In stories about parent-child conflicts, dramatic necessity is sufficient to explain why the parents always prefer the rich suitor to the beautiful suitor.
The young people, not the parents, are always the protagonists (not in the original Greek sense of initiating the action, but in the common-speech sense of being the character the camera stays closet to and the audience sympathizes most with). It would be interesting to know why Western culture prefers youthful protagonists; but it is so, and has been so for centuries. Another reason the protagonists must be the children is that the protagonist must fight up a power gradient, and parents have more power than children.
The protagonists must be more-sympathetic than those opposing them, and it's more acceptable in Western post-Roman literary culture to love someone for their beauty than to love them for their riches or status. (Probably due not to over-valuing beauty, but to the Christian view of riches and status as corrupting, and of beauty as highly correlated with the Good.) It's also more-acceptable in post-Roman Western culture for a young person to be attracted to a young person than to an old person. Therefore, *in a story*, the parents will favor the rich old suitor; the child, the young and beautiful one. QED.
In reality, old rich men don't need the help of parents to get beautiful young women. And I don't blame those young women. Being rich is correlated with being smart and hard-working; neither being young nor being beautiful says anything positive about one's character.
> On the other hand, our built-in nutrition instincts are also what tells us to take a fifth donut after we’ve already eaten four, which even a moron can use their reason to figure out is a good idea.
Typo: "good idea" => "/great/ idea" (or maybe just a missing negation)
> which even a moron can use their reason to figure out is a good idea
Typo, I think this should be "isn't".
"POV: WATCH YOUR DAUGHTER MARRY RICH DOCTOR"
So now that the thought's been had... what's the over/under in how long before someone uploads this to pornhub?
> And we’re sure lucky it does, because otherwise we would have gone extinct as soon as we invented condoms?"
I think there's an extra quotation mark here.
Also worth noting that status is no longer achieved in the same way as a million year ago, when instinctual physical attraction evolved.
Intelligence did play a role at the time, but it made more sense for evolution to focus attractiveness metrics on physical size and strength.
Now that conscientiousness is a much better predictor of status than physical size and strength, parental reasoning is rationally focusing on this metric, while instinctual attractiveness has become a less suited assessment mechanism. Young love is maladapted and focusing on a suboptimal proxy.
Height and attractiveness and intelligence are somewhat correlated, so child/parent judgement might not always diverge, but assessing conscientiousness is safer with a longer track record, hence parental preference for older suitor.
Note that this divergence is mostly relevant for daughter / male suitor. In the symmetrical son / female suitor situation, parental disagreement would be less likely because the best proxy for female fertility remains beauty. And I think there is usually less parental conflict in this situation empirically.
sorry, i'm confused here. What's the difference between the 'stupid' explanation:
> parents are older and wiser than suitors, and so less hormonally obsessed with attractiveness.
and the new one:
> the suitors are working off one level of drive, and the parents another, in a way suggesting they’re genuinely separate.
You even end with an example here:
> the same reason why I might be tempted to overeat at the ice cream shop, but my parents can easily tell me “you should watch your weight” (while facing their own temptations themselves)
would a 10 year old in an ice cream shop with her friends have the same kind of wisdom? It looks to me like this post is actually redefining ancient virtues like wisdom and prudence, using modern understandings of optimization algorithms.
Link at start of section 3 is dead
It could be that the fashion of it being religion that intelligence, grit, etc. etc. are all just environmental and not genetic is causing a lot of parents to say some very silly things about who are and are not good potential mates. It would be very taboo for a parent to say 'You shouldn't marry X because they're dumb and ugly and I don't want to have dumb and ugly grandkids'.
I. When people want to have sex, they might pick a partner who is sexually attractive at the expense of other good life choices or personality. When parents are selecting partners, they are thinking in terms of marriage. Parents don't want their children sleeping with sexier people. This might be not relevant for the studies linked in Dynomight's post though.
II. We would expect the child to find someone they find attractive already. Attraction is somewhat idiosyncratic. It would be odd for a parent to step in and say "this person is insufficiently hot for you." It wouldn't be odd for them to criticize the person on a more straightforward criteria like "has a bad job, is mean, etc" that isn't so subjective. Only you know how attracted you feel to your partner. The parents are left guessing, and it would be odd to assume the child isn't attracted and the parents had to step in. Same would go for sexual performance.
> the drive to protect children once you have them
I think there's lot lurking in this phrase. "Take care of the kids you have" is a powerful evolutionary-driven imperative. The main thing is, the 20-year-old doesn't _have any kids yet_. They are not yet subject to this imperative, while the parents are.
I think humans have a generalized version of imprinting, like ducklings that imprint on the first animal they see after hatching, humans have a longish life stage of gaining data about the world and "learning" reactions to it that they thenceforth innately follow. This is not the same thing as reasoning about things from principles and data, but it's also not the same as having a specific built-in instinct.
I’m not seeing why one needs any deep or difficult theoretical reasons for this phenomenon. It strikes me as the same reason why a third party has an easier time giving me good dietary advice than I might settle on myself. My biological hunger urge might lead me to over-value flavor and cause me to eat too much, whereas my parents (or whoever), who do not experience the visceral pleasure of my eating, can give me a more rational assessment of what my diet should look like. Similarly, if the desirability of a prospective marriage partner can be assessed through two (let’s pretend, to simplify) considerations, one of which is strongly driven by a biological urge, then one’s parents, who are not going to be tempted to over-value the component grounded in a strong biological impulse, will be positioned to offer more objective advice. I guess one could ask why there is a biological urge to overeat or to over-value the sex drive relative to more dispassionate criteria of value in a mate, but if we accept the common observation that most people do so, then the differing opinions of parents can be fully explained, it seems to me, by the fact that they are looking at the situation as third parties who are not experiencing the biological drive.
The older I get, the more I dislike evolutionary psychology explanations for anything. We can all come up with convincing stories, but there is no reason to treat them as anything other than fiction.
The mate seeker uses system I heuristics, because that's what gets us excited. The parents use system II, because they don’t actually have to have sex with their new in-law. System I has not yet had time to catch up to the cultural factors that affect potential parenthood.
This is the old tension/dialectic between instinctive urges adapted gradually to hunter gatherer contexts and bourgeois values that make sense in cities.
"Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within the different kinds of orders according to different rules. If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e. of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilisation), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of world at once."
Hayek, The Fatal Conceit
Could there be a certain instinct to avoid incest here? I mean, maybe there's theoretically a way for parents to be drawn to exactly the same traits that correlate to sexual attractiveness without it feeling like sexual attraction but I'm having trouble imagining it. If a daughter brings home a suitor and the mother says, "Ooh, super hot!" you can see how this could create problems down the road that are even bigger than those created by the usual disagreements.
There's also the issue of who experiences the benefits and the downsides of the different types more. The parents don't get to enjoy having sex with the hot person, but they do have to deal with the aftermath of the hot person wandering around because everyone else thinks they're hot too. On the other hand, older folks are often in a more vulnerable position if crops fail/the house forecloses/somebody gets cancer or whatever, so they might end up benefiting more from having in-laws with means.
Throughout much of human history, and across the majority of hunter-gatherer societies, marriages were commonly arranged by parents or other kin. See Apostolou, M. (2007) 'Sexual selection under parental choice: The role of parents in the evolution of human mating' and Walker et al. (2011) 'Evolutionary History of Hunter-Gatherer Marriage Practices'. If you want to examine and theorize about the evolutionary history of human mate choice, and the role parental choice may have played, the dynamics across these societies are probably good places to start.
See also Chagnon et al. (2017) 'Cross-cousin marriage among the Yanomamö shows evidence of parent–offspring conflict and mate competition between brothers'.
It’s about hot vs cute. Do you want the best looking guy you can get or the one most likely to stick around?
Maybe this is just what all the mesa-optimizer stuff means, but it seems like the simple explanation is that while we have a hormonal desire to reproduce, that's actually not our main behavioral goal.
When parents (or friends) advise use on relationships, they're thinking largely all the non-reproductive things we care about: a stable relationship with someone who you enjoy spending time with, who you can have a good standard of living with, etc, etc. Stuff we value, but are sometimes too "blinded by hormones" to see.
Suggesting that parents are doing 4D chess maneuvers to calculate/approximate the maximal yield for all their descendants just seems too to put too high of a premium on the raw evolutionary drive to me.
There might be a very simple theory to explain suitors and parents' differences of preferences: Parents are old and their sex drive are dry. So their main consideration process is rational. Suitors are young and full of hormone and naturally get more influence from apparent characteristics.
The test case for this is to compare young parents/ or parents with substantial sex drive versus old and dry parents. Who would give more preference toward your in-law being hot? My experience point to quite a correlation. Sex-craze parent and uncle want me to marry the hot one and vice versa.
I think we could make sense of this problem with life history theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_history_theory)
A fast life strategy is one that is dangerous and results in high quantity, low quality offspring. Think of men having unprotected sex with random partners, and then abandoning their children to have the mother take care of them. Maybe some of the children won't turn out so well, but you make up for it in quantity. Slow life is the opposite: get married and invest heavily in a small # of children.
We know that people who grow up with single parents, parental neglect, or in a stressful environment, tend to adopt fast life strategies. Children in these environments actually go through puberty earlier, and are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors (i.e. fast life strategy). This may make sense evolutionarily - if there is social instability, have children ASAP with someone good looking, rather than investing for the long term. [https://www.biomedcentral.com/about/press-centre/science-press-releases/28-10-20]
So probably if you have parents around who you have a good relationship with, who can actually influence your mate choice, you're more likely to be in a world conducive to slow life strategy. Your parents already primed you for that strategy during your childhood by staying together and investing heavily in you and creating a safe environment for you, which literally will cause puberty to trigger later, and likely result in you focusing more on long term vs short term mating. Whatever social maneuvering they engage in when you are in adulthood is just a continuation of that phenomenon
Simple alternative rat framed explanation: both parents and children are status maximizers. How does the child maximize their status through mate choice? A partner who's highest status in their milieu, i.e. the sexy romantic one, who their friends will be like "good catch". Otoh, have you heard how parents talk about their children to other parents? Never "their spouse is so sexy" but "my kid married a lawyer/doctor/etc." The bride as business owner's daughter makes this even more straightforward.
I think the really interesting or challenging question is why people ascribe status in these differential ways, among different milieus. Like, there's no reason someone's dad couldn't be like "your wife is hot! Good choice son" and equally why a husband couldn't be like "I think it's so sexy that you're a doctor". Seems like a combination of some deep cultural ideas relating to stages of life and taboos on interaction with in-laws (apparently different cultures have different bans on the sort of in-law relationships that people can have, like maybe mothers are prohibited from speaking with their son-in-laws... I think Freud discusses this in Totem and Taboo). And also, for a cynical TLP take, marketing works.
Is there a sex-drive-adaption and another wanna-have-(more)-kids-drive? - I wonder, but I'd say: "No. probably not. But then ...": a) I (male) like the sex-thing and I like the kids-thing (going for the fifth now - envying Dshingis and Ziona https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziona ) - and it is not "social-pressure", nope. If anything, more than 2 kids is a minus in my country, in my circles - and even grandma said: Enough, now, isn't it! - So, why I had no vasectomy, yet?!? - b) I know one relative that was not much into sex, but into kids and had 4. Maybe there are more? - Maybe it is more an adaption as in "A fertile landscape with prey/water/shelter is good to be in" thus: we feel good when wwe look at one, so we buy a "beautiful landscape painting with deers"? And mammals evolved to feel good about having kids around them? But then: why "Hotels for Singles"/"burnt-out teachers"/and: Please, get the kids out of here! - Anyway, great SA as SAS always does and an appreciated shout-out for a fine text by dynomight. And agreed: dyno's question is solved by the ice-cream/donut analogy. - Can I have a fifth? As a moron, I qualify!
I think the parents' motivation is to be explained at the cultural level. They would like respectability etc. No need for an evopsych explanation.
"An average Indian mother isn’t going to know about which physical features predict healthy pregnancies or which very minor skin imperfections signal poor immune function, but she is going to know that potential son-in-law X makes $20,000 a year more than potential son-in-law Y."
My question is how age fits into it (imagining a man trying to marry a woman). In the standard instincts vs reason story, I would think that the woman being young fits on both sides. Instincts to the extent people find younger people to be hotter; reason because a younger woman has more time to have more kids, and less chance of special needs kids. And yet my sense is that wanting to marry someone significantly younger is seen as typical instinct-over-reason behavior. And unlike really subtle looks-related indicators of fitness, like hips-to-waist ratio or facial symmetry, age is just a single number and anyone can understand the implications.
Another question is preference for in-group spouses. I.e. the group-X parents who want their children to marry people within group X. I'm not sure how that fits in with all this.
Is the sperm bank such a good strategy? The more people adopt it, the less successful it will be.
I think it is that parents in societies with socioeconomic stratification like our own are more aware of the costs of raising children such that they can maintain or gain status. We did not evolve have an innate understanding of high real estate costs, for example. Thus parents are more likely to encourage their children to find high status mates and more likely to value status in prospective mates for their children than other desirable characteristics such as attractiveness.
Evolution says nothing about optimizing. If something is going to get carried to the next generation it only has to work just well enough. It does not have to be optimal. Piss poor may be 100% adequate. If you are following a putative evolutionary argument and notice the word "optimize" or a synonym, odds are you are not following an evolutionary argument. Odds are you are following a philosophical or political argument. Philosophers and politicians love the idea of optimal. It gives them an excuse for torturing and murdering people.
As long as a characteristic doesn't preclude reproduction, it may be carried to future generations. This is despite the Biology 101 joke that sterility is inherited: if your parents didn't have any children, you won't have any children. Evolution may favor certain characteristics if they lead to better reproduction, but if you've ever played with asymmetric dice where A>B>C>A, then you'd know that what comes out ahead in one case might not come out ahead in another. There's an awful lot of contingency which is science talk for dumb luck.
Biologists used to correct people who said organism X evolved characteristic Y. That was a teleological statement, a statement about purpose, and it had no place in an evolutionary discussion. They'd remind people that organisms don't evolve, populations do. If characteristic Y has become more common in organism X, that might be because characteristic Y offers some reproductive advantage. Alternately, characteristic X might be something that just happened to appear when some other characteristic, e.g. characteristic Z appeared, and that characteristic led to increased reproductive success. (See spandrels.) Or, it might just be dumb luck.
P.S. There's a hilarious 1983 paper "Why Are Juveniles Smaller Than Their Parents?" offering evolutionary arguments for why younger organisms are smaller than older ones of their species. To Ellstrand's credit, he was trying to be funny. The punchline: "In particular, another juvenile character is even more widespread than JSS (juvenile's small size) and deserves some thoughtful attention, the fact that juveniles ALWAYS seem to be younger than their parents."
P.P.S. As for this discussion, a lot of people are confusing sex, love and romance here, and then they're mashing in "evolutionary" arguments. Holy, moly!
I think it is older / wiser and less hormones that explains the difference. I think the same individual would assess choices differently if they could go back in time and choose a spouse again. They would understand that lust is a passing phase and long term suitability is much more likely to lead to happiness.
I'm going to argue that the difference between "parents want different things than children, but can't distinguish between only have a single child vs. multiple" is not that unusual a distinction, nor should it b unexpected in evolutionary terms.
There are _lots_ of ways that humans change as they age behaviorally and otherwise. It is very easy to hijack/piggyback on those changes, but none of those changes have a way of telling if there is only a single offspring.
For example, the hormonal changes you mention a paragraph beforehand. Hormones change, and switch parents from valuing good genes to valuing good social standing. However, these hormonal changes mostly happen regardless of if you have one child or multiple children (or no children at all) so in order to get to that next level of fine grain thinking, you need to now invent a completely novel process, instead of just hitching onto an existing one. This is a _very_ non trivial distinction in evolutionary terms. Changing what an existing process does/borrowing it for a new use happens _all the time_. Inventing entirely novel processes almost never does.
-edit- I don't think this should really change your conclusion, I would agree that your final thought of "it's easier to make choices for someone else than yourself" is probably more likely, it just doesn't seem crazy to think that evolution could make exactly the level of distinction that you are skeptical of.
All three papers referenced over at Dynomight are based on stated preference surveys. WTF! There's nothing about actual conflicts over individual mate choice. People do not choose a set of criteria as a mate. They choose an individual. Try having sex with a bunch of criteria. So, how common is parent-child conflict over mate choice? I have no idea. Neither does Dynomight. In my circle such conflicts are quite rare. Most parents are relieved that their child has decided to "settle down" and maybe behave like an adult for bit. Now and then there is some drama, but while it makes for a good story, it is uncommon.
Also, no one is addressing the more relevant issue of family structure. The nuclear family is an anomaly. In many societies, one is expected to marry a cousin. Saudi Arabia is a great place for research on genetic defects thanks to this custom. There's an argument that western Christianity restructured the family with the council of Agde banning first cousin marriages. There's probably a pile of BS in there, but banning first cousin marriage does cut down on certain genetic problems.
Other important questions are: How tightly are children controlled by their parents? Where are they expected to live before and after marriage? How is property inherited? Can one obtain resources without parental approval? Those are cultural, not genetic. There are all sorts of structures, but no one is obviously superior. Maybe primogeniture made the British Empire what it was, but there are still an awful lot of people in France and China.
People in just about every society value romantic love, but in traditional societies long term relationships are supposed to be about sex, property and social status. That's why it is so often customary to have a spouse approved by the family and a lover on the side or, for men only, a wife and a concubine, that is, a wife whose children will not inherit. It's almost always about resources. In one society, women take two husbands. They say more sperm is better, though it's more likely about the other stuff that sperm providers can offer.
I loved the article BUT
To me as beautiful the various routes taken trying to analyze what is actually going on be it reptilian or complex thought genetics, I would like to remind people that in the mid 1960s an MIT professor gave students a summer assignment to model vison (Summer Vision Program 1966). I think we are still waiting on that one.
It's not just that I want the rich doctor to help my other grandkids. It's that I want my kid to not be dependent on me ever again.
Well, it seems to me the thing you're missing here is that social and pseudo-social systems, both those humans invent and those nature invents, seem often to be designed to have conflicting drives and that this can be highly adaptive. Consider heirarchy among primates: what are the drives of the chimps not alpha? (1) Be obedient to the alpha, so he doesn't kill you, and (2) kill the alpha and take his place. *Both* drives operate, all the time, even though they point in radically different directions, because it is adaptive (for the primate tribe) to have that tension continually in play. When the alpha becomes old or fat and lazy, (2) gets stronger, and when the alpha is young and strong, (1) gets stronger, and both are highly adaptive for the tribe's survival, maximizing quality of leadership while minimizing unnecessary conflict.
So I would think it a priori not unlikely humans might evovle a system in which one component (the offspring) have a greater drive for markers for physical fitness, while the other component (the parents) have a greater drive for markers of social fitness. As you point out, *both* are adaptive -- but in what mixture? The correct answer to that would readily vary with individual circumstances, the situation of the tribe, et cetera.
One way for the system to arrive at an optimal answer is to have "agent advocates" who press for one priority or another, like competing lawyers fighting a case in court, who each argue their best case, with an end result that may end up better than if the competition is sorted out within one agent.
A good reason why dividing the agency like that might improve the outcome is that the parents, through their greater experience, are likely to have a better judgment as to the social fitness a potential mate represents. So having the parents represent *that* point of view makes good sense. But having them make the decision *entirely* probably *doesn't* make sense, for at least some of the reasons you outline (e.g. the parents' interests are not identical to the childs' even at a crude physical level). So it makes equal sense (from the point of view of evolutionary adaptivity) to give considerable agency to the child, and give the child his own strong contrasting point of view (and physical fitness is readily judged acccurately by even very inexperienced individuals, one assumes), so that the end result is some complex situationally-dependent compromise between the drives of the child and the drives of the parent.
Another way to look at this is that optimizing outcomes in a rugged fitness landscape (and it hardly seems doubtful that evolutionary fitness is *very* rugged) requires the occasional jump uphill to escape local minima. So adaptation strategies that translate to "just go downhill" are routinely beaten by strategies that incorporate some degree of saltation. What better way to ensure saltation than to set up conflicting agents with conflicting drives, such that from time to time they reach different conclusions and something unusual happens? It's the social equivalent of mutation in physical evolution: perhaps most of the time children defying their parents produces a lower quality marriage, but in x% of the cases it produces a much *higher* quality of marriage in unexpected ways and the gene line gets a big honking infusion of fitness.
 It's interesting that stories of children defying their parents vis-a-vis mate selection tend to end up with just this fairy-tale ending: the prince/princess defies the wishes of the king and marries a commoner -- *but* the latter turns out to be unexpectedly extraordinary, and brings much-needed hybrid vigor to the royal line.
Alternative theory: the parents might be driven by some drive other than maximizing the number of successful grandchildren. People seem to like money for reasons that do not directly tie into maximizing genetic fitness. I guess the drives that lead to this probably came from something related to that at some point, but it's not like people who are never going to have children or nephews don't care about money. Having a rich in-law benefits the parents financially (especially if it shores up a relationship with an important business partner). Having an attractive in-law doesn't benefit the parents in the same way.
I didn't catch what exactly you believe is wrong with the Trivers parent-offspring conflict argument. This seems like a fairly straightforward application of it. The child wants the best for him/herself while the parent wants a mix of best for child vs. best for themselves. Getting good in-laws (as clan allies / business partners) seems like an obvious benefit. This seems like the only actually good argument from the ones discussed...
What if instead of having one decision maker (children) striking a very difficult balance between wealth and looks in an even handed way, nature selected form two different sets of decision makers (parents and children) each overweighing one factor and then negotiating and fighting between them to agree on a balancing point?
As a society, we often choose multiplayer balancing strategies instead of monoplayer balancing strategies. We don’t give judges the very difficult task of figuring out everything about a case and then find the right solution, but give two lawyers the task of overweighing the merits of two opposing solution and then give the judge the much less demanding task of choosing which side is most persuasive. We do this in politics, we do this in other domains.
Is it possible that natural selection uses multiplayer strategies too? Would this be some kind of co-evolution but of different roles within the same species rather than of different species?
In reference to, "A healthy person, breathing because their body instinctively demands oxygen...", I'll point out that the urge to breath comes from build-up of carbon dioxide, not lack of oxygen. I don't think it changes your point in this case, but is an interesting bit of physiology to know. It leads to shallow-water blackout, which I guess is a blind-spot in our evolution?
I've said for a while that a likely reason for always getting conservative advice from loved ones is: they share in your downsides more than your upsides. If you have mind-blowing sex with a hottie, that's awesome for you, but your parents (if cool) probably think "that's great how nice for him". But if you try meth and enjoy it and get addicted, fired, and become homeless, your parents are going to feel obligated to cancel some pleasant plans of their own and help you with your mess of a life (perhaps in perpetuity).
So one always picks the riskier/fun-er thing for oneself, and the safer/boring-er things for loved ones.
I recently watched a Netflix documentary called 'Our Father'. Short version: before sperm banks had everything well in order, some fertility doctors substituted their own sperm whenever they needed to. This resulted in large numbers of people discovering through mail-in DNA kits that their fertility doctor was their biological father and they had potentially dozens/scores of half-siblings in the local breeding pool.
(Note: the epilogue text says they've found 44 docs who've done this so far. I have not verified any of this. The show was clearly trying more to drum up viral controversy, so I wouldn't be surprised if mitigating circumstances for some/much of this was left out.)
The subject of the documentary is a well-recognized doctor, whom everyone said had a lot of the kinds of traits the parents should be looking for - smart, successful, well-regarded, etc. When they interviewed the women this had been done to, they universally said this was a huge problem because they wanted to option to give consent. In a few cases, husband's sperm wasn't cutting it, so the doctor substituted his sperm without telling anyone - only to have later DNA profiling reveal to ~35yo adults their true paternity.
Many of the children/mothers start a campaign to out the doctor, take away his status in the community, end his marriage, etc. Lots of outrage in the show, and a desire that the man get sent to prison. Literally looks like they're trying to reverse the traditional parents'-choice selection criteria, after the deed is done.
Wondering how you would fit this into your framework here? It subverts the parents' claim, because all the truth came out 30+ years after the fact. Subverts the good-looking adaptation-executor, because they already got their hot-husband the whole time they raised their kids but they're still mad. (Would be like going bare-back thinking you might conceive and excited by that, but later finding out she's on the pill - then saying the pleasure is retroactively ruined. Or alternately, landing the hot chick, but then when you find out she's pregnant trying to justify that naw, she wasn't that good looking after all.)
All of this sounds much more shallow/simple than the way I think and act. It doesn't resonate. Maybe there's more here than any of the current paradigms explains. Thoughts?
Isn't this uncertainty between the wisdom of our drives vs. our reason the essence of our humanity? I suspect it is the very reason we exist. We don't have the unconcern of the sparrow or the disregard of the lilies in the field. We must suffer through thinking and wondering whether thinking makes us better or worse off without ever knowing the answer. My guess is that this is the reason humans exist.
Just by introspection, it really doesn't seem like we have specialized mate-selection software for kin/allies, rather we just rely on type 2 style thinking (discernment). This isn't absent from personal mate selection, it just might be drowned out by type-1 style thinking (attraction) in many circumstances. But eventually the honeymoon period ends and you realize hey, maybe I don't want to marry this super hot person who is actually kind of boring and has a ton of debt.
My type-1 system chooses who I date (based on mainly appearance TBH), but ultimately my type-2 system decides whether or not to keep dating them based on other factors that a parent would probably also agree with. Ideally I will satisfice both for marriage, because the type 1 system can really mess stuff up if it doesn't get what it wants. (And, in my cultural milieu at least, parents strongly defer to this over their own considerations - e.g. "as long as they make you happy")
What is our theory about how evolution implements drives in the first place? And what is our theory about how life experience, ie learning, acts to implement these drives? I would have thought that a simple theory of primary and secondary reinforcers would work. Ie, A theory that posits a set of basic, 'hard wired' drives that appear in strongly in most animals. Food, sex, oxygen, freedom from pain, comfort and shelter etc are at that very basic level in that they require little or no learning to become a reinforcer of behaviour. Their capacity to immediately reinforce is 'wired in', presumably via the genome's influence on brain development. Then you hypothesise that some stimuli can acquire reinforcing properties through a learned association with these primary reinforcers. The point is that 'learned' or secondary reinforcers, cannot and will not be learned except through their association with a relatively small set of primary reinforcers. Social status for example, is a very powerful motivator of behaviour in apes and humans, but the signals associated with social status are often very subtle, and have to be learned. But how could they possibly be learned, except through their association with something which is already a reinforcer? Hence you conclude that the learned or secondary reinforcers only continue acting as reinforcers to the extent they continue to satisfy primary drives as the animal moves through its life.
So I end up endorsing some version of the boring hypothesis. As young adults, we find sexual attractiveness as a much stronger, more basic motivator than almost anything else. As an older person, for purely hormonal reasons, sexual attractiveness is not such a motivator anymore, but social status has lost none of its hold on me. Why does evolution arrange it that way, and not increase my testosterone supply instead of depleting it? The question almost answers itself. What need does evolution have for randy old people when it already has randy young people? Better to allow a graceful ramp down of the hormones, so that parents become helpers in their children's search for mates and status, rather than competitors.
I think "Caucasian liking Chinese women" might be covered elegantly under drives like 'novelty seeking' or 'ingroup vs outgroup preference.' i.e. A human starts by saying "this is what mom looks like" and then selects for or against that pattern based on hormones or mood or whatever.
Fetishes seem to be learned.
The classic theory of “mens rights” proponents is that the optimal evolutionary strategy is:
1. Marry the rich ugly doctor and make sure he takes care of you and your children
2. Sleep with the poor hot stud behind the scenes and make sure his superior genes are passed on
So effectively the theory claims that women are driven to cheat on their “beta” husbands with “alpha” males. Sometimes statistics are brought up claiming that 10% of all children are not genetically related to their supposed father, but I’m not sure how good this data really is. In fiction the classic example would be Jamie and Cersei Lannister.
If we assume this is true, then the two strategies make perfect sense:
- If both parents and daughters went for ugly doctors, hot studs would die out and increase risks for the tribe at times of war
- If both went for hot studs, rich doctors would die out and increase risks at times of peace
- If parents voted for hot studs but daughters wanted rich doctors, it wouldn’t make sense as the whole point is to get the rich doctor to commit
- So we end up with daughters wanting hot studs secretly while pushed by their parents to marry the rich doctor
Personally I think that this theory is kind of garbage but that’s because all of evolutionary psychology is very much questionable. But if we accept that evolutionary psychology is real, then it kind of makes sense.
One possible answer is that parents don't get to have sex and wake up next to and watch and generally be in love with whoever suitor they favour. You do. Parents are simply interested in their grandchildren turning out OK, that's their biological imperative, but you would like to have a good time also. Of course you could say that having a good time with your girlfriend should be correlated with her being a good mother and thus you and your parents are looking for the same thing and thus this post, but there is no reason to assume that good-time-fun-sex people are Actually Good Parents. Birth control and so on have demonstrated that humans have a pretty big desire to just have a good time and glance at a pleasant body.
There's another potential conflict. If you marry someone poor but hot, you're a lot more likely to need continued support from your parents than you are if you marry someone who's a good provider. Parents would rather someone else be responsible for taking care of their grandchildren. Their children get the benefits of a sexy lover but the parents pay more of the costs - a classic recipe for conflict if there ever was one.
You missed a pretty simple explanation because you assumed parents are selfless child evolutionary maximizers. It's just an alignment problem.
Imagine your two suitors, one a beautiful but poor young woman and the other a plain but wealthy young woman who's your father's business partner. Your parents might want you to marry the plain one because they can enjoy more benefits from the marriage. If you marry a beautiful young woman they get somewhat more fit (beautiful or w/e) grandchildren. But that's by no means certain. If you marry the rich young woman then you definitely get the wealth (which they can use in a way they can't use your love). And on top of that they get connections to their business partner which benefit them in various ways.
Marriage as a way to create bonds across coalitions is pretty standard sociological stuff. And often neither the man or woman involved really had much choice. We have pretty common stories of resistance or of marriages where the couple don't seem to really even trust, let alone like, each other. Sometimes with good reason!
The situation where parents have an only child and will never again have children is evolutionarily rare, since most people (certainly most men) died while still at child-birthing age, and most families had more than one child. So you can conceptualize the conflict between the parent and the child as a conflict between two individuals with different evolutionary goals, who happen to share half their DNA and be related to the same set of people, analogously to how you think about siblings. In this case I think there are simple reasons why the interests would not be aligned in mate selection. Parents want status and alliances for themselves and their family. Children want genetic fitness and status for themselves. The father wanting his daughter to marry the business partner is an obvious example where these two interests differ. More generally things like stability are good for family functioning and status among older people, whereas hotness of mate slightly increases evolutionary fitness and creates status for the individual.
While I agree that it's not productive to try to explain everything as adaptive, I think that a lot of default conflicts between parents and children follow a predictable pattern where parents care about family honor or stability, while children care about themselves. I think these are resonances of (evolutionarily) meaningful differences of interest in human societies.
The person making the decision is motivated by sexual attraction.
The parents are motivated by simple risk aversion.
Consider the (mother, father, suitor)-tuple as determining input on the suitor's choice. Wealth and visceral attaction are the only evolutionary relevant factors. But the suitor is in a far better position to evaluate the visceral attraction-part. The visceral attraction acts both a criterion, but also an incentive to act on the mating question at all. But there is no visceral drive to seek out wealth. So wealth is naturally underrated compared to visceral attraction in the suitor's preference system. To counteract this, wealth is overrated in the parents preference system.
If parents accounted perfectly correctly for the value of wealth, they'd not have enough inecentive to send a strong enough signal to the suitor to rebalance the process. Because the suitor will naturally discount parental signals over internal signals. So the conflict is not a bug, it's a feature so that the result averages out to a compromise.
How do we know evolution only took place on the individual level? History tells us not only about men and women fighting each other, but about armies fighting each other, killing or enslaving the losers and giving the winners resources to reproduce. As described by for example Peter Turchin.
So if Scott doesn't want to donate sperm in order to sire hundreds of children, that might be because groups of individuals who all strived for maximal reproductive opportunities for themselves were bad at forming armies and were extinguished by the less selfish men who became Scott's ancestors.
Societies consisting of men who intended to sire a few children and take good care of them were probably more successful than societies consisting of men who intended to sire hundreds of children that someone else would take care of. That way, there is an evolutionary logic behind Scott's lack of willingness to become the father of children he will never meet. Not siring an excessive amount on children is part of being a good citizen. And good citizens form strong states and strong armies, conquering the world.
What are the societies with parents who don't care where the other half of their grandkids genes come from?
> Imagine eg a human with a driving goal to have as many children as possible, who’s capable of thinking of things like donating lots of sperm to sperm banks. This is honestly the winning move in the evolutionary game, but humans haven’t been smart enough for long enough for evolution to instill something like this in us.
This is wrong in two very important ways.
First, in the specifics, humans already have this drive. Therefore there has obviously been enough time to instill the drive. There was a scandal not so long ago about an employee at a sperm bank who was discovered to have substituted his own sperm in place of most of the sperm clients thought they were getting. And Jeffrey Epstein was reported to have had an explicit goal of impregnating as many women as possible. This was generally reported in terms of "what a mentally deranged weirdo", despite the fact that it is the most evolutionarily normal goal conceivable.
Second, whether there's been time to instill the drive is not the right question. Humans already have the drive. But its prevalence is not what you might expect. Why?
The reason that drive is not very prevalent is that historically it wouldn't have accomplished much. The only evolutionarily useful drive is a drive that you can fulfill. If Jeffrey Epstein's stated goal had been to have sex with as many women as possible, no one would have called him a weirdo. But that's not because having sex with women is a better goal than impregnating them. It's worse! It's just because for almost all of history those were one and the same behavior, so there was very little reason (or ability) to target impregnation over sex.
“Maybe evolutionary imperatives aren’t fine-grained enough to tell parents to act one way if they have only one child, and another way if they have many children? That seems like a hard sell if you’re first claiming they are fine-grained enough to tell parents to act one way, and children another.“
Factually, children act different from adults. For instance : being rich makes you more attractive to other adults as a suitor.
I don’t buy the only-child objection. Do people not care about their great-grandchildren?
Agree with most points, just want to point out that the sperm bank thing might be an evolutionarily worse-than-it-appears strategy if the *thing being passed on* (and optimized over by evolution) is not just genes but the gene + accumulated-knowledge memetic structure, which you pass on to your children when you raise them (mannerisms, perspectives, opinions, etc).
This could contribute to explaining why the "want children but don't particularly care about wanton spreading of seed" drive of the author (which I think is quite common) hasn't been optimized into something else (despite other stronger reasons, like the relatively small timescale since which sperm-banks exist)
I think you dismiss Trivers theory too fast. A wealthy suitor is not only possibly helping your other children directly, he help them indirectly with 100% certainty: you do not have to worry (as much) about this particular child directly, it will not use your resources anymore so you can use those resources to help other children (including ones not yet born, if you are still at reproductive age).
This produce testable sex-asymmetric predictions: it's the resource-providing parent and/or the parent with the longer reproductive lifespan that should care the most about suitor wealth. I.E. the father, especially in male provider societies. Is it the case? Hell yes, it's a cliché in romantic comedies). It also predict parents will care much more about partner wealthiness for children not (yet?) wealthy, so young ones or ones who did not achieve material success. Is it true? I think so, for example the typical child whose potential partner get judged is a a young women. Not a middle-aged widowed son...
Women financial independence and later marriage should also decrease this effect, which indeed it does: In the social circles where women are wealthy and late-marrying (mostly well off western families), parent preference for wealthy mates (arranged marriage, in the most extreme form) is a thing of the past and even moral repulsion....
And finally, the effect (I will not have to spend resources on this child anymore, or even gain resources from him/her) is explicitly acknowledged by many if not most traditional cultures. In some sense, it's the whole point of marriage. So why not take them at face value?
In fact, you even have the meta optimizer implementing this global strategy: a hotness filter for partners (good genes) + a caring instinct for children + resource allocation algorithm ("fair" distribution based on needs/equality/genetic proximity balance). The higher wealth weighting by parents compared to childs is similar to child/parent difference of family resource distribution: child prefer an equal distribution (they would prefer to get most, but this is not viable as they are not controlling directly the distribution) and parents tends to distribute as needed even if it's not equal shares...Thinking more of this, it really favor Trivers hypothesis and maybe explain why you didn't find it so convincing: When thinking as parent providing children on a per-need basis, a non-wealthy suitor can be a net resource sink, which in fact is the biggest parent fear: a gold-digger leach that will consume family resource sucked through the "victim" child, not only jeopardizing this particular child future (grandchildren, more specifically) but the whole family. You could even push it further: the child favoring the hot suitor but still counting on a per-need family net is exploiting his siblings, in a cuckoo-esque genetic way....So much for romantic marriage ;-)
Appart from the joke, it's also a testable result: the siblings would be at least as much (if not more) critical of a hot but poor (and worse, likely gold-digger) suitor than the parents. Again, this seems spot on, both in real life and in romantic comedies...
This last effect is maybe what could tell models apart: siblings are around the same ages as the child choosing between hot and wealthy. "Hormones" and "Wisdom" theory suggest younger siblings will agree with "choose the hot one". "Family resource competition" (i.e. Trivers) predict it's those younger siblings which will advice the most for wealthy against hot.
Considering super scientific carefully factual evidences (romantic comedies and personal anecdotes ;-p ), I think Trivers wins hands down...
BTW, this would also predict that while parents want many grandchildren, children are not so hot on having many niblings. Sure, they are part-kinship but also reduce resources from your parents. I do not know if this effect is real, my family structure does not allows me to see it directly, and it would be quite selfish to admit (on the hot vs weatlhy, there is a wise and altruistic excuse ;-p ) so only anonymously-gathered preference could maybe tell...
I think your explanation is almost certainly right. Parents look at this as an optimization problem for "how do I ensure my child's happiness over the next 50 years, while also providing for him and the rest of his family," while suitors look at this as an optimization problem for "what makes me most happy right now." Suitors may try to focus on the latter but their lower-brain will definitely override that.
The question then becomes: Why are the parents the villains in all these stories? Why do we think people making decisions based on who they most want to bone right now are better at this than people taking the long view with the wisdom of age. Three possibilities IMO:
1) We're just wrong: Arranged marriages are often happier than chosen partner marriages, and divorce is higher in nations with less parental pressure re: who you marry. That... there are so many confounding variables there, but Occam's Razor says it's probably this.
2) We're wrong, except in the extremes: Arranged marriages produce 7/10 life goodness points on average, but often do much worse and almost never do better. Chosen partner marriages produce 4/10 life goodness points on average but occasionally score a perfect 10. When we write fiction, we like to fantasize about the perfect 10.
3) Parents aren't making a true judgment, they're just using a different, equally flawed optimizer: At one point social mobility was very difficult and so choosing a good partner from a good family was the only viable way to move up. Culture therefore ingrained the idea of "marry up" so strongly that it persists, even though that may not be the dominant strategy anymore. If this was true, you'd expect to see people returning to status as a proxy for partner value when social mobility goes down.
For the record, my Gen-Z friends (n=3) are way more likely to use earnings and social status as a dating criteria than people my age, and definitely are more likely to than my parents' generation (or at least they're more likely to admit it).
"So why is it traditionally the suitors who care about attractiveness and the parents who care about resources?"
I think it really does come down to "hormone driven". The parents of adult children (or children old enough to marry) should be at that stage in Hamlet "The hey-day in the blood is tame, it's humble/And waits upon the judgement" (however well that works out in practice) so they are looking at potential mates for their children in terms of "is this person a good provider/brings a large dowry? are they from a good family? will joining our families be to the benefit of both?" since they're invested in the long-term success of their genetic line.
The suitors/brides are at the stage of evolutionarily-driven "hot person, mate now!" drive to have children and to hell with 'does this person have the resources to support children', it's about immediate urges and gratification of same, *any* baby produced is a good baby at this level. We don't have children because we think they're cute, we have the reptile-brain "genital friction feel good" urge and if we go ahead with that, then before we figured out how to try and prevent pregnancy or terminate pregnancy if it happened or commit infanticide afterwards, children were the natural result of that. Then the 'urge to protect offspring' kicks in, because at the mammal stage we don't have 'hundreds of eggs laid and if enough hatch and survive to adulthood that keeps the species going' of other species. For humans, pregnancy and child-rearing is a big commitment.
Because we've got bits kludged on top of bits and we're intelligent *and* conscious, basic drives get over-ridden or diverted all the time (this is the whole impetus behind Freudian psychiatry, after all: how can the basic sexual instinct end up with fetishes and complexes? we don't get that with other drives like hunger or sleep). So the basic drive of "mate now" is still operating during peak reproductive years, but the complications on top turn that into "but only find tall Asian women in red bikinis arousing".
Your conclusion makes a lot of sense, but I would put a lot more weight on the parents' opinions because a lot of people just take the intuitive idea "good looks"="better genes" idea as proved beyond discussion, when it's not. As an ugly person with excellent health and two beautiful children in the 90th percentile in both athletics and school grades, I've always been suspicious of the idea that making you hot is simply nature's way of showing off your excellent genes. Human looks probably were such, a mere beauty contest, millions years ago, but evolution is tricky: I'd say human beauty is now a Keynesian beauty contest, in which the idea is not to look good, but to convey the idea that you are objectively good looking for a majority of viewers. For example, blue eyes give no genetic or visual advantage whatsoever and are very widely perceived as, ceteris paribus, more attractive and thus have been selected for exclusively on sexual grounds; even worse, women of several races have evolved neotenian traits to look younger to your sexual instinct when every other available evidence tells your they are older: not just blond, younger-girl hair among Caucasians, but more slender bodies with narrow, younger-girl hips (bad for childbirth!) among Asian women. None of these traits say "good genes!" They all say "genetic manipulation!" Women's well-attested attraction for high-testosterone idiots, preferably with a criminal record, is evidence that this trickery works both ways. One possible counter is that genes for traits like blue eyes are hooks that ensure other genes of yours will travel further (because they make your descendants more attractive) but this looks like an arms race where genes conveying pure sexual appeal with no fitness advantage and even some disadvantages (those narrow hips) appears to be gaining an edge.
>while missing a human-level goal of “maximize inclusive genetic fitness, eg by donating to sperm banks”
The human level is "listen to what the culture tells you". Like "The secret of our success" tells us, the culture is much smarter than individual humans, but while its development is immensely faster than evolutionary timescales, it's still slower than recent technological progress, so conventional wisdom still hasn't caught up with hip newfangled disruptions like sperm banks.
Question: do cultural practices have a place within the hierarchy of mesa-optimizers? For instance, the practice of marriage-arrangement has roughly the same goal as drive-motivated mate-seeking behaviour. But the practice does not connect to this goal through a neurologically thick drive the way mate-seeking behaviour does. That the practice is connected to this goal is determined in the way any practice is connected to a goal: by language, convention, tradition, i.e., social construction. Can practices, as social constructs, count as mesa-optimizers?
If my in-laws were gold diggers by proxy for their daughter, they have shockingly low standards.
A simpler explanation: suitor and parents both want a high-status mate, but society is such that different things confer status among different age groups. This change is driven at least in part by older cohorts being wiser and having less intense hormones. This explanation has the added benefit of showing why children and parents don't like the same movies, music, etc.
I think it’s relatively simple: the child falls in love based on their nature (evolutionarily coded preferences) and the feeling of love is so compelling that they will do away with any reasoned assessments of their suitor’s status or wealth or potential as a good parent.
The parent naturally loves their kid, but has no deep reason-annihilating feelings about their various suitors, so they assess the suitors consciously, based on how they think that mate will impact their kid’s future. Do they have a good job, are they responsible, yadda yadda.
Evolution programs the child to fall in love with the suitor, and programs the parent to love the child, and naturally they will have different preferences for the child’s mate as a consequence.
Two things to add. First, our evolution differs enough from primates to have selected for menopause, so fitness of the grandchildren outweighs one near-universal imperative at least. Longer developmental cycles mean that once the hormones are out of the way the status is paramount.
Second, the status hierarchies are very different for paramours and their parents. Parent status goes up dramatically with "my kid is marrying a doctor"; a lot more so than "my kid's fiancé is really hot!". This is obviously downstream of the above factor.
The suitors' status hierarchy focuses a lot more on looks though. For one thing, most 20-somethings are very tightly stratified economically so looks make up a higher weighting of the status function. For another thing, 20-somethings are a lot hotter than 50-somethings, generally.
> while his parents try to force him to marry the plain-faced daughter of their business partner.
I think even this short and hypothetical intro holds an important clue. What if the parents care about their *own* business?
Then 'Everyone involved (evolutionarily) wants the same thing: lots of healthy, successful descendants.' would not apply, at least not as 'single' or 'most important' motivation.
That's the reason, why this whole example doesn't work very well, at least in my perception.
I have an alternate explanation of the "young man/woman -vs- their parents" question which I think is substantiatively different from the ones that have been proposed so far. The young man/woman and their parents are optimizing for roughly the same thing, but only coincidentally; they're each following 'programs' set by entirely separate mechanisms, which have converged to roughly the same place but from very different directions.
The young man/woman, obviously, is following regular evo psych dicta handed down by our [pre-]primate ancestry; seek out someone tall/strong and/or wide-hipped/large-breasted. The youth is mostly trying to get laid, and while this pursuit is channeled through cultural norms, getting laid is a game that our lizard brain is programmed to understand very well.
The parents are playing a much more abstract game, so the best their lizard brain can do to them is perhaps the general impulse "your kids are important, do well by them." Bereft of biological imperatives telling them how to accomplish this, they fall back on the next best thing; the complex of customs, habits, expectations et al coming in from the ambient culture. Importantly, the culture the parents find themselves in is a culture perpetuated by humans who have managed to survive and perpetuate their culture, and (if they're not on the absolute bottom rung of society) do so while maintaining some set of advantages. Cultures that survive in this way therefore tend to contain norms and habits which lead to their humans surviving and maintaining those advantages. Obviously I'm talking about "cultural evolution." One highly-adaptive custom, for some cultures, turns out to be that of parents actively ensuring that their kids marry someone able to help them maintain the hallmarks of their class. A youth in a privileged class who marries some awful punk, in contrast, is liable to fall out of that class (and thereby be lost to that class' culture.)
The two kinds of evolution have, in this case, converged on roughly the same objective - make sure the youth is paired with a high-quality partner, for very roughly similar concepts of "high-quality." But the tools available to biological and cultural evolution are very different - biological evolution can't (?) instill complex social ideas, cultural evolution can't (?) reprogram humans' lizard brain, etc - and this explains all the differences in how the two drives manifest themselves.
Enjoyed the back and forth on this. I'm curious to know how this varies across cultures and sub-cultures. For example, my mother and her social circle would place an absolute top priority on shared religious and cultural values. This still reads like some sort of evolutionary maximization (it involves a lot of very specific having and rearing children related considerations) but very differently from the "rich doctor" approach.
Concerning the issue whether parent-offspring conflict exist at all in humans, there are studies that suggest it does, like this study by anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1618655114
Chagnon studied the Yanomamö horticulturalists of Brazil and Venezuela. Among the Yanomamö, cross-cousin marriage is a social ideal. Chagnon found that people who married their cousins had slightly fewer children and children who suffered from inbreeding depression. Still, parents who made their children marry their cousins had more grandchildren. Cousin marriage apparently helped grandparents to arrange better marriage deals for their average child. Marrying your cousin seems to be slightly bad for you in the (male) Yanomamö world, but potentially great for your brothers.
"there’s no evidence at all that these animals’ parents play much of a role."
This paper is a dead link, but I would be confused if ape parents were totally apathetic about who their children mate with, in spite of it having very serious reproductive consequences for millions of years.
I'll bet if a mommy chimp sees her daughter daughter getting raped by a low-status male, she is very unhappy about it, and if she doesn't beat him up it is only because the male is stronger than her. But why evolve an emotion unless it can motivate you to take action that increases inclusive fitness? If chimp mothers are powerless to protect their children from adult males, that might explain apathy. Chimp fathers have no idea who their children are. If they had paternity certainty, they would probably quickly evolve an instinct to intervene when their daughters are raped.
> It’s the same reason why porn sites have lots of material about people copulating with high-quality mates, but none about people finding high-quality mates for their children. “POV: WATCH YOUR DAUGHTER MARRY RICH DOCTOR”. Evolutionarily it makes sense, but the urge isn’t implemented on that level.
There is *definitely* material oriented towards these desires, it's just not marketed towards you. There's whole genres of literature centering middle-aged women and their desires, and while the personal desire for a handsome sexy man is definitely there, "my daughter also gets married to a handsome sexy man" is quite prevalent as well. Some examples:
- Cheese Shop mystery series: https://www.goodreads.com/series/52392-a-cheese-shop-mystery
- Mystery Shopper series: https://www.orderofbooks.com/characters/josie-marcus-mystery-shopper/
- The whole "hidden object" game series has a lot of these themes as well.
According to "Women and Men in Film" - https://www.jstor.org/stable/189696 (You can get free access with a JSTOR account.) - women screenwriters were pretty common during the silent era, but by the mid-1930s they were moved into women's films and doing fix up work rather than feature writing. A few women screenwriters, e.g. Anita Loos, started in the silent era and kept going, but women were much less common by the 1930s. I had assumed that the transition was later. Thanks for getting me to dig this up.
I really don't have much else at the moment. I do know that soap operas are often written by women. They're low status, so it's sort of a ghetto.
I sometimes wonder if humans' desire to have children is a recent revolutionary response to early forms of birth control. Is there any evidence that animals other than humans actually want to have children, before they have children?
The solution to the problem seems fairly clear to me: the parents don't get to have sex with their children's mates. Attractive in-laws bind the parents' genes to healthy genes, but without satisfying the reproduction drive that proxies for that goal. The kids get genes + resources + pleasure, so they weight attractiveness relatively high. The parents get genes + resources, so they weight attractiveness substantially lower.
I feel like you are coming very, very close to saying this in parts of the essay, but you never quite spell that concept out so explicitly.
This looks like good old-fashioned parent-offspring evolutionary conflict. Suitors can get money from their parents if they need it, but the parents would rather not have to pay.
Once grandchildren are born, grandparents are obliged by evolution to help them, including financially. But they prefer to have independently wealthy grandchildren, so they can afford to have more grandchildren total.
Large muscles or big breasts are obviously selected for because they led to offspring survival in the past. But *now* those traits seem to mostly select for good sex.
I don't know if this discrepancy existed 20,000 years ago, but right now it seems like a clear case of suitors selecting for good sex, and parents selecting for good offspring. If we're looking for an evolutionary reason why that would be the case I think we're missing the point.
A part of the traditional narrative is that you support your children when they are young and they support you when you are old. And many of these narratives are very traditional. Having your children select for status/success means that they will be more able to care for you when you are old. Seems like simple selfish desires from that perspective. You could probably tie in something about how survival of people past reproductive age was beneficial to the society (child rearing, knowledge transmission, etc) so selecting for elder care is more beneficial to gene lines than selecting for reproduction.
Another line is a lot of these traditional narratives ALSO show the parents to be somewhat selfish: don't just marry a successful businessperson, but specifically the child of the businessman (or state) we want to acquire/merge/make peace with.
So now, even if adults aren't thinking about their future caretakers (and I've known a few who are) they could still maximizing the adaptation of "secure resources to take care of me".
I think it's entirely plausible that the evolutionary drive in play here is the parents' desire for their children to flourish and thrive, and that "marry someone wealthy" is a culturally-constructed definition of success that determines what the drive "want your children to thrive" manifests as.
You might say "why don't parents just want their children to be wealthy without children" but I think a second-order consideration is that parents have a drive to have children, and so their culturally-constructed definition of "thriving" also bakes in having children as part of this; it's what everybody in every culture (prior to some 20th-century cultures) does when they are thriving. I think this is supported by the recent development of cultural acceptability for not having children; if this were a base evolutionary drive and not an expression of a cultural norm, I think there would not be so many couples that are completely fine with the choice of not having children.
I'm not really sure now plausible it is that parents have an evolutionary drive for grandchildren (distinct from the above direct pro-natal drives); were grandparents a significant part of the ancestral environment? I've not heard much discussion about grand-parental relationships in primates, though it seems like there are some examples in nature (e.g. https://www.livescience.com/64951-do-any-animals-know-grandparents.html). Maybe there is room for a benefit for encoding a special set of "grandparent behaviors" but I'm not sure how important this bit is.
> I tend to think that a few million years between primates without parental mate choice and the current day might not be enough time to give people really good innate parental mate-choice instincts.
Why do you say that? A few million years sound like a pretty long time. Do you have good intuition for how many generations it takes evolution to develop an innate instict of complexity X for a goal of evolutionary benefit Y? I often struggle with this when assessing evolutionary psychology claims, which often assume a sort of steady state of evolution fully converged to optimal adaptiveness (in the ancestral environment). Some people say evolution is pretty fast, and can instill instincts for cultural stuff within a few thousand years, some people seem to imply it's very slow.
What I suppose many have not considered is that this decoupling of sex drive and children is creating huge selection pressure for something other than sex drive (or in addition). Given some population with some inherited variance in the propensity to have kids, then the ones have the inherited propensity to have kids will be (probabilistically) more represented in the next generation. And that propensity will have greater representation in the next generation. At the meta level, the global population might plummet for two or three generations, but then it will bounce back. (Making huge assumptions about the magnitude of the selection pressure. But if the pressure is lower then the rate of population change is lower.)
Not entirely related to the subject of the post, but I wonder why sexual attraction is always framed as "people want to mate with pretty people because they're more likely to have many, healthy children" and not "people want to mate with pretty people because their children with them are more likely to be pretty, making it easier to spread their own genes"?
In other words, a peacock tail is, as far as I'm aware, completely useless and even actively detrimental for the well-being of the individual who has it. Why then is a pretty face considered some sort of signaling of health instead of our own version of a peacock tail?
I'm a fan of a few simple explanations, which iirc were offered in the original article:
1. The difference in preferences between suitors and parents re: attractiveness isn't as big as we believe, because it is weird for parents to comment excessively on the looks of their child's partner. My grandmother had virtually no filter, and she would comment frequently on the looks of the partners of all her descendants, making it obvious their attractiveness mattered to her.
2. Parents don't have to have sex with their child's partner, so they won't directly benefit from their attractiveness to the extent that their child will. Likewise, they will benefit from their child's partner's status and resources.
To, like everybody else here, massively overthink this, I think it's as much about economics of Jane Austin's day as anything else. Romance novels were written by people for whom the effective intergenerational transfer of wealth was the only thing keeping their descendants out of grinding poverty. The world has since changed but the tropes haven't.
Men prefer masculine expressions but what these expressions are differ between cultures. So, cultural desires (mimesis?) need to be vague and have learning-input. Perhaps status signals are culturally variable and thus cannot be encoded directly (so no ”your daughter marry a doctor”-porn).
Also, humans tend towards the eusocial spectrum. Eusociality can be defined as the extent to which females give up reproduction. Human females, like orcas, do that by having a non fertile period at the end of their lifespan when they care for their grandchildren. No other primates go through menopause. Humans get pretty old considering our body size and are viable at old age considering mutation/selection-balance.
If menopause is a late invention evolutionarily, perhaps it had been instilled in us after cultural evolution and the culture-gene-coevolution really kicked in. To place status-recognition in a meta-adaptation would be more flexible and also an exaptation of other status-recognition-tools that should be relevant as soon as we became cultural primates in addition to social ones.
So, parents just follow the mimesis imperative - they crave what others crave, but for their kids and grandkids, and follow specific cultural cues indicating status. While suitors are more directly hardwired to find-and-fuck.
Actually, this looks like a good place to comment on something I've been thinking about off and on for a while.
Children frequently spontaneously express the belief that if they are left alone in the dark, they will be eaten by monsters. The belief is obviously innate; modern parents find it annoying and, if they address it at all, generally do their best to eliminate it.
What's interesting to me is that (1) this belief is quite correct [https://www.mural-wallpaper.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/S-AN42.jpg depicts a monster]; and (2) it would be difficult to have learned this information through experience. (Including the sense in which evolution itself is a process of learning through experience.) Organisms who encountered, and were eaten by, monsters, would not have been able to pass anything down. Organisms who avoided monsters could of course pass their genes along, but why did the specific belief evolve that the problem with being alone in the dark is specifically that monsters will eat you? There is an infinite space of beliefs that will lead you to avoid being alone in the dark, including a generalized sense that being alone is bad (which children *also have*) without any supporting details. The world is full of people who will happily tell you that their instinctive, unjustified fears are powerful enough to absolutely prohibit them from doing something they fear.
“Maybe evolutionary imperatives aren’t fine-grained enough to tell parents to act one way if they have only one child, and another way if they have many children? That seems like a hard sell if you’re first claiming they are fine-grained enough to tell parents to act one way, and children another”
Surely this misses the point; evolution is stochastic, and traits stick and proliferate because they confer an advantage that increases the proportion of gene carriers in the population pool, until the gene fixes. So, advise children on optimal mates to optimise for grandchildren ---> higher fecundity, more healthy adult kids, more offspring, higher representation in the gene pool. BUT, optimise mate selection for attractiveness IF there is only one child? How likely is that to have happened that (i) there were human/ primate parents of only one offspring, AND (ii) there was a random genetic mutation event in those specific parents that solved for single-child mate-selection optimisation AND (iii) that optimisation was actually significantly better than just the “higher total fecundity based on total grandchildren pool” such that it proliferated in the population (hard to do with only one child...) and then fixed to replace the other, more general but probably more effective and evolutionary significant principle?
Not sure why that doesn’t make sense...
What am I missing?
I always thought that it was a self-preservation thing. If the children marry successful spouses then it’s more likely the parents will be better taken care of in old age. Grandparents do great childcare for their grandchildren when they are less financially burdened. If the spouse is successful, it will trickle up (in traditional families) to the parents and contribute to the wellbeing of their grandchildren.
This is overthought. Suitors and parents have different preferences about mates for the same reason (and preference result) that college students and parents have different preferences about students' college majors. The practical implications of wealth/jobs are obvious to parents, and less so to students/suitors who haven't really seen the full implications of money. Also the parents don't get to enjoy the benefits of the suitor/student preference (sex with a hot person / thrills of an intellectual major with no practical value) so of course they downweight those. Also older people have lower time preference. Evolutionary psych is powerful but the really is no reason to invoke it here when regular reasons are good enough.
"Sexual attractiveness and financial resources both contribute to that some amount, but suitors and parents shouldn’t differ on the relative importance of each? So why is it traditionally the suitors who care about attractiveness and the parents who care about resources?"
I don't think this is terribly hard to explain. Attractiveness can be directly determined from sensory data, matched against hardwired heuristics in the brain. Financial resources, requires specific culture-dependent knowledge - and if there's anything hardwired into the human brain to guesstimate how rich someone is, it's probably still "he's big and tall and muscular so probably a good hunter plus he can beat people up and take their stuff". Maybe a side order of "he has a deep commanding voice so he can probably get his friends to help him beat up other people and take their stuff".
Adolescents and young adults, by definition, have very little experience making adult decisions and learning from their mistakes. Their parents, by definition, do. And if they're still around eighteen or so years later to marry off their healthy children, then they probably don't suck at it.
Rational thought based on lots of experience trumps simple but time-tested instinctive heuristics, which trumps rational thought based on complete ignorance. Since some but not all children will have parents around to help them with mate selection (and other things), it makes sense for evolution to have given everyone a simple set of instinctive heuristics to determine "attractiveness" from direct sensory data, and also given people the ability to override instinct with reason as their experience base increases(*).
Whether that last comes from strength of reason increasing with knowledge, or strength of reason increasing with time and it's expected that time + not dead yet = you've learned some valuable lessons, or strength of instinct decreasing with time and/or wisdom, is negotiable. But it's almost a cliche that hormonal impulses become less powerful with age.
* Which is valuable for many reasons beyond choosing your kids' mates, but that's the subject at hand here.
Parents want a high status and wealthy son/daughter in law to obtain some of that status and wealth for themselves (and maybe for the grandchildren). Meanwhile, the person actually marrying wants personality and physical attraction because they have to spend every day with that person. Pretty simple.
My just so story, which I don't believe for a minute, but which I think explains the data adequately.
Let's say parental preferences in the ancestral environment determine who you marry 65%, and who you sleep with 50% (with most of that effect on who you sleep with mediated through marriage). Your preferences determine the rest. In marriage you should weight things 60-40 status/looks whereas in sex you should weight things 40-60 status-looks.
Because parental preference has a slightly greater relative effect on marriage rather than sex, it's built to focus somewhat on optimal preferences for marriage. Because the agent's own desires tend to have a bit more of a relative effect on sex, they are built to be optimal for sex. The conjunction of the two desire sets lead, in expectation, to optimal marriage and optimal casual sex behavior.
Hence the result.
"Ondine's Curse"? Are there many other ailments that sound like D&D spells?
It feels like the further we get from the original rationalist community, the more we rehash the argument that was cleared up in 'adaptation-executers not fitness-maximizers'
Why are there so many people in the comments saying things like 'if the parents got to have sex with the hot guy they might feel differently' (as if his hotness is an innate attribute of him, with no 'why?' possible), or people literally complaining that ascribing behavior to evolution without evidence is unscientific, as if there were some possible source for new behaviors other than evolution
Parents figured out (from experience) the most useful features to bring up offspring. They'll prioritize people with those features, because they know that it is much more difficult to make a functioning adult out of a baby, than to make the baby.
Also, there are thresholds. If the potential mate is obviously defective, the parents will have reservations. But otherwise, as long as the babies have decent survival capability, the upbringing they receive will matter more for their own reproductive potential, than a slight advantage in primal hotness.
Movie pitch: "Saw" only with Ondine instead of Jigsaw. Ondine is an ASMR-tist who operates on people's brains to knock out their breathing reflex. Then they have to go through a series of sleep-inducing challenges like make-up sessions, cranial nerve examinations, scalp massages, etc. in order to gain access to a respirator.
I think parents using human reason might be part of the explanation here but probably their own status is a bigger effect.
Given that parents don't experience a specific hormonal response to the hotness of their child's spouse they could fall back on:
explicit reason to improve their descendant's status
instinct to improve their own status
Using explicit reason might make parents prefer status over hotness for their child's spouse depending on how the explicit reasoning went. Using instinct to improve their own status would cause them to prefer status for their child's spouse as this gives them a potential alliance with a high status family which in turn raises their own status.
Given the frequency and strength of such disagreements I don't think that explicit reasoning can be the whole story - executing personal status adaptions seems like a bigger effect to me.
>> we have our two categories of positive traits: attractiveness and status.
I wonder if a plausible argument could be made that attractiveness is actually just another *kind* of status, and the disjunct between parents and children really is based on them operating in different status-subcultures.
Different sub-cultures assign different weights to different status-markers. Writing an influential law review article could mean a lot at the right conference of law professors, but if you're backstage with NY Philharmonic not so much.
So in that light, maybe it's not a question of "attractiveness" versus"status," but that "young-people status culture" and "old people status culture" assign different status-points to "physical attractiveness" and "income," respectively. So both the young bachelor(ette) and the parents are doing the same status analysis, but the bachelor(ette) is more likely to be wowed by the charisma factor while the parents are more likely to be wowed by the dollar signs.
And just as a fun side-note, looking at it that way you can sort of read "status" another dimension of "attractiveness," so maybe we could fold this in the other direction too. Monkeys are complicated.
I was surprised to see a selfish drive of the parents not highlighted.
For all but the wealthy, the younger generation is to some degree responsible for the care of their parents as they age. The quality of that care has a *very* strong relationship with the financial resources of their kids. Parents prefer wealthy sons- and daughters-in-law because it is likely to improve their own quality of life - that seems a simpler explanation.
One could ask why that preference remains for the wealthy parents, but I'd argue that the level of wealth that makes this a non-factor for parents has only recently been available to a chunk of society. The long-standing pattern, still mostly true, is that *extremely few people* have a level of wealth where gaining a doctor as a son-in-law doesn't improve their prospects for high quality care as they age.
When you pick a mate for yourself, you're optimizing for someone you're going to look at, talk to, and probably touch intimately nearly every day for the rest of your life. Ideally, someone who you can share your weirdest sexual fantasies and your scariest psychological issues with comfortably. (And it might well be perfectly rational to pattern-match those constraints to "tall Asian woman in red bikini" or whatever, by the way, given the right sequence of input data.)
When you pick a mate for your children, you're optimizing for someone you might talk to once a year at Christmas, and can feel comfortable showing pictures of to your friends at the senior center.
So if parents and children are optimizing for fundamentally things anyway, then it doesn't seem particularly surprising that they'll come to different conclusions, regardless of what class of reasoning they might be using to get there.
Is this post trolling? I am genuinely confused. Scott is using evo-psych mental kung-fu to execute a double backwards flip over the most obvious, probable and empirically verifiable explanation:
My father-in-law and mother-in-law are preoccupied with my status and not my hotness because they have no prospect of having sex with me. My mate, on the other hand, does.
Everything else is extra unnecessary detail. The only evo-psych you could possible shove into this explanation is "people like to associate with people with high status" and "people like to have sex even more than they like to associate with people with high status".
I think there is an even bigger element here: young people are trying to produce the most fit offspring (thanks hormones!), while older people want their children have a good life. A young woman going for a young man who is hot-tempered and reckless will likely result in children who're also more aggressive and prone to taking risks, which is a desirable quality from the point of view of evolution. But it will also be a harder life for the woman.
And it doesn't just apply to giving advice to your children: it's often said that women in their thirties and forties have less interest in dating "bad boys" and more interest in the "rich layer" type. Or more realistically, a "comfortable accountant" type.
It's similar to how younger men are more likely to take risks, to push boundaries and to commit crime. It's good for the species (or used to be), as evolution is fine if 20% of young people sacrifice themselves to foolish enterprises and perish, if another 10% do the same and succeed. But not a smart choice for the individual. (Thanks hormones!)
"but none about people finding high-quality mates for their children. “POV: WATCH YOUR DAUGHTER MARRY RICH DOCTOR”." - A rule 34 violation! (Is that the internet equivalent of discovering a parity violation? :-) )
Parents must survive to their offspring's sexual maturity to have any direct influence on their partner choice. Their very presence in this process is a signal of an environment where long term survival is possible and thus long-term planning has potential utility.
The reverse implies offspring without parental figures would be more likely to prefer short term reproductive strategies.
Its hard to imagine 'older nobleman/doctor/engineer' in the classless society of paleolithic hunter-gatherers. Status and money are today's addition to the mating strategies of Homo Sapiens, children became the property of their parents as well as the commodity on a marriage market since producing economy. G. Miller's in his brilliant "The Mating Mind" unravels this pretty well.
On a somewhat related tangent... People who don’t want to have kids usually don’t have them. People who don’t have kids will not be the ancestors of future people. So whatever traits are associated with wanting to have kids will become more common.
The problem of plummeting birth rates will solve itself eventually, and with strong selection pressure, evolution can happen much more quickly than previously thought.
If anti-natalists ever get on your nerves, you can smugly think: if you don’t think you should reproduce, who am I to argue? You’re doing your part to ensure there will be less people like you for my descendants to put up with, so you do you I guess. 😁