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Friday, 20 May 2011

Intelligence and Human Sex Drive

The notion that humans' sex drive is based on the finding of so-called "ideal" mates is deeply flawed. All the articles written by evolutionary psychologists about subconscious desires to select those who fit the stereotype of what may seem like the best mate in the wilderness i.e. features of physical appearance, are based on the assumption that human sexual selection is identical to any other animal's sexual selection. This is false, not because sexual selection is different itself, because it is not.

As explained in previous posts, sexual selection is constant in all living things, and is defined as the drive to preserve qualities predicted to be advantageous in the face of future, unknown selection pressures. Although the obvious method of carrying out the selection is mating, as seen predominantly in species which go through complex courtship behaviour displays, in humans this has ceased to be the case.

Today I saw a guy at college wearing a black t-shirt with bold letters saying I MAKE GOOD BABIES. Is that to say he wants lots of kids and is advertising his availability? Probably not. Then what is the point of wearing that t-shirt? Well, he's advertising his sense of humour, and perhaps cynicism at the idea that humans are all looking for babies.

Two main reasons have led to the difference in sexual selection between humans and other animals. For the purpose of calling humans more intelligent than other species, we will define intelligence as the ability to modify the natural environment, and create an artificial environment. The two reasons are:

  1. the just mentioned increased intelligence
  2. the artificial environment which results from it.
If you're reading this, doubtless you are already in an artificial environment, surrounded by artificial things, all human-made. How do those two things affect sexual selection in humans? Firstly, they enable a more efficient use of energy; reproduction itself is an energy-demanding task, especially as human babies take longer to develop due to their bigger brains and the requirement to learn more things. Therefore, it is slow and risky for the development of humans as a species to only rely on reproduction as a means to advance survival techniques and build artificial environments.

Consider the amount of dedication and work needed to create works of art, build up cities, and find cures for diseases. The energy spent doing those things has been of better use in the long run than if it had been spent solely bringing up children into a less developed world. Compared to other species, humans now reproduce for the purpose of life itself, rather than as a method of applying sexual selection.

Human intelligence has shifted the drive of sexual selection towards the creation of artificial environments and the propagation of the resulting knowledge, by using the same principles as sexual selection in other species: the selection of properties thought to survive future selection pressures.

That is why, to the puzzle of evolutionary psychologists, humans do not exhibit the expected behaviour in sexual selection. If they truly did, then all of us would be indeed very attractive, and perhaps there would be increased sexual dimorphism (i.e. peacocks are a lot more physically different than peahens). The fact this isn't the case is a clue that indeed, sexual selection itself has been made artificial in humans in some instances. For example, the world of the Internet is not just an expression of intelligence, but a battleground for several sexual selection pressures: "like" buttons on facebook, "follow"s on Twitter, comment activity on forums, website competition, photo ratings, etc.

If you've ever wondered why facebook doesn't have a "dislike" button, find out in the next post on Positive, Negative and Neutral Sexual Selection.

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