Huberman Lab - Dr. David Buss: How Humans Select & Keep Romantic Partners in Short & Long Term

Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast,

where we discuss science

and science-based tools for everyday life.

I’m Andrew Huberman,

and I’m a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology

at Stanford School of Medicine.

My guest today is Dr. David Buss.

Dr. Buss is a professor of psychology

at the University of Texas, Austin,

and he is one of the founding members and luminaries

in the field of evolutionary psychology.

Dr. Buss’s laboratory is responsible

for understanding the strategies that humans use

to select mates in the short and long-term,

and he is an expert in sex differences in mating strategy.

His laboratory has explored, for instance,

why women cheat on their spouses or their long-term partners,

as well as why men tend to cheat on their spouses

and long-term partners.

He’s also explored a number of things

related to the courtship dance

that we call dating and securing a mate,

including the use of deception

related to proclamations of love

or promises of finances or sexual activity.

Dr. Buss’s laboratory has also evaluated

how status is assessed,

meaning how we evaluate our own worth

and our potential as a mate,

and who is, let’s just say,

within range of a potential mate,

both in the short and long-term.

For instance, today we talk about

how people don’t just make direct assessments

of their own and other people’s value

as a potential mate,

but also using the assessments of others

to indirectly determine whether or not

they stand a chance or not

in securing somebody as a short or long-term mate.

His laboratory has also focused on

some of the complicated and varied emotions

related to mating love in relationships,

such as lust and jealousy,

and he’s extensively explored something called mate poaching

or the various strategies that men and women use

to make sure that the person that they want to be with

or the person they are with

is not with anyone else or seeking anyone else,

and indeed that other people don’t seek their mate.

Dr. Buss’s work also relates to how biological influences,

such as ovulation or time within the menstrual cycle,

influences mate selection or tendency to have sex or not

with a potential short or long-term mate.

And more recent work from Dr. Buss’s laboratory

focuses on the darker aspects of mating

and sexual behavior in humans,

including stalking and sexual violence.

Today, we discuss all those topics.

We also discuss some of the strategies that humans can use

to make healthy mate selection choices,

and for those that are already in committed relationships,

to ensure healthy progression

of those committed relationships.

In addition to publishing dozens

of landmark scientific studies,

Dr. Buss has authored many important books.

A few of those include

The Evolution of Desire and Why Women Have Sex,

and his most recent book is the one that I’m reading now,

which is called When Men Behave Badly,

The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception,

Harassment, and Assault.

And it’s an absolutely fascinating read.

It has endorsements from Dr. Robert Sapolsky,

professor at Stanford,

who’s been on this podcast as a guest before,

as well as Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt,

who wrote The Coddling of the American Mind.

It’s a really important book, I believe,

and one that doesn’t just get into the darker aspects

of human mating behavior and violence,

but also strategies that people can take

to ensure healthy mating behavior and relationships.

There’s so much rumors, speculation,

and outright fabrication of ideas

about why humans select particular mates

in the short and long-term,

what men and women do differently, and so on.

What I love about Dr. Buss’s work

is that it’s grounded in laboratory studies

that are highly quantitative, using rigorous statistics.

And so throughout today’s discussion,

you’ll notice that I’m wrapped with attention,

trying to extract as much information as I can

from Dr. Buss about the real science

of human mate selection and mating strategy.

I’m certain that everyone will take away

extremely valuable knowledge that they can use

in existing or future relationships

from this discussion with Dr. Buss.

Before we begin, I’d like to emphasize

that this podcast is separate

from my teaching and research roles at Stanford.

It is, however, part of my desire and effort

to bring zero cost to consumer information

about science and science-related tools

to the general public.

In keeping with that theme,

I’d like to thank the sponsors of today’s podcast.

Our first sponsor is Athletic Greens.

Athletic Greens is an all-in-one

vitamin mineral probiotic drink.

I’ve been taking Athletic Greens since 2012,

so I’m delighted that they’re sponsoring the podcast.

The reason I started taking Athletic Greens

and the reason I still take Athletic Greens

once or twice a day is that it helps me cover

all of my basic nutritional needs.

It makes up for any deficiencies that I might have.

In addition, it has probiotics,

which are vital for microbiome health.

I’ve done a couple of episodes now

on the so-called gut microbiome

and the ways in which the microbiome interacts

with your immune system, with your brain to regulate mood,

and essentially with every biological system

relevant to health throughout your brain and body.

With Athletic Greens, I get the vitamins I need,

the minerals I need,

and the probiotics to support my microbiome.

If you’d like to try Athletic Greens,

you can go to slash Huberman

and claim a special offer.

They’ll give you five free travel packs

plus a year supply of vitamin D3 K2.

There are a ton of data now showing that vitamin D3

is essential for various aspects of our brain

and body health.

Even if we’re getting a lot of sunshine,

many of us are still deficient in vitamin D3.

And K2 is also important because it regulates things

like cardiovascular function, calcium in the body,

and so on.

Again, go to slash Huberman

to claim the special offer of the five free travel packs

and the year supply of vitamin D3 K2.

Today’s episode is also brought to us by Element.

Element is an electrolyte drink

that has everything you need and nothing you don’t.

That means the exact ratios of electrolytes are an element,

and those are sodium, magnesium, and potassium,

but it has no sugar.

I’ve talked many times before on this podcast

about the key role of hydration and electrolytes

for nerve cell function, neuron function,

as well as the function of all the cells

and all the tissues and organ systems of the body.

If we have sodium, magnesium, and potassium

present in the proper ratios,

all of those cells function properly,

and all our bodily systems can be optimized.

If the electrolytes are not present,

and if hydration is low,

we simply can’t think as well as we would otherwise,

our mood is off, hormone systems go off,

our ability to get into physical action,

to engage in endurance and strength,

and all sorts of other things is diminished.

So with Element, you can make sure

that you’re staying on top of your hydration

and that you’re getting the proper ratios of electrolytes.

If you’d like to try Element, you can go to drinkelement,

that’s slash Huberman,

and you’ll get a free Element sample pack

with your purchase.

They’re all delicious.

So again, if you want to try Element,

you can go to slash Huberman.

Today’s episode is also brought to us by Thesis.

Thesis makes what are called nootropics,

which means smart drugs.

Now, to be honest, I am not a fan of the term nootropics.

I don’t believe in smart drugs in the sense that

I don’t believe that there’s any one substance

or collection of substances that can make us smarter.

I do believe based on science, however,

that there are particular neural circuits

and brain functions that allow us to be more focused,

more alert, access creativity, be more motivated, et cetera.

That’s just the way that the brain works,

different neural circuits for different brain states.

Thesis understands this.

And as far as I know, they’re the first nootropics company

to create targeted nootropics for specific outcomes.

I’ve been using Thesis for more than six months now,

and I can confidently say that their nootropics

have been a total game changer.

My go-to formula is the clarity formula,

or sometimes I’ll use their energy formula before training.

To get your own personalized nootropic starter kit,

go online to slash Huberman,

take a three minute quiz,

and Thesis will send you four different formulas

to try in your first month.

That’s slash Huberman,

and use the code Huberman at checkout

for 10% off your first order.

I’m pleased to announce that the Huberman Lab Podcast

is now partnered with Momentus Supplements.

We partnered with Momentus for several important reasons.

First of all, they ship internationally,

because we know that many of you are located

outside of the United States.

Second of all, and perhaps most important,

the quality of their supplements is second to none,

both in terms of purity and precision

of the amounts of the ingredients.

Third, we’ve really emphasized supplements

that are single ingredient supplements,

and that are supplied in dosages

that allow you to build a supplementation protocol

that’s optimized for cost,

that’s optimized for effectiveness,

and that you can add things

and remove things from your protocol

in a way that’s really systematic and scientific.

If you’d like to see the supplements

that we partnered with Momentus on,

you can go to slash Huberman.

There, you’ll see those supplements,

and just keep in mind that we are constantly expanding

the library of supplements available through Momentus

on a regular basis.

Again, that’s slash Huberman.

And now my conversation with Dr. David Buss.

Well, David, delighted to be here.

I’ve followed your work for a number of years,

and I’m excited to ask you a number of questions

about these super interesting topics

about how people select mates,

how they lie, cheat, but also behave well

in this dance that we call mate choice.

Yes, yeah.

Fortunately, there are well-behaving humans

in the mix here.

Good to know.

Just to start off,

perhaps you could just orient us a little bit

about mate choice,

some of the primary criteria

that studies show men and women use

in order to select mates,

both, shall we call them transient mates

as well as lifetime mates?

Right, well, that’s a critical distinction

because what people look for

in a long-term committed mateship,

like a marriage partner or a long-term romantic relationship,

is different from what people look for

in a hookup or casual sex or one-night stand

or even a brief affair.

So that’s actually critical.

I wonder if we could maybe just back up a second

and just talk a little bit about the theoretical framework

for understanding mate choice.


So it basically stems from Darwin’s theory

of sexual selection.

And most people, when they think about evolution,

they think about cliches like survival of the fittest

or nature red in tooth and claw.

And Darwin noticed that there were phenomena

that couldn’t be explained

by this so-called survival selection,

things like the brilliant plumage of peacocks,

sex differences, like in, you know,

stags, for example, have these massive antlers

and the females of the species do not.

And so he came up with the theory of sexual selection,

which deals not with the evolution of characteristics

due to their survival advantage,

but rather due to their mating advantage.

And he identified two causal processes

by which mating advantage could occur.

One is intrasexual competition

with the stereotype being two stags locking horns in combat

with the victor gaining sexual access to the female,

loser ambling off with a broken antler

and dejected and low self-esteem

and needing psychotherapy perhaps

or mate value improvement therapy.

And the logic was whatever qualities led to success

in these same sex battles,

those qualities get passed on in greater numbers.

And so you see evolution, which is change over time

and increase in frequency of the characteristics

associated with winning these,

what Darwin called contest competition.

And we know that the logic of that is more general now

and involves things like in our species competing

for position and status hierarchies.

So anyway, so intrasexual competition is one,

but the second most relevant to your question

about mate choice is preferential mate choice.

That was the second causal pathway.

And the logic there is that if members of one sex

agree with one another, if there’s some consensus

about the qualities that are desired,

then those of the opposite sex

who possess the desired qualities

or embody those desired qualities,

they have a mating advantage.

They get chosen, they get preferred.

Those lacking desired qualities get banished, shunned,

ignored, or in the modern environment become incels.

And so the logic there is very simple,

but also very powerful.

And that is that whatever qualities are desired,

consensually desired,

if there’s some heritable basis to those,

then those increase in frequency over time.

And so, and in the human case,

these two causal processes of sexual selection

are related to each other in that the preferences

of the mate preferences of one sex

basically set the ground rules

for competition in the opposite sex.

So if, for example, hypothetically,

women preferred to mate with men

who were able and willing to devote resources to them,

then that would create competition among men

to claw their way, you know,

and beat out other men in resource acquisition

and then displaying that their willingness

to commit that to a particular woman.

And same with women, though.

And this is one of the interesting things about humans

is that we have mutual mate choice,

which is not true in all species.

So, and that is that it’s not just a matter of,

you know, you selecting someone to be your mate,

they have to reciprocally select you.

And so with mutual mate choice,

we have both preferences,

mate preferences that women have

and mate preferences that men have,

and consequently competition among men

for access to the most desirable women

and competition among women

for access to the most desirable man.

So that’s sort of a little bit of theoretical backdrop.

So you asked, well, what are the qualities

that men and women desire?

And maybe we’ll start with long-term mating

and then shift to short-term mating.

And long-term mating is interesting in and of itself

in that it’s very rare in the mammalian world.

So there are more than 5,000 species of primates,

of which, I’m sorry, more than 5,000 species of mammals

of which we are one.

But the percentage of mammals that have anything resembling

like a pair-bonded long-term mating strategy,

it’s about three to 5%.

It’s extremely rare.

And even our closest primate relatives, the chimpanzees,

they don’t have a long-term mating strategy.

They don’t have anything resembling pair-bonded mating.

In the chimps, the females come into estrus.

Almost all the sexual activity occurs

during the estrus phase.

After that, males and females basically ignore each other

for the most part, with some exceptions.

But with humans, you have the evolution

of long-term pair-bonding, attachment,

heavy male investment in offspring,

relatively concealed ovulation.

And so these are kind of unique aspects

of the human mating system.

So to get to your question,

so well, what are the qualities?

So the best, the most large-scale study

that’s been done on this is a study that I did a while back

of 37 different cultures.

And it’s now been replicated by other researchers.

But basically what we found is three clusters of things.

We found qualities that both men and women wanted

in a long-term mate.

We found some qualities that were sex-differentiated,

where women preferred them more than men,

or men preferred them more than women.

And then we found some attributes

that were highly variable across cultures

in whether people found these as desirable

or indispensable or irrelevant in a mate.

And so I could give examples of each of these, if that.

Yeah, that would be great.

I’d love to know what some of the common themes were

across these cultures,

in terms of what’s being mate and sexually selected for.

Yeah, so some of the things that were,

so if you talk about universal desire,

so things that men and women share,

there are things like intelligence, kindness,

mutual attraction and love,

which is really kind of heartwarming

because some people think that love

is a recent Western invention by some European poets.

But it turns out it’s not true.

You go to the Klungsan in Botswana,

and they describe pretty much the same experience

as a falling in love as we do,

and even describe the distinction

between this kind of infatuation stage of love

and the attachment phase,

where you can’t maintain this frenzy of infatuation

and obsession for very long,

six weeks, maybe six months at most.

Otherwise, you can get nothing else done in your life.

Yeah, those are those dopamine circuits

firing at high frequency.


Yeah, so mutual attraction, love, good health,

dependability, emotional stability,

although there’s a bit of a sex difference there

with women preferring it a bit more than men.

And so basically, and these may seem obvious,

so no one wants a stupid, mean, ugly, disease-ridden mate.

So perhaps obvious, but no one knew this

in advance of the 37 Culture Study.

So these were some universal preferences.

So you go to the Zulu tribe in South Africa,

or Rio de Janeiro in Brazil,

or Portugal, or Oslo, or anywhere in the world,

and these are qualities that people universally desire

in long-term mates.

Sex differences.

So sex differences basically fell into two clusters.

So women more than men prioritized good earning capacity,

slightly older age,

and the qualities associated with resource acquisition.

So these are things like a man’s social status.

Does he have drive?

Is he ambitious?

Does he have a good long-term resource trajectory

is one way that I like to phrase it,

because women often, they don’t look at necessarily

the resources that a guy possesses at this moment,

but what is his trajectory?

And so-

Just sorry to interrupt, but may I ask,

is there anything known about the commonalities

of how that is assessed?

You know, is it, you know,

he’s rolling out of bed early and running eight miles.

He’s showing proficiency in school.

He handles himself well socially at parties,

isn’t drinking too much, but knows when, you know,

I mean, obviously they’re integrating multiple cues.

The brain is a complex place,

but is there any information about

what those variables are across cultures?

Yeah, well, I think that

there’s been less attention to that.

So that’s a great question.

One of the things that we do know across cultures

is that women attend to the attention structure.

So the attention structure is a key determinant of status.

So there’s people who are high in status

or those to whom the most people pay the most attention.

Ah, so the attention of others to them,

not how well a given potential mate

can focus and pay attention necessarily.

Yes, yeah, exactly.

But women, look, I mean, you know,

is the guy, even in the modern environment,

is the guy spending eight hours a day playing video games,

eating Cheetos and drinking beer,

or is he devoting effort to his professional development?

So hard work, ambition, does he have clear goals,

or is he in an existential crisis

not knowing what he’s gonna do with his life?

So those are some of the qualities

that people look for.

And also women use what’s called in the literature

mate choice copying.

And this is related in part to the attention structure.

That is guys who have passed the filters of multiple women,

those are like pre-approved, pre-approvement.

So we’ve done studies where you just take a guy,

photograph him alone versus take the same guy,

put an attractive woman next to him

or put two women next to him,

and women judge exactly the same guy

to be much more attractive if he’s paired with women

than if he’s not.

And some guys exploit this in the modern world

by hiring wing women to go with them on dates and so forth.

This is my sister, former girlfriend or whatever.

So, but you’re correct in that women use multiple cues

to assess these things and they change over time.

So in the modern environment,

even things like the attention structure,

does this guy have a million Twitter followers

or three Twitter followers?

So that is an index of the attention structure

and hence the status of the guy

within the broader community.

So, and from an evolutionary perspective,

it’s reasonable that women would prioritize these qualities

because of the tremendous asymmetry

in our reproductive biology,

namely that fertilization occurs internally within women,

not within men.

Women bear the burdens of the nine month pregnancy,

which is metabolically expensive

as well as creating opportunity costs

in terms of mobility and solving other tasks

that people need to solve in the course of their lives.

And so one way to phrase that is that the costs

of making a bad mate choice are much heavier for women

when it comes to sexual behavior, certainly,

because, and the benefits correspondingly

of making a wise mate choice are higher for women

in the sexual context.

But as I said, we have mutual mate choice in our species.

And so what do men value more than women?

Physical attractiveness.

They rank that as a more important criteria

than do women about men?

Yes, yeah, exactly.

Consistently across cultures.

Consistently, and it’s not that women

are indifferent to it.

So women do pay attention to a guy’s physical appearance,

his fitness and so forth.

And guys are actually off base in thinking

that women prefer more muscular men than they actually do.

So like in muscle magazines,

these men with bulging biceps and so forth,

women don’t find that especially,

but they do prioritize fit men,

a good shoulder to hip ratio

and other qualities of physical appearance,

as well as things like cues to health.

So physical appearance provides a wealth of information

about a person’s health status,

but also provides for men a wealth of information

about a woman’s fertility, her reproductive value.

Now, not that men think about that consciously.

I mean, you men don’t walk down the street

and see a woman and say, oh, I find her attractive

because I think she must be very fertile.

Maybe a few weird people do that,

but most men just, it’s like,

they just find those cues attractive.

And the cues are cues associated with youth and health,

because we know that youth is a very powerful cue

to fertility and reproductive value.

So men prioritize physical appearance.

And in the field of psychology,

it used to, I was taught when I was an undergraduate

that you can’t judge a book by its cover,

that physical attractiveness was infinitely arbitrary,

infinitely culturally variable.

And it’s simply not true.

We know now based on the last 20 years of scientific studies

that the cues that men find attractive in women

are not at all arbitrary.

There is some variation across cultures,

like in relative plumpness versus thinness,

but things like clear skin, clear eyes,

symmetrical features, a low waist to hip ratio,

full lips, lustrous hair,

all these are qualities

that are associated with youth and health,

and hence have evolved

to be part of our standards of attractiveness.

And so it’s not just that men

are these superficial creatures

who evaluate women on the basis of appearance.

There’s an underlying logic to why they do so.

And as I said, relative youth,

this age thing is one of the largest sex differences

you find in long-term mate selection

with women preferring somewhat older men

and men preferring somewhat younger women.

Is there a consistent age gap to relate to that statement?

Yes, there is.

So the age gap, though, depends on the age of the man.

So we can document this.

So in my studies, what we found is that men preferred women

who were about three to four years younger

than they were on average,

and I’ll qualify this in a second.

Women preferred guys who were about three and a half

to four and a half years older than they were.

So there was a sex difference going

in the opposite direction.

But as men get older,

they prefer women who are increasingly younger than they are.

So one way to gauge this,

so there are actual marriage statistics,

and then there are expressed preferences,

and both sexes kind of converge.

So if you look at first marriage,

second marriage, third marriage,

as if people get divorced and remarried,

average age gap is, in America anyway,

is three years at first marriage with the guys being older,

five years at second marriage,

and eight years at third marriage.

So that is, as men are getting older

and getting divorced and remarrying,

they are marrying women

who are increasingly younger than they are.

In terms of preferences,

it’s also expressed in preferences.

So it doesn’t go down,

so like, say, a 25-year-old man

would, say, prefer a woman who’s 20 or in her early 20s.

35-year-old man might prefer a woman

who’s in her late 20s or early 30s.

50-year-old man might prefer a woman who’s, say, 35 to 38.

So the preferences do go up,

but the gap gets increasingly larger.

And the reason that you don’t see things like,

why aren’t men preferring women?

So peak fertility in humans is around age 24, 25.

And so you say, well, why aren’t the 60-year-old men

prioritizing 25-year-old women?

Well, as I mentioned,

it’s a reciprocal, mutual, mate-choice phenomenon.

She constrains the equation.

Well, she constrains it,

but also marriage and long-term mating

are things other than reproductive unions

in the modern environment.

That is, you’re supposed to do things as a couple,

and if you get too large an age gap,

then essentially you’re in different cultures.

You grow up with different songs

and if the cultural gap gets too large,

you don’t understand each other.

So there are constraints on that.

But if you look at contexts

where there are no constraints of that sort,

so historically kings, emperors, despots, et cetera,

and I’ll give one more modern example,

they basically prefer young, fertile, attractive females.

And if they have harems,

they stock the harems with those

and then circulate them out when they’re 30 and so forth.

And so if you look at marriage systems

that are unconstrained,

then the preferences are more likely to be revealed.

Or within cultures, that is,

if you look at men who are in a position

to get what they want,

so as Mick Jagger noted,

you can’t always get what you want,

but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

I hear that most of the time he got what he needed.

Right, right, he got what he wanted.


Yeah, and maybe what he needed.

But he was in a position,

I don’t know if he still is,

I think he’s in his 70s now,

but he was in a position,

as was, let’s say, Rod Stewart,

to take another example,

or Leonardo DiCaprio.

If you were a male who’s in a position

where there are thousands of women

potentially available to you,

and you can have your pick,

then you see that clearer expression for younger females.

There was a chart that was floating around the internet

of the girlfriends of Leonardo DiCaprio

as he got older,

so he’s getting older and older,

and the graph of the age of his girlfriends,

it basically stayed the same,

was in the early, early 20s or so.

He values consistency.

He values consistency.

So anyway, the data converge on that.

So these are universal sex differences

in long-term mate selection.

So now when we shift to,

oh, and I should mention cultural variability,

because that’s a critical thing,

because there is, in my 37 culture study,

what I found was the preference for virginity,

that is, no prior sexual experience,

that was the most variable desire across cultures.

So you had cultures like,

at the time of the study, China,

it was basically indispensable

that a partner be a virgin.

And then at the other end,

you have Sweden, where Sweden,

Swedes typically place close to zero value on it,

and some even find it undesirable,

like, you’re weird if you’re a virgin.

And so you have this whole spectrum.

This is virginity in the female,

or is this also, this is not,

in China, was it preference

that the male and the female be virgin,

so mutual mate selection?

Yeah, it was a preference for both sexes.


But it’s a good question,

because where there was a sex difference,

it was always in the direction

of males preferring virginity more than females.

And we’ve gone back to China,

so I still do research in China,

among other places,

and we’ve gone back

and retested modern urban populations,

and the importance of virginity

has gone down in China,

especially in the urban areas,

and the sex difference

that didn’t exist before has now emerged,

where males value it more than females.

And I think part of it was,

in previous times,

you hit ceiling effects,

where both sexes say,

yeah, it’s absolutely important to be a virgin.

So there’s cultural variation

and cultural change over time

in some of these qualities.

But the sex differences that I described

have remained invariant over the years.

Since my 37 culture study,

this has been replicated

in at least a couple dozen different cultures,

and we’ve gone back to some of the cultures.

So I mentioned we’ve gone back to China,

Brazil, and India

to look at cultural changes over time,

and there have been,

in some cases,

dramatic cultural changes over time,

but the sex differences that I described are invariant.

They haven’t changed a bit.

I’d be remiss

if I didn’t ask about truth-telling and deception,

because some of the measures that you’re describing,

age, for instance,

one can potentially lie about, right?

I’m guessing that there are people

who do that on online profiles and whatnot.

From what I understand,

people also lie about height

and other features on online profiles,

but some of them are much harder to hide, right?

Eventually, the truth comes out about some,

if not all of these things.

So if you would,

could you tell us about how men and women

leverage deception versus truth-telling

and communicating some of the things

around mate choice selection?

Yeah, well, so basically,

both men and women do deceive.

So we have the modern cultural invention of online dating,

which was little used 10 years ago

and virtually absent 20 years ago.

And people do lie,

but they lie in predictable ways.

They lie in ways that attempt to embody

the mate preferences of the person

they’re trying to attract.

And so men do lie.

They deceive about their income, their status.

So they exaggerate their income by about 20%.

They tack on about two inches to their height.

So if they’re 5'10", they round up to six feet.

So they don’t, like if they’re 5'10",

they don’t say that they’re gigantic,

but they kind of round it up

in the more desirable direction.

Women tend to deceive about weight.

So they tend to shave about 15 pounds

off of their reported weight.

And both sexes post photos

that are not truly representative

of what they actually look like.

So they might post photos of themselves

when they were younger,

or they’re even advice,

tips on how to create the best selfie

of the best angle that will maximally,

you know, enhance what you look like.

Or just doctoring of photos, I’m guessing.

Oh yeah, yeah.

Photoshopping, absolutely.

And one of the things about it,

now you say like, well, do people find out?

Of course, people do find out.

I mean, I’ll just give you one story

about a colleague of mine who was doing,

is a male who’s doing internet dating.

And he picked only women who self-described

as sevens on the one to seven on attractiveness.

So the most attractive as self-reported.

And so, and he went out with this one woman

and she was missing her front teeth.

And he said, well, call me picky,

but missing her front teeth.

And she thinks she’s like the top of attractors.

He was a little disappointed about that.

And women of course are disappointed.

They meet a guy who they think is this physically fit,

you know, athletic guy.

And he comes up, he’s, you know, 300 pounds and overweight.

So people do find out.

And so, and there are some internet dating sites

have kind of a vetting of the accuracy of something.

So some things you can look up through public records.

And does this guy have a criminal record, for example?

Is he on a, you know, a sexual offenders website?

So there’s some things you can verify.

But what I tell people is you really have to meet the person

and interact, you know, in part because of the deception,

but also because what happens with internet dating

is that the photograph tends to overwhelm

all the other cues.

And all the other cues are written statements.

And we weren’t really evolved to process written statements,

but we were evolved to respond to physical cues.

But, and men tend to attend to the visual cues

much more than women.

So women in their mate selection,

they have olfactory cues.

So what does the guy sound like?

His vocal qualities, that’s auditory cues.

But olfactory cues, what does he smell like?

And so women have a more acute sense of smell than men do.

And so if the guy doesn’t smell right,

even if he embodies all the other qualities women want,

that’s a deal breaker.

And so I encourage people just, you know,

stop with the 100 texts back and forth or messaging

and meet a person for a cup of coffee and interact.

And then you’ll, you know,

you’ll get a more accurate beat on the person.

And then of course, some qualities you can’t assess

even with a half hour interaction, you can tell a lot,

but things like emotional stability

are things that have to be assessed over time.

And so one of the things that I advise people to do,

and I’m not in the advice giving business,

but people ask me all the time.

Once they find out what I study,

they say, well, I got this problem.

Can you give me advice?

But one of the things to assess things

like emotional stability,

which is absolutely critical in long-term mating

is to do something like go on a trip together,

take a vacation where you’re,

even in an unfamiliar environment where you’re,

you have to cope with things that you’re not familiar with.

And as opposed to an environment where it’s very predictable

and so you get a greater exposure

because one of the hallmarks of emotional instability

is how they respond to stress.

So emotionally unstable people tend to have a long latency

to return to baseline after a stressful event.

And so this is the sort of information

you can’t get on a coffee date.

You know, you can only get by assessing it over time.

Well, as somebody whose laboratory studies stress

and tools to combat stress, that’s great.

It’s yet more incentive for people

to develop self-regulatory mechanisms for themselves.

I’m guessing many of the features of deception

in this context were present long before internet dating.

And so is it, it’s somewhat dark to think about,

but is deception built into this dance

that we call mate selection

and has it been built in for a long time?

Or is this something that you think has emerged more

as people are approaching each other

through these electronic web-based mediums?

Yeah, I mean, some forms of deception have been there

for a long time over human evolutionary history.

So one form of deception, which we haven’t mentioned,

is deception about whether you’re interested

in a long-term committed relationship

or a short-term hookup.

And so there’s deception about that,

especially on the part of men.

So men who are interested, like on Tinder,

it has been reported, although Tinder denies this,

there’s been reported that something like 30%

of the men on Tinder are either married

or in long-term committed relationships

and they’re looking for something on the side.

But in terms of successfully attracting a mate,

the overt display that, hey, I’m interested

in just a short-term hookup, I’m interested in sex,

so I wanna have sex right now,

let’s just go back to my apartment,

these are very ineffective tactics.

And so effective tactics for men are often displaying cues

to long-term interest.

And so, and of course, that’s effective

for a woman who’s seeking a long-term interest.

And so that’s a deception.

So we find in our studies of deception

that men tend to exaggerate the depths

of their feelings for a woman,

exaggerate how similar they are

and how aligned they are in their values

and religious orientations and political values

and so forth.

And so I think there’s deception around that.

And I think that’s probably an evolutionarily recurrent form

of deception that women have defenses against, by the way.

But I think that modern internet dating opens the door

for certain types of deception that were,

at a minimum, were difficult to accomplish ancestrally.

So like things like Photoshopping,

wasn’t available back then.

Plus, we evolved in the context of small group living

where you not only had your own personal observations

of someone’s qualities, you had also your relatives,

your friends, allies, the social reputation

that someone had.

And these are all critical sources of information

that are less available in modern environments

because people migrate, they move from place to place,

they can close down one internet profile and put up another,

or they could have six going simultaneously.

So the modern environment opens up the door

for forms of deception that weren’t available

or weren’t available to the same degree ancestrally.

I see.

Very interesting.

Would you mind touching on some of the features

that are selected for in terms of sexual partner choice?

We talked a little bit about mate choice,

but in terms of sexual partner choice,

are there any good studies exploring

what people are selecting for,

or is it that they are both just in a state

of pure hypothalamic drive, I’m a neuroscientist after all,

and therefore it’s hard to recreate it in the laboratory?

Well, no, we do know something about that,

and we know something about how the preferences

for a sex partner differ from preference

for a long-term mate.

There is overlap, of course,

but one thing is physical appearance.

So physical appearance for women

is important in long-term mating,

not as important as it is for men,

but it becomes more important in short-term mating.

And so is the guy good-looking?

So those physical attributes are more important for women.

They remain important for men,

physical appearance in short-term mating,

but with the footnote that men are willing

to drop their standards in short-term mating

if it’s low commitment, low risk,

just sex without entangling commitments.

Women are more likely to prioritize

what I call bad boy qualities,

so guys who are very self-confident,

guys who are strut, guys who are a little arrogant,

guys who are risk-taking, guys who defy conventions.

Women are more attracted to those guys

in short-term mating than long-term mating.

And whereas in long-term mating,

they go more for the good dad qualities.

Is this guy dependable?

Is he gonna be a good father to my children?

And then also in short-term mating,

women use that mate copying heuristic.

That is, if there are thousands of other women

who find him attractive, women find him attractive.

And so that’s why you have the groupie phenomenon.

So with the rock stars, for example,

there are thousands of screaming women,

all of whom wanna sleep with this famous rock star,

and they use that as information.

They find, if you took like a still photo

of some of these rock stars and asked women

how attractive the guy is versus tell him

he’s a famous rock star and showed the thousands

of women screaming at him,

they judge him entirely differently

in terms of his attractiveness.

So even, and this is an important point,

that women’s attraction to men is more context-specific

and varies more across contexts

than men’s attraction to women.

And so I’ll give you just an example

that this is a female colleague of mine

went to a conference, an academic conference,

and she found the organizer of this conference

to be really attractive and then saw him six months later

and wondered, well, what was I thinking?

He doesn’t seem very attractive at all.

And what it was is when he was the organizer,

he was at the center of the attention structure.

He was the guy up on stage directing everybody

and everyone was attending to him.

And then when he was just a normal presenter

at a conference, he didn’t command the attention structure

like he did in that when he was the organizer.

And so this is just an illustration

of how circumstance-dependent women’s

mate attraction is for guys.

It depends on his status,

the number of women that are attracted to him,

the attention structure, how he interacts with a puppy

or a baby, if he’s ignoring a baby in distress

or positively interacting with a young child.

All these things, whereas for men, it almost doesn’t matter.

Context is more irrelevant.

They’re honing in on the specific psychophysical cues

that the woman is displaying and context be damned.

Very interesting.

Let’s talk about infidelity in committed relationships.

What are some of the consistent findings around reasons for

and maybe even long-term consequences

of infidelity for men and women?

And this could be marriage or long-term partnership

or infidelity of any kind, I suppose.

I’m guessing it does happen.

How frequent is it?

Yeah, that’s the interesting thing.

Well, how frequent it is is difficult to gauge

because it’s one of the forms of human conduct

that people like to keep secret.

So if you go back now, say 70 years

to the classic Kinsey studies,

the questions about infidelity were the questions

that most people refused to answer.

And when the question was brought up,

caused more people to drop out of the study.

And so that kind of tells you something that,

I mean, what do people conceal?

Infidelity, incest, murder,

there’s a small handful of things

that people universally wanna conceal

and infidelity is one of them.

But people do it.

And so Kinsey estimated 26% of married women

committed an infidelity at some point during their marriage

and about 50% of men.

Other studies have given lower figures.

And so the exact figures bounce around

depending on anonymity provided

and how comfortable they are with the interviewer

and so forth.

And by infidelity,

does that mean intercourse with somebody else?

Yeah, yeah.

So we’re not talking about quote unquote emotional affairs.

We’re talking about sex with somebody

other than their committed partner

unbeknownst to their partner.

Right, right.

And there are other forms of infidelity

which we could get into including emotional infidelity

and financial infidelity.

But here we’re just talking about for the moment,

sexual infidelity.

And the interesting thing about sexual infidelity

is that the sexes really differ fundamentally

in the motives for committing infidelity.

So for men, the primary motive

and these are on average sex differences.

So whenever I talk about secondary,

I’m talking about on average sex differences

because there’s overlap in the distributions.

But so these are generalizations

of which there are exceptions.

So for men, it’s mainly a matter of sexual variety.

So about 70% of the men,

it’s the opportunity presented itself.

I was out of town and I had this opportunity.

So low risk, low cost pursuit of sexual variety,

sexual novelty is a key motivation for men.

Sorry to interrupt.

So 70% of men that cheat, that’s the primary cause

or is it that 70% of men do cheat?

No, no, no.

Of the men who cheat 70%, thank you for that clarification.

Of the men who do cheat 70%, cite that as the key motive,

the key reason why they committed an infidelity.

Sort of like why mountain climbers climb mountains

because they’re there.

Right, right, because they’re there.

If they, well, the comedian, I think it was Chris Rock

said men are only as faithful as their opportunity.

Or how available their password on their phone is

to their partner.

Right, right, yeah.

So, but, and that’s an exaggeration,

but if you look at women,

this just desire for pure novelty,

sexual variety is much less of a motive.

But women who have affairs,

cite that they’re unhappy with their primary relationship,

emotionally unhappy or sexually unhappy and typically both.

And this may seem like totally obvious that,

well, of course people if they’re unhappy

in the relationship are more likely to stray,

but in fact, it’s not true for men.

So if you compare men who are happy with their marriage

and men who are not happy with their marriage,

there’s no difference in their infidelity rates.

And I think it goes down to that issue

of motive for seeking variety.

So now, why do women do it?

Because it’s a risky endeavor.

She risks her long-term mate or losing a long-term mate.

It’s risky in terms of reputational damage for both sexes.

So it’s a risky thing.

Why do women do it?

And there are two competing hypotheses, at least two,

but there are two primary competing hypotheses

in the evolutionary literature.

One is called the dual mating strategy hypothesis

where women are seeking to get resources and investment

from one guy and good genes from another guy.

So in principle, that can work.

And I initially, this wasn’t a hypothesis original with me.

This is Steve Gangestad, Randy Thornhill

and some others of Marty Hazleton,

a former student of mine have advocated

this dual mating strategy hypothesis.

And originally I was endorsed it

because the data seemed to support it.

We can get into which data seemed to support it.

But over time, I became more and more dubious

about this hypothesis and instead have advocated

what I call the mate switching hypothesis.

And so if you look at a whole host of information

around why women have affairs,

it’s not compatible with the dual mating strategy

hypothesis and is compatible with the mate switching.

That is women who are looking to either divest themselves

from an existing mateship or trade up in the mating market

to a mate who’s more compatible with them

or higher in mate value,

or simply see whether they’re sufficiently desirable

so that it eases the transition into the mating pool

or keeping a mate as a potential backup mate,

what I call mate insurance.

If you have car insurance,

if something bad happens to your car, house insurance,

we also have mate insurance,

keeping someone, one woman said, men are like soup.

You always wanna have one on the back burner.

So whether that’s the best analogy or not, I’m not sure,

but it kind of captures something about why.

So, well, what evidence am I talking about?

Well, for one thing, women who have affairs,

and this is about 70% of them, they-

Again, sorry, just I wanna make sure people,

of women who have affairs.

Yeah, of the women who have affairs.

So let’s say ballpark Kinsey was, let’s say roughly right,

25, 26% of women will have affairs.

Let’s just assume that he’s right.

And we don’t know exactly,

but of the women who do have affairs,

about 70% say they have fallen in love

with their affair partner.

They become deeply emotionally involved

with their affair partner.

And to me, if you’re just trying

to get good genes from a guy,

that is the last thing you wanna do,

is fall in love with them or get emotionally involved.

But it’s very compatible if you wanna switch mates.

And so that’s one piece of evidence

that suggests that women,

the mate-switching function of infidelity

is a more likely explanation.

Now, these two are not inherently incompatible hypotheses.

In other words, it’s possible that some women

do pursue a dual mating strategy hypothesis,

but there’s other evidence that suggests,

so for example, what are the actual rates

of genetic cuckoldry?

Well, in the modern environment anyway,

they’re pretty low.

It turns out they’re like 2% to 3%.

Could you just explain for the audience

what genetic cuckoldry is?

So this is where the man believes

he is the genetic father of a child,

but it turns out he’s not.

Might be the mailman or the next door neighbor

or the guy she’s having an affair with.

So mistaken paternity.

And genetic cuckoldry is just one way to capture.

Named after the cuckoo bird, right?

Named after the cuckoo bird, yes.

Who sneaks its eggs into the nest of the other roles,

destroys the future offspring of the bird,

and then basically offloads all the work

onto another father.

Parasitizes, yeah, the parental investment

of a different bird species.

So anyway, so I think that,

and there’s other sources of evidence that I think point,

so one of the sources of evidence

that initially seemed to support

the dual mating strategy hypothesis was ovulation shifts.

So in other words, it looked like from the early studies

that when women are ovulating,

these are among non-pill-taking women,

women not on hormonal contraceptives,

that they experienced a preference shift

toward more men who were masculine and symmetrical,

which were hypothesized markers for good genes.

And there’s an explanation for that.

But it turns out the effects of ovulation

on women’s mate preferences are far weaker

than the initial studies looked like.

And in fact, some larger scale studies

have failed to replicate them entirely.

And so that was one of the key sources of evidence,

these ovulation shifts,

that women were going after good genes

because it’s only when she’s ovulating

and she can get pregnant by having sex with another man

that it would make sense for her

to have sex with another man.

And there was even some early evidence

that women were timing their affairs,

timing sex with their affair partners

to coincide with when they were ovulating.

But as I said, some of these subsequent studies

have failed to replicate these early findings

calling into question the dual mating strategy notion.

And so I think I’ve shifted my views on this

and now endorse the mate switching hypothesis

as a more likely explanation

for why most women have affairs.

Well, the way you describe this makes me wonder

if of the women that have affairs,

do those affairs tend to be more long lasting

than the affairs that men have?

Because the way you describe it is

men are seizing an opportunity,

it’s a sort of a carpe diem type approach to infidelity,

and women potentially on average

are capitalizing on something that is longer term.

Now, of course, if they’re doing this around ovulation,

then it would constrain the amount of times

they would need to see or have sex

with this other person that they’re not married to.

But is there any evidence

that women have more ongoing affairs

and men have more transient affairs?

Yes, yeah, there is.

And so if you look at people who have affairs,

there’s a sex difference there.

So that women tend to have affairs with one person

and become emotionally involved

with that one person over time.

Men who have affairs tend to have affairs

with a larger number of affair partners.

And so, which then by definition can’t be long last,

you can’t have long-term affairs

with six different partners.

Yeah, unless he’s juggling multiple phone accounts

or something like that.

Right, right, right.

And some men try to do that,

I think it could be very taxing.

Yeah, well, and in this day and age,

it’s easier to meet more people

by virtue of online communications,

but it’s also easier to get caught,

meaning it’s harder to conceal interactions.

Everything’s in the cloud anyway.

A good friend of mine who’s a former very high level

in special operations said,

anything that’s not in your head and only in your head

is available for others to find should they want it.

And I think that’s largely true.

Yeah, and yeah, so phone information, text messages,

and people are very good at hacking into their partners,

phones, computers,

and then also there are video cameras everywhere.

So, sneaking off to this quiet restaurant,

I mean, there are probably eight video cameras

that can record you walking in and out of that restaurant.

Everything can be found, I’m certain of that.

You mentioned emotional affairs

and financial infidelity as well.

I had a girlfriend once who, as a early date discussion,

said, not that I get the impression that you are,

but I want to be very clear, she said,

that you are not emotionally, physically,

or financially tied to any other women.

And I thought it was very interesting

that now you bring up financial infidelity.

She’s quite happily partnered now, and not with me,

but it’s interesting.

It’s the first time I heard anyone spell it out that way

as a list, almost like specific aims in a grant.

What is emotional infidelity?

What is financial infidelity?

Yeah, well, this is a very smart woman

to tap into all three. Indeed, she is.

So, and I assumed you gave honest responses

to all of those three questions.

As I recall, I did, but as we now know that they’re,

well, you can ask her at some point.

Right, right, okay.

I’m happy to provide you her information.

And there is self-deception,

and the service of deception is another issue.

So, emotional infidelity is basically

exactly what it sounds like.

It’s falling in love with someone else,

becoming psychologically close to someone else,

sharing intimate or private information with someone else.

That’s what I mean by emotional infidelity.

And one of the hallmarks of this,

a study done by a former student of mine, Barry Cooley,

was very clever, I thought.

He analyzed, there used to be this reality TV show

called Cheaters, where they would hire detectives,

and they would, when the detective would, like say,

follow someone to a hotel room,

they’d call up the partner and say,

your husband just walked into the hotel room

with someone else, would you like to come down

to the hotel and confront him?

And a certain percentage of people would confront.

And what he analyzed, so he analyzed all these episodes

of this show called Cheaters,

and what he examined was the verbal interrogations

when people confronted their partners.

And when men confronted their partners,

the first question they wanted to know is, did you fuck him?

Women, their first question was, do you love her?

And so, this kind of captures that difference

between the sexual infidelity and emotional infidelity,

and also kind of captures another sex difference

when it comes to sexual jealousy,

where men tend to be more focused

on the sexual components of the infidelity,

because those are what compromise his paternity certainty,

his certainty that he’s actually the genetic father

of whatever offspring ensue.

Whereas, love is a cue to, do you love her?

That’s a cue that he’s gonna leave you,

the woman, for another woman.

It’s a cue to the long-term loss of that investment

and commitment from that partner.

And so, the sexes seem to differ

in which aspects of the infidelity,

with women more attuned to,

more upset by the emotional infidelity,

men more by the sexual infidelity.

Now, financial infidelity has been explored much less,

but in my new book, When Men Behave Badly,

I have a section on financial infidelity,

where I summarize all the research that has been done,

and I was kind of flabbergasted

by the percentage of people who do things

like have credit cards that their spouse doesn’t know about,

keep secret bank accounts,

have the credit card bills mailed to their office

rather than their home,

have basically resources and expenditures

of pooled resources that they keep from their partner,

and both sexes do it.

And the percentages vary from study to study,

but they range from like 30 to 60% of all people

who are keeping financial information

from their spouse in one way or another.

It could be the woman’s out buying designer purses

or designer handbags.

It could be the guy’s out going to strip clubs

or taking his affair partner to restaurants

and doesn’t want those charges to show up

on a jointly held credit card.

So financial infidelity is critical.

And then even things like diverting pooled resources

to one set of genetic relatives versus another set

is another thing that people tend to keep secret.

So there are forms of financial infidelity as well.

So yeah, infidelity, it’s a great question

because it shouldn’t be confined to sexual infidelity,

which is what most people think about,

but also emotional and financial.

Interestingly, if you ask people,

what is infidelity in a marriage?

Men tend to say, well, it’s obvious

that she has sex with someone else, that’s infidelity.

Whereas women are more likely

to have a broader definition of infidelity.

They will cite things like emotional infidelity,

financial infidelity as part of the definition,

whereas men have that more narrow definition.

Interesting, I have a good friend

who’s a couples counselor, a clinical psychologist.

And she told me something interesting that relates to this,

which is that in cases of infidelity,

oftentimes some of the arguments between couples

boil down to whether or not contraception was used or not.

And that becomes a key feature.

And she always thought that that was homing in on a detail,

which of course is an important detail

as it relates to both paternity issues and pregnancy,

but also disease, right?

But as we’re talking about all this,

it makes me think that this may have deeper

evolutionary roots further down in the brain,

as we say in neuroscience literature.

And yeah, and using a condom versus not using a condom,

not using is a more intimate act in a way.

You are literally physically more intimate

with someone else than if you do use a condom.

So, but whether evolutionary roots to this, I don’t know.

I mean, condoms are probably relatively recent

or at least a widespread use of them

are relatively recent in evolutionary time.

So I doubt we have adaptations specifically for them.

No, and presumably before condoms,

one can only speculate because as we say,

when it comes to behavior, there’s rarely a fossil record,

but sometimes there is,

it would be the withdrawal method of contraception,

which a good friend of mine who studies,

whose laboratory works on reproductive biology says

the reason that’s a poor choice of contraception

is because it was designed not to work.


So note to those of trying to avoid unwanted pregnancy.

So we talked a little bit about status

in terms of what men and women are selecting

for different types of relationships.

Is there anything else about status

that you find particularly interesting

and what men are finding attractive

besides these waist to hip ratios

and quality of potential mothers and so forth?

Are there any kind of hidden gems in the literature

around this that I might not have heard of?

Well, yeah.

So you mean among things like sex differences

and what leads to high status or-

For instance, or what,

or perhaps things that are surprising

in terms of what people are selecting for.

Do people even know what they’re selecting for?

This is, or is this all subconscious?

Any and all of those topics are of interest to me.


So, well, to take them in reverse order,

I think a lot of it is conscious,

but some of it is certainly unconscious

or there are elements which are totally unconscious.

So I mentioned one earlier where a man looks at a woman,

he’s not, he’s aware that he’s attracted to her

and attracted to her physical appearance,

but he might not be aware of why.

We didn’t evolve to be aware of why.

Just like with food preferences,

we find certain things delectable

and other things nauseating.

We don’t understand the adaptive logic

of why our food preferences exist and why we have them.

And the same is true of mating, you know?

And so men find women

with a low waist-hip ratio attractive,

but they might not, they almost rarely,

rarely will they know, oh, low waist-hip ratio

is actually associated with higher fertility,

lower endocrinological problems, lower age, et cetera.

So we’re sometimes aware of what we want,

but we are unaware of why we want it.

So I think there are unconscious elements

that the whole topic of status

and what leads to high status and low status

is a topic I’m currently investigating.

Published a couple scientific articles on it

and so, but maybe we’ll hold off on that

for a future discussion.

But it intersects, I’ll mention one,

it intersects with mating in interesting ways

in that higher status gives people the ability

to choose from a wider pool of potential mates

than they would if they have low status.

And so one of the reasons that people strive for status

is because they have access to more desirable mates.

Conversely, having desirable mates

endows you with higher status.

And so if you have, if you’re a male,

you have a very attractive woman on your arm

that leads to high status.

And so there’s a reciprocal link between status

and mating in that way.

And there’ve been studies where you say

they pose a kind of unattractive guy,

older unattractive guy,

and a stunningly beautiful woman as a girlfriend.

And they say, well, what’s this guy all about?

And they say, oh, he must be very high in status.

He must be very wealthy.

He must have a lot going for him.

Whereas the reverse,

people don’t make the same attributions.

And so there is an interesting reciprocal link

between status and mating success

where mating success leads to high status

and high status leads to more mating success.

So over and over again,

there are these instances that you describe

where the assessment of potential mate sexual

or long-term partnership

are being made in the contents of good statistical practices,

looking at the choices of others

as a readout of your own choices.

This seems to be a theme that this is not being made

in a very narrow context,

but paying attention to what other people

are paying attention to seems to come up again and again.

Slightly off-center from that,

but still paying attention to what other people

are paying attention to.

What’s known about jealousy in men versus women

and how frequent it is, how intense it is,

and what people do with that jealousy?

I mean, we hear, or I’ve heard at some point

that a large fraction of homicides

are the consequence of jealous lovers.

That’s the darkest angle of all this,

but in evolutionary psychology context, what is jealousy?

Does it relate to paternity issues only?

What can you tell us about jealousy?

Yeah, so, well, it’s a great set of questions.

And when I first started studying jealousy,

I reviewed all the prior publications on jealousy.

And at that time, jealousy was regarded

as a sign of immaturity,

a sign of insecurity,

a sign of neurosis or pathology,

or in some cases, delusion.

And what I argued is, and do argue,

is that jealousy is an evolved emotion

that serves several adaptive functions, okay?

One of which you mentioned

is a paternity certainty function.

But to back up a second,

basically, once you have the evolution

of long-term mating, long-term pair bonds,

you’re talking about, from a male perspective,

investing a tremendous amount of resources

in a woman and her children over years or decades.

Even with boomerang kids now,

it may even go more than two decades.

Boomerang kids?

Yeah, kids who leave home

and then come back and live at home.

That happens?

Oh, yeah, that happens.

I don’t have children, so I-

Okay, yeah, no, that’s a big thing.

But if I do, I’ll just expect

that they’ll come back at some point.

They’ll come back because they can’t find a job

or they find it cheaper to live

at the parents’ house or whatever.

Oh, goodness, I can’t think of anything worse.

I mean, I love my parents, but-

I know, I know, again, I can’t imagine,

but it happens, and it’s happening more and more

given the current economic situation.

Okay, but, so once you have long-term mating,

you need a defense to prevent

or preserve the investment that you’ve made

in our making in long-term mateship.

And so jealousy serves this mate guarding function,

if you will, or mate retention function.

So in other words, one way of phrasing this

is that we know that there are affairs,

we know that people break up, they get divorced,

but people have adaptations

to want to hold on to their mates, okay?

And that’s what jealousy is in part about.

And so jealousy gets activated

when there are threats to that romantic relationship.

And there are other forms of jealousy

like sibling jealousy and so forth,

but we’re focusing on mating jealousy in this context.

So now what’s interesting is that the threats

to an ongoing valued romantic relationship

come from many sources.

So they could be you detect cues

to your partner’s infidelity

or cues of a lack of an emotional distance

between you and your partner.

You say I love you to your partner

and your partner says,

oh, I wonder how the hell the Knicks are doing

this scoring season or whatever.

If you get an unreciprocated I love you is a bad cue.

Or some people are so tuned to this,

if there’s a half millisecond delay,

they can detect delays in responses.

Yes, yeah, delays in responses.

But even things like, so that’s one set of cues.

But then there’s another set of interested mate poachers.

So if you’re mated to someone who’s desirable,

which many people are, other people still desire them.

And so sometimes try to poach them

or lure them away from you

for a short term sexual encounter

or for a longer term relationship.

And so we have to be,

so jealousy motivates people to be attentive

to potential mate poachers in their environment.

But even more subtle things like mate value discrepancies

can trigger jealousy.

So even if there are no mate poachers

and no cues to infidelity,

if a mate value discrepancy opens up in a relationship,

so in the American system,

like you’re a six or an eight or a 10,

and people generally pair off

based on similarity in mate value.

So that tends to happen.

Sixes end up with sixes,

sevens end up with sixes, plus or minus one.

Yeah, yeah.


So yeah.

These are somewhat subjective scale.

Okay, it’s somewhat subjective,

but there’s still some consensus about these things.

So even colloquially, people say things like,

he’s not good enough for you,

or I think you could do better.

So people can implicitly have a notion

of relative mate value and discrepancies therein.

Okay, but discrepancies can open up

where none previously existed.

So you get fired from a job all of a sudden,

and most people are very understanding and forgiving

about that if it’s not too long,

but you go six months, eight months,

people start having problems.

Or if someone’s career takes off,

let’s say a woman becomes a famous singer

or actress or a man does,

career takes off,

all of a sudden there’s a mate value discrepancy

where you have access to a larger pool

of potential mates and higher mate value potential mates.

So people are attentive to mate value discrepancies.

And so jealousy can get activated,

even if there are no immediate threats to a relationship,

but that the mate value discrepancy is a threat

that looms on the horizon of the relationship

because we know statistically,

the higher mate value person is more likely

to have an affair and is more likely

to dump the other person and trade up in the mating market.

And when people find new partners

for long-term relationships, do they tend to trade up?

On average, yes, if the discrepancy

is sufficiently large.

So there are costs associated with breaking up,

divorcing, for example.

I mean, it’s emotionally, financially,

it’s a costly thing.

And so if you have like a half a point mate value

discrepancy, you’re not gonna see a lot of breakups,

but if you have larger mate value discrepancies,

that’s gonna auger more for trading up

in the mating market.

So, but, so then you get into,

so what jealousy is, it’s an emotion that gets activated

by these circumstances.

And then what people do about it

depends on what their options are.

And people do things that I,

in my published scientific work,

I say range from vigilance to violence.

So there’s a whole spectrum of things.

In fact, I’ve identified 19 different tactics

that people use to deal with problems

once they get jealous.

And one is increased vigilance.

And the other is-

Vigilance for the behavior of the mate.

Yeah, vigilance for the behavior of the mate.

And that can include stalking, following,

hacking into iPhones or computers,

monitoring the behavior of mate poachers,

looking at eye contact between other men and your partner.

There’s a whole suite of things

that is involved in vigilance.

And then at the other extreme,

and we can talk about things in between,

but the other extreme is violence.

And so in my new book,

When Men Behave Badly,

I have a whole chapter on intimate partner violence.

And this is what I argue,

and this is really unfortunate,

and I’m not endorsing,

I think it’s illegal, it’s bad, don’t do it.

But people engage in intimate partner violence.

In America, something like 28 to 30%

of all people who are married

will experience intimate partner violence

in their relationship.

So it’s not a trivial percentage.

And that violence is between the two partners.

Between the two partners, yes.

There’s also violence that gets directed

for potential mate poachers,

but that’s a somewhat separate issue.

But one of the things that is functional about the violence

is that it tends to reduce

perceived mate value discrepancies.

So in other words, let’s say it’s,

guys tend to engage in the violence more than women do,

although some argue that there’s more equality

in the violence.

But at a minimum, men tend to do more damage

when they do the violence.

And when you’re talking about violence,

is this ever emotional violence?

I mean-

Yeah, there’s that as well.

And in fact, the two tend to be correlated.

So in my studies of married couples,

verbal violence is a good predictor

of physical violence happening as well.

So one of the things that’ll happen,

just to give a concrete example,

guys will start insulting their partner’s appearance.

Hey, you’re really looking ugly today.

Your thighs are heavy.

You’re not looking very good.

So they try to denigrate the woman’s appearance,

which is a key component of woman’s mate value.

So they’re trying to adjust more closely

the mate value discrepancy.

Yeah, they’re trying to reduce

her self-perceived mate value.

So if let’s say he’s a six, she’s an eight,

and he can convince her that she’s actually only a six,

then she’s gonna be more likely to stay with him.

Very diabolical.

It’s terribly diabolical.

But the fact is women don’t feel good about themselves

when they get beaten up by their partner.

In fact, in the cases where it leaves physical evidence,

women wear sunglasses or turtlenecks

or cover up the bruises,

is it literally does lower the mate value of the woman

by injuring her physical appearance.

And getting her to conceal herself, stay home.

Yeah, exactly.

She’s taking her out of the,

literally reducing her visibility.

Right, and that’s actually one of the predictors of violence

is if he starts doing things other than violence,

like cutting off her relationships

with her friends and her family,

trying to sequester her and prevent her

from getting exposed to potential other partners.

And so it is very diabolical,

but I think important to understand

the potential functionality of intimate partner violence.

What about, sorry to interrupt again,

but I’m just so curious.

So oftentimes my audience will say interrupt too often,

but I wanna make sure that I don’t miss an opportunity

to ask you about the intimate partner violence

in the other direction, female to male,

where stereotypically speaking,

that the opportunity for physical violence is still there,

but the idea in mind is that

it would be more of a psychological nature.

Although I think there is evidence

that some women beat their husbands,

but I’m guessing it’s not as frequent, or am I off?

Well, different studies.

So it depends on whether you just simply count up acts

or whether you look at the damage that’s done, okay?

And as I mentioned, men tend to do more physical damage.

So there are shelters for battered women

all over the country.

As far as I know, there’s one for battered men.

Now it may be, and this is partly true,

that men are more ashamed if they get beaten up

by their partner, clocked with a frying pan.

And it’s possible, and there’s evidence

that police don’t take it as seriously.

So there’s one case that I report in my book

where a guy called the police

and his wife had clocked him with something.

And police shows up and he says,

if she so much as broke a fingernail in this altercation,

they’ll charge you and not her.

And so there is a police bias,

a potential police bias in this.

And so there may be under-reporting of women

beating up men as a consequence.

Okay, but the motivations are often different.

So one is that male sexual jealousy

will trigger him to attack his partner,

and then she will use physical violence to defend herself.

So she might pick up a frying pan

or a weapon of some sort to defend herself.

And so the motivation is his sexual jealousy on his part,

but self-defense on her part.

And so that accounts for some unknown percentage

of the cases.

And in some cases, it is women who were outraged

when they discover their partner’s been having sex

with someone else, an infidelity of a sexual,

financial or emotional nature.

And so there is some female to male violence

that absolutely occurs.

But the reduction of a perceived mate value discrepancy

is a key function from male perspective.

Now, again, not that he thinks about this.

He’s just angry and wants to hurt her, okay?

Okay, but here’s one other thing

that is really interesting

about the intimate partner violence,

and that’s the specificity of it

depending on circumstances.

And namely, when the woman gets pregnant,

she’s more vulnerable to physical violence.

And when the man suspects

that he’s not the father of that pregnancy,

he’s more likely to direct the violence

toward blows to her abdomen, okay?

That’s specific.

And so in that case, the function is,

the hypothesized function is to terminate the pregnancy

by a rival male as opposed to deterring the woman

from committing an infidelity

or from leaving the relationship entirely.

So that’s why one function of intimate partner violence

is just sequestering the woman

and keeping her all to himself.

So it’s both to prevent infidelity

and to prevent defection.

I have a friend whose wife told me

that if he cheats, I’ll kill him, that’s what she said,

but it’s actually just much easier

to keep him very, very busy.

And that statement now leaps to mind

because of what you’re describing,

that there are many tactics

by which people can engage this effort

to reduce the mate value discrepancy,

not all of which are overtly violent,

but all of which are designed to constrain their behavior.

Right, right, yeah, so these would fall

under what I would call mate retention tactics,

and only one or two of which

fall under the violence category.

Yeah, there are even, yeah,

within partner psychological manipulations

about these things.

So there are psychological manipulations

about perceived mate value.

You know, no one else would want you.

You know, you’re a loser.

There’s denigration of partner within the relationship,

even feigning anger to make the partner feel guilty

about, say, looking at someone else.

So there’s all kinds of internecine warfare

that goes on within relationships

to manipulate perceptions of these things.

This is, I’m creating a much too jaded view

of romance and love, I think.

Oh, no, we will get to the happy endings and long,

I mean, there are certainly

many happy relationships out there.

Oh, you know, as a neuroscientist,

I hear about this and the immediacy

of how people, you know, fall into a pattern of jealousy

or a pattern of cheating, and not always,

but it just speaks to brain circuitry

that’s evolved to protect something.

And I’m sure this statement is not exhaustive,

but I think it’s accurate to say that every species,

but especially humans, wants to make more of itself

and protect its young.

But these issues of paternity and resource allocation,

I mean, I think they’re vital.

And, you know, I look forward to a day

where evolutionary psychology and neuroscience

can merge at the level of underlying mechanism.

But I don’t think it’s dark.

I think it’s just the way we’re wired at some level.

Speaking of dark, could you tell us about the dark triad?

Yeah, so the dark triad,

so we’ve been talking about sex differences on average,

but there are critical within sex individual differences.

And the dark triad is one of the most important ones.

The dark triad consists of three personality characteristics.

So narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

Hallmarks of narcissism are things like grandiosity,

a person thinks that they’re more intelligent,

more attractive, more dazzling,

more charming than they actually are.

I think they’re the greatest person since sliced bread.

Importantly, with narcissism,

you also get a sense of entitlement.

So they feel entitled to a larger share of the pie,

whether that be the financial pie,

the status pie, or the sexual pie.

Machiavellianism is high scores tend to pursue

an exploitative social strategy.

So they might feign cooperation,

but then cheat on subsequent moves.

They view other people as pawns to be manipulated

for their own instrumental gains.

And then psychopathy,

one of the hallmarks of psychopathy is a lack of empathy.

So most people have a normal empathy circuit

where if a child falls down and gets hurt,

we feel compassion for the harm

that that person is undergoing.

Or if a puppy gets hit by a car or whatever,

we feel compassion.

Psychopaths don’t, that is those high on this.

It’s a dimensional thing, it’s not a categorical thing.

So those high on psychopathy basically lack empathy.

And so if you combine these qualities,

narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism,

you have some very bad dudes.

And I say bad dudes,

because men tend to score higher in these things than women,

especially on the psychopathy dimension.

So when you talk about clinical levels of psychopathy,

it’s estimated to be something like 1% of women

and about 4% of men.

So men are much higher on that.

So why is this important?

Well, it’s important in the mating context

because those who are high on dark triad traits

tend to be sexual deceivers, for one.

So they’re very often very charming,

very good at seducing women and then abandoning them,

sometimes after fleecing them or draining their bank account.

They’re very good at the art of seduction.

They also tend to be sexual harassers,

serial sexual harassers, and sexual coercers.

So when it comes to forms of sexual violence,

high dark triad guys tend to be perpetrators of this.

And so like most men,

I think would find it ethically abhorrent

to sexually harass, say, a woman in the workplace.

Dark triad guys, in part, maybe they feel entitled to it.

And in part, they do.

I mean, in some cases that I report in the book,

there are like literal descriptions

where the guys are writing in these journals,

oh, I knew she was attracted to me.

That’s why she met me in the Xerox room

just when I was there

because she wanted to admire my bulging biceps or whatever.

It’s all about them.

Yeah, and this gets into a bias that I talk about,

which is the male sexual misperception bias,

where a woman smiles at a man,

man thinks, oh, she wants my body, she’s attracted to me,

and women are thinking, oh, I’m just being friendly,

I’m being polite or professional.

But these guys, high dark triad guys,

are more susceptible to the sexual over-perception bias,

and they literally believe

that the woman is attracted to them

and sending them signals, green lights,

to sexually approach.

And so if you combine dark triad traits

with the dispositional pursuit

of a short-term mating strategy,

that’s an especially deadly combination.

That’s when you get sexual harassment, sexual coercion.

So these are very bad dudes,

also predictors of intimate partner violence.

What approximate frequency in the male population

have all three of the dark triad traits?

And I realize that they’re on a continuum,

sociopathy and narcissism.

Yeah, that’s why you can’t say it,

because they are on a continuum,

and it’s sort of arbitrary where you draw the line.

But I think it’s a minority of men,

it’s a subset of men who commit the vast majority

of these acts of sexual violence.

And that’s why it’s not like,

if you look at victims of sexual violence,

they’re more numerous

than the perpetrators of sexual violence,

because the perpetrators tend to be serial offenders,

so to speak.

One guy in the workplace harassing 15 different women,

one guy sexually coercing multiple women.

So that’s why you have,

in well-known cases in the news like Harvey Weinstein,

probably over a hundred different women.

Bill Cosby, Jeffrey Epstein,

some of these more famous cases,

these are a large number of victims,

but pretty much sole perpetrators.

And there’s no question that these guys,

like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein

were definitely high on dark triad traits.

You mentioned stalking briefly.

Maybe we could just talk about

some of the less known features about stalking.

I think I once heard you give a lecture

where you said that one of the scariest things

about stalking is that sometimes it works.

Yes, yeah.

So, well, stalking has multiple motivations,

but one of the most frequent motivations

is a mating motivation,

where either there’s a breakup

and the woman dumps the guy

and the guy doesn’t want to get dumped.

He wants to maintain a relationship with her.

And I should say that when it comes to criminal stalking,

there’s a huge sex difference.

About 80% of the stalkers tend to be men,

about 20% women.

So there are women stalkers,

but they’re about a fourth the number compared to men.

So the motivation of the guys

tends to be either an attempt

to get back together with the woman,

either sexually or in a relationship,

and or to interfere with her future mating prospects.

And it works in some of the time in two senses.

One is it does interfere with her attempts to remate.

So in fact, it scares off some guys.

So like you show up and pick up a woman

at her apartment for a date

and her ex is sitting out there glaring at you.

Or, and I’m actually familiar with the circumstance

where early in a relationship,

somebody mentions that an ex has made veiled threats

about surveillance, for instance.

I’ve actually had that happen several times

in my dating history where someone would say,

you know, you started opening up

about previous relationships a little bit

as it’s appropriate.

And someone says, yeah, you know,

he mentioned that he was going to, you know,

send someone around to, you know, to surveil me,

you know, that kind of thing,

which is a very interesting factoid to pick up in,

but I heard it enough times and people I know

have reported hearing this enough times

that I’m guessing that that’s probably more frequent

than people actually trailing people in cars

and things of that sort.

But planting that, it’s like the psychological seed

of surveillance is a form of harassment in some sense.

Yes, absolutely.

I think that you’re right.

I mean, there’s that planting the psychological seeds,

but then also with surveillance,

some surveillors remain hidden,

so you don’t know necessarily.

Yeah, I confess in this case,

it did not act as a deterrent

for continuing the relationship,

but that’s another story.

So how often do women respond,

I have to put this in quotes,

for those that are listening, air quotes, end quotes,

positively to stalking?

I mean, how often does it work to re-secure the partner

after they’ve been broken up?

Well, so in our studies,

it’s a minority of cases that it works to re-establish.

I think something like 15% of the time

that it works either to temporarily re-establish

a sexual relationship or lure the woman back in

for a more permanent relationship.

So most of the time it doesn’t work.

But one woman in our study said the guy,

every time she went out with another guy,

he would threaten the other guy.

And she said after about six months,

there were no other guys.

He basically scared off all the other guys.

And so she went back to him

because there were no other guys around.

Yeah, I experienced this when I was in college.

I lived in a small town, very population dense,

Isla Vista, UC Santa Barbara.

And there was a couple where every time

this woman would date someone,

he’d basically beat up whoever the new suitor was.

And pretty soon no one would go near them.

They got a reputation as the kind of sit-in Nancy couple.

And indeed it worked.

It worked in the sense that no one dared go near her

and they ended up together.

So I’ve seen real life examples of this.

Yeah, so it happens.

But it is in general not a successful strategy.

Oh no, and it’s not what I’m suggesting.

I was just shocked to learn that,

because we hear stalking and we have this,

there’s one very extreme image of it.

But the underlying motivations, I think are,

reveal something about mating dynamics.

Yeah, and I think that the circumstances

are often a mate value discrepancy

where the guy realizes correctly

that he will be unable to replace her

with a mate of equivalent mate value,

or in some cases, any mate.

You know, it’s like, well, she was with me once.

Maybe I can get her back with me again.

So the psychology is very understandable,

but it tends not to work,

because, I mean, another thing we found,

we did a study of 2,500 victims of stalking.

This is with Josh Duntley, a former student of mine

who’s now a professor in a criminology department.

And what we found is there were large sex,

large differences between the stalker

and the victim of the stalker,

where the stalker tends to be much lower

in mate value than the victim.

And so basically, it’s typically the woman

who realizes she can do a lot better on the mating market,

and the guy realizes,

I am never gonna be able to replace her

with a woman of equivalent mate value.

And so I’m gonna use this last-ditch, desperate measure

to try to get her back, and occasionally it works.

I’m thinking more about this mate value thing,

this number, this metric, the eight, 10, six,

whatever it is, and mate value discrepancy

playing such a strong role in all these dynamics.

I should have asked this earlier,

but what is the impact on mate value, perceived or real,

of a woman having already had children?

For instance, friends of mine who are married and divorced

who have children will often post pictures of themselves

with their children in their online profiles

because it shows a strong sense of paternal instinct.

There’s the puppy thing, people with dogs or puppies

demonstrating a capacity to care and for caretaking.

In women, the opposite is also true.

Women with children show capacity,

it demonstrates fertility, at least at one point,

perhaps still fertility that’s still present.

Does it positively, negatively, or neutrally impact

a woman to already have children when seeking another mate,

regardless of whether or not she was married

or had the children out of wedlock?

Yeah, as a general rule, it decreases her mate value

because kids with another mate are viewed as a cost,

not a benefit, and they’re a cost on multiple dimensions.

One of which, they’re gonna be a cost to the guy

because he’s gonna have to invest resources,

time, attention, and so forth,

but also a portion of her effort and resources

are gonna be devoted toward kids

who are not genetically related to him,

which is one reason why stepfamilies,

there’s often a lot of conflict within stepfamilies,

very explicable from an evolutionary perspective.

So in general, it’s a cost, not a benefit.

Sometimes it can be a benefit, though.

I know of one case where a woman got divorced,

she had two kids, and she ended up successfully mating

with a guy who was also divorced

and had primary custody of his two kids.

And so there was a compatibility there.

But as a general rule, it will decrease a woman’s

and a man’s mate value to have kids,

especially kids who are financially,

who are young and financially dependent.

But what happens is, let’s say the woman

would be an eight without kids.

A guy who’s a six might be able to attract her

and might feel lucky to attract her

because there’s no way he would have been able

to attract her under other conditions.

But that’s why the display of effort investing in her kids

is often a mating tactic.

He’s showing, okay, I’m willing to invest in kids,

I’m willing to sacrifice.

And so they, in essence, become equivalent in mate value

as a result of that.

But will she be able to attract, on average,

you know, other eights?

Less likely.

But the same is true of guys.

And this is why the reason that affects women more than men

is because more custody tends to go with women.

That is, women tend to have greater custody,

and women tend to invest more in the kids

throughout their lives.

Now, there are other things like alimony

and child support payments and so forth,

but all the women I’ve talked to,

I’ve talked to one-on-one with many women about this,

they view a guy with kids as a cost, not a benefit,

unless the kids are old enough and they’ve left home

and are no longer financially dependent.

And everything you just described is consistent

with what you said earlier,

which is that with subsequent marriages

or as men get older,

the tendency is to seek mates

that are progressively younger, right?

Because there’s a lower probability

they’ll already have children if they’re much younger.

Right, right, and if the guy’s successful,

if he has status and resources

and has other qualities associated with higher mate value,

then he will remain attractive to younger women.

I realize it’s not your specific area of expertise,

but these days there’s a lot of discussion

about how early childhood attachment to parents

influences mate choice later on,

this kind of general categorization of avoidant

and anxious and anxious avoidant and all this kind of thing.

And again, putting my hat on as a neuroscientist,

I think it makes sense that the neural circuits

for attachment in childhood would be somehow,

partially or in whole,

repurposed for other forms of attachment.

We don’t just tend to say,

okay, that brain circuitry was for when I was a kid

and now I’m an adult

and so I’ll develop this new attachment circuitry.

I’m guessing it evolves and whatnot.

But is there anything interesting

about childhood attachment strategies

vis-a-vis stability of long-term partner choice

or is that too big of a leap for us to make here?

Yeah, well, I mean, I can offer

some sort of informed speculation about it.

And as you point out, it’s not my area of expertise,

but I know a little bit about it.

And I mean, I think that a secure attachment style,

if both partners have a secure attachment style,

that’s conducive to a long-term mateship.

Avoidant attachment styles,

avoidant people tend to have more difficulty with intimacy

and also higher probability of infidelity.

And anxious attachment style,

I don’t know, can create problems of its own

in the overly clingy, dependent, absorbing,

what I call high relationship load.

So there’s like mutation load,

which we all have a certain number of mutations.

There’s parasite load.

There’s also what I call relationship load.

So what is the baggage that someone brings

to the relationship?

And they’re probably correlated with the frequency

of demand of immediate text message responses.


The frequency of demand,

like the expected low latency of text message responses

plays out consistently in relationships.

Early on, there’s a very low expectation of response.

And then as people get attached,

depending on their level of anxiety,

if they don’t hear back from somebody really quickly,

where the mind goes is a very interesting aspect.

Do you become suspicious?

Do you become anxious?

Can you stabilize your own internal milieu?

Or do you need to see the dot, dot, dot

that’s coming back?

I’d love to see a study on that at some point.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

No, that’s a good one.

And my intuition suggests that your prediction

about that would pan out.

It would be the insecure that would really be,

you know, getting upset if there were not

that immediate response to the text.

Yeah, I have a friend, a female friend,

who deliberately, quote unquote,

using her language trains her potential partners

to be comfortable with a variable response latency.

But then I asked her if she’s comfortable

with a variable response latency,

and she said, absolutely not.

So there’s an asymmetry, at least in that case.

This is almost certainly a more rare circumstance,

but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask

about unconventional relationships.

These days, I don’t think it’s just by virtue

of living in California.

You hear more and more about monogamish,

as opposed to monogamous.

And various forms of polyamory

that may or may not include the amory part.

You know, passes and permission,

based on season, circumstance, and prior infidelities.

Like, okay, somebody had a mishap early on,

you know, you have one pass, so to speak.

And you hear this kind of language getting thrown around.

And it’s intriguing to me because it seems like an effort

to bypass some of the more, if you will,

hardwired, or at least culturally hardwired aspects

of mate choice and sexual partner choice.

You know, acknowledging jealousy,

but confronting it by allowing your partner

to be with somebody else, for instance.

I confess I have friends

who have unconventional relationships.

I have friends with conventional relationships.

Any thoughts on polyamory?

Yeah, yeah, I do have a couple thoughts on it.

I haven’t studied it extensively,

but I think that the way I would phrase it

is that there’s an attempt to overcome

certain evolved features of our mating psychology,

but often in the service

of other aspects of our mating psychology.

So what I mean by that is this.

So talk about polyamory,

first of all, there’s a sex difference on average.

That is, men are more likely

to want to initiate a polyamorous relationship than women.

There are lots of exceptions,

and I actually know of at least one exception personally,

friends of mine who are in a polyamorous relationship.

But the motivation for men

is that evolved desire for sexual variety.

So it gives him access to a wider variety of sex partners,

which is part of our evolved sexual psychology,

especially for men.

Women, one motivation,

now women also have a desire for sexual variety.

On average, tends not to be as great as that of men,

but also have it.

But some women agree to a polyamorous relationship

as a mate retention tactic.

That is, this guy, in order to keep him,

she has to agree to the relationship.

And so the motivations for engaging in polyamory

are somewhat sex differentiated.

On average.

On average, on average.

There’s lots of exceptions.

So now when it comes to sexual jealousy,

there is this recognition that there,

and in my, the way that I would frame it,

there’s this evolved emotion

where we, it triggers sexual jealousy,

seeing your partner having sex,

or imagining your partner having sex,

or falling in love with someone else.

And, but interestingly,

and there haven’t been studies on this,

but I know of this one polyamorous couple

where they reported to me,

both of them reported to me,

and she said she doesn’t,

it doesn’t bother her at all if her husband,

they’re married, has sex with other women.

She, they allow it.

I think it’s like every Thursday night or whatever,

they have the different couples have different rules.

But one time she saw him walking down the street

hand in hand affectionately with a former girlfriend,

and she got extremely jealous.

So because it signaled an emotional connection.

So the sexual didn’t bother her,

the emotional did.

She happens to be bisexual,

and she and her partner said that it really upset him

when she slept with other men,

but it was fine if she slept with other women.

I think that’s a fairly common thing

that among the men that I know

that are in polyamorous relationships,

that that’s a fairly common statement.

Yeah, so he kept trying to,

these internecine manipulations

trying to encourage her to sleep with other women,

but not with men.

And in her case, encouraging him

not to get emotionally involved with other women,

but the sex was okay.

So I think that, you know,

I think that in the modern environment, you know,

we have a very rich and complicated evolve mating psychology

and what we’re doing in these novel forms

or semi-novel,

because these things have a pretty deep history themselves,

that we’re attempting to maximize

some of our evolved desires

while keeping quiescent other evolved aspects

of our sexual psychology, like jealousy.

So satisfying our desire for sexual variety,

but keeping jealousy at bay.

And different couples do it in different ways.

So as you alluded to,

so I know one couple where live in Los Angeles

and the woman from the woman said,

she gives her husband permission to have an affair,

sleep with other women

as long as it’s outside of the city limits of LA.

And this other couple it’s has to be Thursday night,

you know, and so different people have different-

So there are constraints on,

but the constraints are specific

and somewhat arbitrary to the relationship.

Yeah, yeah.

They’re specific and often in polyamorous relations,

people talk it out and come to an agreement

on what is acceptable and what’s out of bounds.

So, but in a way, I mean, in a way it’s just,

we can’t change our evolved sexual psychology,

I don’t think.

What we can do is we can activate certain elements of it

and keep others quiescent.

And that’s all good.

And in a way we do in the modern environment,

so even to take it outside of polyamory, pornography.

Okay, widely consumed internet pornography.

What does that do?

Well, there’s a big sex difference there.

Men tend to consume it a lot more than women.

The forms of the pornography are different,

but in a way the pornography,

what it does is it parasitize men’s evolved desire

for sexual variety.

So they can, in some sense,

psychologically experience sexual variety

of different women sexually without actually doing it

by just looking at their computer screen.

And so in a way, another way of phrasing that

is that we create modern novel cultural inventions

in ways that satisfy our evolved desires

and our evolved sexual desires.

Yeah, it’s interesting with the kind of explosion

of online pornography.

I have a colleague at Stanford in psychiatry,

Anna Lemke, who studies the dopamine system.

And she mentioned two things of interest.

One is that not only is there a tremendous variety

of experiences that are available to people

who view in pornography,

but the intensity is also quite high.

So much so that, at least for young people

who are observing a lot of pornography,

it’s possible, and there are studies looking at this now,

that their brain circuits become wired

to observing sexual acts as opposed to being engaged in them,

which can be extremely problematic.

So it’s a sharp blade, so to speak.

This pornography thing, it isn’t what it once was,

and it’s evolving quickly.

Very interesting.

So how should one frame all this?

So I imagine a number of people listening

are in relationships or would hope to be in a relationship.

In terms of understanding what we are selecting

for consciously or subconsciously,

it seems like there are common themes.

People want to feel attractive and attracted.

People want to make sure that there’s stability

of the relationship.

So when we hear about security,

oftentimes I think of this kind of warm oxytocin,

serotonin-like thing.

But this mate value thing seems so powerful in all this,

assessing mate value.

So how objective are people about assessing their own value

in terms of finding, securing,

and over time maintaining a relationship?

Securing is dynamic because people age at different rates.

Is there an objective metric of this stuff?

I guess you get a lot of statistics about somebody’s image

and you come up with an average value

based on the population.

But how should people assess themselves?

Because it seems like one of the features

that would be very powerful for leading to happiness

of good partner selection, that’s stable,

where one doesn’t have to resort

to these Machiavellian or diabolical

or any of these other strategies,

would be to be very honest with oneself.

And how does one do that?

Yeah, great questions.

And I don’t think that the science has all the answers.

So a couple of things.

So one is that I think people are generally pretty good

at self-assessing mate value.

And even self-esteem has been hypothesized

to be one internal monitoring device

that tracks mate value.

So when we get a promotion at work

or we get a rise in status,

we feel an elevated sense of self-esteem.

We get fired, we get rejected,

we get ostracized, our self-esteem plummets.

So our self-evaluation, I think,

does track mate value to some extent.

There are people who overestimate their mate value,

people high on narcissism in particular,

and some people underestimate their mate value.

Another important element

is that there’s consensual mate value.

So that is, if you asked a group of 100 people,

there’s fair amount of consensus

that this person’s an eight, that person’s a six.

But there are also individual differences in mate value.

So one example is I know a woman who’s a professor

and she places a high premium on guys

who are deeply steeped in Russian literature,

which she is, so that she can have

in-depth conversations about Russian literature.

Note to young men, learn Russian literature.

Well, but this is high

and it’s a dimension of mate value

that’s important for her,

but probably not important for a lot of other people.

And so, whereas other people, let’s say,

might be, let’s say you’re into football

or some sport, then,

and another partner thinks sports are stupid,

you know, then that’s, you know,

someone who’s also into sports

is gonna be higher in mate value for you.

So there are these individual differences

in components of mate value, which is good,

because that means if everyone were going

after the same people

and there was total consensus on mate value,

then there would be a lot of mateless people

and a lot of problems in the world,

and a lot of dissatisfied people.

So both are important.

The consensual aspects

and the individually differentiated components

of mate value.

But in terms of accuracy of assessment,

it’s, there are no good measures scientifically

to do this because it’s sufficiently complicated.

So I mentioned, you know,

we’ve mentioned maybe a dozen different components

of mate value, physical attractiveness,

kindness, emotional stability,

health status, et cetera.

And these aren’t the only ones.

So I teach a course on psychology of human mating,

and I ask the people,

it’s a large course, a couple hundred people,

tell me, what do women want in a mate?

And so I started with the blackboard.

This is back in the old days

when there was a blackboard, a piece of chalk,

and they said, I want a mate who has a good sense of humor.

Sorry, sense of humor.

Intelligent, right?


And so I go through this

and I go through five blackboards

and then I run out of space over what women want.

Now I do the same for men

and men kind of run out of space

after about a blackboard and a half.

But what that tells me is that

these qualities are large in number

and complicated in nature.

So you say you want a guy who’s nice and generous.

They say, yeah.

So like a guy who at the end of every month

takes his whole paycheck

and gives it to the wino, a homeless person.

Well, no, not that generous.

Generous toward me, but not toward everyone else.

Nice in general, but not so nice

that they’re getting exploited.

So, or even, now there’s something,

you can’t be too healthy.

So people, that’s unidimensional.

But you want a guy, women want a guy who’s confident,

but not too confident.

Because too confident will mean

he’s either arrogant, narcissistic,

or not sufficiently manipulable.

So anyway, so my point is that

because there’s so many different components of mate value

and that they vary in amount,

so it’s not just listing the qualities

and summing them up.

They vary in amount.

It’s a very complicated endeavor to assess accurately.

But I think people have a good intuitive sense

of people’s relative mate value,

especially if you’re in a group

and you’ve been able to interact with them for a long time.

And one indication is, again, that attention structure.

How many other people really want to mate with this person?

That’s a good cue that they’re high in mate value.

Nobody wants to mate with you,

then cue that you’re low in mate value.

Reminds me of the time when one is trying to decide

who to ask to the prom.

You know, there’s a complicated assessment

based on who one would like to go with,

whether or not you’re already partnered,

who would say yes, who would say no,

because there’s a risk in rejection, too,

because that, if I’m guessing correctly,

could lower one’s own perceived mate value.

Yeah, getting rejected.

Right, frequency of rejections

probably doesn’t lend itself well

to increasing one’s own view of their mate value.

Right, which is why many guys

have what I call mating anxiety.

That is, they don’t approach one

because they risk getting shot down.

They’re trying to maintain that number

by reducing the amount of data.

Right. Yeah.

Very interesting.

But it backfires in the modern environment.

So there’s a famous psychologist, Albert Ellis,

who had mating anxiety,

and he assigned himself the task of approaching,

asking, like, I can’t remember what the number was,

but let’s say 50 women out on dates.

He lived in New York City, so there were a lot of women.

He could just stand still and they would stream past.


And he assigned himself, like,

ask 50 women on a date, you know, every week.

And he said, after two weeks, his mating anxiety disappeared

because most of them said, buzz off, creep.

But he decided, oh, actually getting rejected

didn’t cause my world to collapse,

and it actually was okay.

And so he kind of inured himself to this rejection.

And so it ended up,

he ended up doing quite well in his mating life.

Another point for cognitive behavioral desensitization.

Yes, exactly.

He ran the experiment.

Just a couple more questions.

Earlier, you mentioned self-deception-based deception,

or something of that sort, self-deception,

that people aren’t always trying to convince somebody else

of something that secretly they know isn’t true,

but that they deceive themselves.

Could you embellish on that a little bit?

Yeah, so, well, this is actually,

this hypothesis is the famous evolutionary biologist,

Robert Trivers, first advanced this hypothesis

in the preface in 1976 to Dawkins’ book,

The Selfish Gene.

And he subsequently written more about it,

both in scientific article and in a more popular book.

But the idea is that if,

the core idea is that successful deception

is facilitated by self-deception.

So if you really believe that an X,

then you’re gonna be a more successful salesman

to convince other people of X.

So if you believe you’re, let’s say, a 10 in mate value,

you truly believe it, even if you’re not,

I’m gonna have a more successful time

convincing you that I am as well.

And so the hypothesis is basically that people self-deceive

in order to increase the effectiveness of actual deception.


But I think that there are people

who are, so one other dimension I’ll mention to

is that animals often take each other

at our own word for things.

So if we’re self-confident,

people assume that we must have the goods

to back up that self-confidence.

If we’re a quivering mass of insecurity,

people believe, well,

we don’t have the goods to back up anything, you know.

And so people use other people’s displays

of their self-confidence as a cue to their goods.

And it’s, in general, a pretty reliable cue,

but then there are overestimates and underestimates

as we’ve talked about, like with narcissism.

Yeah, we see this with the job candidates.

You know, you are taught to look very carefully

at the application and consider all aspects.

But ultimately, you consider that also in light of,

you know, how firmly someone believes in the vision

of what they’re trying to bring to the profession.

And that’s, I think, largely a subconscious process

and being aware of it can be helpful.

But yeah, when somebody’s confident,

you tend to think that they’re going to get

where they say they’re going to go.

And it acts as a bit of a heuristic for not needing,

the impulse is that one then doesn’t need to go vet

all the information quite as carefully.

But I guess if one is aware of it,

then you know to dig deeper

because it seems like there’s a lot of deception going on.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Well, and you know, and something we talked about earlier,

people high on psychopathy are very good at deception.

I don’t know whether they are good at self-deception

or whether they’re just really good deceivers, you know?

So, but they can be very effective.

And out in California, you know, you live out in California,

I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of cases like that.

Oh yeah, I think across today’s discussion

and various examples pop to mind

of seeing these features in humans.

It’s so interesting.

I find the work that you do incredibly interesting.

I think this field of evolutionary psychology

is fascinating and I hope, I said it before,

but I’ll say it again.

I feel like neuroscience and evolutionary psychology

are nudging towards one another.

And it’s only a matter of time

before they merge in some formal way.

I mean, there is the work, for instance,

on polygamous versus monogamous prairie voles

and levels of vasopressin,

but it’s a big leap to go from vasopressin

in a prairie vole, no disrespect to that beautiful work,

but to humans and say, oh, vasopressin inhalers

are going to make you monogamous or something.

I think that’s, I probably got the direction

of the effect wrong, but you get the point.

Yeah, yeah, no, I think you’re absolutely right.

And I think it will happen.

I think it’s starting to happen and it will happen

because getting at the neuroscience

is getting at the underlying mechanisms

that are driving the process.

So, you know, what an evolutionary perspective

brings to bear is evolved function and ultimate explanation,

the selective forces that created adaptations,

the functions of those adaptations,

and the neuroscience brings,

well, what is the underlying machinery

that these mechanisms are instantiated in?

Yeah, it’d be wonderful to collaborate someday.

Maybe we’ll do a brain imaging study on jealousy

or something in, I don’t know, throw it,

you’re the psychologist,

you would come up with the beautiful experimental design.

I’m certain that people are going to want to learn more

about your work.

Certainly we will give them links to your social media

and other sites.

You’ve written a tremendous number

of really interesting books.

Tell us about your most recent book

and maybe some of the others

that if people are interested in these topics

and they want to learn more that they could explore.


Okay, so, well, my most recent book

is called When Men Behave Badly,

The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception,

Harassment, and Assault.

And that book deals with conflict between the sexes,

sexual conflict.

And so it deals with them both in what I call

mating market conflicts,

some of the topics we’ve been talking about,

deception in internet dating and things like that.

Second is conflict that occurs within mating relationships

of the sort that we’ve been talking about as well.

Financial infidelity, emotional infidelity,

sexual infidelity, coping with conflict

within a relationship.

And I actually have some suggestions for strategies

for coping with conflict within a relationship.

Coping in the after,

dealing with the aftermath of breakups.

So often there’s an asymmetry.

One person wants to break up, the other doesn’t.

So I talk about coping in the aftermath

and then I also talk in this book,

When Men Behave Badly,

about some of the darker sides of human mating,

like intimate partner violence, stalking,

sexual harassment, sexual coercion.

So that’s what that book’s about.

And I think it’s gotten well-reviewed

and people find it very useful in understanding

what is otherwise a lot of baffling phenomena.

Why do men and women seem at odds with each other

in so many domains?

Why do some of these recurrent forms

of sexual conflict occur?

So that’s what that book’s about.

My previous book, so my first book,

which I’ve had the good fortune

to be able to revise a couple times,

deals more broadly with human mating strategies.

It’s called The Evolution of Desire,

Strategies of Human Mating,

and gives people a broad overview

of what people want in a mate,

tactics of attraction, tactics of mate retention,

and so forth throughout the whole mating process,

serial mating, causes of divorce, and so forth.

And then even more broadly,

I have a textbook called Evolutionary Psychology,

The New Science of the Mind,

which is in its sixth edition right now.

And it’s the most widely used textbook

in evolutionary psychology around North America and Europe.

And actually it’s been translated

even into Arabic and other countries.

So that deals somewhat with mating,

but also deals with survival problems,

or evolved fears and phobias,

issues about kin and family, extended family,

friendships, social hierarchies, status hierarchies,

warfare, and other topics.

So the Evolutionary Psychology textbook

is the broadest book.

And then maybe the second broadest

is The Evolution of Desire,

Strategies of Human Mating.

And then for those interested in conflict between the sexes,

the latest book, When Men Behave Badly.


I love your work.

I’m so grateful for the clarity and depth and rigor

with which you do it and you convey it to us.

I know I speak for many people

when I just want to say thank you.

This is a tremendously informative conversation.

Thank you.

Well, it’s been a delight to talk with you,

and I hope we do engage in that research collaboration

of merging neuroscience and evolutionary psychology.

Let’s do it.

All right.

Great. Thank you, David.

Thank you.

Thank you for joining me for my conversation

with Dr. David Buss.

Be sure to check out the link to his website

in the show caption,

and be sure to check out his new book,

When Men Behave Badly,

The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception,

Harassment, and Assault.

If you’re learning from and or enjoying this podcast,

please subscribe to our YouTube channel.

That’s a terrific zero cost way to support us.

In addition, please put any questions you have

in the comment section on YouTube.

And also in the comment section,

you can make suggestions about future topics for the podcast

or future podcast guests that you would like us to host.

Also check out our sponsors mentioned

at the beginning of the podcast.

That’s one of the best ways to support us.

In addition, please subscribe to the podcast

on Apple and or Spotify.

And on Apple, you can leave us up to a five-star review

and you can also provide us questions and feedback.

And as mentioned at the beginning of today’s episode,

we are now partnered with Momentus Supplements

because they make single ingredient formulations

that are of the absolute highest quality

and they ship international.

If you go to slash Huberman,

you will find many of the supplements

that have been discussed on various episodes

of the Huberman Lab Podcast,

and you will find various protocols

related to those supplements.

Thank you once again for joining me

for my discussion with Dr. David Buss

about human mate selection and strategy

and many other extremely interesting topics today.

And last but not least,

thank you for your interest in science.


comments powered by Disqus