Generous Lust

I've been pondering this 2007 JPSP article, summarized by the Economist:

They divided a bunch of volunteers into two groups. Those in one were put into what the researchers hoped would be a “romantic mindset” by being shown pictures of attractive members of the opposite sex. … The unlucky members of the other group were shown pictures of buildings …

The participants were then asked … to imagine they had $5,000 in the bank. They could spend part or all of it on various luxury items such as a new car, a dinner party at a restaurant or a holiday in Europe. They were also asked what fraction of a hypothetical 60 hours of leisure time during the course of a month they would devote to volunteer work. …

In the romantically primed group, the men went wild with the Monopoly money. Conversely, the women volunteered their lives away. … Meanwhile, in the other group there was little inclination either to profligate spending or to good works. Based on this result, it looks as though the sexes do, indeed, have different strategies for showing off. …

[In] the second experiment … romantically primed men wanted to buy items that they could wear or drive, rather than things to be kept at home. … Similarly, romantically primed women volunteered for activities such as working in a shelter for the homeless, rather than spending an afternoon alone picking up rubbish in a park. For both sexes, however, those in an unromantic mood were indifferent to the public visibility of their choices. …

[In] another experiment they found that when requests for benevolence were financial, rather than time-consuming, romantically primed men were happy to chip in extravagantly. … The primed men were also willing (or at least said they were willing) to act heroically as well as spend—but only if the action suggested was life-threatening. Women, romantically primed or not, weren't.

The JSPS article concluded:

Inducing mating goals in men increased their willingness to spend on conspicuous luxuries but not on basic necessities. In women, mating goals boosted public— but not private— helping. Although mating motivation did not generally inspire helping in men, it did induce more helpfulness in contexts in which they could display heroism or dominance. Conversely, although mating motivation did not lead women to conspicuously consume, it did lead women to spend more publicly on helpful causes. Overall, romantic motives seem to produce highly strategic and sex-specific self-presentations best understood within a costly signaling framework.

We should often blush at our noblest deeds if the world were to see all
their underlying motives.
— Francois de La Rochefoucauld

The disturbing thing is that these folks were probably unaware that their generosity was caused in large part by romantic feelings.  They probably thought they just wanted to help, not that they wanted to help especially when it might impress potential mates.  The key question: in what sense were these folks mistaken about what they wanted?

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