William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Women ‘Genetically Programmed To Have Affairs’?

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Thing about evolutionary psychologists is that after giving sciency sounding names to commonplace events, they believe they have discovered something new. Happens with wild abandon in the peer-reviewed paper “The mate switching hypothesis” by David Buss and others in Personality and Individual Differences. (The title of today’s post was lifted from one of the many popular media summaries.)

First thing Buss does, after quoting Kinsey on infidelity rates as if these numbers were reliable, was to give a name New & Improved! name to infidelity: “mate-switching.”

Although breakups are often moralized as “failures,” we propose that selection has sculpted a complex psychology designed to jettison current mates and acquire new ones in circumstances wherein mate switching would have been historically evolutionarily advantageous.

And so Buss moralizes infidelities as “advantageous”. Now this theory as Buss states it, as all experience proves, is immediately false. We all know plenty of couples, even infertile ones, who stuck together even when this “strategy” was not “evolutionarily advantageous”. This “mate-switching” therefore cannot be universal.

Of course, we also know some couples who haven’t stuck. Who has more kids, incidentally, women who stick or those who wander? (The paper focuses on women.) Are the rates you’re thinking of current? Were they the same, say, 150 years ago? In England? In Sumatra? Kenya? Philippines? Across all time?

Here’s the “mate-switching hypothesis”:

Humans have adaptations to (1) monitor their current mating relationships for benefits received and anticipated and costs incurred and anticipated, (2) evaluate alternative potential mates while already mated, (3) circumvent a partner’s mate guarding tactics, (4) engage in extra-pair infidelity (from flirting to serious affairs) as a tactic for assessing and courting alternative desirable and interested partners, (5) deploy exit strategies for breaking up a current partner in ways that minimize costs, (6) and switch to a new partner when cost/benefit calculations render circumstances propitious for switching.

Now this makes women sound like baby-optimizing machines, does it not? If that’s so, answer me this: which women are more likely to use contraception and kill their unwanted, those women who stick or those who wander? And if mankind has adaptions to boost gene rates as Buss suggests, why is there so much contraception, abortion, and adoption?

Buss makes it appear that all people constantly engage in these “adaptive” algorithms, they having little choice in the matter because the “adaptive” behaviors are programmed (in some sense) in their genes. “Evolution drove me to cheat: I didn’t want to, but my genes talked me into it.” How then do we explain the great number of faithful people who end up having lots of kids and the women mate-switchers who don’t?

Nothing in life comes with a guarantee. From an ancestral woman’s perspective, hazards from the environment, other species, and importantly, other humans, could render her mate debilitated or dead. A bite from a poisonous snake, an incapacitating disease, or an attack from a warring group could decrease her partner’s mate value.

You don’t say?

The final decision about whether or not to implement a mate switching strategy, as illustrated by the discussion above, is neither easy nor straightforward. Foremost, it requires a suite of assessment adaptations—monitoring the current partner’s mate value; tracking one’s own mate value; monitoring the desirability and interest of alternative potential mates; assessing the current partner’s investment in, and commitment to, the relationship; and tracking self, partner, and potential partner changes in mate value and anticipated future mate value trajectories. Information from these assessment adaptations feed into the decision to implement a mate switch, which if positive, requires tactics for breaking up and emotionally detaching—aspects that Boutwell and colleagues (2015) call primary and secondary mate ejection.

Zero recognition from Buss that humans are unlike all other animals. No recognition that love, justice, religion, knowledge of the good, logic, evil, and so on are used by people in deciding whether to stick or skate. Desiring to maximize a genetic future, in the sense that people are thinking, “If I dump Bob, statistics promise I’ll have 1.4 more kids with Kevin” doesn’t happen. It’s more like, “John promised to spend a lot of money on me. Goodbye, Bob.”

Do women (or men) ever leave because they think they’ll have more kids? Sure. Do most leave for that reason? Hardly. And reason they do. Buss must be committed to the idea that when a woman bolts for more money, she may think she’s doing it for the money but that’s just her brain tricking her into a situation where she’ll have more kids.

The rest of the paper is the same: “Another output of mate switching psychology is emotional disengagement, a process of psychologically divesting from the current partner.” I don’t have space to criticize things like “Woman’s mate preferences shift to more bodily masculine and behaviorally dominant men when ovulating”, results which rely on (typical) bad statistics but which have a grain of truth.

28 Comments

  1. Quite a few non-faithful somehow end up with a passel of kids and are not materially better off in the long run. Most women are not in the position to dump a lawyer in favor of a hedge-fund manager.

    This paper has a “made-for-tv” quality about it–in that perfect people living in a well-furnished house wearing expensive clothes can just bat their eyes and exchange one mode of gracious living for another, and no one is damaged by jealousy, bruised by custody battles, and struggling to give the kids a “normal life.”

    In many cases, a woman (with children) with a wandering eye is going to have to settle for a less desirable partner because time and other factors have made her less desirable.

  2. I’m starting to wonder about this blog. Wander and wonder are spelled differently.

    “There’s only two reasons why people have problems with their relationships, money and sex, and you can always get a loan.”. councillor friend. 2003.
    “Men need sex to feel love, women need to feel love to want sex.” wise guy.
    “Men chose women because of their looks, women chose men because of what they can provide and there’s nothing wrong with this.” college friend old and wise, age 34. Had affair at college while his wife was in Denmark, probably told his wife who probably didn’t care.
    “Never marry for money it’s very wrong. Go where money is and you will marry money.” Miss Margareta Marks formidable, true feminist, when that meant something, headmistress Chorleywood College for girls with little or no sight. (who’s fiancé died in the war and who never married)

    I don’t believe, on observation and much questioning of people that they stay together for love. It’s fear of change, pain and financial loss, oh, and of course the all important, saving face.
    Having recently asked five elderly friends who are widows about their husbands at the time they stood at the alter and later on, how they actually felt, they certainly weren’t in love, at any stage!
    Having friends who were in long term relationships prior to getting married, they weren’t in love either.
    Men used to marry for sex. They still do but only to be considered acceptable.
    Of my recent ‘survey’ two are still married. Three are widows. Only ONE doesn’t believe in God, one is Catholic, the coldest, still married, had fertility treatment to conceive, prior to switching to be a Catholic for political reasons.

    So when they read the usual Love is.. in a wedding ceremony, in my view, unless the individuals are very lucky, yes, lucky, they’re never in love and the thing is a sham.
    The loneliest one is married, has no faith in God and has the resilience and grace of the best so called virtuous God fearing church going person.

    Everybody’s playing with a different set of premises and talking at cross purposes.

    The bear and the hare. That’s true love.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NW2EmATcb6o

  3. Ye Olde Statistician

    September 24, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Perhaps they are simply confusing love with sexual desire.

  4. YOS,
    Perhaps not.
    You can say it over and over but it won’t make it true.
    I can assure you that my friends and I are anything but confused.

  5. Joy —

    Sounds like your survey was biased by the closed network of the researcher. Maybe you want to expand to those you have not chosen as friends. Just a suggest.

  6. Jim,
    I don’t chose friends, they chose me.

  7. Choose! sorry. .

  8. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Not much about emotional infatuation here.

    Curious that the meaning of the word”buss” is “kiss.”

  9. Gary, YOS, Jim,
    The best evidence is with my observations which are representations of the truth of what happens and what happened. You will notice that I remark upon the lucky ones who do things right. Most people don’t. They don’t find Mr right, they find Mr right now.

    To Jim, it wasn’t a scientific survey that shows.
    To YOS the old chestnut about others being confused is wearing thin.
    to Gary? what?

    The real wisdom on this topic isn’t clearly something people are willing to discuss properly here.

    Thank you for the responses, I don’t mean to be rude but outside of being really moved to comment I don’t wish to discuss it any further. You lot are all too cagey.

  10. Joy —

    I understand it was a biased survey, which typically happens when you poll close friends (it is the expected result).

    If I surveyed my friends, I could claim the existence of a sociological law that states most folks in the world can think of nothing better than riding 100 miles on their bicycles while discussing Austrian economics.

    Of course, I wouldn’t make such a claim because I know I biased (by choice and on purpose) my survey and because I have no belief in any law (so to speak) based on sociology.

    All I am saying is a wider network would yield a much more positive view of marriage.

  11. Ye Olde Statistician

    September 24, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    the old chestnut about others being confused is wearing thin.

    And yet, we constantly observe such confusions. Not only in the overlap of sexual attraction and love but between consequences and intentions (the root of all conspiracy theories) and so on.

    The Modern for example likes to speak about “falling in love,” as if love were something “out there” independent of the lover and the loved and one more or less stumbles into it by luck. Whereas an earlier time spoke of loving even your enemies.

    The definition of love as willing the good for the other precisely as other places it squarely in the domain of the intellect rather than the emotions or appetites. That is, you may decide to love someone. This is a very different thing than the notions of the Romantic Era, when the Enlightenment began to unravel. At high school graduation (fifty years ago, lieber Zeit!), a classmate introduced us to her husband-to-be, a marriage that had been arranged by their parents when she was young. “But do you love him?” her horrified Romantic classmates cried. “I will learn to love him,” she calmly replied. When last heard from, about ten years ago, via a cousin of hers, she was still married happily to this same man. (This is why it is well for a sample to include people of other cultures before drawing general conclusions about humanity.)

    Moderns almost always characterize love as a “feeling,” and when the feeling is gone conclude that love is gone. This happens not only in marriage but in other friendships (BFFs), family relations, and so on. Naturally, when you love someone there will be affective consequences — feelings will result. So it is easy to confuse casual feelings experienced due to other factors like lookism or sexism with the similar feelings experienced due to love. It is not a bad thing to love someone because you will get laid; but that is not a good entry point for the relationship if it is to last. You must love someone for his or her own sake, not because you yourself will obtain pleasure, even though you may well obtain pleasure from it.

    However….

    The article that spurred the post presents a third sort of thing, one in which love does not even figure, only fecund copulation. Neither the Classicist nor the Romantic will find much to please in the notion that only calculation of reproductive benefits is involved — or is at least the Real Reason why women stray.

    [The reproductive advantages of straying spouses is an example of the essential unfalsifiability of the theory of natural selection. If new research were to show that spouses do not in fact stray in nearly such numbers, it will not falsify the theory. It will simply engender a fresh Adaptation Story of the reproductive advantages of spousal faithfulness.]

  12. Somehow I think the author forgot that for most women having affairs, there is man completing the arrangement. So, who is to blame? Is it the woman who is basically a gold-digger, or does she want out of an abusive relationship.

    Does the man want to marry a better looking woman, or does he crave something someone else will give him, like attention.

    It takes two to tango.

  13. The reproductive advantages of straying spouses is an example of the essential unfalsifiability of the theory of natural selection.

    Or perhaps indicates faithfulness in monogamy conveys no strong advantage.

  14. It’s unfalsifiable because natural selection makes no predictions other than a tendency. Evolutionary algorithms demonstrate it’s a possibility. They do not predict or guarantee any particular outcome either. A current outcome can’t be used to falsify either the algorithm or natural selection because no particular outcome was predicted. Doing so is bad reasoning.

  15. swordfishtrombone

    September 25, 2016 at 8:16 am

    @ YOS: “an example of the essential unfalsifiability of the theory of natural selection”

    I’ve not heard any complaints from you about the unfalsifiability of the god hypothesis.

  16. The paper is talking about short-term mating affairs. Which is a very important premise. Cultivating “back-up” mates, one of the main topics in the paper, is definitely not a good long-term strategy for a lasting marriage and love, imo.

    Joy, after reading your comments, I feel that I have so much in life to be thankful for and that I am so lucky.

  17. Jim,
    Yes, sample size and type are problematic but it’s all we have. I take zero notice of sociology. I am referring to experience and observation. I’ve hardly seen a marriage I admire. That doesn’t mean, as you seem to have assumed that I don’t believe in it’s sanctity or importance.
    If I didn’t, I’d be married, like everybody else. Furthermore, I’d be a multi millionaire. As I said, everybody’s playing with a different set of premises. Daughter of my receptionist once said and it’s true, I’d rather be alone than with someone who makes me unhappy. She was a devout christian and a school teacher. These people I know are varied, the ages are wide, the backgrounds very different, many of them were patients who all have their wisdom to impart. I listen to everybody. It doesn’t mean I always believe what they believe.

    Some of us are put on the earth to love lots of people and not in the way YOS and Ed F characterise love with lashings of sensory appetites. I think I am one of those people.
    That is, if there is a true purpose for each of us at all which is not an idea I’m fixed to, just a thought.

    YOS,
    Put your sensory appetites away.
    JH,
    Thank you .x.

  18. Joy —

    You miss the point.

    You take an admittedly biased survey and create an eternal law, which you claim I am subject to as well, along with everyone else on this blog.

    Keep in mind that the voices — opinions — we each choose to hear say more about us than the opinions themselves. In other words, you are hearing the voices that agree with your view on marriage and ignoring, or discounting, those that dissent (and you create your network around supporting views). My experiences are the opposite from yours. But then my network is mainly made up of folks who share my views on marriage.

    As Gary noted above, the true definition of lovely has been supplanted by the worldly view. This is love: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    So the question to your survey group that started this string is not, “We’re you ever in love with in your marriage.” Instead, it is, “Did you ever show love in your marriage (as defined by the Biblical definition above).”

    That is what’s we are told to do.

    Notes: it would have been a lot better for you to have simply stated you hold certain opinions of marriage — an unfalsifiable claim, assuming your are stating your truth. However, it is another thing altogether to claim that your views on love and marriage are eternal truths, along with the implicit claim that those of us happily married are really delusional.

    And no, despite your implicit claim otherwise, you do not hold marriage in high esteem.

  19. Jim,
    Calm down.
    Your last remarks are either overstatements, repetition or untrue:
    If you are happily married nobody’s taking that away from you are they? There’s no need to be defensive. Just say ‘I’m happily married’ and be done. No need to be deliberately hateful and insulting.
    You are quite dishonest to reiterate what I say and put your own assertion on it. It is not for you to tell me how I feel and what I think. Quite apart from being a little irrational, since I told you what I think already, it’s rude.
    This won’t be the first time you’ve lead off up the deep end and told me what I think before asking. Never assume. There was me thinking you were being kind.

    I can only imagine why you might need to do this since my views don’t impinge on you, or shouldn’t.
    If the views of those very sweet women upset you there’s not a lot I can do about it.

    Regarding the bible quote which I’ve been at pains to quote lately much to the distaste and even irritation of some christians who think it only applies to their wife, evidently, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the bible speaks of what love is not. The positive remark in the passage is that it is patient and kind. Your remark was neither of these. Do you really believe that your responsibility to love is only with one person? (Rhetorical)
    “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

    Those are not empty words just for wedding ceremonies. The problem is that because the bible is very light on description and more representative by Jesus’s example, some less than loving individuals think it’s an excuse to disregard it as claptrap and without value. Over and over I read on here cynical remarks from people claiming to be christian and behaving like pirates.
    As for romantic love, it is no different as I pointed out before, or it is not love and never was, which is my central point. “GOD IS LOVE”

    As for ‘the rest of the blog’ commenters and I note that was a call for back up, perhaps you’re not reading carefully enough. As far as the sins of others are concerned, they are just that, the sins of others.
    Don’t berate me because some females commit sins. You wouldn’t like it if I gave you a hard time because some men are rapists would you?
    Don’t shoot the messenger, it’s silly.

    As for my stated views, they are sincere.
    You have the right to call me a liar as you did but you don’t have the right to expect me not to put you straight and wonder at your absurdity.
    Enough.
    said with love

  20. Ye Olde Statistician

    September 25, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    Natural selection is unfalsifiable because it makes no predictions other than a tendency. Evolutionary algorithms demonstrate it’s a possibility.

    Then the authors of the article should not have claimed that female unfaithfulness is a reproductive adaptation. In the real sciences, things like Boyle’s Law or Maxwell’s Equations are not Boyle’s Tendency or Maxwell’s Possibilities. That’s what Popper pointed out before he was taken to the woodshed: when everything is a consequence of the theory, then it’s not a scientific theory.

    I’ve not heard any complaints from you about the unfalsifiability of the god hypothesis.

    Nor about the unfalsifiability of the Pythagorean Theorem, and for much the same reason.

  21. Joy —

    I called you a liar?!? Yet I cannot such a statement by me anywhere above. I suggest you read what was written for clarity.

    Look, if you think you get to make whatever claims you like and not receive a negative response, well … I can’t help here.

    I do note your selective use of capitalization. I assume you are doing that to be “deliberately hateful and insulting.”

    All that said, I am saddened that you have such negative emotions regarding marriage. I truly am.

  22. I forgot “find” in my first sentence.

  23. Jim,
    Here I deal with your weak and disingenuous response. The matter of my views are clearly beyond your ability to assimilate at the present time without reactionary comments.

    You made several dishonest claims about the comment and I am afraid there are rather too many.
    The list grew with the weird capitalisation remark and I have no idea what that’s about. Hateful capitals?
    The most suspicious and dishonest of your remarks is as follows and within the statement is the absolutely clear and present implication that I am a liar as your assertion contradicts precisely what I said about what I think. Leave aside the weirdness.

    1 “And no, despite your implicit claim otherwise, you do not hold marriage in high esteem.”
    What part of that is not calling me a liar? Don’t give the justification, there is none. What you wrote says it all anyway. You remind me of the archaeologist who finds a piece of blue and white china and builds a village.
    So that is why I say and still say you are calling me a liar. Whereas, in fact it is you who are not telling the truth; what I said was different, you didn’t need to embellish.
    2
    “you miss the point” who utterly misses the points?
    3
    “You take an admittedly biased survey and create an eternal law, which you “
    I did no such thing. Read and think.
    4
    “which you claim I am subject to as well, along with everyone else on this blog.”
    This is a call for back up, a statement of untruth with your use of the word ‘claim’ and ‘everyone else’
    5
    “Keep in mind that the voices — opinions — we each choose to hear say more about us than the opinions themselves. In other words, you are hearing the voices that agree with your view on marriage and ignoring, or discounting, those that dissent (and you create your network around supporting views).”
    There goes the character assassination: Unfounded and with such simplistic thinking that its very strange that you find it necessary to spell out your wrongful assumptions there in technicolour.
    Don’t forget that you’ve never met me in your life and know nothing about me. You picked up the ball and ran with it. You made a terrible error of judgement and now you are back peddling with protestations of being truly sad. Is that truly in the same sense and your comment above?
    6
    “As Gary noted above,”
    I don’t care what Gary’s tastes are on what is lovely.
    7
    “So the question to your survey group that started this string is not, “We’re you ever in love with in your marriage.””
    love it! you even have a prepared question for my ‘survey’! That’s science!
    8
    The question I should have asked,
    really Jim I can’t be bothered, all this hinges on your rather silly assuming attitude coupled with an attempt to be exacting about something which you can only know so much. With respect to what I know, you can never know what I know nor can I know what you know. If you were generally interested you might have kept your private thoughts to yourself about what you think I think and you might have found that your assumptions were wrong.
    9
    “Notes: it would have been a lot better for you to have simply stated you hold certain opinions of marriage — an unfalsifiable claim, assuming your are stating your truth.” There you go again, doubting my word. From whence does this come?
    10
    “to claim that your views on love and marriage are eternal truths, along with the implicit claim that those of us happily married are really delusional.”
    The claim was of my observation. If there was not some truth in my claim the divorce rate would not be as it is. How many people getting married today plan to get divorced? (rhetorical) I never claimed an eternal truth, that is another of your untruths. Eternity is a big word.
    As for the ‘happily married are really delusional’ that’s in your head.
    It also contradicts what I said and what you want to ignore as it doesn’t suit your conveniently ‘internally consistent” theory about me.

  24. Joy —

    I’ll leave it to the reader to decide by starting with your initial comment.

    Note: reread your previous comment to see which proper nouns you chose not to capitalize. And “lovely” should have been “love,” which is an obvious typo in context.

  25. Jim,
    Do you mean “GOD IS LOVE”?
    or just say if you like, it takes about twenty minutes to scroll about and I can’t find capitals easily. If it’s important, that is.
    Are you reading my tealeaves by means of capitals? What fun.
    I promise you, that any capital issues if there are any, are my typing.

    The typo wasn’t obvious to me.
    Wouldn’t It Be Lovely if it was?

  26. Joy —

    I wrote “chose not to capitalize.” (emphasis is mine).

    So why are you looking for capital letters?

  27. tick followed tock followed tick followed tock….Here’s to waiting…

  28. Strange ideas. “Lifelong monogamy does not characterize the primary mating pattern
    of humans. American divorce rates have hovered in the 50%
    range over the past several decades.” from the first paragraph of this earth shattering work.
    Why has the American divorce rate anything to do with primary mating patterns in primitive cultures? Please explain.

    Primitive cultures certainly don’t allow mate swapping. Men can knock other men on the head and make off with the wives of rival tribes but there are rules within primitive societies so that children will grow up to take their set place in the group.
    The main thing is the tribe not the individual.
    We can’t know how these customs grew up because we can’t see into the past. It’s all conjecture.Vestiges may remain in stories and songs and sagas, but these record extreme events.
    How can psychologists enter the mind of people in the past , how do they know how they thought? You can’t extrapolate behaviour from those people of America who have no tribal loyalty, to people who lived in tribes a longtime ago .

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