Sunday, October 13, 2013

Evolution and the Rise of Bad Boy Success

The NY Times has an op-ed piece by some folks who used some fancy modeling to argue that the preference of girls/women for bad boys is a product of evolution.  The basic argument is that where there is pretty common behavior across a species, there might be an evolutionary logic to it.  They essentially argue that unlike any other species, the parents of the potential reproducers matter, as they want their kids to succeed.  So, when their girls marry lousy guys, they will subsidize those girls more to ensure the success of the family/genes.  This then gives either incentives for girls to mate with the bad boys or provides a moral hazard situation where bad choices are insured.

Sure, this has an intuitive appeal to those of us who are not bad boys and found ourselves losing in the dating games to such guys.  Actually, I am pretty sure in my case in my teen years that losing was over-determined--desperation does not smell good.  Anyhow, this piece will get heaps of play, and it should do so for one reason and not so much for another.

The bright side of this piece is that scientists were able to take their hunk of abstract research published someplace peer reviewed and turn it into a digestible hunk that ended up in a visible place.  This is a good model for dissemination (knowledge mobilization). 

The dark side of this piece is that agent-based modeling conducted in this piece (it is not based on actual research into the past but a computer simulation) depends entirely on the various assumptions built in.  So, it can convey interesting stuff, but it is not real evidence in any conventional sense.  I have seen some really good versions of this stuff for ethnic conflict research, and it can, like formal modeling, develop and delineate some interesting dynamics.  But I am still a skeptic about such efforts serving as evidence--what is logically true may not be empirically true.  Lots of stuff muck up the machine. 

[Teen Spew argues that this study is written by folks who lacked confidence to approach girls.  The real phenomenon is that girls are attracted to confidence, which  bad boys often have in abundance.]

I would find a study that focuses on height to be more persuasive since that is an evolutionarily irrelevant quality today but perhaps is now hard wired after millenia of women mating with the men who could get the low hanging fruit and then the less hanging stuff.

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