Saturday, February 07, 2009

What men & women what   posted by Razib @ 2/07/2009 12:17:00 AM

FuturePundit has a post, Mate Preference Trends:
Strip away tradition. Strip away religious beliefs. What happens? Men and women are looking at each other in ways that seem even more influenced by their evolutionary heritage. The mating market looks like it is becoming more competitive.

He goes on to observe that men are becoming more interested in a potential mate's earning power, and far less in chastity (I do think that there's also a supply issue here shifting the rank order of preferences, if you know what I mean). Women, like men, now prioritize romantic love. What's going on?

If we take these data at face value I think that in some ways evolutionary psychology is becoming more, not less, salient in terms of our life choices. In many "traditional" societies mate choice is highly constrained by the preferences & interests of individuals who are not the principals. Though this is certainly operative in many hunter-gatherer societies (e.g., the bizarre incest taboos among some Australian Aboriginals), I suspect that freedom of choice is more constricted among sedentary agricultural populations because it is in this group that institutionally derived norms loom the largest. As humans subsisted on the Malthusian margins in such relatively complex societies there was little "wiggle" room for lifestyle experimentation. Interestingly, many Blank Slate theorists who advocate lifestyle experimentation presume that an ideological revolution was necessary for an exploration of the behavior space, but perhaps deviation was always latent, and only constrained by cultural norms.

In any case, traditional norms did not reshape the human mind in terms of basal preferences. This is evident in the oral and literary production of traditional societies themselves. The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne has analogs in most cultures. Even if traditional norms frown upon the lack of restraint which is evident through the actions of tragic lovers, it is clear that the stories evoke empathy in the modal human, even the most hard-hearted.

From a functional perspective using the criterion of romantic love as the primary factor in pairbonds in traditional societies might have been impractical. Not so today, as our consumer society has the minimum floor of subsistence taken care of. Of course the long term utility of putting such a great emphasis on romantic love, as opposed to a more balanced suite of matching parameters, may be a different beast altogether from proximate psychic satisfaction.

Note: As I suggest above relaxing the constraint of traditional norms may result in a dispersion or diversification of behavior as individuals gravitate toward their own preferred strategy due to individual differences. Many individuals for example today have no interest in reproducing, or entering into a pairbond with one other person. Some traditional cultures ostracize their sort of behavior, or marginalize them to a specialized caste or phase in life history. But perhaps heritable behavioral variation always existed, only to be dampened by the norms associated with traditional culture?

Related: Forward into the past.