The principle of judo is to use your opponent’s strength against him, by guiding it rather than resisting it. A recent Australian campaign against reckless driving, aimed specifically at young men, has adopted the same approach with respect to cognitive biases. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1985802.ece
The irony is that he is probably speeding/acting out because of the exact same “signaling” that is now quite ironically intended to shame him into lawful behavior. The government’s support of the notion that there could theoretically be nothing more shaming (worse than public stockade of public shackles in the town square) than the fact of this linkage of less than adequate masculinity with the size of the organ, lends further fuel to the fire of such young boys. “You know how important it is” is the message which creates the same problem of shame and inadequacy on the part of those who may not have felt the need to engage in the behavior if the worth and virtue of their masculinity was not unnaturally linked to the male sexual organ’s arbitrary size. I’ve got buds w/ big ones (in part from testosterone…obviously) who are far more aggressive than shy-guy men with smaller penises. This is an example of how deteriorated, berzerk, and out of control we’ve become. Growing up in a small town in a very rough-neck part of the Western united states I used to cringe at the “No Fat Chicks” bumper stickers. And when my mother’s “boyfriend” would haggle her about going on a diet… (we’ll we won’t say what happened to his car) it really bugged me as an adolescent boy being raised by a single mother. My sister couldn’t have benefited from that stuff either. I was the only “man” of our house. My dad has a very, very large penis. What was the “size” of his pathetic failed masculinity? And my mom was hot (by Cosmo magazine standards) when he left w/ other "stud" buddies to hunt or whatever. For every non-speeder man with a smaller “urination organ”, for each guy sitting on the sidelines who by chance is small… you just criminalized/punished him by demeaning (and linking to some degree his social worth and presumed “virtue”) to something he was born with. Many guys won't even care. But thats not totally on whose behalf I'm writing this. It's bad enough (and i don't know aussie tv... but 'yall watch are hollywood orgy of sex/violence) when it is a private tv show filled with sexual imagery and objectification but now the government apparently has lended it's "big hand(s)" to the cultural stew. The pre-pubescent children whose sexual boundaries are crossed by this subconscious metaphor and submliminal “messaging”: you have not only demeaned the boys, but you have … like a child-molester in a certain way… sexually violated the innocence of children by bringing this into their young minds and hearts. Even when patriarchy was the norm, things never went so far as to infect the public mind and involve kids. You see that's where I draw the line. Adult men and women will always be in a crazy tango... But if you stand around, and i know i only sometimes have the guts to say this when not on a discussion board, if you stand around and do nothing, soon enough... well. You're a pervert child molester yourself. Period. My opinion of Australians (and most parts of America are the same so ‘aint feigning no self-flattery …this is your language right?...) is much less than it was 15 minutes ago.
It does seem plausible that risk taking might have evolved in part to impress other men, so long as the risks in question were less than the risks of involved in personal combat. And that does seem likely, or else men would just fight it out over women rather than engaging in signaling. Of course, many species do just fight it out -- so I wonder why some species apparently evolved signaling strategies as well?
An element perhaps missing from the discussion is that men also admire men who take risks. Various cultures throughout history often have archetypal male heroes who are risk-takers. Men seek the admiration not only of women, but also of other men. From an evolutionary psychology approach, one could suggest that in order to secure sexual activity, males need not only impress females but also establish dominance among other males, perhaps by demonstrating superior physical prowess -- something difficult to do without taking risks.
H.A. - Yes, I did omit discussion of opportunistic cheating by women, even though it is certainly an important element in a full picture, because I was focusing on bifurcation in men's strategies.
Russell,Your ideas are interesting in that I think in the welfare states many of us live in today, the avoiding punishment incentives to performance aren't as strong as the positive incentives.
At the (rather large) bottom of the economic heirarchy of living humans, there are fairly strong incentives to maximize performance -avoidance of starvation and death of self and family.
But among people with top talent, the negative incentives are fairly low. The problem with executing the bottom 10% of Ph.D. candidates is that it could create more of a problem reducing the number of people willing to become Ph.D. candidates. I'm not completely worried about losing a Wittginstein in that process for 2 reasons: (1) we'd have to weigh overall efficiency gains vs. loss of Wittginstein, and (2) we'd have to weigh the degree to which -prepare for mixed metaphor- Wittginstein just had the tallest boat in a rising tide, and used that position to pick low-hanging philosophical fruit that some other philosophy Ph.D. would have picked for us otherwise.
A question would be how to increase negative incentives against non-performance on the most talented humans, without discincentivizing them against revealing their talent to us in the first place, to the degree that such increased negative incentives would in fact increase their positive contributions for the rest of us (or at least for you and me Russell).
Norman,Your description of tension in women's decision-making process seems to leave out their procreative option of opportunistic cheating.
I suppose, women should ideally want men to signal quality by successful risk taking
No, women do not "want" men who engage in risk-seeking behaviour: they just have an impulsive emotional response to them. This is a critical distinction, because the woman's position with respect to her impulsive preferences is exactly analogous to the man's impulsive tendency to engage in risky behaviour. If this advertising campaign is any indication, culture (in the form of persuasion technology) will favor a single, long-term/rational strategy.
Culture leading to bifurcated strategies? Reminds me of jocks vs. nerds...
Bob Knaus makes an excellent point about bifurcated signaling strategies. It's been a while since I've read the evolutionary psych. literature on risk taking by juvenile males, but believe it may have focused on chimps. Humans are different because many fathers make a significant resource contribution to child rearing. Women want physically high quality men, who will pass these qualities to their children, but, unlike chimp females, they also want men who will actually be around to help raise the kids. This creates a tension with respect to signaling physical quality by risk taking. I suppose, women should ideally want men to signal quality by successful risk taking and then settle down to a more cautious life-style upon having children. Casual observation suggests that this is indeed what a lot of women want, and the apparent fact that men typically become more cautious with age suggests that this preference may have had an impact. But I expect that male risk preferences nonetheless persist to a large degree because the physiological mechanism mediating risk taking behaviour are not precise enough to adjust fully for age / marital status. That implies the signaling dilemma is a real one. It certainly seems plausible that bifurcated strategies would result, which fits with Bob's observation about sailing/powerboating. Does anyone know of a more rigorous analysis of this type of model?
Bob's point that powerboat and sailboat signaling constitute "two different languages" is also very interesting. My impression is that in the culture/nature debates we tend to think of the two as being in opposition: the usual question is whether culture can 'overcome' inherent traits or biases. But it also seems plausible that culture and normal might reinforce each other. Given that the fundamental tension is real, why shouldn't we expect culture to lead to bifurcated strategies just as readily as nature? Why shouldn't the two reinforce each other, with two sub-cultures to go along with the two 'natural' strategies?
I have lived on my sailboat since 1992. I find that male signaling strategies on the water bifurcate: there are sailors, and there are powerboaters.
The extreme male powerboat signal of prowess is the "cigarette boat", a fast, penis-shaped, expensive, and dangerous vessel. The female guests aboard my sailboat often wag their pinkies at passing "penis boats" as they call them, and make jokes about the small size of the operator's manhood.
So far as I can tell, their disdain has not reduced the number of cigarette boats, or the high accident rate associated with them.
I think powerboat and sailboat signaling constitute two different languages. Not much information crosses that barrier.
Note that a rational person would not engage in risky behaviour, since that's a horribly inefficient strategy as far as mate attraction is concerned. At a purely rational level, women do not care about their partner's risk preferences; and the desired emotional response can be replicated through advertising-like techniques. This is the same Judo-like approach being used at a different level.
Re the above comment, perhaps then we need to make worthwhile accomplishments far riskier.
Possibly we could award PhDs to as we do now, but randomly execute every tenth person who passed their oral examination? Say whoever was the most nervous? (We would have lost Wittgenstein this was, however.) Maybe follow up the reward of every Nobel prize with an even-odds-probability-of-survival drop from a helicopter into the Baltic sea?
It would be better to put the risks on the younger males, of course - so how about a public whipping if you can be proven to have studied or attended classes, with young scholars being at risk until, say, 30 (when it's legal to know something)? Until then they have to sneak in and out of libraries under the shocked and admiring gaze of young females (who would be allowed to open books whenever they want.)
There's a science fiction story there for anyone who wants to write it...
More reasonable (perhaps) would be a series of contests of knowledge or debating skill in which the winners were well rewarded, but the runners up almost as badly punished. I think the kids would go for it, judging by who's watching reality television.
If a particular way of being risky to signal studliness now provokes contempt in women, why would the adaptive response not be to engage in some other kind of risky, signalling behavior, such as even riskier driving?
I agree that culture can potentially override nature. How easily it can do so is an open question. That's why it will be interesting to see if the new Australian advertising campaign works.
I don't really consider hunger strikers to be an example of culture at work, since it is largely an individual phenomenon, and individual departure from normally adaptive behaviour is nothing unusual -- it is the basis for selection. I do take celibate priests to be an example of a cultural phenomenon. As I understand it, that illustrates only a partial triumph of culture, as I believe that priestly celibacy has been largely nominal for much of the church history since it was introduced. The details would certainly be an interesting case-study.
Simulated sexual selection (contrary to the actual likely responses of women) might work. This matter of male risk might actually be a runaway effect due to sexual selection: the human equivalent of a peacock's tail, and just about as helpful...