I was really amused by Dr. Pat Salber’s post on hapless guys gone shopping. Was this a subtle literary allusion to Damon Runion’s “On guys and dolls”? His “guys” are pretty much the same: a bunch of pathetic, testosterone-exuding losers. Even more amusing was the storm of plaintive protests from our guy readers, who claimed that this was a stereotype that was divorced from modern reality.

Seriously, how did stereotypes come to be accepted? If they did not have some roots in reality, Darwinian theory predicts that they would not survive the selective force of public acceptance. If you think that the “dumb blonde” or the “stupid jock” stereotypes have no basis in reality, think again.


Evolutionary psychology

Broadly speaking, this field is attempting to explain human behavior in evolutionary terms, or more specifically, in terms of survival advantage. The field is fraught with problems, the major one being that its analysis is, by and large, retrospective. What I mean by that is that the investigator describes a certain human behavior, and then in effect says “but, of course, it makes a lot of evolutionary sense,” many times without a shred of empirical evidence, all the fruit of armchair “thought experiments”. For example, in 2001, a book was published by MIT Press (can it get more prestigious than that?) titled “A Natural History of Rape: Biological bases of Sexual Coercion.” In it, the authors, Craig Palmer and Randy Thornhill, argue that rape should be expected because it increases the number of the rapist’s offspring; voilá, survival advantage—Q.E.D. Both authors are respected university researchers, but I submit that such a conclusion ignores overwhelming neurobiological evidence suggesting that far from doing what comes naturally, our rapist guy is actually deficient in his decision making power and his “executive functioning”—traits that reside in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

Well, maybe not a very scientific “science”, but you’ve got to admit that it’s a lot of fun.


Seriously now

One of my favorite evolutionary psychologists is Dr. Satoshi Kanawaza of the London School of economics, a truly creative researcher and thinker. To give you an idea why I like to read his papers, here is a selection of a few of them:

  1. Kanazawa, Satoshi. 2007. “Beautiful Parents Have More Daughters: A Further Implication of the Generalized Trivers-Willard Hypothesis (gTWH)”, Journal of Theoretical Biology. 244: 133-140.
  2. Takahashi, Chisato, Toshio Yamagishi, Shigehito Tanida, Toko Kiyonari, and Satoshi Kanazawa. 2006. “Attractiveness and Cooperation in Social Exchange“, Evolutionary Psychology. 4: 315-329.
  3. Kanazawa, Satoshi. 2006. “Why the Less Intelligent May Enjoy Television More than the More Intelligent“, Journal of Cultural and Evolutionary Psychology. 4: 27-36.
  4. Kanazawa, Satoshi. 2006.”Violent Men Have More Sons: Further Evidence for the Generalized Trivers-Willard Hypothesis(gTWH)Journal of Theoretical Biology. 239: 450-459.
  5. Kanazawa, Satoshi and Deanna L. Novak. 2005. “Human Sexual Dimorphism in Size May Be Triggered by Environmental Cues.” Journal of Biosocial Science. 37: 657-665.
  6. Kanazawa, Satoshi. 2005. “Big and Tall Parents Have More Sons: Further Generalizations of the Trivers-Willard Hypothesis.” Journal of Theoretical Biology. 235: 583-590.
  7. Kanazawa, Satoshi and Griet Vandermassen. 2005. “Engineers Have More Sons, Nurses Have More Daughters: An Evolutionary Psychological Extension of Baron-Cohen’s Extreme Male Brain Theory of Autism and Its Empirical Implications.”
  8. Yamagishi, Toshio, Shigehito Tanida, Rie Mashima, Eri Shimoma, and Satoshi Kanazawa. 2003. “You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover: Evidence that Cheaters May Look Different from Cooperators.” Evolution and Human Behavior. 24: 290-301
  9. Kanazawa, Satoshi and Rebecca L. Frerichs. 2001. “Why Single Men Might Abhor Foreign Cultures.” Social Biology. 48: 321-328.

And so on, and so on.

If we apply some rudimentary logic to the titles, we would have to conclude that big and tall men (paper 6) are violent (paper 4), and they are also ugly because if they were attractive, they would have had more daughters (paper 1).

Since I had the fortune of having one son and one daughter, I am in limbo (recently abolished by the Catholic Church, after several centuries of existence): I should be short, non-violent, and ugly. My wife wholeheartedly concurs. Saving grace, I don’t like to watch TV, which at least makes me intelligent (paper 3).


Back to the dumb blonde

A recent paper by Kanazawa and Jody L. Kovar of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (“Why Beautiful People Are More Intelligent.” Intelligence. 32: 227-243,2004.) illustrates the “thought experiments” used in many such publications. The authors suggest that:

  1. Blondes are perceived in most cultures as more attractive.
  2. Men prefer great looks over awesome intelligence (to wit, the irrefutable “evidence” that “gentlemen prefer blondes”).

It would then make perfect evolutionary and economic sense for blondes to invest their energy and talents in snagging an attractive, high-earning man, rather than invest in their own education. All their daughters (paper 1) will be intelligent, attractive, and… blonde.

Hence the stereotype. These gals are not dumb, they just didn’t go to school; they actually made a smart economic decision. Who would argue with such logic? Certainly not a dumb blonde.

In terms of my own situation, I am a total evolutionary failure. And you, Pat, are just too smart for your own evolutionary good.

Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD
Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD loves to write about the brain and human behavior as well as translate complicated basic science concepts into entertainment for the rest of us. He was a professor at the University of California San Francisco before leaving to enter the world of biotech. He served as the Chief Medical Officer of biotech companies, including Aphton Corporation. He also founded and served as the CEO of Madah Medica, an early stage biotech company developing products to improve post-surgical pain control. He is now retired and enjoys working out, following the stock market, travelling the world, and, of course, writing for TDWI.