Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Puzzle For You: What Drives The Findings In the Race/Ethnicity Internet Dating Study?

The point of talking about this:  Everywhere I checked people assumed that the data correctly reflects not only race or ethnic differences in how people respond to interest expressed by others but also that it reflects actual racial or ethnic preferences of the type where the choices shown in the picture below are how people would choose a partner in real life.

I saw only a few points of criticism about the study.  Most of us simply accept that it is correctly done.  This, in my opinion, puts a higher responsibility on the shoulders of those who pass these studies into the popular media.  Specifically, the actual study should be easily available and proper discussions about it should be encouraged, not just cheap clickbaits.


I missed this study (?)* which uses data from the Facebook dating app to draw conclusions about racial or ethnic preferences in heterosexual dating.  Here's a recent summary of its findings:

Quartz, a business and marketing website, recently released data on the Facebook dating app Are You Interested, which connects single people with others within the confines of their Facebook networks. Quartz’ data are based on a series of yes-or-no questions about who users are interested in, as well as response rates between users, once notified of a potential suitor. The data show that white men and Asian women receive the most interest, whereas black men and women receive the least amount of interest. The writers at Quartz summarize the findings as follows:
Unfortunately the data reveal winners and losers. All men except Asians preferred Asian women, while all except black women preferred white men. And both black men and black women got the lowest response rates for their respective genders.
I was still confused about what the study used as its measure.  A better description for how the data was created is here, attached to a picture which purports to show the highest and lowest response rates.  Here's the picture (click to make larger):

And here's the explanation:

The data shown above come from the Facebook dating app, Are You Interested (AYI), which works like this: Users in search of someone for a date or for sex flip through profiles of other users and, for each one, click either “yes” (I like what I see) or “skip” (show me the next profile). When the answer is “yes,” the other user is notified and has the opportunity to respond. It’s very similar to another dating app, Tinder.

The graphic shows what percentage of people responded to a “yes,” based on the gender and ethnicity of both parties (the data are only for opposite-sex pairs of people). Unsurprisingly, most “yes’s” go unanswered, but there are patterns: For example, Asian women responded to white men who “yessed” them 7.8% of the time, more often than they responded to any other race. On the other hand, white men responded to black women 8.5% of the time—less often than for white, Latino, or Asian women. In general, men responded to women about three times as often as women responded to men.
 I have emailed the site to find out if I can have the actual study so as to find its methodology etc.  Couldn't find it anywhere on the net.

Something smells off in all this**.  Perhaps that's because most people in real life seem to partner with people who share the same racial or ethnic background?  Then there is the two-rounds aspect of the dating game:  First people have to click "yes" on your profile.  Second, you decide if you wish to respond to that "yes" or not.

But the first round (where the first contact is made through that "yes") probably also has  differences by racial or ethnic group membership, and I haven't seen anything about how that part is taken into account.  If it is.  And the various groups that picture shows are most likely not present in equal numbers in the Facebook dating app.  I have tried to play around with hypothetical group sizes and hypothetical racial and ethnic preferences and different guesses about what percentage of "yeses" people might respond to, in general, and with respect to their own group vs. other groups.***

I'm not getting very far with that.  Or rather, I can get almost anywhere because I don't have the data I need to have.  And that the only data easily available is about those extremes also troubles me.  I'd like to see the average values, sizes of the groups and so on, and I would dearly want to see the same analysis about any racial or ethnic difference in the first round assignment of "yeses."
*The question mark is because I'm not sure that this is a study, in the academic sense of the word, with a research paper which explains how the data was obtained, what standardizations were carried out etc..
**Not necessarily "wrong," but all this looks far too simplified (and the picture picking the "least" and the "most" preferred connections ignores all the other data).  If there's racial or ethnic preference in the first round when "yeses" are given, then that is completely ignored by focusing only on the second round (responding to the "yeses").  I'm also not sure if "preference" is the right word to use in this context.
***For instance, suppose that the largest number of "yeses" for some profile comes from people who share that profile owner's race or ethnicity.  Say that group is a hundred "yeses."  Suppose that this profile also gets five "yeses" from people of a different race or ethnicity.  Suppose the owner then responds to, say, twenty of the "yeses" coming from his or her own group but to all the five "yeses" coming from the other groups.  Then the raw results would suggest that this person has a 100% response rate for people outside his or her race or ethnic group but only a 20% response within the same racial or ethnic group.

Which would be correct but would not really mean that this person has a preference for dating people from other racial or ethnic groups.  So I think we need to know the numbers in much greater detail than they are given in the summaries I've been able to read.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Fun: The Snow-Boarding Crow

This Russian video, from 2012, shows a crow doing winter sports:

My mother once told me that after watching children play soccer during a break at school,  she later saw a crow out in the now-deserted yard kicking a pebble around.  They watch us as we watch them. 

Friday The Thirteenth Speed Blogging. Nine Quick Posts On Good News, Bad News And News

(Contents of Seventh Post Include Sexual Violence)

First, this on income inequality in the US is worth watching.

Second, Twitter reversed its attempt to reduce the power of blocking harassers, and Zerlina Maxwell was instrumental on getting that reversal done.  Kudos to her.

Third, free contraception is now available to many more women than before, thanks to ACA.  This is important because of the economic and social benefits of contraception.  Fewer abortions because of unwanted pregnancies!  Savings to state and federal governments later on!  What's not to like?

Well, the usual argument is that women are getting stuff for free.  But the benefits from free contraception also fall on the heterosexual men whose partners get it.  Couples, one might say, because most people are partnered.

Fourth,  Mary Barra will be the next CEO of General Motors.  The first woman in that role:
This week, General Motors tapped longtime GM employee and executive Mary Barra to be its next CEO. In January, she’ll become the first woman to head up a major international car company. “There's nobody with more years of honest 'car-guy' credentials than she has,” University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon told the Associated Press. "She started off as a little-girl car guy. She became a big-girl car guy and now she's a woman car guy."

Such fun, that quote.

The reason why her appointment is worth celebrating is that reducing gender segregation in jobs would be a very good way to both use our human resources better and to reduce the earnings difference between men and women.

A large chunk of that famous gender wage gap has to do with women working in predominantly female fields, for instance.  The kinds of people who get the top jobs* give us signals of what is feasible.  In this case it is that at least one woman made it in the automobile industry.  Those signals also serve to change or not change stereotypes.  And more diversity in the leadership of firms is probably a good thing for the firms themselves.  Women buy cars, too, and so on.

Fifth, the Michigan Legislature has banned abortion coverage in private health insurance plans, including those sold on the insurance exchange,  for all Michigan women.

Sixth, remember the plan to allow gender segregation in British universities, if a guest speaker demands it?  I wrote about that earlier.

The good news is that the plan appears to have been withdrawn:

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: "Universities UK agrees entirely with the prime minister that universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers. However, where the gender segregation is voluntary, the law is unclear. We are working with our lawyers and the EHRC to clarify the position.
Nicola Dandridge is hilarious, by the way.  In one interview she supposedly stated that gender segregation is different from, let's say, the segregation of LGBT people from heterosexuals, because gender is "visible."   So if you can see it, you can segregate it

Seventh, a pastor accused of raping young girls gives the kind of excuses one often hears at certain types of sites about false rape accusations and so on:

 "These are not really kids," Kindred said when reached by phone Thursday. "They have the mind of the adult."
He accused them of making up "lies" because their mother was angry with him.
"I never did anything like that," referring to the allegations. "Anyone can make up anything when you sit there long enough and you rehearse it.
"All a woman has to do (in Minnesota) is make an accusation, true or false, and the man's going to be in trouble," Kindred said.

Eighth,  some reactions to BeyoncĂ©'s new album, from various feminist  and other angles.  It's important to point out  that I know nothing about popular music myself (hums old blues songs).

Ninth, the affluenza defense:

"Affluenza," the term used by a psychologist to argue that a North Texas teenager from a wealthy family should not be sent to prison for killing four pedestrians while driving drunk, is not a recognized diagnosis and should not be used to justify bad behavior, psychologists said Thursday.
The term was popularized in the late 1990s by Jessie O'Neill, the granddaughter of a past president of General Motors, when she wrote the book "The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence." 
It has since been used to describe a condition in which children - generally from richer families - have a sense of entitlement, are irresponsible, make excuses for poor behavior, and sometimes dabble in drugs and alcohol, explained Dr. Gary Buffone, a Jacksonville, Fla., psychologist who does family wealth advising.
It was also used by an expert defense witness in the trial of the 16-year-old teenage driver, who after confessing to intoxication manslaughter in the fatal accident avoided what could have been a sentence of up to 20 years in prison when District Judge Jean Boyd gave him 10 years of probation.

That sounds a bit like the Twinky defense, except worse, because very few people could use the excuse of extreme affluence behind their crimes. If we go that route, we can probably create a defense for being born into any social class. The snag is that it is only the wealthy who can afford to pay for the necessary expert psychologist opinions or to cover the costs of a ten-year therapy treatment for the accused. -- I get that determining the causes of what made someone end up killing four people, even if by involuntary manslaughter, is a useful exercise.  But defenses of this sort turn the law even more into a game based on money.
*There's a different criticism about whether we should have hierarchies at all and all the different aspects those hierarchies: class, race, ethnicity, gender etc.  From that point of view the success of one white woman is not success at all.  On the other hand, it's at least possible to state that since women are about half of all humanity, in every country, the complete absence of any woman on top of some hierarchy, whatever her other characteristics might be, tells us something about gender.  What that is depends on how much you believe in the innateness of differences and how much you believe in societal norms, steering and the impact of gender roles.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Danish Pastry, Danish Hellcat, Danish Hottie, Blonde Bimbo, Danish Tart, That Leggy Blonde Danish Woman

Those things, my friends, are all the same as the Prime Minister of Denmark,  the head of the government of the Kingdom of Denmark.  She has a name, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, two university degrees and a long career in Danish politics.   She is the first female Prime Minister of Denmark and the first female leader of Danish Social Democrats.

But according to several American conservative pundits and writers, she is also a piece of Danish pastry.  This is because of the pictures taken of her sitting between to president Obama and the British Prime Minister David Cameron at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela last Tuesday.

These pictures, including the "selfies" the three leaders took, "some" have interpreted  as proving that Obama and Thorning-Schmidt were flirting and that Michelle Obama was not amused.

Others have written more about all that, though the photographer's statement seems the most important there.  

What I want to write about is the the way the first female prime minister of a country is treated, by Rush Limbaugh, by Fox contributors David Webb and Andrea Tantaros, and, most recently, by a conservative columnist at the New York Post, Andrea Peyser.

Imagine, for a second, this reversal:  Some right-wing columnist in Denmark sees the pictures and interprets them in reverse.  Thus, when Andrea Peyser writes this about Barack Obama:

Maybe he went into sugar shock over a Danish pastry

The imaginary Danish columnist would write:

Maybe she went into sugar shock over some Boston cream pie.

And so on. 

This little episode fascinates me because it shows that tendency to focus on women's bodies as public property, available for comments by all and sundry.  Being a political leader does not exempt a woman from that treatment.

Thus, that Thorning-Schmidt has good legs, say, is something pundits think they can comment on.  That she wears black tights (at a memorial service) Peyser turns into something quite different:

Not to be outdone by the president’s bad behavior, the Danish hellcat hiked up her skirt to expose long Scandinavian legs covered by nothing more substantial than sheer black stockings.

In Peyser's world,  Obama is seen as only acting badly, but Thorning-Schmidt is seen as both acting badly and looking wrong.  Note that I wrote "in Peyser's world."  What actually took place there is most likely something quite different.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Not Up For Discussion: Women Priests in The Catholic Church

Those are the stern words of Pope Francis:

“The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion,” the Pope said, “but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general.”

That makes me feel all confused.  Christ is the spouse who gives himself?  To whom?  To women?  To male priests?  To the whole congregation?  And why would Christ's image as a spouse exclude women from the priesthood?  Or is it the male priest who acts the role of the spouse?  But then is that only to the women in the congregation or everybody?

The idea that sacramental power shouldn't be too closely identified with power in general at first looks fascinating.  But then the general power in the Catholic Church is also in the hands of those male priests, male cardinals and a male Pope.  Perhaps Pope Francis will change all that, as he hints at?  Or perhaps not.

Pope Francis does give a nod to the idea that women might have special genius!  Which I like a lot, because very, very few people actually have any kind of genius, and now he assigns it to half of humanity!  The half which is not allowed to be the head:

“The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all,” Pope Francis said. “The configuration of the priest to Christ the head — namely, as the principal source of grace — does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others.”
Although the function of the priesthood is considered “hierarchical,” Pope Francis said it is ordered not towards domination, but towards serving the members of the Church. He explained further that the authority of the priesthood is rooted in service and has its origin in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

But women have specific feminine genius, they do!  They are more intuitive and sensitive and caring, partly because of motherhood!  So there.  No need to be intuitive, sensitive or caring as a priest, I guess.

I find all this logically inconsistent, and also not consistent with the Pope's recent statements about the need to focus on marginalized people, on the poor, on economic inequality and so on.  Hierarchies are just fine in some areas, not in other areas.
Added later:  Pope Francis also tells us that the Catholic Church's position on abortion will never change.  This is because:

While the Church’s defense of life is often presented as an “ideological, obscurantist and conservative” position, he said, “this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”
“It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.”

But the Catholic Church will not accept an abortion even for rape victims or, as far as I understand it, to save the woman's life.  Thus, what is always sacred and inviolable is not the human being who is carrying the fetus.  ---  This matters for the general understanding of Francis' views on us, the half of humanity with special genius!

Needed: A Different Concept of Infrastructure

Several recent articles have talked about poverty in the United States.  This New York Times piece is heart-rending in its look at the lived experiences of poverty*This Salon article compares the US to other countries in terms of its infrastructure problems, poverty and rankings in various international statistics:

America has become a RINO: rich in name only. By every measure, we look like a broken banana republic. Not a single U.S. city is included in the world’s top 10 most livable cities. Only one U.S. airport makes the list of the top 100 in the world. Our roads, schools and bridges are falling apart, and our trains—none of them high-speed—are running off their tracks. Our high school students are rated 30th in math, and some 30 countries have longer life expectancy and lower rates of infant mortality. The only things America is number one in these days are the number of incarcerated citizens per capita and adult onset diabetes.
Three decades of trickledown economics; the monopolization, privatization and deregulation of industry; and the destruction of labor protection has resulted in 50 million Americans living in abject poverty, while 400 individuals own more than one-half of the nation’s wealth. As the four Walmart heirs enjoy a higher net worth than the bottom 40 percent, our nation’s sense of food insecurity is more on par with developing countries like Indonesia and Tanzania than with OECD nations like Australia and Canada. In fact, the percentage of Americans who say they could not afford the food needed to feed their families at some point in the last year is three times that of Germany, more than twice than Italy and Canada.
The destruction of labor has been so comprehensive that first-world nations now offshore their jobs to the U.S. In other words, we’ve become the new India. Foreign companies now see us as the world’s cheap labor force, and we have the non-unionized South to thank for that. Chuck Thompson, author of Better off Without Em, writes, “Like Mexico, the South has spent the past four decades systematically siphoning auto jobs from Michigan and the Midwest by keeping worker’s salaries low and inhibiting their right to organize by rendering their unions toothless.” Average wages for autoworkers in the South are up to 30 percent lower than in Michigan.

The US still does well in some good international rankings, but given its vast wealth and resources it is an underachiever when it comes to the lives of its citizens.

That quote above makes an important point.  This country is firmly bent on tearing its infrastructure apart.  By "infrastructure" here I mean something more than the term usually implies: 

All the things that a First World country is expected to have:  Not only roads, bridges, communication systems, cheap-and-efficient transportation systems, but also clean water, safe food, schools which provide the citizens of the country with the needed skills and knowledge, basic safety nets which protect them against major illness, the pains of old age and utter poverty.

The list could be continued.  The point I want to make is that politicians, of both major parties but more in the Republican party, have been tearing those down for several decades now, in the guise of globalism, "free-markets" and the desire to cut taxes.  That what is being torn down are those infrastructures, that they are what even markets ultimately depend on for good functioning, that is what seems to have become invisible to many.
*The New York Post's editorial covers the individual-responsibility view of the problem and would let the children go down the drain with the "irresponsible" parents.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Angry And Hysterical. More on "Sexual Regret as Evolved Sex Difference."

I came across a post about how others have commented on the Galperin et al. study I write about in the post below this one.  It is on the site of Evolutionary Psychology (Google it for the link), by Robert Kurzban,  and criticizes several other reviews of the study as angry, venomous and even hysterical:

Erin Gloria Ryan was, it seems, not amused. She wrote about the work in a piece entitled: “Women Are Hard Wired To Feel Bad About Being Sluts, Says Suspect Study.” In typical fashion from my experiences reading Jezebel, the piece opens with some false, hysterical claims, including that substitute for good writing, ALL CAPS to make her point emphatic. She writes: “A new study claims that women are HARD WIRED (sic) regret casual sex whereas men are HARD WIRED to think random sex is great.”
While Galperin et al. do motivate their work with an evolutionary approach, neither the word “hard” nor the word “wired” appear anywhere in the piece. Further, the authors explicitly acknowledge that there are “social factors that might moderate or exacerbate evolved dispositions in each sex to regret certain sexual experiences.” My sense is that this idea is the sort of thing that the author of the piece favors, given what I take to be her favored explanation, which is that “… civilizations place high value on controlling female sexuality and humans are social creatures with an aversion to ostracization.” I’m not quite sure how feeling regret saves someone from ostracism – or ostracization, as Ryan would have it, but in any case, the venom in Ryan’s piece seems to have invited similar tones from the people who commented on her brief remarks, which comments included the usual name-calling, epithets, and use of ALL CAPS for emphasis.
Bolds are mine.

Rather than say anything more about that anger or hysteria, let me address the bit in this quote which applies to Ryan's argument:

My sense is that this idea is the sort of thing that the author of the piece favors, given what I take to be her favored explanation, which is that “… civilizations place high value on controlling female sexuality and humans are social creatures with an aversion to ostracization.” I’m not quite sure how feeling regret saves someone from ostracism – or ostracization, as Ryan would have it

Bolds are mine, again.

Here's the answer, from the Galperin et al. study:

The experience of regret is hypothesized to serve several functions. Regret about a recent event can motivate corrective reactions to undo the root cause of the regret (Beike, Markman, & Karadogan, 2009; Roese & Summerville, 2005). For example, regretting a conflict one had with a friend could motivate steps toward mending the relationship.
Regret could also serve to improve future decisions when a similar situation arises again (Beike et al., 2009; Zeelenberg, 1999b). Simply anticipating regret about not using a condom, for instance, is associated with greater anticipated condom use and greater actual future condom use (Richard, De Vries, & van der Pligt, 1998; Richard, van der Pligt, & De Vries, 1996).

If regret could play an evolved sex difference role, it could equally play a role in avoiding future causes for regret when those causes are based on societal sanctions.

Kurzban then disapproves of the comments at Jezebel:

...the venom in Ryan’s piece seems to have invited similar tones from the people who commented on her brief remarks, which comments included the usual name-calling, epithets, and use of ALL CAPS for emphasis. One writer seems to have taken Ryan at her word that the authors of the study used the term “hard wired,” writing: 
Besides the fact that this “study” is a bunch of misogynist evolutionary psychology bullshit, I also really hate the phrase “hard wired.” 
Other comments strike similar tones, with some inexplicable animated gifs thrown in for good measure, including Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and I think Rita Hayworth.
All that is unfortunate.  So is the very first comment (about the need not to respond to the Jezebel post as an adult but as one would reply to a hysterical child) currently attached to Kurzban's own post, liked by sixteen, which links to a blog where terms such as "alpha and beta males,"  "flapping of the vaginas," "pussboys," "manginas" and "cad-chasing sluts" appear. 

Sexual Regret: Evidence for Evolved Sex Differences. My Take On This Article.


I have read the Galperin et al. study* (in evolutionary psychology) which argues that it has found evidence for evolved sex differences in sexual regret.

Read that again. The crucial word in both the title of this post and in the above sentence is "evolved."  Keep that in mind.

What that little word means is the assumption that the different reactions men and women might have, on average, are not because societies, in general and certainly during most of recorded history, have punished women much more severely for casual sex than they have punished men.  What that little word also means is the assumption that the different reactions men and women today might have, on average, are not because women and men are quite aware of the fact that the possible costs of casual sex, even today,  are different for the two sexes.  Women can get pregnant when pregnancy is not desired, women are more likely to be the victims of violence in a sexual encounter with a stranger than men and women are much more likely to be called sluts or whores if they engage in casual sex than men do.

Those are not the things the authors mean when they talk about "evolved" differences.  What they mean is that in some sense women are "hard-wired" (pardon the term) to regret having had casual sex and that men are "hard-wired" to regret not having had casual sex.

If that is the case, then why have societies all over time and place punished women more for casual sex (both legally and in terms of ostracism)  than they have punished men?  Is it that our evolved differences concerning it are somehow not strong enough?

In any case, the authors' theses are based on such an evolved difference about casual sex and say nothing about the societal differences in the treatment of men's and women's promiscuity:

The logic described above suggests that there will be sex differences in the regrets women and men have concerning their past sexual decisions and the regrets they anticipate having in hypothetical future decisions. We examined two hypothesized differences between men and women. First, women more than men will regret poorly chosen sexual actions (doing something and later wishing they had not). Second, men more than women will regret poorly chosen sexual inactions (not doing something and later wishing they had).
For men, who are not obligated to invest in pregnancy and raising offspring, choosing the‘‘wrong’’ sex partner might often have been associated with little negative impact on fitness. Although failing to invest may entail a decrement in offspring survival if the woman lacks kin or another investment partner, it nonetheless frees up the man’s resources and effort to devote to alternative uses, including securing additional mating opportunities. Thus, women on average have more to lose from casual sexual actions and consequently could regret them more than men do. This logic leads to our first hypothesis: Compared to men, women will have more numerous and stronger sexual action regrets, particularly those involving ‘‘casual’’ sex.
Because every sexual encounter with a fertile woman in the ancestral past could have led to a viable offspring, sexual inactions for men amounted to missed opportunities to reproduce. Along the same lines, the time that a man spent in a relationship without having sex could have been spent on a different, sexually active relationship in which reproduction was more likely. The cost of delaying sex was not necessarily as high for a woman, who could actually have benefitted from some additional time spent assessing a man’s value as a reproductive partner, including his long-term commitment to her and her potential children (Wachtmeister & Enquist, 1999). These differences in costs suggest that men will tend to regret missed sexual encounters and‘‘delayed’’sex more than women do. This logic leads to our second hypothesis: Compared to women, men will have more numerous and stronger sexual inaction regrets, particularly those involving missed opportunities for casual sex or not leaving a sexually inactive relationship.
Emphasis is mine.

These are the usual arguments of Evolutionary Psychology (EP).  The sexually "good" evolutionary strategy for men is to spread their seed widely and then bolt (where?  Remember that these people probably lived in small kin-based nomadic tribes), the sexually "good" evolutionary strategy for women is to look for the high-quality provider (usually interpreted as a man with resources, whatever that might have meant in a nomadic kin-based small tribe in some hypothetical area of evolutionary adaptations) and to try to tie him so that he won't bolt.  That looking requires coyness, crossing one's legs and waiting on the woman's part.  But the actual prediction all this would give us is that women won't want to engage in casual sex whereas men do.

The first problem I see with these EP hypotheses is that the actual risks of casual sex today are different for men and women, never mind some hidden evolutionary meme in our brains, and that the actual societal condemnation of promiscuous women is very different from the way the same society treats promiscuous men.

The second problem concerns the fact that women in some more recent tribal communities indeed have been found to have casual sex, and not necessarily only for the reason of finding some better genes in a quick encounter for their future children, but because it makes more men in those tribes the possible fathers of their children and thus offers those children more later assistance.

Thus, the third problem, for me, in this hypothesis is that it is ultimately based on a simple analogy about the many sperms and the few eggs and the differential resource requirements that men and women must absolutely spend to bring a child to adulthood.  How those prehistoric ancestors actually lived when various evolutionary adaptations were assumed to "stick" to us as unchanging aspects of our minds does matter.  If, as one of the researchers of this study himself has stated, these adaptations stuck in small nomadic kin-based communities, the ability of the men to spread their seed widely might have been much restricted, and this, in turn might not have rewarded an evolutionary adaptation towards promiscuity as much in men as the simple analogy model assumes.

And that brings me to the fourth problem with this approach:  We have several possible hypotheses about the distant past (which some  EP people no longer seem to position exactly in some specific place and time in the Pleistocene), but one (a fairly simple thought model) is privileged over the other.  The fact that the evolution of our minds is assumed to have stopped some 30,000 years ago is an opinion, not a proven fact.  The stories that are told about the evolutionary past favor some recent data over other recent data.

And, finally, and most importantly, we cannot really state, given all this, that a study looking at sexual regret among today's people in some Western countries is evidence for evolved sex differences in regret over casual sex.

It isn't that I mind the approach these authors have taken.  It's always worthwhile to see what drops out of the bag when we shake it.  But we should be pretty careful in imputing evolutionary explanations for data which can be equally well explained by more proximal causes.

The Three Studies in The Galperin et al. Article

Study Summaries

The three studies in the article consist of one study (Study 1) done on heterosexual undergraduates (78 men and 122 women), one study (Study 2) done on heterosexual volunteers obtained thorough (156 men and 239 women, with a difference in average age which for men was 40 and for women 33)  and one very large study, with 24,230 participants (Study 3), based on people who answered a banner ad at  The third sample, also self-selected, included both heterosexual men (11,203), heterosexual women (11,612) as well as gay men (334), lesbian women (215), bisexual men (359) and bisexual women (507).  That sample has the advantage of not focusing only on heterosexual people.  The disadvantage of all the studies is that they are not based on random samples.

The first study consists of asking the participants to list their top five life regrets, top five regrets from the past few years, top five action and inaction regrets, and top five sexual /romantic action and inaction regrets.  These data were used to create a questionnaire about regrets for Study 2.  The student participants in Study 1 were then asked to rate four vignettes about sexual and romantic action and inaction.

The second study (the Craig's List one) uses the regret lists created in Study 1. Those were manipulated by the researchers to create a list of 88 sexual regrets, divided into 39 action regrets, 30 inaction regrets and 19 regrets not easily categorized.  The study participants were asked to indicate which of those regrets they had experienced, and to set up lists of the five top regrets they regretted the most.

The third study (the MSNBC one), had two additional goals.  It tried to standardize for the base of casual sexual activity by asking about the last time a person had each of the possible experiences linked to having casual sex or having an opportunity for it but not taking that opportunity.  It also included sexual preference as a further category.

The authors argue that the overall results provide support for the evolved role of sex differences.  More correctly, perhaps, the evidence supports the view that women are more likely to report having regretted casual sex than men and that men are more likely to report having regretted missed opportunities for casual sex. 

Even the data on gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents supports it, they argue, because within each category (gays vs. lesbians, bisexual men vs. bisexual women) women report more regret for having casual sex, men more regret for not having it.  On the other hand, within the category "women" lesbian and bisexual women are less likely to regret casual sex than heterosexual women and more likely to regret missed opportunities for casual sex.  This, to me, suggests that the very real proximal explanation of pregnancy, say, could be an important part of the real-word explanation.

Where I Got Stuck 

It is the first of these studies (Study 1) which halted my review work.

Here's why:  The authors state that each study participant was given four vignettes, stories which depicted regret caused by either action or inaction.  Two of the stories were about casual sex (regret for having it or regret for not having it), two the authors regard as having been regret about romantic action or inaction.

The participants were asked to rate how strong the regret of the person described in the scenarios might be and also how strong their own regret in a similar situation might be.

According to the authors, the results showed that men regretted inaction in casual sex more and women regretted action in casual sex more.  Rather astonishingly, to me, there were few gender differences with respect to romantic action or inaction.  My surprise comes from the fact that the basic simple EP model used would certainly predict those!  Men should almost overwhelmingly show more regret for romantic action, because that is about longer-term mating with a single partner, and the model used here privileges the casual sex model of ancient prehistory for men.

Got all that?  Now note this (from the article):

The actor in the scenario matched the sex of the participant and participants rated their beliefs regarding the regret experienced by the actor, followed by their own anticipated regret if they found themselves in this scenario on a 9-point scale (1 = No Regret at All; 5 = Moderate Regret; 9 = Extreme Regret).


The primary goal of Study 1 was to examine differences in men’s and women’s anticipated regret intensity in response to hypothetical scenarios of sexual versus romantic (non-sexual) actions and inactions. The sexual scenarios focused on events that women (one-night stand) and men (missing a one-night stand opportunity) were predicted to regret more strongly compared to the other sex. The primary goal was to
examine differences between men and women and not differences across scenarios, so the scenarios were allowed to vary in ways that permitted a vivid and specific depiction of casual sex actions and inactions.


As predicted by Hypothesis 2, men anticipated finding the casual sex inaction scenarios more regrettable than did women when rating their own anticipated regret, t(192) = 7.40, p\.001, and the presumed regret for the actor, t(192) = 5.41, p\.001. Although the action and inaction vignettes in this study differed in a number of ways, such as overall length, these differences did not confound the critical comparison by sex of rater because men and women rated identical scenarios. Such factors therefore cannot account for the sex differences observed here.

Bolds are mine.  If I understand the above correctly, men and women were given different vignettes.  But the version of the study I have gives only the sexual action and inaction vignettes given to men.

So I asked the study authors for the female sexual action and inaction vignettes.  I have not received a response.

This point is pretty important.  The authors tell us that the way the vignettes differed didn't matter because men and women rated identical scenarios?  I would like to see all the vignettes and the statistical work which shows that there was no confounding effect.

A Few Comments on The Study Findings

This possible problem doesn't necessarily make the other two studies meaningless.  But I find myself reluctant to proceed without understanding what those vignettes for women are, and thus I only have a few scattered comments to make about the three studies and their findings which usually are that men regret not having casual sex more than women,  and that women regret having casual sex more than men.

When a finding appears to go counter to the simplest EP theories, those theories are fleshed out more, as is done here (about Study 2):

Women’s top regrets also included having sex with a physically unattractive partner and women (17 %) were more likely than men (10 %) to list this as one of their strongest regrets. This result might seem somewhat counterintuitive, given the expectation that men place a greater premium than do women on physical attractiveness in potential mates (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). However, this result is consistent with two other replicable findings. First, women substantially increase their standards for attractiveness for casual sex partners (Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Kenrick et al., 1993; Li & Kenrick, 2006), possibly to gain genetic benefits for offspring. Second, men dramatically lower their standards in short-term mating contexts, including standards for physical attractiveness, and hence are less likely to regret casual sex with an unattractive partner. Although men do value physical appearance in potential mates, a low-cost sexual encounter with an unattractive partner historically would have still afforded a valuable reproductive opportunity that might offset collateral costs such as reputational damage.

Or here, about Study 3:

Men and women reported similar rates (56%) of having engaged in casual sex. Men (66 %) were somewhat more likely to report passing up a casual sex opportunity than were women (59 %), v2(1, N = 24,230) = 148, p\.001, a counterintuitive result that could stem from a reporting bias rooted in other evolved sex differences: men’s misperception of women’s sexual interest or sex differences in defining what constitutes an ‘‘opportunity.’’ 
Evidence indicates that men tend to overestimate women’s interest (Haselton & Buss, 2000; La France, Henningsen, Oates, & Shaw, 2009). In addition, women might consider some situations in which they technically could have had sex so undesirable that these situations do not register as sexual ‘‘opportunities,’’ whereas the same situations might ‘‘count’’ as such for men. Men could therefore perceive casual sex opportunities in circumstances where women do not, leading to the biased result of men providing higher estimates than women of opportunities they passed up or did not act on.

Note also the sentences I bolded.

Or the explanation is brought in from elsewhere, without necessarily appearing to refute the basic hypotheses, such as is the case here, about Study 2:

We highlight the regrets that were most often reported in the ‘‘top five’’ by women (Table 1) and by men (Table 2). Few of the top regrets overlapped between women and men and the top regrets that showed no sex difference (e.g., having unprotected sex) were those for which we did not have predictions about sex differences. A noteworthy and common regret that showed no significant sex difference was cheating on one’s partner, with 23 % of women and 18 % of men listing it as one of their five strongest regrets. Possibly, the lack of a sex difference here is a consequence of the fact that discovered infidelity carries extremely high costs for both sexes, including the possibility of relationship dissolution (Betzig, 1989).

And in this case, about Study 2:

Notably, none of the 39 sexual action regrets were more common for men than for women and only one of the 30 sexual inaction regrets was more common for women than for men. This regret was ‘‘not engaging in sexual activity with someone only because I did not want to appear promiscuous’’; 16 % of women in comparison to 8 % of men reported this regret, v2(1, N = 395) = 6.23, p = .014. This difference possibly reflects the fact that women are more likely than men to worry about appearing promiscuous (Crawford & Popp, 2003). Because women are more likely than men to face negative consequences to their reputation for engaging in casual sex, they may make more sexual decisions in which reputational concerns are an issue.

It is partly in this manner that the article succeeds in firmly concluding for evolved sexual differences, I believe, though the bigger problem lies in the fact that the evidence supports at least as well the other two obvious theories about what might be going on:  First, the fact that casual sex has higher costs for women now, and not only in some evolutionary murky deep time, because it is women who can get pregnant when they don't wish to do so and because the risk of sexual violence from stranger partners is greater for women, based on body strength differences.  Second, the societal sanctions for casual sex still are, and certainly have been, much greater for women than men.

*The abstract:

Regret and anticipated regret enhance decision quality by helping people avoid making and repeating mistakes. Some of people’s most intense regrets concern sexual decisions. We hypothesized evolved sex differences in women’s and men’s experiences of sexual regret. Because of women’s higher obligatory costs of reproduction throughout evolutionary history, we hypothesized that sexual actions, particularly those involving casual sex, would be regretted more intensely by women than by men. In contrast, because missed sexual opportunities historically carried higher reproductive fitness costs for men than for women, we hypothesized that poorly chosen sexual inactions would be regretted more by men than by women. Across three studies (Ns = 200, 395, and 24,230), we tested these hypotheses using free responses, written scenarios, detailed checklists, and Internet sampling to achieve participant diversity, including diversity in sexual orientation. Across all data sources, results supported predicted psychological sex differences and these differences were localized in casual sex contexts. These findings are consistent with the notion that the psychology of sexual regret was shaped by recurrent sex differences in selection pressures operating over deep time.
Note the new practice of replacing the view that  evolutionary adaptations came to stick to us about 30,000 years ago, in Pleistocene, with the diffuse concept of "deep time."

**You might also be interested in the anger and hysteria post about this study




Monday, December 09, 2013

For The Sake of the Husbands

Fox News isn't exactly helping the Republicans' problem with how to talk at women by having Suzanne Venker write for their website so frequently.  I looked at her archive at Fox, and now you may, too, by clicking on that link.  Her recommendations amount to the need for male supremacy because any alternative to that means that men are treated like second-class citizens.

Her most recent essay argues that (heterosexual, though she doesn't make that distinction) women should let their husbands bring home most of the bacon and just focus on cooking it.  That is the path to a balanced life!  And of course to financial dependency.  But Venker (whose website is Women For Men, focusing on improving gender relations and providing much-needed support for the American male) isn't terribly bothered by the problems her advice might give to women.

She is the anti-feminist niece of the anti-feminist  Phyllis Schlafly.

She shares more with her aunt than the desire to have heterosexual women stay at home and submissive to their husbands, and that's the exceptional status of Herself.  While other women should behave in a certain manner, both Schlafly and Venker had or have careers outside the home.

That Venker writes as she writes is not unexpected, given her family background.  That Fox brings her in so often teaches us a lot about what this major Republican organ really thinks about women's proper roles.

The points that Venker misses are several.  First, most families cannot afford to follow the model she advocates, were they somehow persuaded to do so, and this is for economic reasons.  Second, the kind of arrangements Venker advocates were once in place for white middle-class families in the United States and women revolted against them as the only acceptable solution.  Third, her solution to the time press of women with jobs and families to take care of ignores alternative possibilities except the return to some mythical era when all women were happy and all men proud.  For instance, fairer sharing of the chores at home could also make many women quite a bit happier, but Venker doesn't discuss that.

Then, of course, if all women with children followed her advice this country would lose much of its trained labor force and that would hurt the economy, not to mention the fact that any attempts at gender equality in places of power would pretty much be on the shoulders of those women who do not have children.  Back to the fifties!  Men everywhere except in the kitchen!

It wouldn't work, of course, because the average earnings of American men cannot cover the arrangement Venker finds most desirable.

And what does Venker promise women, if they follow her blueprint?  As far as I can tell, she promises women marriage and children.  But women can get those without Venker's rules, and her rules do not prevent divorce but simply make it much more painful for women.

How To Popularize Science: Final Thoughts on The Girl Brainz Boy Brainz Study And Its Reception

You can read my initial reactions in an earlier post but now that I've had more time to digest the results (and others have had more time to react to the results), a couple of things are worth noting:

First, as is frequently the case with the Big-Splash Popularizations of research, the discussion continues but that  isn't allowed to make a splash*.  This is a general problem, not limited to any particular type of science reporting.

It is a Bad Thing for the understanding of science.  Just as the popularizations of some study findings which were later retracted (or never actually approved for publication in the first place) can still be found, uncorrected, all over the Internet,  bits and pieces of that retracted research will still float around in the brains of the original readers of the said popularizations. The incentives to correct this problem appear nonexistent.

That argument is not about the Ingalhalikar et al. study, specifically, and I am not saying that it would be retracted or not replicated.  The point I want to make is that neither the science community nor the community of science journalists is given incentives not to push for the Big Splash form of science reporting, even when something that causes a big splash may have more than the usual probabilities of finally being found incorrect or at least exaggerated or misapplied.

The research community rewards new research, not replication of old research or criticism of the research of others (unless that is the basis for new research).  The research community definitely does NOT get rewarded for negative findings.**  Hence the usual omission of mentions to gender differences when they were not found.  That biases the findings of the field on, say, brains and gender, towards reporting differences, not similarities.

The journalistic community is stressed for time and expertise and under the pressure to get more eyeballs to read the popularizations.  The arrival of the Internet has created a setup where the first to get to the goal line gets the goodies!  So if a press release of a  new study is sent to all the journalists before it is even available in a published form and if it looks like a Big Splash, out go the popularizations!  A few careful science writers ask for comments from some person not involved in that research.  Often those comments are fuzzy and general and cold weak tea, and that's probably because the paper isn't actually available for scrutiny yet!

By the time  perhaps critical responses to the study start dribbling in, the journalists are pressed to look for new Big Splashes, to get more eyeballs and more clicks for the advertisers.

What is supposed to keep this system from collapsing?

I think it's the idea of peer review.  If academic peers have passed on article, it must be OK, right?  But the peer review system was never as strong as outsiders might think, and the proliferation of new research, new e-journals for science and the increased pressure to publish-or-perish, not only in the top research universities, has created impossible demands for those who do the reviewing.

Most don't have access to the original data, and even if they did, would not have the days, months or years looking at the analyses in detail would require.  Indeed, peer review was never expected to do that kind of work, just to check that the numbers and calculations etc. looked reasonable.

A different problem arises when a study is about a particular theory and uses a particular, perhaps novel method.  If the peer reviewers are selected on the basis of their knowledge of the theory, they may know nothing about the method, not even, whether it is the correct one for the particular questions.  If the peer reviewers are selected on the basis of their knowledge of the methodology, they may not be able to state whether the conclusions about the theory are correct.

This is a particular problem in social sciences.  In some sense, every review of empirical research should have a statistician looking at the study.  But statisticians are few and already busy with reviews of their own fields.

Then you have the bubble fields.  In those all peers believe in the same basic theories, so the reviews they provide will never attack the theories themselves.

Second,  the tendency of negative findings being left in the file drawer and not published could be particularly severe in fields such as the study of gender differences.  A field named like that could be (just could be!) especially tuned towards seeking for differences.

As there is no field of gender similarities, what happens to those studies which don't find a gender difference, after looking for it?

My guess is that they are often recast to be about something else than gender, something which can be viewed as a positive finding.  If that is true, then these particular results about gender won't have much impact on our discussions about gender and the brain, say.  In short, my hypothesis is that the field which studies gender differences will under-report gender similarities.  The overall impact of that is to tilt the published research in one direction.  A useful project would be to go through all the brain studies which didn't find a gender difference, despite including gender in the variables studied,  and add those to the existing literature on brain and gender.

Third, those prior beliefs!  The Economist's popularization of the Ingalhalikar et al. study  is probably the worst in this respect.  It begins with a whole paragraph on the author's own prior beliefs:

MEN and women do not think in the same ways. Few would disagree with that. And science has quantified some of those differences. Men, it is pretty well established, have better motor and spatial abilities than women, and more monomaniacal patterns of thought. Women have better memories, are more socially adept, and are better at dealing with several things at once. There is a lot of overlap, obviously. But on average these observations are true.
Suggesting why they are true in evolutionary terms is a game anyone can play. One obvious idea is that because, in the days of hunting and gathering, men spent more time wandering away from camp, their brains needed to be adapted to able to find their way around. They also spent more time tracking, fighting and killing things, be they animals or intrusive neighbours. Women by contrast, politicked among themselves and brought up the children, so they needed to be adapted to enable them to manipulate each other’s and their children’s emotions to succeed in their world.

This is an excellent description of what the person who wrote this particular popularization believes!  But it has very little or nothing to do with the imaging findings of the Ingalhalikar et al. study.***

Prior beliefs matter in this field tremendously, and mostly for gender-political reasons.  This is very clear from the comments threads to the popularizations.

But prior beliefs of the researchers themselves  matter, too****.  Suppose that those with prior beliefs in, say, evolutionary ("hard-wired") gender differences in cognition tend to choose fields such as evolutionary psychology or the study of gender differences in neuroscience more often than those whose prior beliefs are not so strongly linked to evolutionary explanations or the idea of "hard-wiring".  What effect might this have on the research that is produced?

I'm not sure, because some researchers are able to ignore their own prior beliefs in their work.  But I think this could introduce a subtle bias.   To flip that around, those whose prior beliefs about gender differences privilege cultural and environmental explanations might be more likely to enter fields such as feminist studies.  In both cases the prior beliefs could influence how research topics are picked (and what is not studied) and how the results are interpreted.*****

Is that important to keep in mind when writing (or reading) popularizations?  I believe it is. 

*One example of this process is discussed (contents: race and intelligence) here (pdf).

**It's somewhat ironic that the popularization the Economist has published on the Ingalhalikar et al. study is pretty weak on the very aspects that the earlier Economist article critiques.

***I love to read that description of how the author believes our prehistoric ancestors lived!  It assumes that women seldom left "the camp" (given that most evolutionary psychologists assume that the prehistoric people they theorize about were small nomadic tribes, the concept of "a camp" is debatable), that gatherers didn't have to learn how to find their way around at all, that "politicking" is something men clearly haven't evolved to do (which rather contradicts current political arenas almost everywhere), that women and men hardly interacted so women only had to "manipulate" the emotions of other women and children and men didn't have to learn to "manipulate" anyone's emotions, not to mention the fact that "manipulation of emotions" isn't something the Ingalhalikar et al. study (or any study?) has studied as an evolutionary adaptation.

All that is fun, of course, and as I stated, it tells much about the person who wrote this particular popularization.  But sadly, we cannot go back in time to collect information about gender roles at various points of time, including the hypothetical time period in Pleistocene when the evolutionary psychologists assume that various adaptations "stuck" to us.  That means that stories of this kind really are JustSo stories.  Or rather, they are stories to "explain" differences observed today as evolutionary adaptations, and the differences observed today depend on one's own framework.  Thus, this author seems to think that women are emotionally manipulative and then goes backwards to find an explanation for it.

****A neurogeneticist, say, who advocates Simon Baron-Cohen's book The Essential Difference, as good reading in the field of differences between the sexes certainly comes across as biased to me, because I have read the book.  Baron-Cohen argues that there is a male brain which is wired for building and understanding systems and a female brain which is wired for empathy!

He created a test for measuring such important differences.  The test contains many biased questions (many more than that short post covers) which steer answers in a certain direction by using male hobbies as examples in the systematizing questions and by not using female hobbies as such examples.

It even included a question about being able to understand the electrical wiring in a house.  Given that this can be learned over time, we are not measuring something innate.  Given that taking care of house repairs is coded male in this culture, we are tying the test results to gender roles.  Essentially all the systematizing questions or assertions in the original test with examples picked those examples from male hobbies, thus making it less likely that women would come across as systematizing.

Despite that, the test seems to have trouble  correctly predicting "male" brains and "female" brains by gender, and doesn't seem to have anything to say about the idea that one might score high in both systematizing and empathizing or neither.

*****Or as one commentator jokingly at puts it:
I would really like to see a study which examines if the brains of neuroscientists who believe there is a fundamental difference between men and women are wired differently than those of neuroscientists who don’t.

A postscript, added later:

Yes, I know I said I was finished with the topic (and there might be more if I ever get a response to an e-mail question I sent the study authors), but this piece in the Guardian is worth reading, mostly because it is openly and boldly on the other side of all the other popularizations I have read, and we do need some balance in the coverage.

It gives one of the main reasons why studies of this type should be carefully scrutinized:  The history of the field:

For more than 30 years, I have seen a stream of tales about gender differences in brain structure under headlines that assure me that from birth men are innately more rational and better at map-reading than women, who are emotional, empathetic multi-taskers, useless at telling jokes. I am from Mars, apparently, while the ladies in my life are from Venus.
And there are no signs that this flow is drying up, with last week witnessing publication of a particularly lurid example of the genre. Writing in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia revealed they had used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging to show that the neurons in men's brains are connected to each other in a very different way from neurons in women's brains.
The Big Splash in these kinds of studies is to find sex differences, not to find sex similarities, and the differences some study finds are usually sold as the final word in the field.  It's preferable if, indeed, we can state that women and men are so different that they might as well be from different planets

Science and its treatment in the popular media cannot be ultimately understood without understanding the culture in which they happen, and part of that understanding is that the explanations favoring (marriage-based) stereotypes (about how husbands and wives cannot communicate) are privileged, and that those who argue otherwise are labeled as feminazis, non-scientific or simply in denial.

Hence the obligatory warning that none of what I say here implies that I believe in no innate differences in male and female brains.  But I don't think they are as large as most of the armchair speculators assume, and I also believe that the brain changes based on how it is used.  As long as gender roles are operative, the average woman and the average man are likely to have somewhat different use patterns of their brains.