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Conley’s Casual Sex Research: Sexual Strategies Theory

March 8, 2011
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I wanted to follow up with more detail on the implications that Professor Terri Conley’s paper have for the evo psych Sexual Strategies Theory (I’ll assume familiarity with the prior post on Professor Conley’s work here).  Professor Conley explains Sexual Strategies Theory like this:

From a sexual strategies perspective, women need to be “choosy” in terms of sexual encounters because they have very few ova (compared to the enormous amount of sperm that men produce over a lifetime) and they make a great physical investment in pregnancy and childbirth (Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Miller, Putcha-Bhagavatula, & Pedersen, 2002; Pedersen, Miller, Putcha, & Yang, 2002). Therefore, women are motivated to find the sexual partner most likely to support them and their children, as this provides the greatest hope of ensuring the survival of their genetic material over time. Men, by contrast, are motivated to impregnate as many women as possible, because they have an almost unlimited supply of sperm and are not obligated to make additional physical investments in the child after conception.

According to SST, women would choose a man because (a) he provides them with protection and other status-related resources and (b) he has good genetic material, which will be passed on to the women’s children. Men’s desire for women stems from men’s desire (a) to spread their sperm indiscriminately and (b) to spread their sperm to women who are likely to bear children. However, although men may be somewhat choosy (i.e., they may avoid women who seem less fertile), the theory argues that women should be choosier than men. Therefore, on average, men should be more likely to have sex with any given woman than women would be to have sex with any given man. These motivations are typically considered unconscious motivations that have evolved over time but that still govern modern-day behavior. Notably, however, these dynamics are most commonly measured by sexual strategies theorists, including Buss and Schmitt (1993), through conscious self-report measures.

Based on SST, the women in the Clark and Hatfield (1989) study were being selective in their choice of sexual partners, because their ova are a precious commodity. They did not want to have sex with a person who would not be a suitable parent for their child. By contrast, the men in the study saw the sexual encounter as a way to distribute their sperm to as many women as possible and transmit more of their genetic material to future generations. Therefore, the findings of the CHSP are predicted by SST, and the CHSP was been specifically provided as evidence in Buss and Schmitt (1993) that women are choosier than men. Further, SST predicts that a woman would be more likely to accept the CHSP to the extent that the male proposer is high status (so that the proposer can support her and her children). A man would be more likely to accept the CHSP to the extent that the female proposer would be faithful to him, so that the paternity of his children can be assured. A man should be especially likely to accept a casual sex offer from a woman he perceives will be faithful to him, because a woman who is faithful to him will give birth to and care for only his children.

[p. 311, emphasis supplied.]  Professor Conley’s findings contradicted SST in several respects.  For example, in Study 2a, the offers from celebrities, Conley says “the large difference [between men and women in accepting the proposal] in the original CHSP were not evident in this context.  This is inconsistent with SST, which predicts that men should accept offers more often than women do.”  The same result held for interest in a short fling.  [p. 318.]  In that same experiment, Donald Trump did not fare very well at all, actually below a complete stranger, mean 1.71 (deviation 1.61) on a seven-point scale for Mr. Trump against 1.86 (1.38) for random male proposer.  Conley notes, “[i]t is indeed difficult to imagine a better person to take care of a woman and her child” than a person famous for being wealthy, which cuts against SST.  If resources were an aphrodisiac, Donald Trump would do better than Door #2.  Further, Christy Brinkley and Angelina Jolie each got good scores from male respondents, though Jolie is past peak childbearing and Brinkley well past.  If men evolved to want to produce offspring, they wouldn’t be hot for women unlikely to do so.

In study 2c, where the proposer is the respondent’s best opposite-sex friend, Conley found that women were less likely to accept the proposal, but that this difference disappeared when factoring in their estimation of the friend’s sexual capabilities.  She says:

the findings of this study argue against the possibility that distinct, gendered evolutionary mechanisms are responsible for gender differences in casual sex, as women’s and men’s responses are similar when the circumstances surrounding the proposal are more uniform for women and men.

 [p. 321, emphasis supplied.] 

In the gay and lesbian study, 2d, Conley again found no significant difference between men’s and women’s pattern of acceptance, while SST would indicate that these patterns should be intrinsic and robust.  She said, “the fact that gender differences disappeared when considering a same-sex CHSP does not support the hypothesis that biological factors are responsible for gender differences in the CHSP.”  [p. 321.]

In study 3, which examined the interactions of proposer characteristics with the results from study 1, Conley noted that:

Beyond gender, however, only the perception that the proposer would be a good lover (consistent with pleasure theory) significantly influenced participants’ likelihood of agreeing to the sexual offer …

In addition, the interaction between gender and sexual faithfulness was significant. An analysis of simple slopes revealed that the perception that the proposer would be faithful was significantly more predictive of women’s than of men’s acceptance of the CHSP. This would seem to contradict SST, which predicts that men desire women who will be faithful to them so that they will have the greatest likelihood of propagating their genes. Women may desire a faithful partner because they believe that his sexual faithfulness will increase the likelihood that he will provide support for their future children, but SST still predicts that faithfulness would be relatively more important to men (who strive to assure that any offspring are genetically related to them).

Contrary to SST, no interactions between participant gender and status or gift giving emerged in the analysis.

[p. 322-23, emphasis supplied.]

At the end of the article, Conley discusses the implications of women respondents’ answers for SST, which she says would “clearly predict[] that higher status proposers should be accepted by women more readily than low-status proposers.”  [p. 326.]  In the experiments, “[n]either status, nor tendency for gift giving, nor perceived faithfulness or the proposer (nor, more precisely, the interaction of any of these variables with gender)  predicted [acceptance], contradicting SST.”  [p. 326, emphasis mine.]  She described the problem of the men’s responses for SST this way:

[I]f men’s central goal, as suggested by SST, is to transfer their genetic material to future generations, men should have a greater base rate likelihood of accepting a sexual offer from any woman than women have of accepting a sexual offer from any man, regardless of the proposer’s attractiveness (i.e., women should be choosier than men). SST does not predict that women would be equally likely to accept offers as men when (a) the proposers are very attractive, (b) the proposers are very unattractive, (c) the proposers are familiar people, and (d) the proposer and the individual are of the same sex.

[p.326.]  Men’s aversion to a celebrity they found unattractive (Roseanne) could not have been because of her age, because they were very interested in Christy Brinkley.  If the unlimited-seed logic of SST were explanatory, men wouldn’t turn down many offers at all, and would only be likely to turn down those who had little hope of reproducing – like Brinkley.

Conley anticipates three responses from SST proponents.  First, she says they may claim that casual sex may be a special case where women are not choosy, though in relationships they would be.  But SST proponents Buss & Schmitt used the original CHSP study as support for SST, and Buss & Schmitt are still widely cited in work that follows SST.  If casual sex is not like relationships in terms of evolutionary selection and choosiness, then the theory has changed and needs to be re-delineated.  Second, SST theorists may say that pleasure-seeking is a different level of analysis, and that the evolutionary strategies operate above and through it.  This is just a dodge.  Conley says, “the implications of SST are clearly that women would forgo sexual pleasure to have sex with a high-status man who would support them and their potential children.  Thus, for women, at least, pleasure is intentionally discounted within SST.”  [p. 327.]  If SST proponents are now saying that provider securing does not trump pleasure in mate selection, they’re changing the theory to move the goalposts.  Third, SST advocates may say that the mechanisms of selection are unconscious and can’t be tested with conscious measures.  However, Conley’s proposer qualities questions were selected in part from the SST literature, which uses conscious measures.  They can’t use conscious measures when it supports the theory and disclaim them when it undermines the theory.

All in all, I think this research makes a persuasive case for gaping holes in Sexual Strategies Theory.  To go philosophy-of-science for a moment, it always seemed to me that SST was one of those theories invented by people who wanted it to be true because it filled their social requirements.  Many of its proponents seem to be either justifying a 1950s, nuclear family social model as intrinsic to the human species, though in fact among pure immediate-return hunter gatherers there is little to suggest a strict parenting dyad where the child’s resources are limited to what the mother and father provide.   See generally Sex at Dawn by Ryan and Jetha for a view of evolutionary psych that trashes SST thoroughly — I’ll probably review that at length in the next several weeks.  Other SST proponents seem to be grinding an axe against women — all whores and golddiggers, they imply.  It’s a view that nicely substantiates the imagined grievances of divorced fifty year old “men’s rights activists” complaining about how their ex-wives took all their money and didn’t give them enough sex.  SST is bullshit, and since it didn’t exist, they had to invent it.  To the extent it can be tested experimentally it will always fail.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. Julian Morrison permalink
    March 8, 2011 11:38 am

    Where did that 1950s model come from? I figure it’s simply what you get when society won’t let women be their own providers, in a historical context where poor people used to starve. So what we’re seeing with these modern, middle class students, is that their generation doesn’t feel the need to make personally hateful choices just to keep food on the table.

    I do wonder what would happen if the same survey were done of poor people.

    • dungone permalink
      March 23, 2011 9:20 pm

      That is a really great observation. Wealth could have a huge contextual effect. I also wonder what would happen if the survey specified whether or not birth control was allowed.

  2. Sam permalink
    March 8, 2011 10:02 pm

    Thomas,

    hmm. I find your conclusion a bit unfair… While I tend think that most of the blank slate behavioral hypotheses of academic feminism, derived from misapplied Marxism and a quote from Simone de Beauvoir, are theories “invented by people who wanted [them] to be true because [they] filled their social requirements”, I never had the impression anyone is claiming that social reality and social behavior can be completely explained in terms of female choice.

    In fact, one book about the matter that I’ve read, Geoffrey Miller’s “Mating Mind” explicitly notes social aspects as input variables and explains how human mating is not merely about female choice but mutual choice, that classic Darwinian ideas about sexual choice can’t seem to explain the development of the human brain, and that, compared to other mammals, looking at male genitalia, female pleasure during coitus seems to be a particular focus of human evolution.

    I don’t see how Conley’s research is supposed to explain the amount of women who do marry for status and money and who continue to look for men with higher status and money even when they’re at the top. I don’t see how Conley’s research can explain why, in the real world, the Donald Trumps of this world, would not get turned down by quite a lot of women. I agree with Conley’s reply to #3 of her anticipated responses, but that doesn’t mean that the methodology is correct in either of the cases.

    I think that mating periods are a decisive factor in this matter, and I do believe that looking for short term partners with other traits than long term partners is not contradicting the general idea that scarcity affects individual choices also in the sexual realm. It just means that we all need better and more data to come up with better ideas about who we are (as humans) and why we do behave the way we behave.

    • March 9, 2011 10:49 am

      I’m not a radical blank slater. I don’ t know anyone who is.

      I don’t disagree with the role of pleasure in sex, nor does Conley. She says the findings support the theory that our sexual evolution developed for pleasure, instead of divergently for men and women to seek respectively to reproduce and to bargain for support.

      I am unconvinced that we can draw any conclusions from what happened on the savannah, since we have almost no actual information about human behavior in that period and there are few good ways to disaggregate cultural programming picked up after the rise of sedentary agriculture from any surviving tendencies that predate those events. We can look at immediate return hunter gatherers, but we’re merely assuming that isolated bands that survive today in pre-agricultural patterns represent all peoples’ pre-agricultural patterns. We don’t actually know that. To the extent that’s a workable methodology, the conclusions from the immediate-return hunter-gatherers actually trash much of what Evo Psych has come up with — see generally Ryan and Jetha’s Sex at Dawn, which while it didn’t convince me that evo psych is a real science did convince me that the best case from that methodology is essentially the bonobo case.

      No disagreement that we could do with more and better data.

      • Sam permalink
        March 9, 2011 1:00 pm

        Thomas,

        “I don’ t know anyone who is.”

        really? I can hardly believe that since most (second wave, and this is still usually part of feminist curricula and research (eg http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Sociology/Women/?view=usa&sf=toc&ci=9780195150094)) feminist theory is based on the notion that a person’s *sex* as opposed to a person’s *gender* does not have independent behavioral impact, down to declaring heterosexuality as a culturally imposed fetish. I’ve never heard anyone arguing that the relative abundance of sperm and the relative scarcity of overies is affecting people’s sexual choices claim that people aren’t also affected by cultural variables and that disentangling the intertwined reality to get to the causes is particularly difficult. Usually, feminists react to such arguments as if they’re intended to send women back to the fifties and roll back the sexual liberation, regardless of how well the research is describing reality. It’s a problem when research is about confirmation of a particular point of view rather than actually attempting to gain insight – you’re totally right about that. But in my opinion, for political reasons, that was a much bigger problem in the blank slate/ nurture camp than in the more influenced by nature camp.

        I agree that there are a lot of problematic assumptions in evolutionary psychology, and accordinly problematic conclusions. And yes, Bonobos are a really interesting case (as is, with respect to sexual scarcity and male dominance/status behaviour, apparently the matriarchical Mosuo tribe in China where women seem to “buy” social dominance by being relatively easy lays who don’t care about male status but still require the men to perform dominance gestures during the flirting/pre-mating sequence)). I read that most primate researchers say that humans have a character that’s “half shimpanzee and half bonobo” – it sounds a lot like seventies age-of-acquarius stuff, but I do wonder how human social reality would look like if men wouldn’t have to compete for sexual access to the extent that they have. I’m far from proposing any monocausal social theory, but I do believe that this is a core variable for social interaction that is not appropriately understood in models looking at the formation of social structures.

  3. March 9, 2011 1:26 pm

    I think that there is a major overlooked factor in this interpretation – namely, that someone’s sexual attraction and anticipation of sexual pleasure is causally related to the selective pressures that shaped those instincts.

    I expect few would dispute[*], for example, that when (cis-het[+]) person A finds person B physically attractive, s/he is (on average) reacting to attributes which correlate with good genes. This doesn’t mean they’re explicitly thinking, “mmm, good genes, I want some of *those* for my offspring”. It just means that evolution has – on average – historically favoured those humans who found those traits attractive. The causal link is in the selection, not in the person’s thoughts.

    So the fact that women’s preference for men correlates better than anything else with anticipated pleasure says nothing about why and under what circumstances they anticipate that pleasure.

    ([*] if you disagree with anything I’ve starred, we’re disagreeing on premises rather than argument, and my apologies for assuming you “obviously” agreed.)
    ([+] Unfortunate narrowing, I know. I believe that the data is most robust here on male attraction towards females, in that there are traits found attractive across a sufficiently broad swathe of humanity that they are likely to be genetically programmed.)

    This does provide good evidence that pleasure (and our systematically imperfect anticipation of it) is a primary driver of behaviour in a casual-sex context. (And this result *is* important to combat bullshit which attempts to deny women’s sexual agency or desire.)

    But it doesn’t say why we get turned on by X rather than Y, and evolutionary pressures almost certainly shaped that[*]. (Social pressures too, natch.) SST is a theory about what sort of behavioural shaping evolution performed, not necessarily about the thought processes of the people involved. (The misogynists using it to say that “EVOLUTION!” is the reason that all women are conniving bitches – distasteful though they are – are irrelevant to the correctness of the theory they’re twisting into rhetorical ammunition.)

    Put another way, pleasure *is* one of the behavioural nudges that have evolved into place to make us do things that were advantageous to our genes in the past[*]. When you anticipate more sexual pleasure from Johnny Depp than from J Random Male On The Street, that *is* (partly) evolution talking. So if you factor that out, you may well have factored out the evolutionary nudge – and if the data shows no effect after that factoring-out, it neither proves nor disproves the existence of such a nudge.

    I would dearly love for SST to be wrong. But I don’t think that the evidence presented thus far is sufficient to call it probably wrong, let alone total bullshit.

    We do, however, agree on the solution – more, and better, experiments.

    • March 9, 2011 1:31 pm

      Okay, I could have lost about a third of those words without losing anything from the argument. Sorry.

    • March 9, 2011 2:30 pm

      ML, you are making the argument that Conley anticipated as “different level of analysis.” If attraction was a product of the SST factors, like status, Trump and Carrot Top would be among the more desirable men, when in fact the rank below placebo. Also, we’d find a high interaction among the SST variables and desirability, which we don’t, and between SST factors and sexual capability. If you were right, the men that women respondents thought would be the best in bed would also have the highest status and likelihood of giving gifts. But we do not see that.

      Also, I think it is very much in dispute what effect evolutionary pressures have on what we now find attractive. It may well be that our attractions are a mix of the very old (maybe symmetrical features) and the very recent, many of which are meaningful because they convey information in the current social structure (hairstyles, clothes, etc.).

      • March 9, 2011 7:20 pm

        (I fail at commenting. Please delete the dupe in a separate thread there.)

        First, a nitpick: The attractiveness of Trump and Carrot Top is really indistinguishable from that of the placebo, not below it (they’re statistically a dead heat, and there was explicit mention of floor effects – basically, all of them are in “no way” territory).

        More to the point: On the data you present, it’s inaccurate to say that (male) status was uncorrelated with (female) attraction, when status was the only thing that lifted any male (Johnny Depp) out of the pits of “no way” territory (compared with an explicitly attractive but generic alternative). You are, of course, correct that it demonstrates that SST factors are not the *only* thing determining attraction, but I’d call anyone who believes they are a strawman, nakedly misogynistic, or just stupid. (I’d happily believe any or all of those.)

        (Possibly-illustrative hypothesis: “Trump would still score higher on a test like this – especially in the “fling” condition, which is marginally less annihilated by floor effects – than a similarly physically unattractive man without his status and money.”)

        I’d love to see the proper stats (I don’t have access to the whole paper, mumble mumble scientific publishers suck). But the fact that they didn’t pick up any effect of Johnny Depp’s status/money on attractiveness suggests to me that this was something like an ANOVA. Basically, once such a model has satisfied itself that anticipated pleasure explains just about all of the variance (per “different level”, this doesn’t tell us anything for or against), it gives short shrift to any other factors, even if they have very significant correlations. In that case, the stats you’re citing have already factored out the effect of changed anticipation of pleasure, and the fact that there’s nothing left after you do that doesn’t tell us an enormous amount.

        (As I understand it – and I’m only a biologist with a computational background, not a mathematician – this characteristic of ANOVAs protects against the type 1 errors you find in repeated t-tests, but at the cost of ignoring issues like this. Also, if you’re quoting the term “interaction” from the context of an ANOVA, then it means something quite specific and not what you appear to be using it to mean – but I could be misinterpreting you, so I’ll go no further with this.)

        Finally, I take issue with your/her (it’s unclear) dismissal of the “different level of analysis” argument. Contra your post, “The implications of SST” are *not* “clearly that women would forgo sexual pleasure to have sex with a high-status man”. That’s…kinda the whole point of my original comment. If you disagree with it (or agree, but think that it doesn’t contradict the sentence I just quoted), I’m interested to hear how or why.

        (It may be that some of the statements of SST include a statement that women deliberately and consciously forgo pleasure for status/resources. But I’d call that a silly idea that’s not essential to the theory.)

      • March 10, 2011 8:00 am

        It wasn’t status that elevated Depp, because Trump and Carrot Top also have that. It was being really attractive.

        On Conley’s response, either you or she is wrong about what the classic formulation of SST is.

      • March 10, 2011 9:03 am

        I’m inclined to believe that it’s her, actually – as far back as the original 1993 Buss & Schmitt paper, that interpretation is explicitly disavowed.

        As for Depp, he has a potent combo of both looks and status, and to claim that the one but not the other is involved is to make assertions unsupported by the evidence. (For which I apologise in my last comment; while talking about the evident correlation between status and desire in this data, I should have made it clear that this does not itself show causation.)

        To clarify my point: Johnny Depp has positive Δstatus and positive Δbeauty, relative to the generic “attractive male stranger”, and is more desired than him. Donald Trump has positive Δstatus but negative Δbeauty relative to an attractive male stranger, and performs indistinguishably from him. This is not sufficient data to say that status does not affect attractiveness, which is the claim I think you’re making here.

      • March 10, 2011 10:25 am

        The interaction measures were ANOVAs for many of the tests. Your quantitative chops are almost certainly superior to mine, and I have no quarrel with what you say about ANOVA discounting correlations with related variables.

        I take your point about floor effects. CHSP may be such a bad way to look at it that it makes it impossible to tell how Trump and Carrot Top do against placebo. But if Trump, unattractive as he is, can’t beat placebo, then it’s a problem for SST in almost any formulation, whether the theory is that the evolutionary mechanism operates through a perception of status creating a perception of attractiveness, or a perception of sexual capability, or something else. For SST to be right, there has to be a way that a high-status man looks like a better offer than a low-status man — not just ceteris paribus, but enough for having status to be close to a dominant strategy. And that would have to be a gendered difference — I suspect that, ceteris paribus, het men would also choose the high-status woman, which would not be predicted by SST in any formulation.

        The easy and obvious explanation for the results is that the het women respondents were only interested in under the test conditions with the particularly attractive man, and not really with the others, for the reason that they think it will be more fun having sex with the attractive person. But the data doesn’t forclose all other possibilities. More research would be required for that. (Cocktail napkin research design here: have one male researcher visit a club night after night, dressed in two outfits; one that carries higher status markers and one lower, and find a way to measure results. Run enough iterations to control for night of the week, etc. Perhaps use phone numbers gotten as the dependent variable. Perhaps even provide him with alternate legends about his job, background and interests. It might not work in the UK, where accent clues still provide a great deal of information, but in the US where variations are less historically class-linked and less noticed, it might work.)

      • Sam permalink
        March 11, 2011 1:18 am

        Thomas,

        while I would say ML is right that the specific design of the study wasn’t able to identify the exact importance of “status” (which, in itself, is a problematic composite variable) for casual sex, your test design wouldn’t necessarily be able to identify it either – numbers taken don’t necessarily indicate short term interest/interest in casual sex – they do indicate interest in continuing an interaction, which is compatible with my suspicion about the importance of assumed relationship period/form for the effect of status on mate choice.

      • March 13, 2011 4:51 pm

        (Late response; busy weekend!)

        Thomas, I think we are in agreement on what the data does and doesn’t conclusively say.

        I think your cocktail-napkin experimental design is a good one – I just anticipate very different results from it. Not sure how you’d systematically signal a woman’s status from her outfit, though, without also accidentally signalling things like sexual availability. Perhaps the British accent/class thing might help there – just use a researchers who are good at accents, and have them try everything from deepest Essex to RP. (Of course, that imports a lorryload of confounds…). You’d also have to deal with significant learning effects on the researchers’ end, I’d bet.

        Suggestion to Sam: Assumed relationship duration can be varied by changing the researcher’s legend (eg making sure they insert the phrase “I’m moving to Glasgow next month” into early conversation).

    • March 14, 2011 1:35 am

      ML said:

      I think that there is a major overlooked factor in this interpretation – namely, that someone’s sexual attraction and anticipation of sexual pleasure is causally related to the selective pressures that shaped those instincts.

      You are quite correct. I made a similar point in my breakdown of the study. When women had a lower view of the sexual pleasure that male proposers would provide, that’s not just a fact about the proposers, it’s also a fact about the receivers of the proposal. Even we we take out the danger of a stranger, women still anticipated less pleasure in the friend proposal scenario.

      Women’s lower expectation of sexual pleasure from men who approach them could well indicate greater sexual selectivity (at least for casual sex), as predicted by the SST.

  4. March 9, 2011 7:19 pm

    First, a nitpick: The attractiveness of Trump and Carrot Top is really indistinguishable from that of the placebo, not below it (they’re statistically a dead heat, and there was explicit mention of floor effects – basically, all of them are in “no way” territory).

    More to the point: On the data you present, it’s inaccurate to say that (male) status was uncorrelated with (female) attraction, when status was the only thing that lifted any male (Johnny Depp) out of the pits of “no way” territory (compared with an explicitly attractive but generic alternative). You are, of course, correct that it demonstrates that SST factors are not the *only* thing determining attraction, but I’d call anyone who believes they are a strawman, nakedly misogynistic, or just stupid. (I’d happily believe any or all of those.)

    (Possibly-illustrative hypothesis: “Trump would still score higher on a test like this – especially in the “fling” condition, which is marginally less annihilated by floor effects – than a similarly physically unattractive man without his status and money.”)

    I’d love to see the proper stats (I don’t have access to the whole paper, mumble mumble scientific publishers suck). But the fact that they didn’t pick up any effect of Johnny Depp’s status/money on attractiveness suggests to me that this was something like an ANOVA. Basically, once such a model has satisfied itself that anticipated pleasure explains just about all of the variance (per “different level”, this doesn’t tell us anything for or against), it gives short shrift to any other factors, even if they have very significant correlations. In that case, the stats you’re citing have already factored out the effect of changed anticipation of pleasure, and the fact that there’s nothing left after you do that doesn’t tell us an enormous amount.

    (As I understand it – and I’m only a biologist with a computational background, not a mathematician – this characteristic of ANOVAs protects against the type 1 errors you find in repeated t-tests, but at the cost of ignoring issues like this. Also, if you’re quoting the term “interaction” from the context of an ANOVA, then it means something quite specific and not what you appear to be using it to mean – but I could be misinterpreting you, so I’ll go no further with this.)

    Finally, I take issue with your/her (it’s unclear) dismissal of the “different level of analysis” argument. Contra your post, “The implications of SST” are *not* “clearly that women would forgo sexual pleasure to have sex with a high-status man”. That’s…kinda the whole point of my original comment. If you disagree with it (or agree, but think that it doesn’t contradict the sentence I just quoted), I’m interested to hear how or why.

    (It may be that some of the statements of SST include a statement that women deliberately and consciously forgo pleasure for status/resources. But I’d call that a silly idea that’s not essential to the theory.)

  5. March 12, 2011 12:33 pm

    ML, I would disagree that it can be conclusively stated that status is the *only* thing that elevates attractive male celebrities out of the depths of “no way.” There is also the danger factor, and Thomas stated this is the real usefulness of the celebrity study: someone who is familiar, even falsely familiar in the sense that participants don’t really know him, but still is recognizable as opposed to someone you’ve never heard of before, should be a less risky proposition. The studies that specifically asked about threat seemed to find (don’t have access to the full article either, so relying on Thomas text) that threat is no small thing in the decision to say no, more important than status is to say yes. It’s not clear to me from Thomas text how the perception of danger in the best-friend study compared to the perception of danger in the celebrity study–that seems an interesting point of comparison.

    So Johnny Depp has positive delta-attractiveness, positive delta-status, and positive-delta “not going to hurt me cause he’s just that guy in the movies.” A perception of reduced danger could well be related to status. But I don’t know that status and danger are obviously or always related.

  6. Sarah permalink
    March 13, 2011 4:55 pm

    The SST idea that women want a mate who’s a provider while men just want to spread their sperm is actually logically inconsistent with itself. Think about it: either the women are totally dependent on their male mates to provide for the kids, in which case men should evolve to spend all their time and energy on caring for their kids instead of leaving to chase new women, or they’re not, in which case a provided-for woman should evolve to sleep around at will to make her next kids more genetically fit.

  7. dungone permalink
    March 24, 2011 10:14 am

    Thomas, the more you write about this study the more interesting it gets. Sam and ML gave very compelling defenses of SST and SST might be completely valid but yet fail to account for more than 1% of a decision, so even though I’m not against SST per se, I’m not sure that it’s really relevant. For example, SST may come into play when a woman starts to worry about pregnancy and that’s when she starts to make those types of decisions, but when a woman has full access to birth control then those evolved mechanisms may never be triggered and the decisions may come down to pleasure alone. And the same is true for men. My hunch is that once you remove the risks, women are just as likely to have casual sex as men, but that the criteria they use to judge what “attractive” really means is different for each sex. Which would cause problems for Conley’s study.

    One thing I can definitely agree on is that CHSP as it was done here has too many problems to be useful. I read that in the original CHSP study, they used an actual person who walked up to random students on campus. Obviously, that is unethical and therefore useless because no one should try to replicate it. But it may have been a good test at the time, whereas Conley’s test really is not faithful to the original CHSP and in a way that opens itself to subjective answers on many different levels that I’m not sure if anyone has discussed yet.

    For instance, the original CHSP involved a person whose attraction was unambiguously on display. Conley could have used stock photos and even a fact sheet about each offerer to eliminate a lot more of the subjectivity in her questions than she attempted to give. Also, her questions are sort of “flat” in that they don’t replicate the entire process of flirting that provides the respondents with the depth of insight that they would need to make an informed choice.

    The things Conley tries to asses – perceived competence in bed, perceived threat level, and likelihood of having sex – are all based on a subjective interpretation of the question and how she worded it. Men and women may seek different information to make their choice, but yet she used the same questions and didn’t fix her questions even after the results started to indicate that each sex was making different assumptions about her question. She could have controlled by stating the scenario clearly – she should have done a study where the question was worded as “an attractive person who you feel would be good in bed,” which would have controlled for the perceived pleasure and better isolated the effects of SST.

    The questions suffer even more for assumptions when you think of the fact that a real decision would be the result of a process. If he’s attractive then is he shy or confident, does he smell good, and if so then is the body language correct, and if so then is he a good kisser, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, if the woman is attractive then the man might be able to say yes or no based on physical appearance alone. This must have been a problem for the original CSHP study as well, because if the people making the offers were bad actors then women would have been disproportionately affected by the presentation of the question than the men. Maybe that’s why NO women accepted the offer in the original study.

    So in a roundabout way I actually agree with Conley here – that it’s more about the perceived pleasure that makes women less inclined to say yes than men. But that’s a problem with the studies themselves and it’s not reflective of what might be happening in real life! Let’s say in real life, men and women on average perceive the pleasure of such an offer to be the same – then in that case if more men accept the offer than women, then it could be due to SST! I can’t stress that enough – Conley did a really bad job controlling exogenous variables no matter what theory she was trying to test.

  8. dungone permalink
    March 24, 2011 10:43 am

    I also see a problem with Conley’s use of rating scales. She (or you, Thomas) did not explain why the distributions were so much tighter for the women than for the men. That’s really important, because rating scales are really difficult to get right. If you choose too many points, you may confuse your respondents, which may result in a large standard deviation.

    It’s really hard to correlate the results from two different groups on a rating scale and it gets even harder when the two groups require a different amount of points on their scale. Let’s say SST is correct and women are more choose than men. Then you might want to have a 5 point rating scale for men and an 11 point scale for women. By using a 7 point scale for both, Conley may have actually been asking a different question to each group – questions too complex for men who just want to know if the proposer is attractive, but too simplistic for women who might be making untold assumptions about each question. As mentioned, there’s the floor effect: the rating scales should have gone into the negative for women, as in “no way” and “no way, plus I’m disgusted”, which would have required more points for women than for men.

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