Are Showoff Men Cads?

This psych experiment is just begging to be tested on non-WEIRD (elite US college student) subjects:

The present experiments demonstrate that the motivation to conspicuously consume and display, to the extent that it is evoked by a mating context, may be most prominent among men pursuing a sexual strategy that involves low parental investment. Conspicuous consumption was pronounced among men interested in short-term mating liaisons and was perceived accordingly by women. (more)

There’s an awful lot of conspicuous consumption around the world and across history.  And it is pretty hard for even close observers to tell if any given consumption is in a “mating context.” Shall we thus presume that most visible consumption by men is a bid for short term mating? For many societies, that seems to require higher levels of short term mating that is usually assumed.

This seems a hypothesis to consider regarding the quite conspicuous consumption of farming elites. Was most elite male consumption mainly to help them attract commoner females into low commitment sex?  Bill Dickens and I assumed high rates of such sex in our proposed explanation for why rich societies have fewer kids – the prospect of having very fertile sons is what drives the big gains to women from delaying having kids to seek higher status.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/1054626558129691997 Rob

    One of the study authors blogged about it and mentions non-WEIRDos.

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com Stephen R. Diamond

    Positive correlation between conspicuous consumption and short-term mating isn’t surprising. But what reason to think the correlation reflects a mating strategy? Women would be apt to describe such men as “shallow,” which may in turn be a shallow explanation, but at least it’s an explanation. A priori from a prepackaged evolutionary psychology perspective, I would predict the opposite result: conspicuous consumption is tied seeking a long-term relationship, as conspicuous consumption signals material resources more directly than it might signal good genes.

  • Gil

    What a coinkidink. PT has a recent about the pros of polyamoury:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/love-without-limits/201012/the-upside-polyamory

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Rob, they mentioned that conspicuous consumption is widespread, but didn’t have data on any association with cads.

    Stephen, these are experiments, not just correlations.

    Gil, sure you are commenting in the right place?