Friday, February 11, 2005

Men = Bugs = Monkeys ... According to The Wall Street Journal

Some fun Valentine-Day facts ... you know, I've always wondered why I (read: men) do the things we do. But heck ... I guess it was just our (ir)rational nature?

The Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2005.
Do the Mating Habits of Bugs Offer Lessons for Human Valentines?

Take gift giving. Tiny creatures called dance flies don't have an ornate tail or much else to signal their sex appeal as, say, peacocks do. So the male shows off his fitness through his largess, bringing a female a big dead fly, for example, so that she can nibble on it while he mates with her.

But among some dance flies, cheating is rampant. Over the years, (scientists) suspect, a few males decided to heck with lugging along a dead fly to their assignation, and instead bestowed just an insect fragment, wrapped in easily carried silk to make it look bigger. Getting good results, some males began skipping the snack and presenting just a worthless wisp of silk. That way, they got to invest less in sex (less foraging for a nuptial gift) and still reap all the rewards.

Whether the behavior of dance flies and crickets holds any lessons for humans is left as an exercise for the reader. But if you doubt that people make bizarre mate choices, consider this little study. It is a common observation that in poor cultures, men tend to prefer heavier women, while in wealthy cultures they prefer thinner ones. A team of psychologists therefore made young male volunteers in New York feel poor or rich.

Sure enough, when the men felt poor (they compared their bank accounts to a millionaire's) their stated "ideal" woman weighed more than when they felt well-off (comparing their bank accounts to a pauper's).

Monkeys Are Willing to 'Pay" for a Glimpse of High-Status Apes

During the experiment, four monkeys named Wolfgang, Sherry, Dart and Niko were seated in chairs facing a computer monitor, as researchers electronically monitored their gazes. The monkeys watched a slide show featuring pairs of photos taken of their 12-member troop. Viewing a particular image triggered a squirt of juice.

The monkeys' gazes showed a clear preference for power and beauty, no matter the cost. They chose to look at pictures of alpha monkeys of both sexes, and potential female mates, although they had to sacrifice -- or pay more for the view -- by accepting 10% less juice. The photos were of faces of male and female alphas, and, in keeping with how monkeys judge a potential mate's receptivity, the backsides of females.

All primates living in complex societies have evolved this drive to study what's around them, Dr. Glimcher explained. "People are willing to pay money to look at pictures of high-ranking human primates. When you fork out $3" for a celebrity gossip magazine, "you're doing exactly what the monkeys are doing."

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