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Darwinian Psychology Goes Mainstream

by Michael Shermer, Jun 02 2009
The friendly folks behind the registration counter were efficient in processing the badges for the 450+ attendees, plus selling you a t-shirt or two of primate Darwin, denoting that this year’s HBES conference celebrates the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of <em>The Origin of Species</em>.

The friendly folks behind the registration counter were efficient in processing the badges for the 450+ attendees, plus selling you a t-shirt or two of primate Darwin, denoting that this year’s HBES conference celebrates the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species.

On Friday May 29 I attended the 21st annual conference of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) — the official organization of evolutionary psychologists and champions of applying Darwinian thinking to human psychology. The last HBES meeting I attended was at U.C. Santa Barbara in 1995, which was sparsely attended compared to this year’s 450+ attendees packed into tiny conference rooms for the simultaneous sessions — always a frustrating choice architecture when you want to attend more than one talk being presented at the same time. I only had a day to attend the three-day conference, so this will be necessarily unrepresentative of the remarkable body of research now being churched out by hundreds of professional evolutionary psychologists from all over the world.

I should note at the top that on this, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, it is embarrassing that it is only now that the application of Darwinian principles are fully coming online in mainstream psychological research laboratories. In my book The Science of Good and Evil I include a history and explanation for the delay, but it still amazes me that only now has it become acceptable to include Darwin in discussions of human animal behavior. As one of the founders of the field, David Buss, likes to say (quoting, I think, Donald Symons), “evolutionary psychology” is a redundancy — given the fact that 99% of our history as a species has been spent as bipedal primates in an ancestral Paleolithic environment all psychology should be evolutionary. The fact that there is no such thing as “non-evolutionary psychology” speaks volumes, even though unofficially most psychology throughout the 20th century was just that — non-evolutionary. That problem is now coming to a close as we enter a new era of all psychology as evolutionary.

Two superstars of evolutionary psychology—David Buss from U.T. Austin and Martie Haselton from UCLA—both of whom study sexual attraction and relationships from an evolutionary perspective, confer on their latest data. In years to come Haselton will get to personally test her theories teasing apart nature and nurture on her own newly-born twins.

Two superstars of evolutionary psychology—David Buss from U.T. Austin and Martie Haselton from UCLA—both of whom study sexual attraction and relationships from an evolutionary perspective, confer on their latest data. In years to come Haselton will get to personally test her theories teasing apart nature and nurture on her own newly-born twins.

Incest is not Best

One of the most interesting talks of the day was by Elizabeth Pillsworth, a graduate student at UCLA in the lab of Martie Haselton, who studies sexual attraction, relationships, and how fertility cycles influence mate preferences and choices (e.g., women dress in a more sexually provocative manner during the high fertility phase of the month). In an interesting twist on this body of research, Pillsworth studied the effects of the fertility phase in women on the incest taboo — specifically, how often college-aged women phoned their dads (versus their moms) during the month. Wow. It never ceases to amaze me at how clever scientists can be in thinking up new research paradigms: who ever would have thought of correlating cell phone calls with estrus cycles? Pillsworth and Haselton (and their colleague Debra Lieberman) did! And the results were most revealing.

But first, some background. Kin affiliation in evolution is critical for predator avoidance, food procurement and sharing, protection from the elements, etc. I.e., being in a family group is extremely important for mammals. But there is an equally important downside: inbreeding. If you mate with people who are genetically similar to you, there are consequences: higher rates of infant mortality, deformed sperm, sterility, and genetic defects of all sorts — think hemophilia in the royal families of Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Research shows that the offspring of 1st cousins twice as likely to suffer congenital malformation and genetic disease and up to a 5% increase in mortality; the offspring of siblings show a 45% increased risk of mortality. Thus, mammals evolved numerous adaptations for inbreeding avoidance: dispersal from natal groups (usually sex-biased), kin recognition and avoidance, extra-pair/extra-group copulations rather than copulate within their group. Pillsworth cited a study on horses that found Mares only leave the group temporarily to other breeding groups. So there’s a conflict of wanting to be close to your kin and kind, but not too close.

Hypothesis on incest avoidance: near ovulation women are motivated to avoid affiliation with male kin (fathers) but not mothers, to avoid the potential costs of inbreeding. Predictions: relative to low-fertility days, on high-fertility days women will initiate fewer calls with fathers and engage in shorter conversation with fathers, compared to mothers. The researchers had 51 normally-ovulating women (mean age 19.1) who provided complete cell phone bills from one month, along with their menstrual cycle information and details about individuals on their phone bill. Results: the subjects called their fathers significantly less than their mothers during high fertility days, and when both mothers and fathers called them during high fertility days they spent less time on the phone with their dads than their moms. Conclusion: “this is the first evidence of adaptation in human females to avoid affiliation with male kin when fertility is at its highest.”

This study was of particular interest to me because I have a 17-year old daughter who will be going off to college in a little over a year, and like most parents I’m dreading the day she is gone and I’ll lose my daily contact with her and am hoping that she calls regularly. I guess now I have to make a mental note of her high fertility days and expect fewer calls from her, but being that I’m her dad, that won’t stop me from calling her and stalling on the phone just to mess with her evolved psychology!

Sexual Hypocrisy

U.T. Austin evolutionary psychologist David Buss examined “Sexual Double Standards: The Evolution of Moral Hypocrisy.” Buss began with the well-known double standard in society that “men are socially rewarded and women socially derogated for sexual activity.” Why? Most explanations are typically culturally-determined: local social constructions, gender role expectations, American males have been culturally conditioned, cultural illusions, social learning, sexual script theory. Buss wants to know if there are adaptations that might create a sexual double standard, for example:

  • Mate value assessment adaptations in men: render sexually open women less valuable as Long-Term mates, but not as Short-Term mates.
  • Mate value assessment adaptations in women: render sexually successful men higher in mate value.
  • Intrasexual competition adaptations in women to inflict costs on women who pursue a Short-Term mating strategy, for example, the derogation of competitors (“she’s loose” “she’s a slut”).

Are sexual double standards cross-cultural or only an artifact of modern Western society? Buss presented data from a cross-cultural study across 15 different cultures (n=2,471) that examined the impact of various acts on status and reputation. Results:

  • Being a virgin and effect on status and reputation: male’s reputation does down, female’s goes up.
  • Being sexually experienced on status and reputation: male’s goes up, female’s varies, but is less positive.
  • Reputation as an easily accessible sexual partner: negative for both males and females.
  • Having sex with a date on the first night: tends to be bad for both, but worse for females than males.
  • Having sex with two people in one night: negative impact of status and reputation for both sexes, but more for women than men; Women view other women more negatively than they view men who have had sex with two people in one night.
  • Being unfaithful to a Long-Term mate: decreases status for both sexes, but women more than men.
  • Having an unfaithful mate: loss of status for both sexes, but more status loss for men than for women.

In other words, sexual double standards exist and are robust across cultures, and the reputational consequences are ubiquitous but worse for women than for men.

Evolutionary psychologists Steven Gangestad and David Buss chat during one of the breaks between talks. Gangestad spoke on: “Men’s Facial Masculinity, but Not Their Intelligence, Predicts Changes in Their Female partners’ Sexual Interests Across the Ovulatory Cycle” (see summary in the text), while David Buss spoke on: “Sexual Double Standards: The Evolution of Moral Hypocrisy” (see summary in the text).

Evolutionary psychologists Steven Gangestad and David Buss chat during one of the breaks between talks. Gangestad spoke on: “Men’s Facial Masculinity, but Not Their Intelligence, Predicts Changes in Their Female partners’ Sexual Interests Across the Ovulatory Cycle” (see summary in the text), while David Buss spoke on: “Sexual Double Standards: The Evolution of Moral Hypocrisy” (see summary in the text).

Brains Alone Won’t Get you Laid

In a related talk Steven Gangstad examined: “Men’s Facial Masculinity, but Not Their Intelligence, Predicts Changes in Their Female partners’ Sexual Interests Across the Ovulatory Cycle”. If you get that title, guys, it means that being super smart will not make up for lacking a masculine face when women are in their most fertile phase of the month and in search of a sexual partner. Gangestad reviewed the literature on what fertile women find sexy in men: symmetrical face, masculine face, faces of men with high testosterone, masculine voices, social dominance, etc. When women are in estrus (their most fertile phase of the month), the patterns of attractions are a function of fertility status: during estrus women do not report being more attracted to their partners, but they do report greater attractions to extra-pair men. When women are paired with men who have less preferred partners they are more likely to stray during estrus. What about intelligence?

According to Geoffrey Miller, indicators of intelligence may have been indicators of good genes, and that perhaps big brains evolved through sexual selection because women are attracted to smart guys (this is the “brain-as-peacock-tail” theory). Unfortunately (for all the eggheads in the world!), previous studies found no correlation between intelligence and women’s sexual interest during estrus. Gangestad added facial attractiveness and facial masculinity to the equation. “Results revealed predicted effects of male partners’ facial masculinity and attractiveness, but no hint of any effect of partners’ intelligence.” Sorry all you smart cookies out there; you’ll just need to man up your face more rather than memorizing Wikipedia entries.

Selfish Heroes

Because of my interest in the evolution of morality, I first attended the session on Altruism, with an opening talk entitled “The Selfish Hero: A study of the individual benefits of self-sacrificial behavior by members of small groups” by Francis T. McAndrew. He began by explaining the evolution of altruism by “costly signaling theory,” which basically argues that people are occasionally super nice and self-sacrificial toward others (seemingly un-Darwinian) because they gain social status by so doing. That is, by doing something costly you signal to your fellow group members that you have plenty of resources and good genes, and therefore such altruistic acts may have been selected for in evolutionary history.

This, McAndrew argues, helps explain our fascination with heroes. Using 48 undergraduate subjects, 24 same-sex, three-person groups consisting of an experimental confederate and two naïve subjects participated in a ‘group decision making” study in which the success of the group depended upon the willingness of one of its members (the confederate) to endure pain and inconvenience. If the group successfully completed a series of tasks, it could divide $45 among its three members. The results confirmed that engaging in self-sacrificial costly behavior for the good of a group can be a profitable long-term strategy. The ordeal that individuals playing the role of the altruist had to endure was judged to be more difficult and costly than the experience of other group members, but in the end the altruists were rewarded with more money and higher status.

Cads and Dads

The next talk was by Julia Pradel, of the University of Cologne, entitled “Partner in Life or One-Night stand? How reproductive strategies might have shaped the evolution of altruism.” Pradel began by asking: “How could altruism — which by definition reduces an individual’s fitness — ever have evolved?” Like McAndrew, Pradel adopted costly signaling theory: “Only people high in genetic fitness can afford to help others.” Moral virtues, she said, have two signaling functions: 1. Good partnership and parenting characteristics; 2. Good genes. Thus, prosocial traits should be sexually attractive, and therefore sexual selection plus costly signaling theory explains altruism. If so, then why do people differ in altruistic tendencies? Pradel’s answer can be found in the theory of strategic pluralism: both sexes possess psychological adaptations for both short term relationships and long term relationships. Preferences for long-term as opposed to short-term relationships vary among individuals (e.g., women choose between “Cads” and “Dads”). Perhaps altruism was a means to compensate for weaknesses in genetic quality (e.g., lack of physical attractiveness). Mixed reproductive strategies suggest distinctive mate preferences depending on the length of sexual relationship (short-term v. long-term).

Hypothesis 1: Altruism serves as a signal of both good partnership/parenting and good genes, and thus it is perceived sexually attractive in both potential short-term and long-term. Hypothesis 2: Altruism will be a signal for long-term relationships only.

170 raters watched short video-clips of target persons with varying physical attractiveness and received additional information on the targets’ level of altruism. In a between-subjects-design, raters indicated their desire to win the targets as either (a) short-term mates or (b) long-term mates. While altruism was a significant predictor for long-term desire, it was irrelevant for rating short-term mates. The results suggest that although altruism is costly, at least for some individuals it might be a wretched necessity to obtain access to mates and to reproduce.

Smile, You’re On Candid Camera

Related to these findings, Mizuho Shinada and Toshio Yamagishi examined “Trust and Detection of Trustworthiness.” They began by noting that if altruists choose partners randomly, the average payoff to defectors will always exceed the average payoff to cooperators, therefore altruists cannot survive in evolutionary history. However, if altruists can distinguish altruists from non-altruists, altruists will choose altruists and build cooperative relationships, and thus altruists will get a higher payoff by cooperative interaction with altruists. Therefore, people should be able to distinguish altruists from non-altruists by facial expressions, such as the ability to tell the difference between a fake smile and a genuine smile (it has to do with the eyes: a genuine smile usually includes a slight squinting of the eyes whereas a fake smile does not). Thus, only altruists should have altruism-detection skills because altruists would be chosen as interaction partners if people can detect altruists from non-altruists, and non-altruists cannot be chosen by altruists even if they can detect altruists. To date, however, no study has reported that altruists are more accurate than non-altruists in detecting cheaters or altruists. Why?

One answer: the co-evolution of trust and altruism-detection. Altruists who don’t trust strangers don’t want to leave the current relationship and seek a new partner. Those who don’t trust strangers don’t have alternatives from which to choose — the ability to tell cooperators from defectors is of no use for them since they have no alternative to choose from. Those who trust strangers should have altruism-detection abilities. To these these hypotheses, Shinada and Yamagishi first had 47 males and 53 females (average age of 48) answer a questionnaire that included a trust scale consisting of five items, then showed them faces of genuine or fake smiles (20 faces total, 10 real and 10 fake smiles). Results: participant’s trust level positively correlated with the detection accuracy of genuine smile (r = 0.39, p<.0001), and high trusters are more accurate in distinguishing genuine smile from fake smiles when compared to low trusters.

Three six-foot tables were chockablock full of books on evolutionary psychology, indicate  just how far this science has grown in the past decade. Monographs, textbooks, and popular trade books provide something for everyone who wants to know more about why we behave as we do from a Darwinian perspective.

Three six-foot tables were chockablock full of books on evolutionary psychology, indicate just how far this science has grown in the past decade. Monographs, textbooks, and popular trade books provide something for everyone who wants to know more about why we behave as we do from a Darwinian perspective.

In a second study, Shinada and Yamagishi had participants (perceivers, n=99) watched 5-second video-clips. The videos were filmed while the other participants (targets, n=102) played a Trust Game. Before the experiment, they measured the perceiver’s trust level using a questionnaire. They found positive correlations between the perceiver’s trust level, “trustworthy bias” (i.e., the frequency that perceivers judged targets as trustworthy), and age: high-trusters and elderly perceivers tended to expect that most people were trustworthy. Furthermore, the perceivers trust level was positively correlated with the detection accuracy of trustworthiness when they controlled for the perceiver’s age: high-trusters were able to detect the trustworthiness of others with more accuracy than low-trusters.

Conclusions: adaptive advantages of altruism detection exists only when actors choose potential alternative partners, and high trusters who are willing to choose new partners were more accurate in detecting other’s trustworthiness via facial expressions than low-trusters were.

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31 Responses to “Darwinian Psychology Goes Mainstream”

  1. MadScientists says:

    I love the T-shirt, even if it does promote the myth that we’re evolved from the monkeys rather than the apes (or that some form of modern monkey was a direct ancestor of humans).

    • Max says:

      Aren’t Creationists the ones who like to depict Darwin as a half-monkey?

    • We’re derived from both monkeys and from apes, as I understand it. Humans are a type of ape, and apes are a type of monkey (which is a primate, which is a mammal, which is an amniote, which is a tetrapod, which is a vertebrate, and so on).

      • MadScientists says:

        No, apes are not monkeys; they have a common ancestor. Here’s a nice little picture:

        http://www.niu.edu/pubaffairs/RELEASES/2000/MAR/primate/tree.html

        This one shows a little more detail on what fossils are believed to be direct ancestors of humans (and related but now extinct species):

        http://anthropology.si.edu/humanorigins/ha/a_tree.html

        It also gives you some idea of the large times over which species evolve. Our evolutionary cousin, the neanderthals, have been extinct for about 30,000 years and you can barely see a gap on that map between the end of the neanderthals and the present. You can also see a few points where the lineage is not resolved.

      • Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but that picture you linked to appears to support the idea that apes are derived from monkeys. There’s a branch where the left side goes to New World monkeys and the right side goes to Old World monkeys, apes, and humans. The branch point represents the common ancestor of New World monkeys and Old World monkeys; was that common ancestor not a monkey?

      • Ah, nevermind, I answered my own question. According to the wikipedia entry on monkeys, they are a paraphyletic group. New World monkeys and Old World monkeys are actually two distinct clades that both happen to be called monkeys. So, no, their common ancestor was not necessarily a monkey of either sort.

    • JEANNE says:

      “The Ancestor’s Tale” by Richard Dawkins should clear up any misunderstandings. A lovely read.

  2. MadScientists says:

    Thanks for the summary; it certainly looks like they’re getting some good first results; now to devise more tests.

    I was wondering why “how about a coffee and a session of satellite data processing?” was not working as a pickup line. I fit into the results of Shinada and Tamagishi; if anything I’ve often been the victim of someone “knowing” I was untrustworthy because they can “read” me – then again who would want to select a mate that had such strange beliefs? I wonder if such socially-induced behavior was tested and accounted for?

  3. Might it be possible to obtain copies of the talks/studies outlined here?

  4. oldebabe says:

    Interesting blog. Re: the incest study conclusions, tho’, really reaching ‘way out there’. It seems to me the test sample(s) were very selective, i.e. these subjects were single young women of a menstrual age who were away (at school?) from home, and who had a mother and a father, and parents whom they would be willing to phone on a regular basis, and phone in some predictable timeframe. How can this apply to anyone else except the sample selected?

    • MadScientists says:

      The results indicate that the hypothesis cannot be outright rejected with the information available. The researchers need to do more experiments to test their hypotheses. This is early years yet; you have to give them a lot more time to further test their ideas.

  5. Drew says:

    It’s not too surprising that Evolutionary Psychology took a long time to take off. A lot of early proponents were (often rightly) criticized for taking existing biases and retrofitting Darwinian explanations for why they’re true, rather than doing actual research to determine if they’re true. When they do the latter sort of research, they’re often criticized for overstating their conclusions or defining their variables in questionable ways. Those criticisms can crop up in almost any psychological research since psychology is such messy business with so much noise and so many potentially hidden confounds.

    There’s also some taboo against it, since people tend to misinterpret the data. You do this, though in a joking way, when you mention coming to terms with your daughter calling less during her periods of peak fertility. Humans are very diverse when it comes to these sorts of things, and it’s unfair, not to mention likely inaccurate, to judge a person based on some statistical fact about a group to which they belong. People also tend to misinterpret studies like this according to the naturalistic fallacy. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised if people read the study about Sexual Hypocrisy and conclude that because that double standard is likely evolved for rational reasons, then it is acceptable; often people take data like this as rationalization for reinforcing those kinds of social attitudes.

    I spent a lot of my undergraduate years (I have a BS in Psychology) learning about, and contributing in my small way, to evolutionary psychology. One thing I concluded from it is that its conclusions should be treated with more skepticism than the conclusions drawn from most other sciences. When we turn that microscope on ourselves, our tendencies to see what we want to see are that much harder to overcome and can worm their way into our conclusions much more insidiously. I don’t mean to say the research shouldn’t be done, in fact it should probably be done more, since more data will help to smooth out the noise, but it should be interpreted much more carefully.

  6. flowbot says:

    Wow – way to lap it all up without an ounce of skepticism! The comments, too (in all the posts) – this is skepticism? Or are you just skeptical of stuff you don’t believe in?

  7. J. Swift says:

    Funny how Shermer and other skeptics are skeptical about almost everything except evolutionary psychology. (Of course, Shermer, who, like many other self-proclaimed evolutionary psychologists, is not trained as an evolutionary biologist, profits handsomely from his writings on evolutionary psychology.) Much of the “research” generated by the evolutionary psychologists is correlational and based on such scientifically unreliable measures as questionnaires and, thus, is weak at best

    Of course, one can make up all kinds of stories about how every tidbit of human behavior has/had some adaptive significance, in the same way, some cognitive neuroscientists seem intent on looking for the underlying neurological structure for every tidbit of behavior. Meanwhile the real causes of the most important human behaviors elude these “researchers.”

    These enterprises are largely bound to fail and waste a lot of time and money in the process.

    I just wonder why so-called skeptics are only selectively skeptical. When it comes to their pet peeves, they are as irrational as the ghost hunters, UFO chasers, etc. whom they criticize.

    Skepticism must be thoroughgoing and complete or it is not skepticism.

  8. Burrhus says:

    Evolutionary psychology is not a new concept….the very basics of it were articulated by BF Skinner in Science and Human Behavior(1953)

    • V. Bates says:

      “In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” – Charles Darwin.

      It was a fantastic conference, and I must say that we were all quite happy to see Michael.

  9. Fuller says:

    I don’t think it has now become socially acceptable to talk about psychology the way it should be talked about (in evolutionary terms). Most people I’ve chatted to on the subject are horrified at the idea, as if it implies no free will and so on. Which it doesn’t. It’s just common sense to me, but a taboo subject it remains.

    It’s still a bit of a ‘soft’ science as it is hard to accumulate large amounts of real data, but the evidence it does have, as a field, is all corroborative and supporting. This is a strong indicator that it should be pursued.

  10. sweet 16 says:

    Here’s some pop evolutionary psychology from RJ Ledesma (wow this is so funny!)

    According to The Mating Mind How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, adult human males have the longest, thickest, and most flexible penises (not that our penises plan to do gymnastics or yoga any time soon) of any living primate. The results of the longest, este, largest scientific study of penis size ever conducted in the world have recently been published (and I hope the study does not include any centerfold pages). The penis proportions of 5,122 men were collected over a twenty-five year period at the famous Kinsey Institute of Sex Research at Indiana University and, for the test subjects’ sake, I do hope that their penises were returned to them after the study.

    The results of Kinsey study were rather unremarkable: There was little variation in penis length. Two thirds of the participants fell within an inch smaller or longer than 6.14 inches at erect length (Actually, I may have to take some blame for the study’s outcome. I didn’t let them collect my penis, which led to such mediocre results. Oh well. Nobody believes my proportions anyway. Not even my wife).

    Now, before you take out some measuring tape, bond paper, pentel pen, masking tape and a sex scandal video to verify the results of the Kinsey study, keep your penis in your bikini briefs and ask yourself: Why does your penis have to be so pretty damn long?
    Will a long penis lead to monetary rewards? Is a long penis nature’s version of a built-in barometer (notice that I did not say thermometer)? Is a long penis supposed to help us pick up hard to reach objects?

    So, does longer mean its better?

    A gorilla doesn’t think so.

    A gorilla has three times a man’s body bulk. But the average size of a gorilla’s penis (and these are on good days) is two inches. But do you see the gorilla wearing codpieces or going for psychological counseling or surfing the internet for Swedish pumps? Hellz, no! And there’s a reason for this: Gorillas have small phalluses because they do not compete with their genitals. Now, just to let my three female readers know, I copied that statement verbatim from the book Anatomy of Love. As I write this, I am trying to process the depth and innuendo of that statement. But frankly, I am just scared of a competition where genitals are involved.

    Thankfully, the anthropologist Helen Fisher reveals to us that gorillas live in stable harems. And to win over a harem of come-hither gazing-female gorillas, you do not win them over with the length of your flesh club, you with them over the bulk of your body. However, for No Girlfriends Since Birth (NGSBs) who are foolhardy and desperate enough to give it a try, you might be able to wow some female gorillas with your six-inch (or so) wonder. Imagine that, a harem of gorillas at your beck and call.

    Which kind of indirectly leads me to my next point: maybe long penises evolved as courtship display. Which sure beats giving the object of your affection some flowers and chocolates.

    After all, there must be some reason why men developed conspicuous genitals other than to develop better hand-to-eye coordination. In many species of insects and primates, males have exceptionally elaborate penises. Some of their penises can do elaborate song and dance numbers. And scientists believe that these performers evolved specifically because females chose males with elaborate, sexually stimulating genitals.

    In fact, anthropologist Maxine Sheets-Johnstone argued that the reason men evolved to walk upright was to make our penile display more effective (and perhaps because it was easier for men to look down instead of looking behind for your penis). For example, when a male chimp ties to solicit a female, he opens his legs, displays his erect penis, then flicks his phallus with his finger as he gazes at his potential partner. It’s that easy.

    Sigh. If only we could flick our phalluses to attract our potential partners. Don’t human females realize that when we publicly display our penises to them, it is celebration of a legacy of millions of evolution that men should be proud of, and not something that should lead to our arrest. Perhaps, we males need more than just an awesome penile display. Perhaps we also need to wear bikini briefs, a red bandana, and have an awesome catch phrase like “Seeeezzling hot!”
    Quite intimidating, I admit. Which leads us to my third point: Males could have evolved large penises to intimidate other males.

    In The Human Instinct, fertility specialist Robert Winston stated that a long, diabolical-looking phallus has the potential not only to attract females but also to frighten off other competing males. I know exactly what he means, I’ve been scared off by some uncircumcised penises in my lifetime. Some penises from the wrong side of town have even held me up at knifepoint. And Ron Jeremy, Peter North and George Estregan put the fear of God in me as a child, and it was not only because my folks might catch me watching triple xxx from their betamax machine.

    But even scarier than George Estregan’s penis is the fourth possible reason behind a long penis: sperm competition (I told you already I didn’t like competition among genitals. But a competition among sperm, this is just too much).

    According to The Mating Mind, sperm competition explains the mating tactics of insects. Most female insects are highly promiscuous and copulate with several partners. After copulation, they either eject the sperm or store it for a couple of days months, or even years, while the sperm earns interest. So males are forced to compete inside the female’s reproductive tract.

    A male damselfly uses his penis to scoop out the sperm of other paramours before he himself ejaculates. Some male insects try to dilute the sperm of the competition or shove it out of place. Still other species adapted for sperm competition by evolving penises with scoopers, scrapers, suckers and flagella for removing rival sperm.

    In other semi-promiscuous (whatever that term means) animal societies where a female mated with several males, it was the male who delivered his sperm closest to the uterine cervix that would have the best chance of impregnating his partner. So, unless your swimmers had the athleticism of Michael Phelps, a long phallus might have been designed to give your DNA material a head start.

    Now, this leads me to my own speculations on the evolution of the human peepee. Firstly, I am glad that the human society was not built to be overly promiscuous (whatever that means). Because if that was the case, then I would really hate to have a penis that had opposable thumbs. Secondly, if a long penis was the result of evolutionary prerogative, then the late John Holmes was probably the most evolved man in the world.

    But the best reason to remain humble over your little pride and joy? Scientists at the University of Alaska recently reported a specimen of the Argentine Lake Duck with a penis nearly half a meter long, the same length as his body. And, get this, its phallus is shaped like an overlong corkscrew.

    So stop intimidating those poor gorillas with your penile display, or else an Argentine lake duck is gonna come and corkscrew you over.

    • oldebabe says:

      Entertaining. Made me smile, in some instances laugh. Shades of `The Ultimate Erector Set’ (by psychiatrist Hugh Drummond, M. D., pages 8-9 of the Feb/March 1987 issue of Mother Jones) – the same item but with a different slant…

    • sweet 16 says:

      If only scientific literature were written like this, they’d be very popular. But Mr. Shermer’s researches are dull. Between dating Leonardo DiCarpio (sexy) and Michael Shermer (smart) it’s a no brainer, I go with Leo. I mean Leo is hot but Mr. Shermer? That’s perverse. His daughter might puke. LOL

      I guess girls don’t call their fathers when they’re in heat because they’re busy flirting with their boyfriends. To confirm this, you could do scientific research or you could listen to Avril Lavigne’s hit songs: “I hate it when a guy doesn’t understand why a certain time of the month I wanna hold his hand” (I bet that’s not all she wanna do) “If I could only say what I wanna say I wanna blow you…” (no wonder she won the Teen’s Choice Award)

      Mr. Shermer, if you love your daughter, don’t disturb her intimate moments with your phone calls. LOL

      • Drew says:

        “I guess girls don’t call their fathers when they’re in heat because they’re busy flirting with their boyfriends.”

        This occurred to me as a good alternative explanation that would have nothing to do with incest, but if you go back and read what the study actually looked at, you’ll it was not how often college-aged women phoned their dads in absolute terms, but how often they phoned their dads versus their moms. If they just didn’t have time to call because they were too busy dancing on tables (or whatever) then they presumably would maintain the same proportion of mom to dad calls.

        The only confound I can think of is that perhaps women are more active in relationships during these periods and feel more comfortable talking about those things to their mothers about this than their fathers. This could explain the phenomenon in social, rather than biological, terms.

      • sweet 16 says:

        “dancing on tables…” that sounds fun! LOL

        Yeah I agree it’s social not biological. It’s silly that fathers think of incest. Ask your daughter. They might laugh so hard they’ll puke. Don’t worry about your daughter staying in the dorm. We might become roommates. We’ll be best friends. We’ll have a lot of fun. We’ll watch football players then eat big juicy hotdogs. Hmm yummy. LOL

  11. sweet 16 says:

    The sexual double standard is easy to explain. Boys release millions of sperms in one ejaculation. Girls produce only few hundred thousand eggs in their lifetime. Boys can impregnate a hundred girls in 9 months. Girls can accommodate only one sperm in 9 months. So boys are biologically designed to be more promiscuous. And this is reinforced socially. Girls like sexually active boys because they are not impotent. Other boys admire sexually active boys because they want to imitate them. On the other end, boys are intimidated with flirty girls because he’s afraid she’s carrying another boy’s sperm. Other girls badmouth flirty girls because they’re jealous that flirty girls get many boys and they get none. As Avril Lavigne’s song said “I don’t give a damn about bad reputation” and she had many boys before she became famous at 17.

  12. I have kids, boatloads of ‘em. When one of them calls me, it’s because the child has made a judgment that I’m the softer target for whatever request is coming. This ain’t rocket science.

  13. cleve says:

    According to Alan Dixon, human penises are not that unique in the primate world.