Friday, May 18, 2007

Dumb things guys do to impress girls   posted by agnostic @ 5/18/2007 01:19:00 PM

Retrospectacle gives the low-down on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which measures the pain of insect stings. The winner is the Bullet Ant that plays a central role in boy-to-man initiation rites of the Satere-Mawe tribe in Amazonia, as seen in this video. Returning to my post on daredevils, one episode of Jackass spin-off Wildboyz features Steve-O and Chris Pontius undergoing the ritual. See this video (some censored non-nudity). Their hysterics are somewhat affected, but no doubt it takes a bad MF to undergo this ritual multiple times for 10 minutes each time.

Why would a sane person do this? Easy: study the facial expressions of the local women after Steve-O and Chris undergo the ritual (about 2:15 in the video). Since facial expressions are pretty universal, we Westerners can recognize them as "my romantic curiosity has been piqued." And the girls are pretty, too -- now we understand why guys do stupid stuff like this. Not surprisingly, the creators of the two sting scales (Schmidt and Starr), are both male. I'm sure other obscure pain scales were developed by males as well, even if they're uncredited -- fraternity initiations must involve calculations of pain from similar sources. Scoville was male, but he measured spiciness according to what a panel of tasters thought.

This is yet another example of how culture could influence evolution: a ritual like the ant-gloves unmasks the ability to "take it like a man." Since the signal of manliness is amplified by extraordinary circumstances like these, the females now don't have such a hard time teasing it out from the noise of quotidian goings-on and can thus make better decisions about who to mate with. Branding and tattoo-ing likely serve similar functions, aside from whatever other roles they may play.

On a personal note, I'm not a paragon of machismo, but I figured out early on that I have a very high tolerance for needle pain. At 22 I decided to have my forearms tattooed (tastefully), and I'm surprised by how intrigued girls have been by them. They often fondle your arms as they inspect them -- not the worst thing in the world. A co-blogger has also noted that girls dig non-tasters, i.e. someone who can eat fire without flinching (though in his case the attention is unwanted, as he has a girlfriend). Males have duller palates (see here too), making non-tasting a more masculine trait. That could be why men with overly refined palates are perceived as effeminate. In any case, here too culture could unmask who is manly vs wimpy.

True, not all cultural / technological advances will allow previously unnoticed males to become manly men -- World of Warcraft addicts will always be dateless -- but that still allows for adaptive radiation into many other "now open for business" niches. There is also the not mutually exclusive possibility that selection is acting on other, correlated traits (e.g., for certain personality types).

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