The headline is “Hourglass Figures Affect Men’s Brains Like a Drug.”
Researchers—that darling, catchall term—conducted a study examining men who were allowed to look at pictures of naked females (from behind) and found that these men liked what they saw.
The joke circulating in commentary on this story is: Who knew? It’s the joke that’s interesting.
One can chuckle in two ways. That any scientist would study such a thing is silly, therefore funny. I have an image of white-frocked geeks measuring the amount of drool from their porn-watching subjects. “An increase of 32.8% as she bends. Success!”
But the second kind of mirth is meant to come from the sophisticates who know we can’t know men like sexy women until it’s studied scientifically. Not knowing before studying is mandated in science. And if you don’t know that, then that’s funny.
Which group has the best laugh?
To know, let’s look closer at the original study.
[R]esearchers had 14 men, average age 25, rate how attractive they found pictures of the naked derrieres of seven women before and after cosmetic surgery that gave them more shapely hips. These operations did not reduce weight but just redistributed it, by implanting fat harvested from the waists into the buttocks.
Brain scans of the men revealed that seeing post-surgery women activated parts of the brain linked with rewards, including regions associated with responses to drugs and alcohol.
That’s doing it the hard way. There are surely easier ways of finding, on the internet, pictures of naked females. Of all shapes, hourglass or not. It might take some effort to dig up these photos, but I’m guessing it could be done. But never mind.
What’s glaring about the study is that they used before and after shots. If you show two different females, one hourglass one not, and a man rates the hourglass more attractive, it’s easy to imagine it was some other quality of the hourglass woman that pushed the man’s buttons. Skin color, tone, height, weight, etc. But a lot of those qualities would be the same in the before and after pictures of the same woman.
After all, it’s same person, same amount of fat, but that blubber has been shifted. However, this doesn’t work. Those other qualities don’t stay the same in fat-shifting operations, particularly skin tone and texture. This is obvious. If these qualities didn’t change, women wouldn’t be paying such huge sums to have these operations.
Again, never mind. Showing different women, or showing the same before-and-after would give roughly the same results as long as enough pictures from either group were shown.
The real objection is that the study used “14 men, average age 25”. Sounds like American graduate students to me. But only 14? Is that enough? It’s both too many and not nearly enough.
Not nearly enough: Remember that the researchers hooked up a magnetic phrenology device (MRI) to the men and watched those men’s brains light up when those men saw the women’s butts. And they say that it’s the same region, more or less, of the brain that lights up when men toss one back. Therefore, they say, looking at naked women is intoxicating.
Now, if MRIs were specific enough, this conclusion might be interesting. But they are not: measurement error is not negligible with these machines. Plus, every activity in which we engage has not been mapped. We don’t know if that region of the brain lights up, say, when we sharpen pencils, or dig a ditch, or contemplate our 1040 long forms. Nor do we know if these other activities light up the brain more intensely. In short, we just don’t know.
And even if we had a better feel for the brain’s functioning, having just 14 young men—who were culturally much the same—is not enough to conclude anything.
Too many: We did not need a formal study to tell us that men, in the United States employed as graduate students, find shapely women sexy. The reasoning (some) scientists use—that our anecdotal experience has been know to misleads us, therefore it always does—is fallacious. We know plenty without having had to run formal experiments.
There isn’t anything in the world wrong with anecdotal evidence. If it does mislead, then it can be augmented with formal evidence. But that formal evidence doesn’t negate the anecdotal, it augments it.
Even worse for this study is that doesn’t answer the truly interesting question. Sure, as we already knew, most 25-year-old American graduate students prefer hourglass figures, but is that true in Brazil? In Zimbabwe? In, of all places, Australia? Is it even true outside of graduate school, or, say, above 100th street in Manhattan? Was it true yesterday and will it be true tomorrow? All historical experiences suggests no.
So which group has the best laugh? Probably neither: as evidence, the original study was linked to (via keyword matching, probably) a rival study, whose headline “Best Female Figure Not an Hourglass.”
Update The risks of running stories like this. Not two hours after I posted this, but Google has already sent two people searching for “naked women pictures” to my site. I hope they weren’t too disappointed.