Friday, May 12, 2006

Science - Put The Theory Down Gently and Back Away From This Idiocy Slowly

The following article comes directly from the Chicago Tribune (my efforts at linkiness are really terrible - I need to sign up for remedial linkage - trust me on the source for this article or you could do what I did and google chicago tribune to find this story for yourself:

Scientists in Chicago and California photographed men's faces and asked women to rate them on whether they seemed to like children, on their masculinity, on their physical attractiveness and on whether they seemed kind.

Then the women rated them on their potential as long- and short-term lovers.

The masculine men—those with a large jaw, prominent cheekbones, straighter eyebrows, thinner lips and a heavy beard—were found to be attractive as short-term romantic partners. But for long-term relationships, women were more drawn to men who they thought were interested in children.

The study indicates male hormone levels and affinity for children may play a role in determining how attractive men are to women—albeit on a subconscious level.

"Our data suggest that women are picking up on facial cues that may be related to paternal qualities," said the lead author of the paper, James Roney of the University of California, Santa Barbara. "The more they perceived the men as liking kids, the more likely they could see having a long-term relationship."

The women were surprisingly adept in being able to read subtle sexual signals, Roney said. The study's female subjects accurately determined from the photos which men had high testosterone levels—they perceived the men as more masculine. They also could pick out the men who had expressed the most interest in children.

"Our study shows that women don't just look for masculinity; they also see cues for interest in infants, and they're very accurate in judging both," said Dario Maestripieri, a behavioral biologist at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study, which appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, a British scientific journal.

"They're attracted to one or the other, depending on whether they're interested in a short-, or long-term partner."

The research suggests that our behavior may be affected by genetic programming that evolved to increase survival of the species, said Dr. Daniel Alkon, scientific director of the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute in Morgantown, W.Va., and Washington.

"It looks like all of us are responding to many non-verbal cues and pieces of information of which we're not really conscious that may have some origins in the hardwired parts of the brain," Alkon said.

For example, hormones that circulate in the body can have a profound impact on behavior, he said.

"What's really quite amazing is that women actually can detect aspects of men and their attitudes by looking at pictures of facial expressions," said Alkon, who was not involved in the research. "But there's evolutionary value in doing this. It's important for a woman to choose a mate that's going to help her have children and will have a survival value for the whole species.

"Something that seems like our own voluntary choice is not so voluntary, after all."

In the new study, researchers measured the testosterone levels of 39 male undergraduate students at the University of Chicago, based on saliva samples.

They determined the men's affinity for children by asking them to choose between photos of an adult or a baby and to rate their interest.

The researchers stressed that they have no idea whether the men who expressed more interest in children would actually turn out to be good fathers.

Photos of the men were then shown to 29 female students at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

It makes sense that these women tended to be drawn to the more masculine men as short-term romantic partners, the researchers said, because high-testosterone males have a better ability to fight off disease and some of their children would be likely to inherit the trait.

But although masculine-faced males might have good genes, they are seen as poor parents.

Conversely, more feminine-faced males are perceived as better parents and better long-term partners.

Earlier studies have shown that women are attracted to more masculine-looking men at the most fertile time of their menstrual cycles. During less fertile times, they choose men with more feminine faces, who are seen as kinder and more cooperative but less fit and healthy genetically.

The researchers can only guess what aspects of the men's faces clued in the women about their interest in children. Maestripieri said "it might have to do with a more rounded face, a gentler face"; Roney speculated it might be their facial expressions.

When five female graduate students were asked to rate whether the men looked angry or happy--even though the men had been instructed to maintain a neutral look--the men interested in children were perceived to have a happier or more contented expression.

"Women's ability to estimate men's interest in infants from face photographs is perhaps the most novel finding to emerge from the study," the researchers wrote.

I know, people. Trust me - this is not an article that one can read with a straight face :wipes tears of mirth from cheeks while continuing to chortle madly:

Random elements struck me while reading this article:

1. Scientists actually submitted a grant for funding of this particular study, and received said funding. In academia today the likelihood of doing this all on one's scientific lonesome is slim to none. One wishes one were a fly on the wall at either the scientist end or the dollar granting end - either situation is primed to produce comedy gold.

2. Actual scientists actually assumed that actual biological imperatives drive actual women to make actual decisions about actual male partners. And in many of their conclusions, "researchers could only guess". Honestly, ya think? They used a sample size of 39 men and 5 women - you can prove a theory with this tiny sample?

3. I keep wishing this were an article in The Onion - "Dudes Who Look More Like Women Not Only Get Laid But Become Dads".

"But there's evolutionary value in doing this. It's important for a woman to choose a mate that's going to help her have children and will have a survival value for the whole species. Something that seems like our own voluntary choice is not so voluntary, after all."
Whoo doggie, restrain me from doing some serious re-adjustment here. How about trying this on for size: a woman chooses a mate based on friendship, companionship, world view compatability, and sexual attraction? By the way, isn't this exactly how a man might possibly choose a mate? Or, to get completely perverse, how a human being regardless of its gender might choose a mate?

Alert the media - humans have been heard from and they dislike this crappy study immensely.

I'm sorry, Science. This is a situation where you have gone right off your rocker. In the beginning of our glorious 21st century, there is no biological imperative to breed , and anyone who tells you otherwise is a perfect asshat.

However, I do not deny the existence of some pretty intense societal, familial and traditional pressures that are more influential in a woman's decision to have a child than any biological tick tock.

Any vestige of a biological imperative is doing its best to die out generation by generation. Most of the young women I know who are in their 20's and early 30's would as soon light themselves on fire than have a child - a good many because the time isn't right for them. Some refrain because they're not convinced parenting is the ultimate destination for them. These women freely confess that they may change their minds when they reach their late 30's, but it won't be because of a biological "sell by" date. It will be because their circumstances and marital status will have changed, or they have decided that the societal pressures they face aren't pressures at all. Not a single one of them believes in a biological clock.

Science, when it isn't off making itself terribly giddy over craptastic studies like this one, does have a point when it publishes studies that show how women's fertility rates change as they age. That's based on hard science and biological changes fall firmly in the "duh" category. But this lame excuse that some mystical "hard wiring in the brain" that can't be identified has the jumbo cojones to override any identifiable sense a woman might possess.

Much has been made of womens' biological clocks, but I assert that I've stood outside that clock tower for all of my life with exceedingly faint interest in what's happening inside. Perhaps I mistook the craving to reproduce with the more compelling craving to enjoy my life and blithely ignore societal pressure.

I just hate these kinds of studies that ultimately lead to these sorts of articles. I can only laugh at them because they are just so very wrong, so very misguided, but I end up weeping just a little because they are also so pervasive -and because damnit - in the name of my beloved Science this dreck is getting funded and published.

And because some perfectly innocent young woman will read this puerile drivel and mistake it for something it isn't, and she'll end up thinking she has to be a mother even though that person would be completely foreign to her true nature. I'm not against reproducing [thinks wildly of a flame war with wee group of readers] and parenting is cool and all, but do it because you really truly want to do it, not because you think you have to or your spouse is pushing you.

Otherwise, I'm afraid you'll be setting yourself up for gallons of Fresh Hell.


Blogger Stoic said...

WOW! You mined this one.

I had read an article on the study elsewhere, and simply filed it away under "trousered apes"- another datum showing how fragile rationality really is.

You, rightly, find the amusement that they actually fund this stuff (another example of typical 'social science': the great scene in Ghostbusters where Dan Murray is testing for ESP), amazement that anyone takes the results seriously, and anger at the hidden premise of an imperative to breed. THIS is why I read your stuff.

8:50 AM  
Blogger spike said...

I came across your terrific analysis through a link at Carnival of Feminists XV hosted by Holly. I saw this same story in The Economist here.

It may seem like a big leap, but it does not surprise me that this kind of study is being funded now and I'm afraid that a fly on the wall would not find much comedy but would find a good deal of Orwell. Biometrics are huge again thanks to the war on terror. The idea that physical types could be used to predict behaviour, and thus sort people and regulate society, has a frightening history in nineteenth century race theory. Phrenologists believed you could tell a criminal by the patterns of bumps on the head. All of this was discredited not just because of the racist overtones but because it was bad science. But it all came back in full confidence when security corporations and surveillance experts found huge markets for iris scanners and computer programs for analyzing gait (terrorists walk funny, don't you know). Well, if biology is destiny after all, maybe "evolutionary psychologists" could get back in the game as well? This study was probably a preliminary one, intended to show a granting agency that a very large grant should be made to organize a large sample. The findings will probably be useful for insurance companies and so I can see how this nonsense could get large funding. All I can say now is: if you participate in this kind of study, lie to the people in the white coats.

4:27 AM  
Blogger Miliana said...

Thanks for reading and commenting - I agree with you that this egregious study is probably part of something wider. And of course, wrapping it in the chocolately goodness of our never ending never winnable war on terror ensures its continued existence.

While heaving an enormous sigh, I must admit that it just never fails to chap my ass to see this stuff.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Kaz said...

Science has never been protected against infallibility, probably because the broad field of 'science' is inhabited by less than broad minded humans who wouldn't recognized their own stupidity if it were slapped in their faces like the poop it is.

This particularly 'scientific study,' and I use the term with tongue firmly entrenched in cheek, has about as much value and appeal to the rational mind as smearing fecal material on canvas and calling it 'art.'

We have certainly regressed from the Age of Enlightenment. We're now in the Age of Total Stupidity.

1:17 PM  

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