In the first part of this two-part series, Peter McGraw talks to Martie Haselton, a scientist who specializes in evolutionary psychology and Shane Mauss, a comic who has material about dating and mating from an evolutionary perspective. The guests present a primer on evolutionary psychology, and they have a far-ranging conversation covering topics from how the modern mind has not adapted to the invention of birth control, to why children may be viewed as parasites, to the puzzles that evolutionary psychology struggles to answer. They also explore the tension between a solo lifestyle, people’s evolutionary motives, and a culture shaped by ancestral desires.
Listen to Episode #26 here
Solos, Sex, And Evolution – Part 1
This conversation went long enough that I split it into two parts. I talked to a scientist who specializes in evolutionary psychology and a comic who has material about dating and mating from an evolutionary perspective. They present a primer on evolutionary psychology and we have a far-ranging conversation covering topics from how the modern mind has not adapted to the invention of birth control, to why children may be viewed as parasites to the puzzles that evolutionary psychology struggles to answer. It explores the tension between a solo lifestyle and our evolutionary motives and culture shaped by those ancestral desires.
The conversation is a little messy so I want to highlight something important. Our evolutionary past suggests that humans as a group are guided by real urges and preferences to procreate and find particular kinds of mates particularly appealing. Nevertheless, those explanations do a poor job of accounting for any one person’s behavior and preferences. In other words, you may be an exception. Moreover, it’s impossible to understand current behavior and preferences without noting the important role that culture plays in shaping desires and behavior. Said another way, although living a solo lifestyle and thriving was not the norm back in the day, now it can be because one, procreation is not the only important thing in the modern age. Two, technology allows people to live a solo remarkable life, and three, you can have important connections to others beyond lifetime partnerships, what scientists call pair-bonding. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started with part one.
Our first guest is Martie Haselton. Martie is a Professor of Psychology and Communication and a member of the Institute for Society and Genetics at UCLA. Her research interests span a wide range of topics from cognitive biases to mate selection and sex differences. She is the author of Hormonal: The Hidden Intelligence of Hormones, How They Drive Desires, Shape Relationships, Influence Our Choices, and Make Us Wiser. The book has been translated into eight languages. Welcome, Martie.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
It’s great to have you here. My second guest is Shane Mauss. Shane is a professional comedian who specializes in a comedy about science. He hosts the science podcast, Here We Are, and is touring with two shows. One is Stand Up Science, which is a half-comedy and half-science show and the second is Head Talks, which is a special psychedelics version of that show. You can find them in the documentary film Psychonautics. Shane is also a good friend and special contributor to my latest book Shtick To Business. Welcome, Shane.
Martie, you’ve been studying evolutionary psychology your entire life.
My whole academic career.
Though your interests are quite varied, this is the foundational approach you take. I want to hear how you got into that, but I want you to tell a short story. I’ve assigned one of your papers in my PhD seminar for many years. For the reader who doesn’t know this, there’s a variety of ways that academics get evaluated. They get evaluated by the number of their papers, sometimes being judged by the quality of the publications. Other things like the number of citations that your papers get. Do other academic authors cite that work or use it in their papers? One of the ways that you get evaluated, at least in my department, are your papers being assigned in PhD seminars? Do they serve as some foundational knowledge for the field? In the case of your work, Martie, I’ve taught a Behavioral Economics PhD course for many years and I do a session on Nontraditional Approaches to Decision-Making. I have assigned your Error Management Theory paper back in the day.
It’s getting up there.
It’s got a ton of sites to it.
It’s had some time to accrue them.
Before we get into your own personal and professional story, I’m a big fan of this idea. Can you talk a little bit about what it is and how you came to it? Shane, I want you to jump in because you and I have talked about this offline.
I had gone to work with my PhD mentor, David Buss, who studied mating and sexuality and was well-known for that work. I was at the University of Michigan at that time. That’s where I started my PhD and then he left for Texas and I went along with him. I needed my feet not to be blue anymore. It was a little cold for me in Ann Arbor.
David wrote the first textbook on evolutionary psychology so it’s a relatively new field in the sciences.
The textbook came out right around the time I was getting my PhD. Before that, he was well-known for shaking it up in the mating arena. He was making claims about sex differences, how they might have evolved, and how they might be universal. Do women more than men prefer a mate’s earning capacity? Do men more than women prefer a mate’s physical attractiveness? Those were some hypotheses that followed from some reasonable evolutionary logic but it was controversial and got him into a ton of hot water. It was something that everybody was talking about. That paper and its aftermath happened for a number of years. I walked into graduate school in the middle of it all. I thought I don’t want anybody to think that I am doing derivative work because he was famous for that stuff. I walked into his office one day and I said, “I don’t want to do anything that has to do with mating.”
[bctt tweet=”Another individual has a mental state that is potentially different from your own.” via=”no”]
I tell this to my current PhD students and they think that this is funny because that is what I do. In the course of having that conversation with him, we decided that I would do something different. What is this thing that people can do where they can model the mental states of others which is a capacity that is, if not limited to humans, limited to humans and a couple of other species? The ability to understand that another individual has a mental state that is potentially different from your own. We got to talking about that and we started to think about the applications of that. He brought to my attention the existence of a bias, which was bias in representing a person’s mental states. It was that men have a tendency to overestimate women’s sexual interest. He said, “Your assignment is to go home and learn everything you can about that and come back with an explanation because if you can come up with an explanation for that, then I think that we might have some mileage in other areas.”
That is exactly what I did and Error Management Theory came from that. Error Management Theory is not a theory about biases only limited to our mating psychology, but it is quite broad and it’s been applied across many domains in social psychology. What I did was I went home and I thought it through and I thought, “Why in the world would men overestimate? Why would they have this optimistic bias?” After quite a bit of thinking, the idea was that it’s like a smoke detector. It can be wrong in 1 of 2 ways. It can overestimate or detect fires when they’re not present or can underestimate and fail to detect fires that truly are present. Which of those directions do you want it to be erring toward? When engineers are designing these things, they can adjust the settings and they can set it so that your smoke detector goes off when you burn toast which is what you want, you want to err on the same side.
Mulled wine in my basement.
You never let that go. That was in your kitchen.
Did somebody forget about the mulled wine?
My ex and I were staying with Peter and we got in late. We let ourselves in or whatever and we were being quiet. My ex at that time wanted to make mulled wine and put it all together on the stove and then it set off the smoke alarm. It was 1:00 in the morning or something like that which especially for Peter who goes to bed at 9:00.
That’s a festive example of this. You can apply this concept of erring on the safe side to a variety of different domains. For men throughout our evolutionary past, erring on the safe side might’ve been thinking that she’s interested so that you don’t miss a real sexual opportunity because every new mating opportunity is potentially a new offspring that could be produced. Men who tended to err on the side of assuming sexual interest where it’s not present, overestimating a woman’s sexual interest, they were more likely to leave progeny than the guys who underestimate. The same thing doesn’t apply to women because not every new sex partner is going to be a new baby made.
They’ve got to think about this in the ancestral past when we weren’t using reliable contraception, so every sexual event was meaningful and consequential. The consequences of the two sexes are different. For a man taking opportunities for casual sex when they’re present is a low-cost proposition. All else equal or at least in comparison to women were a poorly considered sexual choice that could result in an offspring that she has to care for a long time. For women assessing a partner’s potential interest, our thinking was and this was the new hypothesis. The evidence was that men overestimate women’s sexual interest in erring on the side of optimism. We thought that women would be a little pessimistic about men’s interests, but in particular about men’s interest in forming a long-term relationship.
Instead of short-term thinking about the long-term.
Thinking about the long-term and trying to assess a man’s interest in forming a long-term relationship and interest in commitment. We call it the Commitment Skepticism Hypothesis. In the course of developing that Error Management, the idea is you manage the costs of error. Do you overestimate or underestimate? You manage the cost of errors on the plus side if you are a man assessing a woman’s sexual interest and you err on the other side if you are a woman assessing a man’s commitment interest. The direction of the bias, we can model, predict, hypothesize from knowing something about the ancestral past and the kinds of problems that our ancestors faced. That’s where Error Management Theory came from.
I want to step back because some readers are familiar with these ideas because they have made their way outside of academia and they’re a lot less controversial than they used to be and so on. Let’s talk about this asymmetry that exists there. Correct me anytime I say something wrong here. If I understand you correctly, the basis for the work that was being done in your laboratory at that time was that we have this ancestral past where the currency had good and healthy babies. The reason for that is to pass your genes along.
Your genes simply were not passed along if you failed to do that, you became an evolutionary dead end.
That’s right like I’m going to be.
It’s not going to get any better than this so let’s end it now.
That is paramount and this is not something that is conscious per se. This is instinctive. Is that a fair word to use?
Right but it’s not even that there’s an instinct to pass on your genes. Rather there’s an instinct to do the things that in the ancestral past would have passed on our genes.
Sex feels good to motivate having sex. Most people are consciously detached from it because they’re like, “I’m having sex so that I feel good.” They’re detached from the process.
[bctt tweet=”For men, taking opportunities for casual sex is a low-cost proposition.” via=”no”]
The cost of having a baby and passing your genes along are asymmetric, where a woman has to give a lot more both in terms of the pregnancy and then beyond the caregiving and amend twelve seconds or maybe a lot more but there’s certainly an asymmetry in the minimal.
The minimum investment is vastly different for the sexes.
Although they could become, maybe not equivalent, but closer in a sense especially if you can think about it in a modern age or something.
When people get together with a partner and cooperate to rear offspring, they might be 50/50 in the investment.
A stay-at-home dad is doing more of that work.
I’m thinking of all of the stuff that my ancestors, women and men, did and worked hard, got through plagues, fought wars, survived the fire, all to get to me and I’m like, “I don’t feel like it.”
That sucks. It’s a good thing they don’t know.
I don’t want to screw up my remarkable life but we’re going to get back to that. We’re going to talk about birth control because that’s important.
I don’t want to step on anything here but something caught my intention when you said our ancestor’s reliable contraception. Were there contraceptive measures? People have probably been masturbating for a long time. Do they masturbate? Pulling out is a little higher on that.
Let’s not let a bunch of dudes who are pulling out think they’re smart.
I’ve seen things of our past century older or even 1,000 to 2,000 years ago of them using some contraceptive.
Makeshift diaphragm contraptions.
That’s what’s complicated to me that people have been recognizing the enormous costs of these offspring for a long time. It’s surprising that evolution would almost allow for a psychology that would even become self-aware of that.
That’s interesting. To connect the dots across this and another area of my work which are looking at women’s hormone cycles. Women’s hormones cycles and the day of ovulation within women’s hormone cycles, the day of ovulation is and the few days before that, that’s the fertile period of the cycle. That is a moving target from one cycle to the next. It would be interesting if that is truer in humans than in other species because it prevents us from tracking cycles quite as easily.
It’s your body is tricking the mind that knows has some signal behavior.
I don’t know.
I do like the idea that there are bits of deception built into our psychology like Robert Trevor’s.
You would expect that as soon as we did become aware and started to try and prevent pregnancy that there would potentially be some new gizmo in the head that works around that. It deceives us in some way perhaps.
I’m going to pull you two back in because you guys are starting to get a little bit into inside this poll. I’m trying to build up to the highest ideas. I think we can establish that. As a result of this asymmetry in costs, the argument was there’s a variety of behaviors and cognitions that follow from that. Let’s step back. One of those preferences, I remember learning about this stuff around the same time because I started my grad program in ’97. A lot of the stuff was popping then was an asymmetry in what males are interested in their partners versus females. Males in terms of health, youth, beauty and females in terms of broadly speaking status or resources. This theory is designed to explain that preference.
Those preferences apply mostly to thinking about long-term mate choice for both sexes. As soon as you start asking about side relationships or more short-term one-off kinds of relationships, then those sex differences change in character. Women do care a lot about physical attractiveness, especially if it is going to be a short-term encounter.
You’re supposed to jump in with a joke here.
It’s funny because it’s almost the opposite for males where there’s a lowering of standards if it’s not going to lead to future costs of having to stick around and provide and everything else.
The flexibility around preferences based upon goals.
It’s contingent on what a mate this is. If a woman is going to have a one-time sexual encounter with a man, he better offers something good for her potential offspring. If he is attractive, then that suggests that he might have solid underlying genes.
Taking birds which some bird species seem to have similar mating strategies as humans where they have a lot of pair-bonding and then there’s a bit of fooling around here and there.
Pair-bonding is coupling up.
Coupling up socially like monogamous, but a little fooling around on the sides. It’s like what you’d expect the 10s pair off with the 10s, 9s pair off the 9s, 8, 7, 6, and you get down. I don’t know what the bird tree looks if they have a wonky wang or something like that but whatever it is. The logic is a female five that’s partnered up with a male five. If she’s out and about and there happens to be a male ten around, she can go and grab some genes from him off his back and have the 5 or 8.
It’s not unheard of.
Error Management Theory fits into this a little bit because of the asymmetry. An experiment with this goes something like this if I remember this correctly. You have male and female experimental participants interact and then afterward you ask them like, “How interested was that other person?” The men were like, “She’s into me.”
It’s both the guy that was in that and the guy watching it.
If you have observers of these male and female observers, and then you ask them this and then the male observer is like, “She’s totally into him.” If you ask her how into that guy are you, she’s like, “I’m just being nice.” It’s an experiment. It’s a pleasant interaction. The idea is that if he doesn’t ask her out, if he doesn’t pursue this, then he might be missing a valuable mate opportunity.
He’s erring on the side of assuming that she is and if he gets a slap in the face, that’s a relatively low cost.
I offered that paper because my students are learning a different way of thinking about human thinking, which is built on the basis of maximizing utility and a microeconomic approach. Sprinkling in some social biases, emotions, limited cognitive resources to show predictable deviations. I don’t think that all of those things can explain the deviations that you were showing.
That was the contribution that I was hoping that we might be able to make because the standard model, as I saw it at that time, was the deviations were due to limitations of the mind. What we were thinking is that they’re not exposing our cognitive limitations, but they’re better than rational. By adding in these biases, we’re making the system better than having the system cut it down the middle and have an equal number of false positive and false negative errors, which would look more like what a rational choice model that the default model that you were talking about, what that kind of model would predict.
It’s irrational within an individual or a choice, but rational over the scope of evolutionary time.
It’s more error-prone but those are errors by design.
In science, there’s what we call type one error and that is you say that there’s an effect, but there is no effect. You say that this exists in the world but it doesn’t. The other one is type two error where you say this effect doesn’t exist in the world when it does. Science has different tolerances for the two different types of errors. Evidently, men and women in a mating scenario have different tolerances for the types of errors.
I’m curious when you think about this in terms of how you would articulate it or conceptualize a process like this. If you take something like Error Management to show the readers how broadly this is applied to many things outside of mating and many aspects of life. If you’re standing on top of a cliff and looking down, whereas if you’re standing at the bottom of the cliff and looking up and you’re asked to evaluate and estimate how high the cliff is. You’ll have a higher number if you’re standing from it looking down and a lower number if you’re standing below it looking up. What I’m curious about is, would you call that self-deception, a skewed bias or perception that has been favored?
Yes, because it would motivate a certain action. Another example that I like that’s along these lines and there are experiments that are done with speakers on wires that demonstrate this. When you hear a noise that is approaching you, there are speakers traveling toward you as the subject. You’re blindfolded, you don’t know what’s going on versus the noise is traveling away from you. You estimate that it is traveling faster when it is traveling towards you because it’s better to be ready too soon than too late to engage in evasive action than when it’s moving away from you.
You don’t need to duck away from a thing moving away from you.
You can be perfectly accurate and that’s better.
I don’t want to get too complicated here but if you go back to your women being skeptical of men’s signs of commitment. Haven’t guys have been shown to say I love you first more regularly in the relationship? Scrap that if you don’t know.
I tease him about that all the time. I’m like, “Don’t fall in love.” He’s like, “Too late.”
Here’s the thing that I wanted to bring up is this question of like, “Would this fall under the domain of self-deception?” You’re telling a girl that you love her, you feel it and you believe it but you are primed to be more heavily influenced and feel those feelings more deeply to reach that next level and the goal. Once you get there, there’s a new level and goal in mind and things can change.
If women are skeptical then men do need to be convincing. If they’re convinced themselves, then they might be more.
The idea of the evolution of self-deception is it’s easier to lie and deceive someone else if you believe it yourself.
What you two are describing is you’re describing the song Paradise By The Dashboard Light by Meatloaf. It’s a story of a young couple making out in their car, the dashboard lights, and him getting to third base and wanting to go all the way and her saying, “Will you love me forever?” He gives in. He says, “I love you until the end of time.” It breaks into the chorus and we’re both praying for the end of time. It’s a fun song. It’s a long song.
Lyrics Born has a fun song called I Changed My Mind that’s very much about that.
I’m sure readers are thinking about a variety of topics. These are all the normal things, Martie, that I’m sure you hear about. What about homosexuality? What about infidelity? Let’s wait. We’ll get to those. This was something when I was prepping for this that Shane had mentioned, and this is related to your hormones work, which I want to address is this notion of children as parasites. On the one hand, we have this drive even though it’s ancestral, it still is revealed in a variety of people’s behaviors and preferences even though our societies are much more complex and the culture is pushing us in different directions. One of the fascinating things is it’s treated as this assumption at the beginning is the children are costly, that it’s hard to get them into this world, to get them to be healthy, to thrive, and to be on their own. It’s bad that we joke that twenty-something still can’t do it.
That’s what my undergraduate students would tell you. I asked them this question and they always squirm in their seats. They said they were not self-sufficient yet.
When I was sixteen I was like, “I could do this on my own.” Because of my family situation, I was like, “I’ve got this worked out.”
I’ve got two young kids and I can’t imagine that in a few years they’re going to think that.
At sixteen, I was like, “I wanted to move out of the house.” I also hope your kids when they’re 26 knows how to do their laundry so there’s a balance there.
I’ll put off a wash and fold.
I’ve never heard this idea of children as parasites because it conjures up this almost a disgusting image. Where does that come from?
You can trace it to pregnancy. This little emerging organism is only half-related to the mother so 50% of the genes are coming from the dad and 50% of the genes are coming from the mom. She should treat that like a foreign body that needs to be attacked and rejected from her body but that’s not what happens because the second half of women’s hormone cycles, we have a rise in progesterone which is associated with depressing the immune system so that we don’t reject this foreign tissue. In some sense, they are parasites, or at least they’re foreign bodies that are invading our bodies as women.
These hormones weaken the immune system.
They allow us to tolerate this foreign body so that it can implant into the mother’s tissue and start draining nutrients from her body.
There are pros and cons these days in a world filled with allergies which are a new modern thing for humanity. Pregnant women have lessened allergies. The body is going like, “We have an actual thing to worry about rather than this perceived threat.”
I’m not sure how it affects mom’s allergies. I don’t think that that’s where that comes from. It comes from thinking about little kids. From a third-party perspective, between you and your kid, you feel quite differently than if it is somebody else’s kid and you’re an onlooker. They seem to be an adjusted total pain in the ass. They’re crying, fussy, and inconsolable. When they’re little tiny babies, they don’t do anything rewarding. All they do is eat, poop, and keep you awake at night.
That’s Shane in my life.
If I stay with Pete for five days, he goes out of his mind.
Thank goodness, you don’t have children. From an objective observer’s perspective, this is incredibly disruptive. They do draw down your resources in a whole lot of ways including literally drawing down your bank account.
In a previous episode, we looked at financial freedom and we looked at some special considerations for single people. As the bonus material, I took a big dump on this article about the seven financial benefits of marriage. I’m like, “You’re ignoring that 90% of married couples have children which wipes out all of those financial benefits.” Not to mention the divorce of some of those couples, which wipes out that financial benefit.
Not having kids is my retirement plan.
Every time I buy an upgrade on a plane, I subtracted from an imaginary bank account that would have paid for college tuition.
It gets you away from those snot-nosed kids at the back of the plane.
It’s doubly beneficial, yes.
I should say that I adore my children and that they’re wonderful but part of the reason that I adore them in addition to the fact that they are wonderful is that throughout our species’ long history of a variety of adaptations that are for rearing children, taking care of them, and loving them so that you do that have clicked in. Once that happens, then you fall in love with your kids in the same way that it parallels the ways in which you fall in love with a mate. At least for a little while, you can ignore some of their faults. You think that they’re truly outstanding and wonderful. We may be even more biased in the case of our kids because we can fall out of love with our mates. We don’t tend to fall out of love with our kids easily.
I have a good friend. He’s a follower of this show. I’m not going to name his name, but you will know him when I talk about this. He has two kids that are around the same age. They’re 12 or 14-ish. He’s like, “My kids are great.” He loves his kids so much. I’ve met the kids and they’re smart and lovely people. They’re thriving. I’m like, “How’s it going with your wife?” He’s like, “I love my wife so much.” It’s hard, that group of four, it’s a difficult road because being a family is difficult to do resource-wise and so on. I’m happy for him because he has the one-two where the kids are thriving and it hasn’t come at the cost of their partnership. I think that’s great. I should mention his name, but I won’t. You don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want, Martie, but is it weird to study this stuff and then live it to study, “My hormones are doing this to me that allows me to?”
[bctt tweet=”Men and women have different tolerances for the types of errors they might encounter.” via=”no”]
It’s not weird. I’ve gotten a number of insights because I am living it. Initially, the insight is to look at how women’s mating psychology changes across their hormone cycle so is it the case. In non-human species, there’s a special phase of sexuality that gets turned on during the high fertility window of the cycle, that’s called estrus. This is when primates get big genital swellings that you can see on the Animal Planet if you dare to, the fragrant scent trail that rodents will leave behind. Hamster is a classic case, it’s to attract male hamsters to their borough. They’ll even have sex in the first place. A lot of species will not have sex outside of this fertile window. Is there some parallel to that in the human species? People thought that was not the case because humans have sex all the time so it’s not limited to the fertile window. Humans will have sex before they are having fertile cycles early in their young years, after cycles have ceased during pregnancy, early in the postpartum period when pregnancy is impossible to start a new pregnancy quite yet and so on.
It’s amazing that we don’t have more sex as a species.
Humans have sex all the time and that’s a bit of a joke because we don’t have sex all the time. We go through our phases with our partners but we do have sex. It’s not limited to the fertile period. People thought as a result of that, humans were different from all other species. The hormones we have, they control other things but they don’t have anything to do with our sexuality.
Humans are like, “We’re special.”
Here’s the phrase that gets used in scientific papers. Humans had been emancipated from a hormonal control. I thought that sounded like bullshit. That did not make any sense to me. The reason is that still, those are the only days in which a woman can become pregnant. Is there thinking about mating going to be the same across all those phases of the cycle? Is it going to be the same when she can become pregnant versus when she cannot? I didn’t think that seemed plausible.
Is it men writing that phrase more often than women?
Some of the key papers I can think of were written by men. That was also back in a time when there weren’t as many women there to do the research.
It’s also classic egocentric. As humans, we find out that we’re primates like other primates but still made the differentiation like, “We’re not monkeys, we’re apes. Not just any apes, we’re great apes.”
That was part of it. Speaking to the issue of whether this was males or females who were thinking that we didn’t have this hormonal component. One of the things that drove me to do this work was observing in myself and observing by talking to my female friends. We didn’t feel the same way. We didn’t think that it was because we were fickle or irrational. We thought perhaps that there was something patterned there that was interesting.
That makes good sense. This happens a lot in the sciences, at least in the behavioral sciences where you get an insight either from a puzzle you see in the world. Why are people doing that? You notice something quirky about yourself. You’d go, “I don’t know exactly why that’s happening and I’m supposed to know why that’s happening. The way I’ve been thinking about it might be wrong.” I want to ask the two of you to do something slightly different. As you know, this is a show for single people. I want to ask for a specific perspective from the two of you because coupling up or as you call it pair-bonding, marriage and children are common, it seems like a lot of the work is focused on those behaviors. Why does that happen? Yet, there are nontrivial deviations from that set of behavior.
I already alluded to one, this notion of homosexuality, promiscuity, or infidelity. If we take a view when we look at the rising number of single people. If we look at the United States, 28% of households in the United States are one person or solo. The projections that Pew Center has 1 out of 4 Millennials will never marry. These are fascinating statistics that suggest that we’re onto something with this show as a place to have these conversations. My question is, are there varied evolutionary strategies within a species that can explain this? How much of this is the conflict between culture and our ancestral past, our abilities to override some of our natural preferences and desires? I’m asking because I’m interested not in the majority case but minority cases. What comes to mind as I bring this up?
We were talking about how evolution optimizes everything. There are things like sex feels good so you’ll have more sex so that you’ll have more kids. That makes sense as a drive. Why not make sex feel even better? Most people are like, “How much better could it feel? I can tell you a lot better.” There are good nights, bad nights, there are people who have sex on drugs sometimes that heighten the experience or take doctor-prescribed Viagra or what have you.
Have you ever heard that there’s this asymmetry between self-stimulated sex and partner sex in terms of self-reported pleasure and so on?
That’s the idea. My understanding is we don’t know exactly the answer to that, but there must’ve been some costs if everyone’s having crazy sex all the time. There are many other things that we need to do in life in terms of survival and raising the kids that we are producing. Diseases that can be caught from being overly promiscuous and couple that with evolution carving out this perception of recognizing that these things are costly. Children are costly. There are aspects of pair-bonding that can be costly. You couple that with something that evolution never saw coming which is reliable birth control. It was the case through our evolutionary history that all sorts of people dreamed of living the single life, having all sorts of adventures, and living a remarkable life or whatever. You’re still going to have sex once in a while and then you’ve got this responsibility and everything else.
For people in non-industrial societies, kids are part of what makes the family work. They’re part of what feeds everybody. You need kids to sustain yourself. You need them to help with the livestock or help with the hunting and the gathering. Kids didn’t hang out and play video games. They served a function in terms of their labor.
I should say they still do in some societies.
I was talking with Sophia Rokhlin who had been touring with me on my Head Talks Show. She’s in Peru. She studies these Shipibo people down there. I was curious, we were driving one day and some correctional van or whatever drove by. I was thinking about it and I was like, “What’s the discipline in policing and stuff in those cultures down there?” She’s like, “Kids don’t have time out or anything. They’re not served different foods. There’s not baby food and stuff. They’re a part of the community. They’re early on brought out on hunts and shown how to basket weave and everything else.” It’s instilled in them the cost.
Vandalism or something like that, you can’t appreciate the true cost because you don’t own a house for yourself. It’s another few years before you’re going to have to be responsible for that and comprehend what that means when some jerk comes by and eggs your house or whatever. There’s not that same behavior, they still have laws and things like that, but it seems different. That’s also not the pre-industrial group that still exist, they also might be different than the ancestors that we came from. The reason why they’re still pre-industrial is because of whatever constraints that they had in terms of being able to make things agricultural in the first place might have influenced their lives and behavior more. It’s not necessarily a time machine to look at some hunter-gatherer group and make an inference like, “This must be what our ancestors look like.”
We do know that we are enabled to have a lot more freedom from worry about where our next meal is going to come from, whereas people live much closer to the margin in these traditional societies and we presume was the case throughout our evolutionary history.
That was a natural breakpoint in our conversation. Check out the next episode for the remainder of this fun, fascinating conversation. Thanks for reading. Cheers.
- Hormonal: The Hidden Intelligence of Hormones, How They Drive Desires, Shape Relationships, Influence Our Choices, And Make Us Wiser
- Here We Are
- Stand Up Science
- Head Talks
- Shtick To Business
- Error Management Theory
- Paradise By The Dashboard Light
- Previous episode – Financial Freedom with Money Amy
About Martie Haselton
Martie Haselton is a professor of psychology and communication and a member of the Institute for Society and Genetics and UCLA. Her research interest span a wide range of topics from cognitive biases, to mate selection and sex differences. Martie is the author of Hormonal: The Hidden Intelligence of Hormones—How They Drive Desire, Shape Relationships, Influence Our Choices, and Make Us Wiser.
About Shane Mauss
Shane Mauss is a professional comedian, who specializes in comedy about science. He hosts the science podcast, Here We Are, and tours with two shows –one is stand-up science – half comedy and half science show – and the second head talks (which is a special psychedelic version of the show). You can find him in the documentary film Psychonautics. Shane is also special contributor to Peter’s new book, Shtick to Business.
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