Saturday, 17 August 2013

Facial contrast and femininity


 
How to hyperstimulate a sex-recognition algorithm. Women have higher luminous contrast between their facial skin and their lip/eye color. This contrast effect is influenced not only by degree of lightness but also by degree of redness (source).

Women are fairer in complexion because their skin has less melanin and less blood (Edwards and Duntley, 1939). Male castrates similarly look pale (Edwards et al., 1941). For this reason, relative lightness or darkness of skin seems to be key to sex recognition. People especially focus on the luminous contrast between facial skin and the color of the lips and eyes (Russell, 2009; Russell, 2010; see also Dupuis-Roy et al., 2009):

The luminance contrast between the eyes and the surrounding skin and the lips and the surrounding skin has been termed ‘facial contrast’. Female faces have greater facial contrast than male faces, and facial contrast plays an important role in sex classification and the perception of masculinity and femininity and also attractiveness (Porcheron et al., 2013)

This contrast effect has influenced the development of cosmetics. Different societies, sometimes independently of each other, have invented ways to increase facial contrast by darkening the lips and eye area and, conversely, by lightening facial skin (Russell, 2009; Russell, 2010).

Ancient Egypt was an early center for the development of cosmetics (Dayagi-Mendels, 1989). Indeed, the Egyptians “had most of the cosmetic aids which have ever been devised” (Corson, 1972, p.8), including rouge for the lips and cheeks, eyeliner (kohl), eyeshadows, and foundation […] In Mesopotamia, pots of colored paints for the eyes, and rouges for the lips have been found in Sumerian tombs near Ur from 5,000 years ago.

[…] Excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro have found kohl pots and sticks for lining the eyes, as well as red iron oxides and white lead-based compounds that have been surmised to be rouge for the lips and cheeks and foundation for lightening the skin […] Evidence for ancient uses of received cosmetics in the East Asia is less clear, though there is a long history of the use of white face paint and rouge for the lips in China and Japan (Corson, 1972). Overall, there is evidence for the idea that the received style of cosmetics developed in multiple centers of early technology development, and spread outward to peripheral areas such as Europe and Southeast Asia, analogous to the spread of other technologies like agriculture and writing. (Russell, 2010)

This contrast effect may have likewise influenced evolution within our species. The most common human phenotype combines relatively light skin with dark hair and dark eyes. The opposite pattern is biologically possible but rare. In addition, the whitening of European skin might have provided a sufficient degree of luminous contrast for hair and eye color to diversify.

Not just luminous contrast

Facial contrast involves differences not only in luminosity, i.e., lightness/darkness, but also in hue, particularly the redness of the lips versus the lack of ruddiness of adjacent facial skin. Contrast in luminosity and hue declines with age and may provide a means for distinguishing younger from older women:

Several aspects of facial contrast – the luminance and color differences between the facial features and the skin surrounding those features – were found to decrease with age. These included the luminance contrast around the eyes and eyebrows, the red-green (a*) contrast around the mouth and eyes, and the yellow-blue (b*) contrast around the eyes. (Porcheron et al., 2013)

Hue contrast explains why redness—lipstick, red clothing, etc.—seems to enhance femininity even though women are the less ruddy sex. Red colors highlight this lack of ruddiness, thereby stimulating the mental algorithm that people use for sex recognition:

Stephen & McKeegan [26] found that people increase the redness (a*) of the lips to make a female face appear more feminine and attractive. Elliot & Niesta [46] found that pictures of women are perceived by men as more attractive and sexually desirable when they are associated with the color red–whether by the placement of a red border around the picture, or the presence of a red colored shirt on the woman. (Porcheron et al., 2013)

Some questions remain unanswered. Why, for instance, do many women redden their cheeks? Are the cheeks a secondary contrast zone? And what about women from racial groups with dark facial skin?

This last question seems to have given the study’s authors some trouble with the reviewers. Evidently, darker-skinned women still have some facial contrast. They just don’t have as much, probably because they don’t need as much. Dark skin tends to characterize highly polygynous societies; in fact, the correlation between darkness of skin and polygyny rate is greater than the one between lightness of skin and latitude (Manning et al., 2004). In such societies, women are almost sure to get mated and remain so as long as they are fertile. There is thus only weak selection for those who can better attract potential mates and more strongly stimulate sex-recognition algorithms. 

On a final note, it’s no coincidence that the polygyny rate correlates inversely with latitude. In simple tropical societies, especially those with year-round farming, women can more easily provide for themselves and their children without male assistance. Since women cost so little to support, men will tend to seize all mating opportunities. A man will have as many wives as he can get, and not as many as he can support.
 

References

Dupuis-Roy, N., I. Fortin, D. Fiset, and F. Gosselin. (2009). Uncovering gender discrimination cues in a realistic setting, Journal of Vision, 9(2), 10, 1–8. http://journalofvision.org/9/2/10/ 

Edwards, E.A. and S.Q. Duntley. (1939). The pigments and color of living human skin, American Journal of Anatomy, 65, 1-33.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aja.1000650102/abstract;jsessionid=43509EAC6110062BBF5676995DA16C6B.d01t01?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false 

Edwards, E.A., J.B. Hamilton, S.Q. Duntley, and G. Hubert. (1941). Cutaneous vascular and pigmentary changes in castrate and eunuchoid men, Endocrinology, 28, 119-128.
http://endo.endojournals.org/content/28/1/119.short 

Manning, J.T., Bundred, P.E., and Mather, F.M. (2004). Second to fourth digit ratio, sexual selection, and skin colour, Evolution and Human Behavior, 25, 38-50.
http://www.ehbonline.org/article/S1090-5138(03)00082-5/abstract 

Porcheron, A., E. Mauger, and R. Russell (2013). Aspects of facial contrast decrease with age and are cues for age perception, PLoS ONE 8(3): e57985
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0057985 

Russell, R. (2010). Why cosmetics work. In Adams, R., Ambady, N., Nakayama, K., & Shimojo, S. (eds.) The Science of Social Vision, New York: Oxford.
http://public.gettysburg.edu/~rrussell/Russell_SocialVision_cosmetics_chapter.pdf 

Russell, R. (2009). A sex difference in facial contrast and its exaggeration by cosmetics, Perception, 38, 1211-1219
http://public.gettysburg.edu/~rrussell/Russell_2009.pdf 

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff.

"People especially focus on the luminous contrast between facial skin and the color of the lips and eyes"

So obvious when you see photos put side by side like that.

Sean said...

Relaxation of selection is a weak force. Do white men look the way they do because they evolved that appearance when they didn't need to enter into competition for women? I would say it was selection of the women that affected the men's appearance.

In polygyny the women's appearance would be affected by the men's, because the men would be the focus of selection for better attracting potential mates and better stimulating sex-recognition. Surely that would lead to specially reduced facial contrast in polygynous men.

Anonymous said...

"Surely that would lead to specially reduced facial contrast in polygynous men."

Say that was generally true it would be least true where there was a specific selection pressure in the opposite direction e.g. *if* contrast was a way of signalling ovulation.

Anonymous said...

To claim the effect of selection to some trait one has to prove sufficient selective pressure and/or time relative to the complexity of the trait. I still have not heard a reasonable explanation about the strong selective pressure on women based on attractiveness.

Anonymous said...

"I still have not heard a reasonable explanation about the strong selective pressure on women based on attractiveness."

*If* a trait specifically made a woman more sexually attractive when she was ovulating then the selective pressure is provided by the laws of probability.

or put another way

If *some* women in the past randomly developed a trait that gave them redder lips when ovulating and *some* men found that sexually attractive then those women would be more likely to get pregnant.

If something, even something originally completely random, has a reproductive effect then all you need is the laws of probability.

That's assuming there is an ovulation signalling effect which i don't think has been proved yet.

:)

Peter Fros_ said...

Anon and Anon,

No, I'm not talking about "ovulation monitoring" here (please ignore the post I wrote 3 weeks ago). I'm talking about "sex recognition." In short, the human mind has algorithms that are used to recognize the sexual identity of any person being observed. When too many of one sex have to compete for mating opportunities with too few of the other sex, there will be sexual selection among the sex in excess supply for accentuation of certain sex-specific traits, in order to hyperstimulate these algorithms in potential mates and thereby increase mating opportunities.

The first Anon is asking two questions:

1. Why was sexual selection of women stronger in some human populations than in others?

2. Why was this selection pressure strongest in ancestral Europeans?

For question #1, the reason is that the intensity of sexual selection is determined by the polygyny rate and by sex differences in the mortality rate. Both factors vary considerably among human populations.

For question #2, both factors varied latitudinally among ancestral humans during the hunter-gatherer stage. Farther away from the equator, the polygyny rate tended to decrease and male mortality tended to increase. The end point for both trends seems to have been in continental steppe-tundra environments, where the cost of polygyny was very high for men (because almost all food provisioning was supplied through male hunting and not through female food gathering) and where male mortality was at a maximum because mean hunting distance was likewise at a maximum.

Continental steppe-tundra was most extensive during the last ice age 25,000 to 10,000 years ago, but this environment was continuously inhabited by humans only in its western Eurasian section. East of the Urals it was colder and drier, being farther north and farther removed from the moderating influences of the Atlantic.

Peter Fros_ said...

Sean,

White men look the way they do primarily because of spill-over from the sexual selection pressure on ancestal European women. If we look at the traits that most visibly distinguish Europeans, they seem to be most strongly expressed in women. This is notably the case with diversification of hair and eye color and whitening of the skin.

Anonymous said...

Contrast in luminosity and hue declines with age and may provide a means for distinguishing younger from older women

True in male faces as well, thus why the least contrastive males are not necessarily more attractive.

And true for health as well (less healthy faces tend to be less contrastive)

But the force favoring facial contrast in males in probably less. For males it is a signal for health and youth (and femininity, which is ambiguously of benefit), while for females it is a signal of both health and youth and femininity (which is definitely a benefit for females).

Anonymous said...

"No, I'm not talking about "ovulation monitoring" here (please ignore the post I wrote 3 weeks ago). I'm talking about "sex recognition.""

I must be missing something. I don't see how you get a gender recognition effect (from females being lighter than males) until *after* females are already lighter than males.

So you need that mechanism to develop first and then, once it's a gender signal, it can be selected on more extremely in more extreme environments.

Unless you're saying females being lighter developed as a gender signal in the first place and that process was simply magnified in the steppe-tundra? In which case my bad.

Sean said...

"In short, the human mind has algorithms that are used to recognize the sexual identity of any person "

It seems to me that would cut both ways, white men have greater facial contrast and black men have less. Wouldn't that mean black men hyperstimulate any algorithms women may have for recognising male sexual identity. Is that of negligible significance in mate selection? Women's mate selection is supposed to be less superficial and visually oriented than men, but in a polygynous environment wouldn't it pay for a man to be as dark and without facial contrast as possible?

Anonymous said...

Such traits can't primarily function at the level of sexual identity -- since the adults would normally know each other.

The urban environment did not exist.

Instead, feminine markers had to function as stimulants towards copulation -- particularly AFTER the woman was mature -- as in already a mother.

Traits that would permit her to 'stay in production' would be tremendously consequential.

This has to be the primary driver for neoteny, otherwise observed as the female drive to never age. (past their prime)

Peter Fros_ said...

Anon,

Yes, women were lighter-skinned in the first place. Women are fairer than men in all human populations.

The relatively light skin of women probably evolved through infantile mimicry. It seems to be one of several visual, tactile, and auditory cues that the adult human female has borrowed from the infant schema, probably as a means to reduce male aggressiveness and increase male protection and provisioning.

Sean,

I see your point. The same sex-recognition algorithm should identify darker skin as male. So a high-polygyny environment would favor darker male skin (and darker skin in general) through female choice.

This is another point that I tend to avoid ("a bridge too far") because many if not most anthropologists deny the importance of female choice in high-polygyny societies. They will say that male-male rivalry is a more important factor, i.e., the alpha male is the one who beats up, kills, or intimidates his male rivals. I agree that this is only part of the story, but it's the sort of peripheral argument that I'd rather not focus on. For me, it's enough to say that sexual selection for lighter female skin would be weaker in that kind of environment.

Anon,

Infantile mimicry (or neoteny, as you prefer to call it) is attested in many non-human species, including primates.

TyrionLannister said...

["Women's mate selection is supposed to be less superficial and visually oriented than men...."]

I feel compelled to redress this misinformation. First, the results of these empirical studies (field experimentation,speed dating, online dating,etc) generally are totally opposite to the evolutionary hypothesis that women would emphasize social status attributes more than men. Also failed to support the hypothesis that men would emphasize physical appearance more than would women. Furthermore, regarding to strong female choice skew, women accept less variability on this dimension from their potencial partners than men do. A physical attractive appearance is the characteristic prefer mostly by women when considering a potencial partner. Attractiveness clearly plays a much larger role in women`s mating preferences than theoretically has been supposed.

In fact, the sexes in general are far more similar than different in terms of their selection standars. This suggests that male partners are primarily selected on the basis of external physical attributes, rather than by any ability to provide resources, intelligence, or mental stimulation through social skills. Taken together, empirical studies suggest that any theoretical evolutionary perspective completely captures the dynamics for human mate selection. Parental investment-based evolutionary theories and social context theories are structured based on to a mixture of surveys, self-reports (questionnaires are lack validity for measure of mate preferences), and theoretical predictions (not within real mate choice environments) and seem particularly suited to predicting and explaining short-term mating preferences, or rather, men´s short-term mating preferences. Neither perspective comprehensively accounts for the importance placed by women on attractiveness in male partners and the relative unimportance given to social status attributes. Interestingly, Darwin himself predicted this patter, suggesting that when existing environmental conditions create the opportunity to choose from an array of potencial mates, both sexes will select partners:

“not for mental charms, or property, or social position, but almost solely from external appearance” (1871, p386).

Although Darwin did not speculate as to the adaptive significance of this preference for beauty, it is certainly the case that in modern ,industrialized societies ,the physical and social environments are such that both men and women have considerable, and considerable more equal, powers of selection ( e.g., mobility increases access to potencial mates, economic opportunities for women reduce the need to select mates based on financial considerations, contraception, decreased social sanctions against divorce and premarital sexual activity, etc).

Sean said...

Peter, Brewing tea and waiting for orders to advance?

Human males from polygynous societies are not big compared males in monogamous societies, so male male competition has not been what they were selected for. Unless they are spear proof and never sleep, an alpha male is not going to dominate a tribal group to the extent that he can take women who don't want him. According to Carlton Coon, young males who make everyone feel insecure tend get killed off by the older men in the night.

I think you are worrying about naysaying anthropologists too much, and missing an opportunity to get your sexual selection ideas across. A theory about Europeans looking the way they do because there was a period where women were desperate to attract a husband in obligate monogamy, will be attended by suspicion that it's the European male's fantasy of the way things ought to have been. There is no reason to downplay the countervailing application of the theory in relation to polygyny, where women's feelings are important, possibly the most important factor.

Anonymous said...

"economic opportunities for women reduce the need to select mates based on financial considerations"

If women default to selecting on attractiveness in situations where provider ability is not a critical consideration that doesn't prove that provider ability isn't the primary consideration.

Hence the trophy wives of rich old men cheating with a handsome gardener.

TyrionLannister said...

"If women default to selecting on attractiveness in situations where provider ability is not a critical consideration that doesn't prove that provider ability isn't the primary consideration"

1) Female domestic authority is associated with female mate preferences more like those typical of males (i.e., based upon the dimension of visual parameters) across a sample of nonindustrial societies, providing further evidence for the contribution of social and economic constraints on women to sex differences in mate preferences. When women are not dominated by their husbands and therefore have greater equality in terms of power in the household, they express more male-typical mate preferences. In societies with high female domestic authority (i.e, Western world) women had mainly stronger preferences for physical attractiveness in a male partner than in those with lower female domestic authority.

2) Kurzban and Weeden (2005) document the importance of group size (i.e, modern world: great populations, widespread mobility, communication networks, internet,etc) whereby women, not men, become more selective in larger meetings. Female choices are more skewed than are those of males, indicating greater mate choice agreement and hence greater potential effects of sexual selection at the hands of women as the choosier sex. That is, for humans, the more potential mates available to the chooser (females), the greater the inequality in mating opportunity among the selected (males). In still other words, when top-ranked (on beauty) men are among more competitors, they dominate even more and low-ranked men fare even less well.

3) These findings suggest that mate choice strategies are indeed influenced by the choice environment: As the mate decision becomes more cognitively demanding, people (women are more discriminant) use simplifying heuristics that are likely to ensure that the mate chosen is above-threshold on at least the chooser’s most-important criterion: morphological clues.

4) Moreover there are plenty of analyses that reveal that women are less willing than men to compromise to deviating from their ideal aesthetic standard and accordingly assume the possibility of assortative mating. Most of empirical mating research (i.e., speed dating studies, online dating studies, field studies (where the vast majority of females choice the same top-ranked male targets as potencial partners) are consistent with men, but not women, significantly compromise their mate beauty standards (e.g., attempting to mate using sub-par courtships for casual sex.) because such compromise increases the likelihood of finding some female partner ready to pair off.

Anonymous said...

Tyrion Lanister

"These findings suggest that mate choice strategies are indeed influenced by the choice environment"

Quite.

Like i said, where provider ability isn't the primary consideration women will default to attractiveness.

Not only does it make perfect sense for women to be like this, literally almost everyone on the planet will have direct personal experience of this behaviour.

.

"Female domestic authority is associated with female mate preferences more like those typical of males (i.e., based upon the dimension of visual parameters) across a sample of nonindustrial societies"

Well they would.

If you assume that most female's idea of male physical attractiveness evolved during hunter-gatherer days then i expect most aspects of male physical attractiveness correlates with health and fertility the same as most aspects of what evolved to be seen as female attractiveness correlate with health and fertility.

(Given those physical traits also probably correlate with the traits that would make a successful hunter-gatherer they might also be good provider traits in that context.)

(The exception might be in female provider environments where ornamental male traits might have a higher value.)

However in some specific hunter-gatherer environments where male provision was more critical and almost everywhere else with the advent of agriculture until the modern day the women who could balance those visual instincts with provider ability would do better.

So it's not that women are less visual per se - as that would make no sense - but that for a long time provider ability had to be dominant and visual attraction recessive and women today are a product of that pressure.

.

"Most of empirical mating research (i.e., speed dating studies, online dating studies, field studies (where the vast majority of females choice the same top-ranked male targets as potencial partners) are consistent with men, but not women, significantly compromise their mate beauty standards (e.g., attempting to mate using sub-par courtships for casual sex.)"

I don't understand how studies of women's approach to casual sex and dating in the context of contraception and anti-biotics says anything at all about women's *reproductive* behaviour outside that modern context.

If you look at women's actual reproductive behaviour outside the underclass it fits the expected pattern exactly i.e. a minimum provider ability threshold followed by attractiveness.

The only thing women's non-reproductive sexual behaviour in the context of contraception and anti-biotics tells you is (probably) what women's sexual behaviour was like back in the rainforest - which is interesting - but doesn't tell you anything about the last 10,000 years except maybe why arranged marriages were invented.

Ben10 said...

Peter said: "... steppe-tundra was most extensive during the last ice age 25,000 to 10,000 years ago..."

Isn't your theory a bit too dependent of this glacial period?
As soon as the hunters gatherers switched to more and more farming, the sexual selection should have relaxed sufficiently for darker phenotypes to reappear.
However that's not what happened. Celtic Gaul was an incredibly dense population for its time, reaching 10 millions inhabitants. This was due most likely thanks to a very efficient farming. There is an article in wikipedia reporting that the Gauls designed a sort of automatic gathering machine for their wheat, which would explain the abundance of food and the 10 million number.
In short we are not in a hunter gatherer population anymore, yet, writings from Julius Cesar and other roman historians, describe the Gauls as very white of skin.
Isn't it an indication that the strong sexual selection postulated during the period 20-10 000 years under a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, actually applied much later under different modalities?

Also, there is the problem of the perception of how white is white.
Gauls were perceived as very white of skin by Cesar's romans, but later, when the Franks entered Gaul, the white skin of the franks was described as a different shade and remarkable white. The particular whiteness of their skin is even used in the Frankish constitution (Loi Salique) to define themselves. We are not talking about 12000 bc here, but of german tribes that appeared in the roman records in the 2 or 3rd century.

Anonymous said...

It seems to be one of several visual, tactile, and auditory cues that the adult human female has borrowed from the infant schema, probably as a means to reduce male aggressiveness and increase male protection and provisioning.

Women are mostly more neotenous simply because they grow less (mature earlier), and grow less (typically both in mass and total height) because they have less need of bulk, bone and muscle to win fights with other members of their sex, so its not worth prolonging growth and maturation (fitness reducing all else equal) so much.

Females are more neotenous because they only need enough size and development to be able to bear a child, gather food and maintain some degree of self defense, unlike males who need to be able to fight and hunt.

In terms of voice, it seems more likely that male human deep voice pitch is derived, than that female voice pitch is more selected for due to child-likeness (for all that some degree of both may be true). Male changes in voice pitch involve a specific mechanism and not allometric consequences of size compared to the child. Female voices are allometrically scaled up child voices, so it seems likely that male voices are selected for and female are not.

Likewise, hairlessness may be due to thermoregulation (we're a low body hair species), for which males (particularly males from some groups) are slightly derived for some reason.

The theory that males feel protective towards unrelated infants does not line up with recent findings that infanticide of unrelated children was probably frequent and so dominant that it is what created the transition to monogamy, or the contempt and abuse children which exists in many cultures.

We can't see how females-male differentiation as purely the result of selection on females from a default ancestral male-ish state, when that doesn't reflect the species history. Our ape-ish ancestors are not to be thought of as more male.

Peter Fros_ said...

Sean,

The high-polygyny societies of sub-Saharan Africa are relatively recent in evolutionary terms. They go back only to the advent of farming, some 10,000 years ago, so their evolutionary impact on sexual dimorphism in body size hasn't fully played out. Male-male rivalry for access to women is certainly a reality in such societies.

The Market Garden operation was simply too ambitious. It really didn't take much to screw it up.

Ben,

Sexual selection of women didn't stop with the end of the last ice age. It just became less intense. Traditional European societies generally had a surplus of women, as seen in the widespread practice of sending women to convents and in similar pagan practices (e.g., vestal virgins). This lower intensity of sexual selection wasn't sufficient to create anything new but it was probably sufficient to maintain what had already been created.

Anon,

First, women's lighter skin is not an example of neoteny. It's pseudo-neoteny, or "infantile mimicry" to be more precise. Skin color actually darkens in both sexes from infancy to puberty. It's only at that point that female skin begins to lighten.

"Women are mostly more neotenous simply because they grow less"

You're mistaken, at least for cutaneous characteristics. Those are determined by the differential effects of male and female hormones (both before birth and at puberty).

The same is true for just about everything else you mention. Voice pitch is determined by the differential action of the sex hormones. Facial morphology is determined by hormonal levels before birth and later on.

"Likewise, hairlessness may be due to thermoregulation"

Nonsense. You've been reading too much pop anthropology.

"The theory that males feel protective towards unrelated infants does not line up with recent findings that infanticide of unrelated children was probably frequent"

See previous comment. Yes, there are findings that men (and women) tend to neglect and even kill stepchildren, but that's a special situation where personal reproductive fitness comes into conflict with the reproductive fitness of people within one's kin group. This kind of genetic conflict also exists in nonhuman primates.

TyrionLannister said...

@Anonymous

“So it's not that women are less visual per se - as that would make no sense - but that for a long time provider ability had to be dominant and visual attraction recessive and women today are a product of that pressure.”


Although the ancestral state of early human bond pairing is not well known given the lack of conclusive archaeological evidence, arranged marriages are inferred to go back at least to first modern human migrations out of Africa and phylogenetic reconstructions suggest that marriages in early ancestral human societies probably had low levels of polygyny (low reproductive skew) and reciprocal exchanges between the families of marital partners (i.e., brideservice or brideprice).

Thus, mutual sexual attraction, traditionally, has never been a requirement for long-terms relationships. Rather, sexual chemistry was(and in many cultures still is) a frequent trade-off that women were expected to make, in securing a long term mate – the reason being, that women are so selective in terms of sexual chemistry, as to render an insoluble scarcity of males to satisfy this requirement under assumptions of a monogamous mating system.


Female sexual liberation (where they were no longer economically/politically dependent on their mates) changed all that, and engendered in effected female populations a kind of romantic idealism, that, for many, will be impossible to realize. And it is these kinds of unrealistic expectations that form the basis for much of the prevailing conflict between the sexes in the Western world. But, what most in the manosphere fails to grasp is that being a high-status male in the current mating market (post female sexual liberation) says less about independent wealth/status indicators, than about indications in physical attractiveness.

True, all things being equal, women will favour wealthy/high status males – but only in very exceptional cases (often involving very high profile individuals in the public eye, tending to skew perceptions of normal) will a female make significant concessions in terms of the physical attractiveness of her mate (unless she is not, herself, attractive enough to warrant the attentions of physically attractive males).

Not so surprising, when one considers that a selection bias for resourceful males should exist in some proportion to the advantages they pose to the survival of her offspring.
Thus, if the advantages are small (given a prosperous welfare state, which marginalizes these advantages), then there will be minimal selection bias (which explains a large population of women who are increasingly disinterested by the lone prospect of a resourceful mate). Therefore male physical attractiveness has become the limiting concern in female mate choice, following a Pareto (Principle) distribution.

Females only receive two quantities of evolutionary value from males – direct benefits (observed in long-term mating, with implications for the survival of offspring), and genetic benefits (observed through indications of physical attractiveness in her mate). And since females can receive genetic benefits outside of marriage(i.e. through casual sexual encounters), and no longer need rely upon mates for the survival of their offspring, there is no pressure for them to compromise on holding out for an unlikely (long-term)fantasy partner.

TyrionLannister said...

“However in some specific hunter-gatherer environments where male provision was more critical and almost everywhere else with the advent of agriculture until the modern day the women who could balance those visual instincts with provider ability would do better.”
Firstly, you all need to appreciate that females are the reproductively limiting sex (rate limiting in reproductive success) – which manifests in *all* dimensions of mate choice (in other words, females are more selective in all their mating considerations). One obvious implication of this, is that, given sufficient latitude of female choice (i.e. relieved of systemic constraint, which would otherwise limit their choices), female sexual choices will always tend towards small male breeding populations. In more colloquial terms, what this means is that male/female ‘leagues’ are asymmetrical – with male ‘rank’ being bottom heavy in distribution, while female ‘rank’ being top heavy.
If we take the (justified) assumption that guys are more inclusive in their mating choices, and consider a higher male optimal mating rate, we also come to an inescapable conclusion: that not only should the most attractive males mate with the most attractive females (duh), but also a significant proportion of average females as well(given the higher male mating rate). Which, of course, renders less available ‘average’ females to be mated with average guys – necessitating an imbalance that progresses down the attractiveness scale(rendering a sexually asymmetric mating dynamic).
This is why it is so easy to observe that even relatively unattractive females are still much more successful than unattractive males at disassortative mating (i.e. such as with fat women being able to commonly mate with non-fat men, etc). Next, know that females consider only two quantities of selective value in their mate choices: genetic benefits (physical attractiveness – optimized in high-rate short-term mating), and direct benefits (optimized in long term mating). Thus, long-term relationships (i.e. long term mating), and short term relationships are each just one of two time-variant fitness strategies. Women have evolved to value long-term relationships because this implies direct-benefits (long term benefits with implications for paternal investment as the basis of selective value in long-term mating). But, they have also evolved to value short term relationships as this implies genetic benefits (genetic quality indicated in sensory biases fixed by evolutionary success, and subjectively assessed as physical attractiveness).
Since these two forms of benefits are rooted in evolutionary stratetegies with conflicting optima, females have evolved a further strategy to minimize the trade-off in receiving one benefit at the cost of another – something we know as strategic pluralism: where females are mate specific in receiving independent benefits(they tend to mate with the most physically attractive males for their genetic benefits, and manipulate the less attractive, but more resourceful males(who are frequently duped into supporting the offspring of the former) for their direct benefits.

TyrionLannister said...

@@Anonymous,

It is important to stress that, from the perspective of the ‘nice guy’, any female who neglects to mate with him within a reasonable interval (or at reasonably frequent intervals), can justifiably be deemed a risk for ‘strategic pluralism’ (and paternity fraud).

Females (unlike males), do not enter into long term relationships (inclusive of marriage) for sex. And because of the economically prosperous, systemically mediated welfare state dynamic that prevails in developed world populations, economic and ecological pressures no longer mediate their mate choices to the extant they did in the past.

One consequence of this is that erotic capital (physical attractiveness) has supplanted other forms in the stratification of male status with respect to mate availability. So, being a high status male (with respect to mating) now says less about material wealth, than about physical beauty. All things being equal, females will still preferentially mate with males who provide the highest measures of direct/genetic benefits available to them. But, since things are rarely equal(for reasons I will expand upon below), gender-biased legislation combined with female hyper-selectivity makes it all but certain that those females who marry, will tend to practice a bait and switch style of marriage(with minimal sexual concessions).


“Hence the trophy wives of rich old men cheating with a handsome gardener.”


There is not one best male and one best female mating strategy in human beings, but instead a range of optimal strategies, contingent on individual characteristics and on the natural and social environment, is important and timely.

The greatest difficulty for relating male physical attractiveness to female mate preference is that in many, probably most tribal societies– those societies most similar to the social EEA in which our mating preferences evolved – ethnographers repeatedly record that women alone do not choose their husbands. Their parents choose for them to a greater or a lesser degree. We could begin to ask which circumstances lead to parental control and which to bridal autonomy. What we do know now is that the selection of the husband, the long term mate who has primary responsibility for provisioning the children (except in some matrilineal, matrilocal societies, where that responsibility may fall primarily on the woman’s father and brothers) is often made without regard to the woman’s perception of the desirability of her new husband, or at least without primary regard for her opinion.

In general in the tribal world, long-term mates are husbands and short-term mates are lovers. Although a woman’s parents often choose her husband, the woman herself, with only sporadic exceptions, chooses her lovers. It is an important difference. It is also important to recognize that in the great majority of tribal societies, the great majority of fertile women and mature men are married most of the time. A woman does not choose between one long term and one or more short-term mates; she has a husband and chooses among potential lovers. A man does not decide whether to be a long-term or a short-term strategist; he has a wife or wives and decides how much effort to put into courting additional (mainly married) women.

TyrionLannister said...

If you look at women's actual reproductive behaviour outside the underclass it fits the expected pattern exactly i.e. a minimum provider ability threshold followed by attractiveness.

I suppose that would occur in your country, in mine country, part of the main human mate selection processes occurs among strangers in social Leks (single bars, nightclubs, online dating, etc..)where attraction may be elicited solely by aesthetic appearance and where male wooers do not prior opportunity to transfer to other types of information as mate value. So women use a sequential aspiration levels: an alternative to linear cue integration and filtering male prospects through a series of aspiration levels, using physical appearance to decide whom to talk to, conversation to decide whom to form a short-term relationship with, and psychological compatibility to decide whom to have a pair bond.

However in social settings where women can check other male mate features (classmates, coworkers, etc) where females face with a range of potential partners inside that type of life situations (e.g., the same social circle, or small population densities) of varying hedonic value, instead of adopting a ‘sour grapes’’ mind-set and deluding themselves that what is unattainable is not as great as it looks, people can divert their focus to the merits of options that are attainable. It motivate change in dating preferences can potentially increase an individual’s pool of potential mates, making trade-offs among attributes and reducing the likelihood that a physically unattractive person will end up without a partner, and supporting assortative mating.


Women typically choice through men and their choices can only possibly be based on the information available visually (nightclubs, online-dating: with large size of individuals, male-biased sex ratio, etc). The basic idea is that if the physical traits of a potential strange male don’t exceed an individual's aspiration level, the women are not going to want to get further information. As the option set size increased (current modern world), women are more likely to use non-compensatory search heuristics, as opposed to strategies that facilitate making trade-offs among attributes (e.g., weighted averaging). For example, women eliminate males who do not meet their standards on attractiveness; of those remaining they eliminate anyone who do not meet their standards for personality, education, etc...

TyrionLannister said...

@Peter,

What do you think about blondeness among Australian Aboriginals? One hypothesis about Australian Aboriginal blondeness is that it is due to admixture with Europeans, in particular Dutch sailors who entered into undocumented liasons with native women prior to British colonization. This to me seems like a ludicrous assertion for the following reason: if the blonde alleles introgressed from another population, they can be thought of as proxies for the ancestral admixture of Western Europeans into these tribes. Though a very high frequency of tribal members exhibit preadult blondeness, there are almost no other European diagnostic phenotypes in evidence! That is, their skins are rather dark and their features classically Australian Aboriginal.


So why is this trait expressed in frequencies of 90%+ (that is, adults who started out ash blonde as youth) in the west-central deserts of Australia? There was obviously constraint on skin color, which makes sense in light of the protection that dark skin confers against radiation. The only thing I can come up with is sexual or social selection (ie; it might have been preferences for a particular type of child as opposed to males and females choosing each other for this trait). But it is basically a default hypothesis (I do not credit genetic drift in this case, but I do not know the demographic history of these tribes, so that is a possibility I suppose). Also, blondism might just be a byproduct of the allele's function, which we do not know yet (or, we know it, but have not made the connection).

Anonymous said...

@Tyrion
"One consequence of this is that erotic capital (physical attractiveness) has supplanted other forms in the stratification of male status with respect to mate availability."

Except it hasn't except in the deranged world of game where women having casual sex with contraception (and abortion as a backup) somehow relates to reproductive behavior when outside the underclass it is almost entirely non-reproductive.

It truely baffles me how people can't see the distinction.

I accept that a lot of the game stuff is accurate when applied to casual sex but the idea that women outside the underclass make their reproductive decisions on the same basis as they make casual sex decisions is just nuts.

Even in the underclass most of them don't do that. They get pregnant at fourteen off some guy who told them he loved them and hangs around just long enough for her to drop the kid and raise his babymomma score before splitting. The girls at the time mostly believe it's a long-term relationship.

Peter Fros_ said...

Tyrion,

I discussed blondism in Australian Aborigines and Melanesians in a previous post:

http://evoandproud.blogspot.ca/2012/05/survival-of-cutest.html

In short, blondism in these populations is confined to young children and disappears around the 10th year of life. It may thus be a case of "survival of the cutest." Blond hair may be a response to the high level of child malnutrition that exists even in societies where food is relatively abundant. These societies show an aesthetic preference for blond hair that seems to be indigenous, so this trait might have diminished the risks of child neglect and malnutrition.

TyrionLannister said...

@Anonymous
*game stuff??*

It is not suitable to address pseudo scientific topics on a scientific and serious Blog. The “game” subculture is just a load of bollocks. As I tried to explain on my previous comments, human females aren’t that different than males with respect to their overall mating criteria, in that their choices are strongly weighted for physical features (and always exclusively aesthetic signs on their short-term criteria). Despite what many would have us believe, mere words and body-language (or other absurd contrivances) are rarely the determinate factor (when removed from other variables). Females aren’t any more susceptible to cryptic seduction techniques, than are males.

The danger is that these scammers (self-proclaimed PUAs) pretend to be benefactors creating a pseudoscience who "supposedly" have nothing to gain from dispensing their "knowledge" (onto some unwary men); while they are making their business (peddling advice-tricks on books, DVDs, seminaries) and gain fans and traffic to their sites.

“Even in the underclass most of them don't do that. They get pregnant at fourteen off some guy who told them he loved them and hangs around just long enough for her to drop the kid and raise his babymomma score before splitting. The girls at the time mostly believe it's a long-term relationship.”

Because adolescent brains are vulnerable, dynamic and highly responsive to positive feedback. Therefore female teens are prone to this sort of behaviour ( "wired" to engage in such as drug use or unsafe sex) because the so-called reward systems in their brains are very sensitive while circuits involved in self-control are still not fully developed.
Moreover women want to pair bond with very good looking men and want desperately to keep them around and help raise the children they hope to have with them. In other words, it’s evolutionarily better for a female to risk it all on the attractive man that all women love than to risk nothing on the average Joe provider (that only some women can tolerate). Such is the power of the force behind a woman’s prime directive. The possibility that the risk of mate desertion could drive women to choose less attractive men as long-term mates. Maybe women rate physically attractive men as more likely to cheat or desert a long-term relationship, but however, women show strong desire to the idea of forming long-term relationships with attractive men.

Extra-pair sex (i.e., sex outside a current, ongoing relationship) is one form of short-term, opportunistic male mating. If women evolved to desire men with greater heritable fitness (independent of the investment and resources these men provided), more attractive men have more extra pair partners.

Men’s allocation of effort to short-term mating during evolutionary history should have been contingent on their ability to satisfy the short-term mate preferences of women. Thus, handsome men’s tendency to engage in short-term mating should be a direct function of their genetic fitness (indexed by attractiveness), whereas men’s propensity to invest in single, exclusive long-term relationships should be inversely related to their genetic fitness.

TyrionLannister said...

@Peter,

Thanks for the Link. Yes, maybe the probability seems high that the trait is indigenous (endogenous) because its transmission mode seems different than that of europeans (though there isn't a perfect coupling between blondness and fair skin, they are connected in europeans via MC1R). Certainly that blondness is considered attractive among the women and youth there as well.

So let's assume that non-black hair among the indigenous peoples of the southwest Pacific, the question is, why do we see this trait only there outside of Europe? During Neolithic revolution in Asia a lot of peculiar human variation was wiped out by the demographic wave of advance of Chinese rice farmers. Only in places like Papua New Guinea, Melanesia and Australia have out-of-the-norm appearances remained.

Another final question, why are the Aboriginals so dark so far south? Tasmania is at the latitude of Corsica, so the southern continent isn't that far south (but Napoleon was a white man). At one point that deme-to-deme diffusion of alleles from fair skinned northern Eurasian populations couldn't move past the cordon of tropical southeast Asia, and that Australian Aboriginals did not possess the standing genetic variation from which selection could operate, but they had enough variation to exhibit a hair color range.

Anonymous said...

"One consequence of this is that erotic capital (physical attractiveness) has supplanted other forms in the stratification of male status with respect to mate availability."

Go into any maternity hospital outside of underclass areas, line up all the husbands against a wall and say that with a straight face.

Once upon a time there was only one form of "mating" now there are two.

Sean said...

Peter, by my way of thinking black men do significantly better with the women in white society than they ought to, if they were just selected for intimidating the competition. I think their very dark skin has something to do with that. Moreover, it would add balance to incorporate that perspective when presenting your ideas on sexual selection. I believe that in the strict sense, fighting for access to females isn't really sexual selection at all.

Anonymous said...

"This last question seems to have given the study’s authors some trouble with the reviewers. Evidently, darker-skinned women still have some facial contrast. They just don’t have as much, probably because they don’t need as much."

Dark skinned populations (particularly "black" ones like africans or south indians) are capable of having naturally red or pink lips on top of their dark skin, whereas light skinned populations aren't capable of showing such a contrast. Not to mention the white of the eyes (and teeth as well) contrasts more deeply with the surrounding skin, and lips of other colors can show great contrast on dark skin as well. I'd also hesitate to say red lips are so universally preferred, since many, if not most whites (women included) have more pink as opposed to red lips, and pink lipstick is hardly unpopular. I also don't really buy the concept that red clothes are that much more flattering, and red lipstick can often look too contrasting.