Skip to content
Who's in the Video

Lionel Tiger

Lionel Tiger is the Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University and a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense on the future of biotechnology.  An expert on the[…]

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

Question: How much of human behavior do we actually have rnchoice over?

Lionel Tiger: We have endless choice, but we rnalso are hardwired in certain ways to make certain choices, so for rnexample, as we learned from language through Noam Chomsky’s work kids rnare programmed to learn language.  A two year-old kid can learn rnChinese.  I could never learn Chinese and I’m a reasonably smart rnapplicable character who could apply myself to it.  I couldn’t do it.  rnIt is not in my wiring any longer.  As Chomsky showed there is a programrn for learning language which is associated with being a kid.  There are rnprograms for a whole series of things in us.  The kid may learn rnChinese.  The kid may learn Arabic, but he is going to learn something rnand so the issue is what is in the system and what is easy for us to rnlearn and it appears that some of things that we find easy to learn are rntricky like my group is better than your group or I want to have access rnto as many females or males as I can independent of what the rnconsequences are of that or a series of other things, but basically thisrn is a massive question and the history of recent biological science rnshows that we have really not well handled the problem.  For example, rnmost universities and colleges in North America, England, the rest of rnEurope are divided in two, two science faculties if you will.  There is rnthe natural sciences and then there are the social sciences with the rnheavy implication that social behavior is not natural.  It’s inescapablern that that would be the conclusion, but in fact, social behavior is rnnatural and we have very, very little synthetic analysis of behavior rnfrom both the evolutionary and the contemporary point of view in many rnways and that has become, I’m afraid, highly politicized and rnconsequently generates a lot more heat than light.

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


Lionelrn Tiger: Well first of all, location, location, location is very rnimportant as we know.  Secondly, people will have…  Well there is rnsomething called in sociology assortative mating.  It happens to be a rncruel fact of high school that the quarterback gets the girl who is rnregarded as the prettiest.  It’s regarded as a cruel fact of nature thatrn Katherine Zeta Jones ends up with Mike Douglas.  People make choices rndepending on what they think they can get if you will, out of the rnreproductive system and so a lot of people fail.  They don’t have any rnpartner and there is a huge issue for example in the African-American rncommunity in America where so many of the males are imprisoned.  If you rnhave 20 females and 20 males and one, just one male is in prison then rnthe 19 other females have to really chop and change to make a proper rnconnection and it puts pressure on everybody and so in that particular rncommunity we see the cost and so one remembers Terry McMillan’s book rnWaiting to Exhale.  So here we have an indication of the fact that yes, rnwe have a lot of free choice, but it is usually within a kind of rnmarketplace of humans if you will, to be crass about it, and that rncontinues to exist and so you have women who will decide never to date rnsome guy who doesn’t have X or Y characteristics, who doesn’t have a rnprofessional, quotes, job.  You have a lot of … For example, there was arn study done of medical students a Syracuse by a man named John Thompson rnand he said that there were…

Yeah, there was a study done of rnmedical students, male and female in a university in New York and the rnmales were quite ruthless in how they evaluated the females.  They said rnfor example about one of them, “Why is she studying to be a doctor?”  rnShe is good looking.”  “She should just marry one.”  And they had very, rnvery rigorous statements that they made about they would only go out rnwith two of the ten women who were in their class because of physical rnattraction of whatever their metric, but it was real.  It was harsh and rnthat goes on all the time.  It’s the story of high school and it’s real rnand it’s painful and it happens and the consequences are that rnindividuals have to sort of figure out how to present themselves.  If rnyou look at female reading habits any magazine “612 Ways to Make rnYourself Look Better for 5 Cents” on the cover or “200 Things That Will rnPlease Him” or various ways of trying to attract a male in a very rncompetitive environment and not just a male, a good one.  That is the rnproblem.  Males have a different metric and the problem is many males rnrealize that they can’t really hack it.  They’re just not going to end rnup doing this very well in terms of their fantasies or their dreams or rneven their ambitions.

Question: Has your work as an rnevolutionary biologist affected your own outlook on the world?


Lionelrn Tiger: I guess I would say that I will always look for what is the rnmost basic motive in a situation that people are in and so I will assumern that if a man and a woman for example are deeply interested in each rnother sexually I would assume that it is not because one is a Buddhist rnand the other is a Catholic.  It’s because they’re interested in each rnother sexually given their reproductive state, their biology and the rnlike, so here is where in my trade we talk about the law of parsimony.  rnParsimony means you try to find the least complicated explanation for rnany behavior and so if I’ve had… if I have a hangover it would be rnparsimonious of me to say well I shouldn’t go and apply for a job as a rnnuclear physicists because I’m not going to be at my best and that is rnjust the law of parsimony and that shades quickly off into biology.