Sunday, June 22, 2008

Liars Figure (by Phila)

An article in New Scientist presents a startling new scientific finding: Researchers whose definition of male success involves carefree sex with lots of women have discovered that men who have carefree sex with lots of women are successful:
Nice guys knew it, now two studies have confirmed it: bad boys get the most girls. The finding may help explain why a nasty suite of antisocial personality traits known as the "dark triad" persists in the human population, despite their potentially grave cultural costs.

The traits are the self-obsession of narcissism; the impulsive, thrill-seeking and callous behaviour of psychopaths; and the deceitful and exploitative nature of Machiavellianism. At their extreme, these traits would be highly detrimental for life in traditional human societies. People with these personalities risk being shunned by others and shut out of relationships, leaving them without a mate, hungry and vulnerable to predators.
The phrase "traditional human societies" begs a few pointed questions. But we'll put them aside for now. Bigger and better things are afoot.
[B]eing just slightly evil could have an upside: a prolific sex life, says Peter Jonason at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. "We have some evidence that the three traits are really the same thing and may represent a successful evolutionary strategy."
That these complex traits are "really the same thing" is a fairly bold claim, and I'm not entirely surprised that Peter Jonason tries to support it by describing the behavior of a fictional character:
James Bond epitomises this set of traits, Jonason says. "He's clearly disagreeable, very extroverted and likes trying new things - killing people, new women." Just as Bond seduces woman after woman, people with dark triad traits may be more successful with a quantity-style or shotgun approach to reproduction, even if they don't stick around for parenting. "The strategy seems to have worked. We still have these traits," Jonason says.
We still have monastic celibacy, too, last time I checked. I don't find it puzzling that this "extreme" behavior hasn't become common in the general population. So why should I find it puzzling that not all men are promiscuous sociopaths?
"They still have to explain why it hasn't spread to everyone," says Matthew Keller of the University of Colorado in Boulder. "There must be some cost of the traits."
It's very heartening to think of the earnest debates that are being held as to whether a trait that is explicitly defined as narcissistic, callous, and exploitative -- that is explicitly defined, in other words, as antisocial -- might have some sort of social cost.

I've saved the best part for last:
Jonason and his colleagues subjected 200 college students to personality tests designed to rank them for each of the dark triad traits. They also asked about their attitudes to sexual relationships and about their sex lives, including how many partners they'd had and whether they were seeking brief affairs.
In other words, they asked male college students who scored high on a test for narcissistic and deceitful personality traits to report on their own sexual conquests, and took their answers at face value.

I'm no expert, but that really doesn't seem like a very good way to proceed.