Naked Promiscuity

Most wives are offended to see their husbands make a direct pass at another woman in front of them.  They mind less if he seems unconsciously attracted to a woman, but does not consciously act on that attraction.  A wife might mind her husband buying a sports car if his conscious intention was to attract other women for short term sex, but mind less if his main conscious reason was to race.  These things depend on how conscious and deliberate are his efforts to attract other women.  Now consider this:  It seems men are eager to visibly help heroically and financially, and to spend on visible status symbols, mainly to seek promiscuous short-term sex!  Data:

Men in the mating condition … said they would spend more money on the conspicuous luxuries. … Women in the mating condition … said they would spend more time on conspicuous pro-social volunteering. … Mating-primed women … said they would spend more on generosity-signalling conspicuous spending; mating-primed men did the same. Also, mating-primed men … said they would do more heroic helping, but not more non-heroic helping. … Moreover, men who were most interested in promiscuous, short-term sexual liaisons showed the largest increase after the mating priming in both generosity-signalling conspicuous spending and in heroic benevolence. …

Only the mating-primed men showed a higher interest in the socially dominant pro-social behaviours, and this effect was carried mostly by highly promiscuous men. … High-promiscuity men were more willing to borrow fashionable clothes from a friend to impress a potential mate rather than a new boss, whereas low-promiscuity men would rather impress the boss. Women showed no difference. …

High-promiscuity men who looked at photos of eight attractive women … said they would spend more money on items such as designer sunglasses or an elaborate car stereo rather than inconspicuous products such as low-cost jeans or a toaster, … [but] this is only the case when the potential mating situation is a short-term hook-up rather than a long-term relationship.  There was no shift for mating-primed low-promiscuity men or for women in either study. … Women rated a man driving a Porsche Boxster as more attractive for a short-term sexual relationship than a man driving a Honda Civic.  But the Porsche did not make the man more attractive as a possible marriage partner. Men rating women were uninfluenced by the type of car she drove.

So what would happen if we all became conscious of the above behaviors being strong clues that men are in fact actively trying for promiscuous short term sex?  Would such behaviors reduce, would long term relations become less exclusive, or what?  Maybe we just couldn’t admit that these are strong clues?

If these clues aren’t strong enough, imagine facial expression reading software could reliably tell when men are actively trying to attract short term sex partners.  How would we deal with such naked promiscuity?

Hat tip to Holden Karnofsky.

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  • Robert Koslover

    …imagine facial expression reading software could reliably tell when men are actively trying to attract short term sex partners. How would we deal with such naked promiscuity?

    I think we would deal with it by learning how to present facial expressions that the software couldn’t read, or hide behind sunglasses, etc. I.e., in analogy to electronic warfare, we would develop countermeasures.

    • Jackson

      I think research on Montane and Prairie volves is particularly interesting. It would appear that oxytocin in females and vasopressin in males makes people more loving, commited and better parents (better people, I’d say) but our cynical permissive (countermeasures) culture tend to militate against conditions conducive to vasopressin and oxytocin… something like that.

  • Unnamed

    It seems men are eager to visibly help heroically and financially, and to spend on visible status symbols, mainly to seek promiscuous short-term sex!

    What’s the evidence for that “mainly“?

    • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

      Either in some other study (or perhaps some other writeup of the same studies), or in Robin’s preconceptions. It certainly isn’t in the article Robin linked to, which (1) doesn’t say anything about how the increase due to the mating condition compares with the baseline levels of helping and spending, and (2) says they found that mating-priming *doesn’t* make men more inclined to benevolence of a non-heroic sort (with either time or money).

      (Perhaps “eager to visibly help heroically and financially” means “in a way that’s both heroic and financial”, but that would be strange because the article reports increases in “heroic” benevolence both financial and non-financial. And because it’s a weird interpretation.)

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Good post and final questions.

    I think we have evidence from the recent past that we’ll encourage to engage in such behaviors, but claim to be doing them in ironic humor. That seems to me a major way that we reconcile continuing motivations with “repugnant” mass enlightment about those motivations.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    “we’ll encourage to engage” should read “We’ll continue to engage” in my above comment.

  • Bill

    My wife was attracted to me because I didn’t spend wildly.

    Does this mean I wasn’t trying to attract her? She was the best decision I ever made. Help!

  • blink

    I do not see the support for “mainly”; the evidence here is that mating primes increase certain behaviors, not that those behaviors are always or even mostly driven by sexual motives. Perhaps this is the case, but we need to distinguish more general status-seeking, something women presumably encourage, and sexual advances, which they seem to discourage.

  • Jess Riedel

    I think this issue is again confused by different senses of “Person A does action X to achieve Y” used by you, Robin. If a man buys fancy things unconsciously to attract women, most people would not describe this as “the man is trying to attract women” *even though* it can be shown that his desire for fancy things goes down when there are no women around to impress. So even if his wife knew this (and was sane) it wouldn’t bother her terribly. Yes, once both she and he knew that his buying of fancy things was correlated with the presence of other women she might expect him to take corrective action. What would really bother her, though, is a *conscious* desire to attract other women.

    • Philo

      “Unconscious desire,” “unconscious intention,” etc. are slippery notions, and it seems to me that Robin is abusing them.

  • http://modeledbehavior.com Karl Smith

    My guess is that it is the conspicuousness itself that matters.

    For example, making a pass at another woman in front of your wife, implies that you don’t care that your wife knows and suggests that this other women might mean more to you emotionally. From an evolutionary standpoint this suggests that you might want to invest more in her children than you wifes.

    If on the other hand the attraction seeking behavior is secret, this implies that attention of these women is secondary to your wifes. It shouldn’t matter much were you throw your seed, so long as all of your material and emotional investment stays with her.

  • Bill

    There is also stuff on ovulation and purchasing.

    But, I would be careful about lab experiments, and also careful about simply attracting the opposite sex and seeking more stable relationships, such marriage, which, obviously, was not a part of the experiment.

    So, if the otherside of the match–the female–is seeking a committed relationship, she might take the signal of ostentatious spending as signalling this is a person with a one night stand in mind (how many people do you know who have fancy bachelor pads designed to entice the chics) v. the guy who is attentive, not fancy, and looks like a family man.

    Don’t forget–this is a two sided game.

  • Violet

    If the pair has agreed to a monogamous relationship, then consciously trying to attract short term sex with others is trying to break that contract. Doing things that merely correlate with it does not.

  • Bill

    I would also add that extracting from this lab experiment to the behavior of a married person is a bit much.

    It may apply to unmarrried, but to married: don’t forget the wife has a say on what is spent and what is not, so there may be some interference in the signalling.

    And, what is there that a married guy can buy to attract the opposite sex?? A toupe? If he buys a hot car, his wife might use it, signalling her intentions and that she is hot.

    Sometimes lab experiments are confined to the circumstances and cannot be stretched too far into other contexts.

    But, I suddenly have this urge to buy….

  • Doug S.

    Who cares about fast cars these days? Fast microprocessors are where it’s at! 😉

  • Blunt

    Robin, you would do well to avoid even the appearance of suggesting that a man’s ‘help’ can/should be traded for sex.

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