How We Pick a Mate

Question: How much of human behavior do we actually have \r\nchoice over?

Lionel Tiger: We have endless choice, but we \r\nalso are hardwired in certain ways to make certain choices, so for \r\nexample, as we learned from language through Noam Chomsky’s work kids \r\nare programmed to learn language.  A two year-old kid can learn \r\nChinese.  I could never learn Chinese and I’m a reasonably smart \r\napplicable character who could apply myself to it.  I couldn’t do it.  \r\nIt is not in my wiring any longer.  As Chomsky showed there is a program\r\n for learning language which is associated with being a kid.  There are \r\nprograms for a whole series of things in us.  The kid may learn \r\nChinese.  The kid may learn Arabic, but he is going to learn something \r\nand so the issue is what is in the system and what is easy for us to \r\nlearn and it appears that some of things that we find easy to learn are \r\ntricky like my group is better than your group or I want to have access \r\nto as many females or males as I can independent of what the \r\nconsequences are of that or a series of other things, but basically this\r\n is a massive question and the history of recent biological science \r\nshows that we have really not well handled the problem.  For example, \r\nmost universities and colleges in North America, England, the rest of \r\nEurope are divided in two, two science faculties if you will.  There is \r\nthe natural sciences and then there are the social sciences with the \r\nheavy implication that social behavior is not natural.  It’s inescapable\r\n that that would be the conclusion, but in fact, social behavior is \r\nnatural and we have very, very little synthetic analysis of behavior \r\nfrom both the evolutionary and the contemporary point of view in many \r\nways and that has become, I’m afraid, highly politicized and \r\nconsequently generates a lot more heat than light.

Question:\r\n How much conscious choice do we have in who we pick as a mate?

Lionel\r\n Tiger: Well first of all, location, location, location is very \r\nimportant as we know.  Secondly, people will have…  Well there is \r\nsomething called in sociology assortative mating.  It happens to be a \r\ncruel fact of high school that the quarterback gets the girl who is \r\nregarded as the prettiest.  It’s regarded as a cruel fact of nature that\r\n Katherine Zeta Jones ends up with Mike Douglas.  People make choices \r\ndepending on what they think they can get if you will, out of the \r\nreproductive system and so a lot of people fail.  They don’t have any \r\npartner and there is a huge issue for example in the African-American \r\ncommunity in America where so many of the males are imprisoned.  If you \r\nhave 20 females and 20 males and one, just one male is in prison then \r\nthe 19 other females have to really chop and change to make a proper \r\nconnection and it puts pressure on everybody and so in that particular \r\ncommunity we see the cost and so one remembers Terry McMillan’s book \r\nWaiting to Exhale.  So here we have an indication of the fact that yes, \r\nwe have a lot of free choice, but it is usually within a kind of \r\nmarketplace of humans if you will, to be crass about it, and that \r\ncontinues to exist and so you have women who will decide never to date \r\nsome guy who doesn’t have X or Y characteristics, who doesn’t have a \r\nprofessional, quotes, job.  You have a lot of … For example, there was a\r\n study done of medical students a Syracuse by a man named John Thompson \r\nand he said that there were…

Yeah, there was a study done of \r\nmedical students, male and female in a university in New York and the \r\nmales were quite ruthless in how they evaluated the females.  They said \r\nfor example about one of them, “Why is she studying to be a doctor?”  \r\nShe is good looking.”  “She should just marry one.”  And they had very, \r\nvery rigorous statements that they made about they would only go out \r\nwith two of the ten women who were in their class because of physical \r\nattraction of whatever their metric, but it was real.  It was harsh and \r\nthat goes on all the time.  It’s the story of high school and it’s real \r\nand it’s painful and it happens and the consequences are that \r\nindividuals have to sort of figure out how to present themselves.  If \r\nyou look at female reading habits any magazine “612 Ways to Make \r\nYourself Look Better for 5 Cents” on the cover or “200 Things That Will \r\nPlease Him” or various ways of trying to attract a male in a very \r\ncompetitive environment and not just a male, a good one.  That is the \r\nproblem.  Males have a different metric and the problem is many males \r\nrealize that they can’t really hack it.  They’re just not going to end \r\nup doing this very well in terms of their fantasies or their dreams or \r\neven their ambitions.

Question: Has your work as an \r\nevolutionary biologist affected your own outlook on the world?

Lionel\r\n Tiger: I guess I would say that I will always look for what is the \r\nmost basic motive in a situation that people are in and so I will assume\r\n that if a man and a woman for example are deeply interested in each \r\nother sexually I would assume that it is not because one is a Buddhist \r\nand the other is a Catholic.  It’s because they’re interested in each \r\nother sexually given their reproductive state, their biology and the \r\nlike, so here is where in my trade we talk about the law of parsimony.  \r\nParsimony means you try to find the least complicated explanation for \r\nany behavior and so if I’ve had… if I have a hangover it would be \r\nparsimonious of me to say well I shouldn’t go and apply for a job as a \r\nnuclear physicists because I’m not going to be at my best and that is \r\njust the law of parsimony and that shades quickly off into biology.

As in real estate, the name of the game in our choice of spouse is "location, location, location."

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