than others
perceive them to be? Our analysis of data from the popular
Web site HOTorNOT.com suggests that this is not the
case: Less attractive people do not delude themselves into
thinking that their dates are more physically attractive
than others perceive them to be.

When less attractive people accept less attractive dates, do they persuade themselves that the people they choose to date are more physically attractive than others perceive them to be? Our analysis of data from the popular Web site HOTorNOT.com suggests that this is not the case…

Instead, same study suggests that less attractive people claim to put greater weight on other characteristics than attractiveness in mate choice:

..participants’ own attractiveness was significantly correlated with their standardized weights for physical attractiveness (r 5 .60, prep 5 .98), but negatively correlated with their standardized weights for sense of humor (r 5 .44, prep 5 .91). Overall, these results suggest that more attractive people and less attractive people consider different criteria in date selection: Less attractive people tend to place less weight on physical attractiveness and greater weight on non-attractiveness-related attributes such as sense of humor.

Together these pieces of research suggests that encouraging everyone to feel less attractive should decrease the adoration people (at least claim to) direct at the best looking of us and bring about more appreciation of traits which we consider more virtuous to care about. One method for achieving this, similar to the one shown effective in an above study, would be to surround everyone with pictures of super-attractive models. The advertising industry is making steady progress on this front, yet is blamed for encouraging society to care about looks. Would we be even more shallow without this stream of superior gorgeousness?