Category Archives: Mating

Manipulators as Mirrors

Mirror, mirror, on the wall …  Do you want to see yourself as you really are, instead of as you wish you were?  If so, you can’t do much better than to see how successful manipulators see you.  Listen in on successful professional marketers, salesfolk, coaches, bosses, recruiters, etc. telling each other how to manipulate folks like you.  And since some of our most cherished illusions are on romance, frank romantic advice could be especially disturbing:   

Unfortunately, these may be advisors telling people what they want to hear, rather than successful professionals giving frank inside advice.  How can we find the most frank inside accounts of how we are successfully manipulated?

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Bias against some types of foreign wives

Consider a typical 35-year-old unattached heterosexual U.S. male who hopes to eventually get married.  One day he goes to a club in his city and finds that thousands of extremely beautiful 20 to 25-year-old Russian women in the club want to marry him.  Many of these women speak English and have a college degree.  True, they want to marry him in large part because of his income, but they still want to marry him.  Although I have no evidence, I strongly suspect that many 35-year-old men would agree to marry one of these Russian women.

Dating websites such as this do allow an American male to pick a beautiful 20-25 year old Russian woman to marry.  Yet few take advantage of this.  Why not?

Maybe it’s because men fear that they will be cheated by international matchmaking organizations.  But if this is true there should be a profitable market opening for a firm with a trusted brand name to start such a matchmaking operation.  Google, perhaps, could extend its search services to help men find international marriage mates.

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To What Expose Kids?

State courts recently rebuked Texas Child Protective Services and told them to return 440 kids to their polygamous Mormon parents.  The main complaint I’ve heard is that these teen girls can not really consent to polygamous marriage because they were not exposed enough to the rest of the world.   For example, Will Wilkinson:

About kids raised on isolated compounds by religious fanatics … It is tyrannical for parents to attempt to reproduce their ideologies and prejudices in their children, especially when this requires social isolation and emotional coercion. … They just have a political right to not be stopped, within bounds.  Many parents, though they intend the opposite, are in fact guilty of wrongful disregard for the development of their children’s psychological freedom.

Of course responsible parents know they should expose kids to more than just the local neighborhood.  But parents’ judgments on optimal exposure surely depend on their judgments about that outside world.  Someone who sees outsiders as mostly immoral heathens will choose less exposure than we as outsiders would choose for those same kids. 

So is the principle here that parents should go beyond their simple judgment when choosing to what to expose our kids?  For example, should we let polygamists argue for their way of life directly to our kids?  Should we let pedophiles argue their case directly to our kids?  Or is the principle here that we know we are right and those other parents are wrong, obligating us to make those parents give their kids what we judge best?

I wonder, could different cultures make a deal where they each give the other cultures X hours to make their case to their kids?   Of course with many cultures of differing sizes there’d be the issue of what fraction of that time each culture gets to use.  And of course unreasonable cultures might be excluded from the deal. (But what criteria could characterize "reasonable"?)  And if such a deal is not possible, even among some reasonable cultures, what exactly would that say about what we think about who should be exposed to what? 

Added 29June:  Will responds here.

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Should Bad Boys Win?


Why do psychopaths exist? The ladies help the psychopaths reproduce by going to bed with them. Men who are narcissistic, self-obsessed, liars, psychopaths, Machiavellian, and thrill-seekers get laid more.

Bad boys, it seems, really do get all the girls. Women might claim they want caring, thoughtful types but scientists have discovered what they really want – self-obsessed, lying psychopaths.

OK this isn’t really news to most people.  But still it raises a basic question.  The basic fact of mate selection is that men are collectively greatly responsible for which female traits win in competition for male attention, while women are collectively greatly responsible for which male traits win in competition for female attention.  Accepting this, here are some possible responses to the above results:

  • The result is just wrong, such men do not get more women
  • The result is correct, such men do get more women
    • This is good, these are just the sort of men we want more of
      • Such men are good for each woman they are with
      • Such men are bad for each women, but good for women overall
      • Such men are bad for women overall, but still good overall
    • This is bad, these are not the sort of men we want more of
      • Such behavior results from an inefficient signaling game
      • By choosing such men, women help themselves but hurt other women
      • This is a gender power struggle, where such men are overall good for men but bad for women

What say ye?  And why so little discussion on the gender reversed questions – do we want more of the kinds of women who win when competing to attract men?

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In Innovation, Meta is Max

Building on my intro to innovation, which summarized previous work, let me now offer a new insight: the max net-impact innovations, by far, have been meta-innovations, i.e., innovations that changed how fast other innovations accumulated. 

Concrete studies of specific innovations in biology, tech, and business suggest that most innovation value comes from bazillions of small innovations.  Yes once in a while a large innovation appears, like computers or a-bombs, but even these require scores of supporting innovations to fulfill their potential.  And if we consider innovations that improve not just one industry or region, but the entire world overall, then it is hard to identify any innovations responsible for identifiable deviations from the steady exponential growth (plus noise) that comes from the usual bazillions of small innovations.

Yet we know of perhaps four innovations responsible for deviations that were not only identifiable, but overwhelmingly so!  As I reviewed in my singularity econ article, these are the innovations that allowed animal brains, human brains, farming, and industry.  These innovations do not seem to have directly increased the level of the relevant economy much — instead within less than a previous doubling time each innovation increased the rate of innovation accumulation by a factor of sixty or more.  (If several innovations appeared together, they apparently had a single common cause.)

The first human minds, the first farmers, and the first industrialists were actually not much better hunters, gatherers, or builders than their immediate ancestors — they were mainly just better at getting better faster. 

So if you want to worry about big disruptive future innovations, you should definitely consider meta-innovations.  Admittedly, since the above data covers only innovations that improved the world overall, it does not include predatory innovations that mainly let one group gain at the expense of other groups.  So this data allows the possibility of very large predatory innovations.  But if you are thinking about non-predatory innovations, history suggests you should be most concerned about a single new meta-innovation. 

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Is She Just Friendly?

Men often have trouble knowing what women want.  In particular, men have trouble telling if a women is just being friendly or has a more sexual interest.  This is often blamed on male overconfidence and lack of empathy, but taken together two new papers from the April Psychological Science suggest otherwise.  One paper suggests that people with more empathy can only better read the emotions of those who are trying to be read:

We found that perceivers’ trait affective empathy was unrelated to empathic accuracy unless targets’ trait expressivity was taken into account: Perceivers’ trait affective empathy predicted accuracy only for expressive targets. These data suggest that perceivers’ self-reported affective empathy can indeed predict their empathic accuracy, but only when targets’ expressivity allows their thoughts and feelings to be read.

The other paper says men are not so much biased as clueless about female sexual intent:

Men perceive more sexual intent in women’s behavior than women perceive or report intending to convey. … We found no evidence that men have lenient thresholds for perceiving women’s nonverbal behavior as indicating sexual interest. Rather, gender differences were captured by a relative perceptual insensitivity among men. Just as in previous studies, men were more likely than women to misperceive friendliness as sexual interest, but they also were quite likely to misperceive sexual interest as friendliness.

Maybe, just maybe, most women do not want men and others to read their intent.

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Kids, Parents Disagree on Spouses

Monday’s Post:

Do young people and their parents really disagree about the qualities of a suitable mate? … A study involving Dutch, American and Kurdish students … found that the cliche is, in fact, true. Young Americans told the researchers that qualities they would find unappealing in a potential mate included low intelligence and physical unattractiveness. But they said their parents would object to a mate who was of a different ethnicity, was poor or lacked a good family background.

The responses of Dutch and Kurdish students were similar in that young people invariably considered the potential mate’s attractiveness the most important quality, whereas parents uniformly paid more attention to the suitors’ social background or group affiliation — race, religious background and social class.

[The authors] said the consistency of the conflict across cultures suggests the hand of evolution: Parents and offspring … genetic self-interests, while overlapping, are not identical. The reason young people care so much about intellectual and physical attractiveness, the scientists suggested, is that these characteristics are markers of genetic fitness. By contrast, they said, parents care about group affiliations because parents are primarily interested in whether an incoming member of the family is likely to make a good parent — and a good all-around team player.

There should indeed be some conflict between kids and parents on suitable spouses, but the size of the conflict seems surprisingly large – do parent and kid genetic interests really diverge that much?   Here’s a graphic showing huge differences:

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Is Love Something More?

A recent Time cover story swallows evolutionary psychology wholesale:

Losing our faculties over a matter like sex ought not to make much sense for a species like ours that relies on its wits. A savanna full of predators, after all, was not a place to get distracted. But the lure of losing our faculties is one of the things that makes sex thrilling–and one of the very things that keeps the species going. As far as your genes are concerned, your principal job while you’re alive is to conceive offspring, bring them to adulthood and then obligingly die so you don’t consume resources better spent on the young. Anything that encourages you to breed now and breed plenty gets that job done.

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The Greatest Gift, The Best Exercise

In this generous season, consider the greatest gift we regularly and personally give (even if we do not intend it as such): sex.  Back in 2005, Tyler Cowen pondered Michael Vassar’s pregnant observation: "there is an inexplicable shortage of sex."  This remains, I think, one of the most neglected questions in social science.  We should devote far more effort to diagnosing and fixing this problem.  To inspire more precious gift-giving, let us review the health benefits of sex [as of 2003]:

Saving yourself" before the big game, the big business deal, the big hoedown or the big bakeoff … there’s no evidence it sharpens your competitive edge. The best that modern science can say for sexual abstinence is that it’s harmless when practiced in moderation.

In one of the most credible studies … tracked the mortality of about 1,000 middle-aged men over the course of a decade. … Its findings, published in 1997 in the British Medical Journal, were that men who reported the highest frequency of orgasm enjoyed a death rate half that of the laggards. … In a 2001 follow-on … by having sex three or more times a week, men reduced their risk of heart attack or stroke by half.

Sex, if nothing else, is exercise. A vigorous bout burns some 200 calories–about the same as running 15 minutes on a treadmill or playing a spirited game of squash. … Sex also boosts production of testosterone, which leads to stronger bones and muscles. …

A 2002 study of 293 women … reported that sexually active participants whose male partners did not use condoms were less subject to depression than those whose partners did. One theory of causality: Prostoglandin, a hormone found only in semen, may be absorbed in the female genital tract. …

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Marriage Futures

After a couple announce their engagement, but before they tie the knot, talk among friends and family often turns to how long the marriage will last.  When folks are not optimistic, they may wonder if they should tell the couple.  But they usually say nothing, depriving the couple of crucial signals to reconsider.

Imagine a web site where you could start a market to bet on the duration of any upcoming or current marriage.  That is, you could buy or sell assets that pay in proportion to the number of years the marriage will last, if it begins, up to some maximum of say fifty years.  If the marriage never starts, you get your money back. 

Once it became widely known that such market prices are often available, wedding guests and the couple would probably check out the price before the wedding, coordinating everyone’s expectations about the marriage.   

Added 27Oct: You can estimate marriages here just for fun, and Ravages made a similar betting suggestion

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