7-15-2014 | Jesse Bering
We’re herd animals… especially the female members of our species when it comes to their dating instincts. That’s the conclusion one might reasonably draw from the results of a new study in press at the journal Human Nature. In it, psychologists Ryan Anderson and Michele Surbey from James Cook University in Australia showcase a common—but oddly enough, a theoretically underappreciated—reproductive strategy in human females known as “mate copying.” This involves women copying the mating choices of other women as a sort of thoughtless romantic heuristic, which of course doesn’t sound very romantic at all.
Evolutionary biologists, the authors point out, have in the past tended to characterize female mate selection (essentially, which individual man a woman chooses to have sex with, given the realistic ancestral prospect of being impregnated by and dependent on him for the care of their mutual offspring) as occurring in a sort of solitary vacuum. Is his face symmetrical? Check. Does he have a masculine voice? Check. Is he the right height? Check. Is his penis formidable enough to scoop out a rival’s sperm? Check. And so on. But in reality, Anderson and Surbey surmise, men aren’t mere asocial stimuli floating around out there in women’s environments, with their physical traits being processed via blind cognitive algorithms. Instead, just like women, men are complex social creatures who are routinely interacting with other people—most notably in this case, with females. And you can learn a lot about a man, or more specifically, about his genetic quality, by how other women regard him.