Lex Fridman Podcast - #282 - David Buss: Sex, Dating, Relationships, and Sex Differences

The following is a conversation with David Buss,

evolutionary psychologist at UT Austin,

researching human sex differences in mate selection.

He’s considered one of the founders

of evolutionary psychology

and has authored many exciting and challenging books,

including The Evolution of Desire,

Strategies of Human Mating,

Bad Men, The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception,

Harassment, and Assault,

and The Murderer Next Door,

Why the Mind is Designed to Kill.

We talk a lot about sex, dating, relationships, and love.

I take these, at times,

controversial topics very seriously,

but I also try to inject humor and ridiculousness

throughout this conversation and all conversations I do.

Please do not mistake my silliness for a lack of seriousness

and my seriousness for a lack of silliness.

And above all, do not mistake my suit and tie

or my PhD as a sign of intelligence or wisdom.

I barely know what I’m talking about on most days.

I’m simply curious and hoping to understand

the way a child does,

what the heck is going on

in this weird and wonderful civilization of ours.

If I say something stupid, as I often do,

I promise to learn and to improve.

As Mark Twain said,

I do not want my schooling to interfere with my education.

Open-minded curiosity, I think,

is the best guide for a proper and fun lifelong education.

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This is the Lex Friedman podcast

and here is my conversation with David Buss.

What is more important in the history

of the development of human civilization,

sex or violence?

So mating strategies or military strategies?

Oh, well, both are important.

I mean, first of all,

humans are a sexually reproducing species

and so everything has to go through sex.

So our mating psychology has to be very rich and complex

because to succeed, for us to be here now,

all of our ancestors in an unbroken chain

have had to succeed in selecting a fertile mate,

attracting that mate,

be mutually chosen by that mate,

stay together long enough,

do all the sexual things you need to do to reproduce,

have the kids survive, et cetera.

So everything has to go through mating.

And in that sense, I think it’s,

I mean, survival is really only a means to an end,

if you will.

So sex has got to be important

and humans have a very rich evolved sexual psychology

or an evolved mating psychology.

Okay, but I wouldn’t minimize

the importance of violence either.

There’s a ton of evidence that humans evolved

in the context of small groups

and with a fair amount of small group warfare.

So intertribal warfare where,

and this is a harsh realization,

but there historically,

this is part of our bad evolutionary history,

it has been advantageous

from a purely reproductive standpoint

to conquer a neighboring group,

kill the males and get whatever resources they have,

including females and sexual resources,

as well as tools, weapons, territory, and so forth.

And so I think that we have,

of course, it’s typically males who do that.

I mean, yes, some females have participated in warfare,

but as far as I know,

there’s never been a single case

in all of human recorded history

of women forming a war tribe with other women

to attack another group of women

and kill them and capture the men as husbands.

But this phenomenon is common in the ethnographic record

and small group studies.

It’s part of our common thing.

So just one concrete example,

unfortunately, he’s dead now.

He passed away, Napoleon Chagnon,

who studied the Yanomamo for many, many years.

When he first started interviewing them,

he asked them, why do you go to war?

And they said, well, to capture women, of course,

but it’s the only sensible reason.

And they said, why does your culture go to war,

however they phrased it?

And he said, well, we go to war to spread democracy

and ideas and everything.

They basically fell off their logs laughing

at such a stupid reason,

because why risk your life for anything other than women?

Of course, it’s more complex than that,

because some go to war for reputational reasons.

They say, if we don’t retaliate,

because we’ve been attacked

and they’ve stolen three of our women,

if we don’t retaliate,

then we will get a reputation as exploitable,

and then other groups will start to attack us as well.

And so they get into these cycles of,

like the Hatfields and McCoys of attacks,

counterattacks, retribution,

and part of it is reputation management.

So that’s between groups.

And I think that’s been the primary source of violence,

but not the only source.

So there’s also within-group conflict.

And so many ethnographies,

many traditional societies have things,

some of them are ritualized,

like wrestling matches,

or in the Anamama,

they have these, or used to,

these chest-pounding duels,

so if we’re in this match,

you challenge me,

and I have to, of course-

Chest-pounding duel.

I like this.

Yeah, yeah.

So it’s not, you’re not hitting each other,

you’re just, it’s like peacocking,

you’re really-

Oh, no, you’re hitting each other.

Oh, sorry.

Yeah, so they get 20 paces away,

and they run up,

and you punch the other guy in the chest,

and he has to basically stand there,

and then he does the same to you.

Oh, wow.

And then it’s basically last man standing.

Well, I suppose that’s better than the face.

That’s an interesting decision with the chest.


I mean, I’m sure if you get good at that kind of thing,

you could start breaking ribs,

and you can get loose about the rules

of where exactly in the chest you can hit.

And there’s that guy who’s always known

for hitting not exactly in the chest,

accidentally missing.

Right, right, the Mike Tyson of-

Exactly, eating your ear off.

So interesting.

So there’s ritualized conflict,

to sort of purify the competition

that resolves some kind of issue.

Well, yeah, it’s in part to establish status hierarchies.

But also, and here’s just another,

one more concrete point on that.

The yanamama, we don’t have this in our language.

We just have one word for kill or murder.

But yanamama have,

you’re either an una, if you’re a male,

you’re an unokai or a non-unokai.

The non-unokai are men who have not killed.

If you’re an unokai, that means you have killed someone.

And the unokai among the yanamama

historically had higher status and more wives.

So they’re a polygynous society,

which has been true of something like 83 to 85%

of traditional societies.

Or actually, I was just corrected by an anthropologist.

She said, we no longer call them traditional societies.

We call them small-scale societies.

So nothing can be called traditional?

I don’t know.

Is bacteria the traditional society?

Yeah, I think it’s just one of these things,

the language, the words that are deemed appropriate

to use to describe things change over time.

Yeah, so words can hurt people.

They can inspire people.

Words are funny, powerful things.

You authored a textbook titled Evolutionary Psychology,

The New Science of Mind in its sixth edition.

What is the magic ingredient

that gave birth to homo sapiens, do you think?

Is it fire, cooking, ability to collaborate,

share ideas, ability to contemplate our own mortality,

all that kind of stuff?

Yeah, well, I think it’s hard to isolate one factor.

I know you’ve had Richard Wrangham on this podcast.

It was a wonderful, wonderful interview.

And he used to be a colleague of mine

when I was a professor at Michigan.

And I’ve stayed in touch with him on and off.

He’s a brilliant, brilliant guy.

And he thinks fire and cooking

have been one of the key things.

But I think it’s hard to isolate.

I would trace at least part of our uniqueness

to the uniqueness of our mating system.

So we have in mating,

unlike chimpanzees, who are our closest primate relative,

and of which Richard Wrangham is a world’s expert,

but they have basically no long-term pair-bonded mating.

Female comes into estrus, all the mating,

all the sex happens.

Most of the sex happens during that window.

But humans have evolved long-term pair-bonded mating.

It’s only one mating strategy,

but it’s a really important one.

And then you have with that male parental care.

So basically, again, you go back to chimps.

And chimps, with whom we share more than 98% of our DNA,

males don’t do anything.

So they inseminate the females.

But then when the kids are born,

they basically don’t do much of anything

in terms of provisioning and so forth.

But human males do.

We invest, in the modern environment,

could be decades, especially with the boomerang kids

and everything, but we’re, not all males do,

but compared to the vast majority of mammals,

we are a very heavy male parental investment species.

Could you, if it’s okay,

and I’ll ask you a bunch of dumb basic questions,

because those are fun.

Could you define mating here?

Does mating refer to the series of sexual acts

that lead to reproduction?

Does it include dating and love and camaraderie,

loyalty, all those things?


When I first started studying it, yeah, I don’t,

when I first started studying it,

I looked for the right term.

And obviously, it’s much broader than sex.

So by mating, I include things like mate selection,

mate preferences, mate attraction, mate retention,

mate poaching, mate expulsion.

Mate poaching, that sounds fun.

So the early, the game theoretic strategy,

mate selection is primary what mating is about,

or do you include the long-term,

once you agree that you’re gonna stick this out

for a while and have multiple children,

is that also mating?

Yes, I include that as well.

So it’s a broad definition,

and absolutely includes the emotion of love.

And of course, there are many different types of love,

brotherly love, love of parents for children.

But love, I think, and this is one of the shifts

in the social sciences.

So when I was an undergraduate, for example,

I was taught that love is this invention

by some Caucasian European poets a couple hundred years ago.

And it turns out that’s not the case.

So there’s been extensive cross-cultural evidence now

that people, not every person in all cultures, of course,

but some people in all cultures experience this emotion

that we call love.

And for the word love,

are we going to, in this conversation,

try to stick to sort of romantic love

for the meaning of the word love?

Well, that’s a great question.

But I mean, it’s pretty well established

that there are these different phases of love.

So there’s this infatuation phase

where our psychology, we get obsessional thoughts.

It’s hard to focus on work when we’re not with the person

we’re thinking about, the other person constantly.

So there’s kind of like ideational intrusion

into our psychology, but you can’t sustain that.

I mean, it’d be, and then of course there’s a,

pardon the phrase, but what I described

is the fucking like bunnies phase

of this intense sexuality.

But people have other adaptive problems they have to solve.

And so you can’t stay in that state for too long.

And so that subsides over time and develops into,

at least in many cases, this warm attachment.

Cuddling bunnies, long-term cuddling bunnies phase

of the relationship, but still romantic,

not like brotherly love or,

because I talk about love a lot.

And for me, love is a broader experience

of just experiencing the joy and the beauty of life.

So like just looking out in nature,

that’s the kind of love, like whatever the chemicals

that lead to a feeling that at least echoes

the same kind of feeling that you get with romantic love,

you can experience that with even inanimate objects.

That sounds weird to say, but just gratitude

and appreciation, not in some kind of a weird Zen way,

but just in a very human way.

Just, it feels good to be alive kind of.

It feels good to be alive kind of.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I guess I would, I mean, that’s an interesting thought.

I hadn’t thought about that.

I guess I would use other terms to describe that.

So like the term awe, for example,

when you see a beautiful sunset,

that’s why I kind of started out by saying,

I think there are different types of love

and I’m focusing on the mating type.

And we’ll talk about that, but so yeah,

there is a sense of beauty and there’s a sense

of sexual appeal, maybe that’s a good,

and those intersect in fascinating ways.

We’ll talk about that.

We’ll talk about all of that,

but you’re saying mating strategies,

not that we’ve kind of placed ourself,

what we mean by mating.

Mating strategies is one of the cool features

that made humans what they are.

One of the initial inventions is the weird,

weird and wonderful ways that we mate.

Yeah, and I mean, if you go to even things

like how we compete for mates,

and this is another kind of strange,

for some people, angle on it,

but mating is inherently a competitive process

in that desirable mates are in scarce supply

relative to the numbers of people who want them.

And so even post-mating, that is after mate selection,

mate attraction and mutual mate choice,

desirable, that’s why there’s mate poaching.

Mate poaching is one of the strategies

that we in my lab with David Schmidt have studied.

And so, okay, but one of the unique aspects of humans

is that we compete using language.

And that is we have reputations

and humans devote a lot of effort

to maintaining the reputations,

to building the reputations,

to trying to recover reputations

after a loss of reputation for various reasons.

But we compete for mates using language,

and that includes sending signals

to the person that we’re trying to attract using language,

verbal fluency, and, you know,

obviously some more recent things like poetry.

But also we use language to derogate our competitors.

So one of the papers I published very early on,

it was a research project on derogation of competitors,

the ways in which people impugn the status,

character, and reputations of their rivals

with the goal of making them less desirable to other people.

And humans do that, and women and men both do that.

It’s an interesting thing that we’re,

male competition, we were talking about the Yanomamo earlier

and some of these overt, physical,

or what animal biologists call contest competition,

where there’s a physical battle.

Males do that, and so a lot of the early attention

on mate competition was focused on

these sort of ostentatious, overt battles

in contest competition.

But we compete through language,

and so there’s this big overlooked domain of women,

the ways in which women compete with each other

using language.

And one of the things that astonished me

is how observant women are about the subtle imperfections

in their rivals and take pains to point them out.

So just as a random example, I went to a party,

this is back in my youth, but went to a party

with my girlfriend at the time,

and I got into this conversation with another woman

who happened to be very attractive.

But then we leave the party, and she said something

just casually offhanded, like, she said,

did you notice that her thighs were heavy?

And I hadn’t, but next time I saw this other woman,

I found my attention being drawn to check out her thigh.

Well, and originally it puzzled me

why women would derogate other women on appearance.

Well, they do it, of course,

because men prioritize appearance.

But I thought, well, the man can see the woman directly

with his own eyes.

Why would verbal input alter his perceptions

of how attractive he was?

And I think that part of it is,

I think there are actually two quick answers to that.

One is the attentional one.

So our attentional field, when they draw attention to it,

those what could be very small deviations

from perfect symmetry or whatever they are

become magnified in our attentional field.

But the other is that who we have as a mate

is also a reflection of our own status.

And you saw this in a kind of overt and way

in the earlier, the last presidential,

not the last, the 2016 presidential election

where Donald Trump was saying,

this was when he was in competition with Ted Cruz,

I think, in the primary.

He said, look at my wife, look at Ted Cruz’s wife.

And he really impugned the appearance of Ted Cruz’s wife

so using language, you can alter the dynamics

of the social hierarchy, the status hierarchy, sorry.

So like you can change the values subtly

or if you have a large platform in big ways,

you can move things around just with your words.

Yeah, yeah, that’s right, right.

And it’s fascinating with humans

because it’s all socially constructed anyway.

So this, I mean, the question I have is you said

there’s the interesting thing about mating strategies

is there’s a small pool of desirable mates.

And what the word desirable means is socially defined

almost by on purpose to make sure

the pool always stays small.

I would have a couple thoughts on that.

It’s an interesting issue, set of issues you raise.

Okay, one is that I think we have evolved adaptations.

Part of our psychology is to detect differences.

And so this is why like a, I don’t know,

a Martian or an alien coming down,

they might look at humans and say,

boy, they all look alike.

Just like we look at, I don’t know, zebras or whatever

and we think they all look alike.

But what’s important in decision-making,

especially in the mating domain or even friendship domain

or coalitional selection domain is the differences.

And so I noticed this just a concrete example of this.

I was sitting around, this is again, ages ago,

watching something like a Miss America beauty contest

and people in there with a bunch of other people

and they were saying, boy, did you see Miss North Carolina?

What a dog.

And so this is astonishing.

So here are like 50 contestants who are selected

as the most attractive in their state, presumably.

Although they claim it’s based on talent.

But we noticed the differences.

And this is why I would push back a little bit

on the term socially constructed,

because I think it’s,

there are many different meanings of that phrase.

And one meaning that some people have,

one connotation is that it’s arbitrary.

And I don’t think it’s arbitrary.

So this has been another shift

in understanding standards of beauty

where it used to be believed in the social sciences.

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Beauty is only skin deep.

Don’t judge people on the superficial characteristics.

But in fact, physical appearance provides

a wealth of information about the health status

of someone they’re, in the case of males,

their physical formability.

And we have formability assessment adaptations,

and then fertility as well.

So there are a very predictable set of cues to fertility

that have evolved to be part of our

standards of attractiveness.

And they’re not arbitrary.

There are some culturally arbitrary ones.

So like you go to the Maori in New Zealand, for example,

and they find tattoos on their lips to be very attractive.

So there are some culturally arbitrary things.

But standards of beauty like cues to youth,

cues to health in women, clear skin, full lips,

clear eyes, lustrous hair, a small waist-hip ratio

that is a circumference of the waist relative to the hips

is a cue to youth and fertility and a cue to health.

Symmetrical features.

So we are a bilaterally symmetrical species,

but we all have deviations from perfect symmetry

that are due to different things.

Mutation, load, environmental insults,

diseases during development, and so forth.

All right, but that’s kind of deeply biological.

Like there’s cues that indicate something

that is biologically true about a particular human.

So we’ll talk about both men and women.

So we’re now talking about what men want

in the mating strategies when they look at women.

So you’re saying small waist to hip ratio.


How much of that is our deep biological past

on top of which you can build

all kinds of different standards of beauty?

So we have many things going on in our brain.

Our value of other humans in selecting a mate

might incorporate a lot more variables

as we get into the 21st century.

So how quickly does our valuation of a mate evolve

relative to the evolution of the human species?

You’re using evolve in the sense of culturally evolved?

Culturally evolved, and then relative to biologically evolved.

Yeah, well, I think that there are some things

that are biologically evolved,

some standards of attractiveness.

And there are some of the things that I mentioned.

So in male evaluation of females,

let me back up and just say,

what is the underlying logic?

Why would we have standards of attractiveness?

So here’s the interesting thing,

and this gets back to your earlier question

about what is unique to humans,

or what distinguishes us,

or what set us off on the path that we did,

is chimpanzee males do not have any difficulty

figuring out when a female is fertile.

She signals that like crazy

with the bright red genital swelling,

olfactory cues, she goes into estrus.

In humans, we have, and this was actually a third thing

that I wanted to add earlier,

we have concealed ovulation, okay?

Relatively concealed ovulation,

which is remarkable given how close we are

primatologically to chimpanzees.

And so there’s a little bit of evidence

that there are subtle changes that occur

when women ovulate,

non-women not on hormonal contraceptives.

But it’s mostly concealed.

But it is largely concealed.

Do you think that’s a feature or a bug?

Like do we evolve that,

is that a powerful invention for the human species?

I think it’s an adaptation in women,

that women have evolved concealed ovulation.

And I think it’s a feature, not a bug.

Would it give more power for women to select a mate?

There are a couple different hypotheses

about it, but the one that I think is most plausible

is that, again, comparing it to chimps,

female goes into estrus,

the male just has to try to monopolize her

while she’s in that estrus phase,

and then they basically ignore the females after that.

If you can’t know when a woman is fertile,

then you have to stick around a lot longer.

And so I think long-term pair bonding co-evolved

with concealed ovulation.

And with that, also, a very different form of sexuality,

which is that we have sex throughout the ovulatory cycle.

And chimps don’t.

There’s a little bit of mating,

a little bit of sex toward the edges of the estrus cycle,

but very little.

So that actually makes mating a more fundamental part

of interaction between humans than it does for chimps.

So meaning like year-round, every day,

constantly selecting mates in terms of biologically speaking.

So what else do men want, today in the 21st century

versus in the caveman days?

A wonderful question.

To answer it, though, I have to distinguish

between long-term mating and short-term mating.

And in long-term mating, it gets very complicated.

So as a-

That’s one way to put it, yeah.

Well, so I teach a course in human sexuality

at University of Texas at Austin.

And one of the things, this is back in the days

when there were chalkboards and you taught

with a piece of chalk and wrote things on the board.

And what I would do is I would ask the class,

I’d teach this large class, one to 200,

I’d say, what do women want?

Tell me all the things women want in a long-term mate.

And so I would start at one end of the blackboard,

there were like five blackboards,

and I’d say, well, I want a mate who’s kind,

who’s understanding, who’s intelligent, who’s healthy,

who’s got a good sense of humor, who shares my values.

And I’d just go, and I’d fill out five blackboards

and then run out of space.

And so first, this large number of characteristics

that people want, and then specific magnitudes

of those characteristics or amounts.

So I’d say, you want a mate who’s, say, generous

with their resources.

And they say, yes, I want a mate who’s generous

with their resources.

So I said, so like a guy who,

this is in women’s mate selection,

a guy who at the end of every month gets his paycheck

and gives it to the local wino on the drag.

And I just go, well, no, not that generous, okay?

Generous toward me, not indiscriminately generous.

And so you want a mate who’s ambitious,

who’s a hard worker.

Yes, but not a workaholic, and so then you get

to interactions among different characteristics.

So there’s a lot of characteristics, a lot of variables

in this very complex optimization problem for women.

Yes, that’s right.

And more so for women than for men.

So and then I turn to the men and I say,

well, what do men want?

And then I run out of space after about a blackboard

and a half, because they can’t think of anything else.

So women-

I think there’s a lot of explanations for that.

Besides the lack of the number of variables, it’s also,

you know, I mean, that’s interesting.

So what’s the difference between the variables?

So on the men’s side, what are the variables?

Well, in long-term mate selection,

there’s a lot of overlap.


So things like intelligence, good health,

sense of humor, an agreeable personality,

someone who’s not too neurotic or moody

or emotionally volatile, but there are key differences

as well, and the differences stem from,

they basically fall in the delimited number of domains.

So for men, it’s physical attractiveness,

physical appearance, and youth are the two real big ones.

Okay, men prioritize those more than women do.

And so that’s why you have phenomena such as this quote,

love at first sight, where sometimes men can walk

into a party and they see a woman across the room

and they say, I’m gonna marry that woman.

That’s the woman for me.

Women very rarely do that.

Now, most men don’t do that either,

but men are much more inclined to fall in love

at first sight.

That’s because they prioritize physical appearance.


Because physical appearance provides this wealth

of information about a woman’s fertility status.

And this is from an evolutionary perspective,

from a purely reproductive perspective,

in business school, they would call it job one.

Job one is you have to select a fertile mate.

So those who, in our evolutionary past,

who selected infertile mates,

so postmenopausal women, for example,

did not become our ancestors.

So we are all the descendants of this long

and unbroken chain of ancestors,

all of whom succeeded in selecting a fertile mate.

But fertility cannot be observed directly.

It can’t.

Use some cues.

Exactly, and there are cues that are probabilistically

related to this underlying quality of fertility

that we can’t observe directly.

And we’re doing that computation in our heads.

What about men?

What do men want for short-term mating?

Well, so for short-term mating, for both sexes,

physical appearance looms very large.

So women are, no, physical attractiveness and appearance,

they’re important for women in long-term mate selection.

So I don’t wanna mislead anyone on that.

They’re just not as important as they are for men.

And so a lot of characteristics come for women

before physical appearance, physical attractiveness.

So women, so if we switch to women,

what do women want?

They want also physical appearance for short-term mating,

physical attractiveness.

What else?

Some cues that represent physical attractiveness

that maybe represent health.

Well, here’s, this is your, it’s-

I’m learning a lot here.

Yeah, well, so, but you’re also asking

a very interesting question about what is controversial

within the evolutionary psychology field, right?

And not totally resolved, so-

That’s why you’re on the sixth edition of the book,

and there could be a lot more editions coming.

Yeah, yeah, I revise it every four years or so

because there’s four years of new, interesting work,

and so it deserves updating.

But the traditional, I should say,

answer to your question is that women go for good genes,

cues to good genes in the short-term,

and cues to resources in the long-term.

And this has been a hypothesis that advocated,

I didn’t come up with this one,

by Steve Gangestad, a former student of mine,

Marty Hale, Randy Thornhill,

and some other very smart players in the field.

And what they used as markers of good genes

are things like symmetrical features and masculine features.

So strong jawline, high shoulder-to-hip ratio,

you know, other sorts of masculine features.

But I started to doubt this explanation

for what women want in the short-term

because of some other findings.

So for women, a lot of short-term mating

is not one-night-stand mating,

but rather it’s affair mating.

So if you ask the question, why do women have affairs?

So let’s restrict the question for the moment.

My colleagues would argue, well, women have affairs

because they’re trying to get good genes from one guy

while they’re getting investment

from the regular partner, the husband.

Okay, but the problem is that when women have affairs,

70-plus percent tend to fall in love with

or become attached to their affair partner.


Oh, sorry, what percentage?


Yeah, 70-

Some large majority.

Yeah, 70% or more.

In contrast to men, where it’s more like 30%

of men who have affairs fall in love with

or become attached to their affair partner.

So, but from a design perspective,

an engineering perspective, if you will,

that’s a disastrous thing

if you’re just trying to get good genes.

So you’re trying to retain the investment

of one guy while getting good genes surreptitiously

from this guy who presumably has one.

Falling in love with them, becoming attached,

that’s not a feature you want.

Yeah, it’s bad engineering.

Yeah, exactly, it’s bad engineering.

And so I developed an alternative hypothesis

that I call the mate-switching hypothesis,

which is that affairs are one way

in which women divest themselves

of a cost-inflicting partner

or a partner who things aren’t working out well with.

And it’s a way to either transition back

into the mating market

or to trade up in the mating market.

And so, anyway, so these are probably

the two leading hypotheses about why women have affairs.

And I am putting my money

on the mate-switching hypothesis.

My esteemed colleagues are putting their money

on the good genes hypothesis,

but I think the evidence for the good genes hypothesis

is starting to look shakier than initially.

Well, this is a heated debate.

I mean, mate-switching sounds like a,

so from a game theory perspective,

from an engineering perspective,

it seems to make a lot more sense

unless you put a lot of value in lifelong,

sort of in the long-term mating,

some kind of value in the lifelong singular relationship,

like monogamy.


And maybe we do, psychologically.

Maybe there’s a big evolutionary advantage to that.

And we do, but we also know that divorce is,

you know, and breakups are also common

and occur in all cultures.

So that’s-

Yeah, we’re just not very good at this thing.

Well, either we’re not good at the mate selection,

such that maybe we’re not incorporating

all the variables well,

or we’re just not good at monogamy, period,

from an evolutionary perspective.

Well, I think there, that’s-

Another debate?

No, that raises an interesting set of questions.

So I think that, I mean, one issue is longevity.

So, I mean, we didn’t live to be 70, 80 years old

in over 99% of human evolutionary history.

And so we didn’t necessarily evolve

to be mated monogamously with one person

for decades and decades and decades.

But I also think that long-term pair bonding

is a critical strategy,

but mate switching is also a critical strategy.

So if you have a mate, for example,

who becomes cost-inflicting

or becomes sufficiently debilitated

or who suffers an injury such that,

like in hunter-gatherer societies

where the mate can no longer hunt,

can no longer provide resources

for their kids and the woman,

this becomes a problem.

And so I think that we have adaptations to mate switch

to divest ourselves from some partners

and trade up in the mating market

under certain conditions.

So, okay.

And those conditions will differ for men and women.

What are some of the cues in terms of what women want?

You know, I go to the gym.

It’s a hotly contested debate.

You said evolutionary psychology,

and this is in the bro psychology forums

that I visit multiple times a day.

No, I’m just kidding.

Well, what’s the most important cue of appearance for guys?

What muscle group is the most important to work on?

Do women care about biceps is what I’m asking.

In terms of physical appearance,

a good shoulder to hip ratio,

so relatively wide shoulders relative to hips is one.

Women tend to prefer men who are physically fit

and well-toned, but not muscle bound.

So like if you go to, I don’t know,

someone like those early,

when Arnold Schwarzenegger was doing the Mr.

whatever it was contest,

you see the women don’t find those attractive,

the extremely muscle bound guys,

but they like a guy who’s physically fit,

high shoulder to hip ratio.

They like guys who are physically taller than they are

and guys who are a bit above average in height.

So if the average, so if, you know,

the average is, I don’t know, five, nine, five, 10,

and out there for humans, depending on the culture,

women prefer an inch or two taller than that.


So shoulders, height, dad bod, what’s that about?

Why do you want a dad bod?

Why do you, why not, how do I define dad bod?

What is a dad bod?

Dad bod is not muscle bound.

Okay, so out of shape.

A little, no, no, just a little bit.

A little bit of a cushion for the pushing.

I don’t know what the kids call it these days,

but just a little bit, a little bit of fat.

So what’s, why do they not want guys

to be obsessed with their body?

Is that, or is that some evolutionary thing?

Yeah, I think that women might interpret a guy

who is so obsessed with his body that he’s,

they might view that as a sign of darn narcissism.


And that’s not a good trait.


What about like cultures where large,

sort of overweight men are valued?

Is that, how do you explain,

like how much can we override the evolutionary desires

with our sort of cultural fashions of the day

that maybe represent other desirable aspects like wealth?

Well, wealth is, resources have always been important,

especially to women.

So is a man able to acquire resources

and is he willing to dispense them to her and her kids?

So that’s always important in traditional cultures

that boils down to hunting skills.

So if, so I asked a colleague, friend, Kim Hill,

who’s probably the world’s leading expert

on the Ache of Paraguay.

And you ask him like, what leads to high status

in the Ache in males, hunting skills.

That’s the one thing, the big variable.

And that’s resources.

Now, what’s interesting about modern culture

is we have cash economies,

but cash economies are relatively recent.

And historically, there’s over the vast,

99% of human evolutionary history,

you weren’t able to stockpile resources

in the way that you are today.

Although there are interestingly certain ways you can do it.

So like you kill a large game animal,

okay, you bring it back, you get some status points

because you give some to your family,

you can share it more widely with the group, et cetera.

But it’s gonna go bad, right?

You can’t just say, I’m gonna keep this carcass around

for the next several months.

Okay, but, and I think it’s a Steve Pinker

who might’ve used coin this phrase

that they store the meat in the bodies of other people.

And so for example, they store it in their friends.

So, hunting success is,

it’s a hit or miss kind of thing.

So you might come back empty handed four times out of five,

but when you do, you share your meat with others.

And then when, and then they reciprocate

by sharing their meat with you.

And so you can store resources in the bodies of other people,

which is I think an interesting way to think about it,

but that can only go so far.

And when you have cash economies,

you have both the ability to stockpile resources,

but also this kind of explosion

and inequality of resources.

And that’s evolutionarily recent.

What about, now this is the difference between

the Huberman, the excellent Huberman Lab podcast

that you did that people should listen to.

He is a brilliant scientist,

a sort of a rigorous analyst of what is true

in the scientific community,

also helps you with great advice on how to live.

Now, in contrast to that, I am a terrible,

almost idiotic level journalist.

So this is what you have to deal with.

Another thing that people talk about

that women care about is penis size.

Does penis size matter for women in sexual selection?

Well, there’s controversy about that.

In the evolutionary psychology community?

Well, it’s not-

Is there papers on penis size?

I wouldn’t say scientific papers,

so speculations about-

So not in nature or in science?

Yeah, yeah, no, nothing that I’ve seen there.

I think that there’s individual variability.

So this is something that comes up, again,

when I ask women in my classes, what do women want?

Some will say, a large penis.

But I think there’s variability in that preference.

And it also might depend in part on the variability

in the woman’s anatomy.

Do you think there’s something fundamental

in terms of evolutionary psychology, in terms of evolution,

or is this a quirk of culture that’s current,

that’s maybe somehow connected to pornography

or something like that?

Yeah, my guess is it’s something

that’s perhaps a quirk of culture

or something that is evolutionarily recent.

But I don’t know.

I mean, it’s a topic that hasn’t been explored much.

I’ve never done work on it.

Well, somebody should do a PhD,

some archeologist should do a PhD

on the history of human civilization

and its valuation of penis size

and the correlation of penis size to the value of the male.

Okay, moving on.

Another absurd question in terms of what men want.

Again, definitely not a Huberman Lab podcast question.

Why do men?

Let’s say a large fraction of men love boobs.

Well, I think that-

You’re one of the most cited evolutionary psychologists,

and this is what you signed up for,

these kinds of questions.

Questions like this, yeah.

Well, so again, this is something

I haven’t studied directly, but scientifically.

Yes, yes.

But yeah, there’s been some work on that, and it’s-

Another cultural quirk, perhaps?

No, I don’t think it’s a cultural quirk,

because I think it’s the shape that matters a lot,

because shape is gonna be a cue to fertility.

So one of the things that humans are attracted to

in the opposite sex is sexually dimorphic features,

and breasts are a sexually dimorphic feature.

What’s dimorphic mean?

Difference in morphology between males and females.

Got it.

Diming to morphic morphology.

And women don’t develop breasts until puberty,

or post-puberty, and so as a sexually dimorphic

characteristic, we tend to be attracted to that.

Same is true, by the way, with the waist-to-hip ratio

that we mentioned earlier.

Prior to puberty, males and females

have very similar waist-to-hip ratios,

but at puberty, there’s a differential hip development

and fat deposition that creates a sexual dimorphism

with respect to waist-to-hip ratio.

And so again, men are attracted to this waist-to-hip ratio.

No man consciously says that.

They find this woman more attractive than that woman.

They don’t think, ah, she has a waist-to-hip ratio of .70.

That’s exactly what I do, but anyway, most men, most men,

yes, so isn’t that fascinating that we just build

these entire industries of fashion

and what we find beautiful around these kinds of ideas,

and we just, and then not just fashion,

and then we build, we have sociological tensions

about whether we should care about this kind of thing

or not, there’s battles in that space.

It’s like, they seem so simple.

It’s just the human body, and we wear clothes.

First of all, that’s a funny thing.

What’s the, why are we wearing clothes?

What’s the shame aspect of covering up the body?

Is that another feature, or is that, what is that?

Yeah, that’s an interesting question, and I don’t know.

It’s just like hiding ovulation.

Maybe that’s another hiding, like maybe hiding

is a great game theoretic thing to play with,

is it can give you, it can give the powerless more power

by covering, maybe.

Well, I think there are a few things.

So one is the sort of arbitrary features of fashion,

and then the other is the aspects of fashion

that attempt to magnify what is inherent

in our evolved standards of beauty.

So for example, women tend to wear things

that accentuate their waist-tip ratio.

So, I mean, historically, those, in the old days,

corsets, for example, cinched the woman’s waist.

And you wouldn’t see fashion develop in a way

that made a woman seem old, unhealthy,

pockmarked, signs of open sores or lesions.

There are certain domains, design spaces that you wouldn’t,

that no culture would develop.

So, but there are arbitrary features,

but sometimes they’re not entirely arbitrary,

or they’re arbitrary at one level of description,

but not at another.

So for example, fashion tends to be linked with status,

and that’s why it constantly changes.

The high-status people start wearing

a certain type of clothing,

and then when the lower-status people imitate them,

then they have to shift to signal their status.

And so I think the fashion and clothing

is in part linked to status.

So this is not you talking, this is me.

I just wanna make a statement, a profound statement,

that I think yoga pants, now this is broadly speaking,

but yoga pants is one of the greatest inventions

in human history.

There’s fire, and yoga, and I’m just gonna leave it there.

I’m a fan, and I have female friends

that talk about how comfortable yoga pants are,

which is what I’m referring to when I say

it’s one of the greatest inventions,

because comfort in fashion is really, really important to me.

Let me ask about sort of the sociological aspect of this.

So I’ve talked to Mark Zuckerberg,

who, the meta, who’s the CEO, founder of Facebook,

and now meta, and owns Instagram.

Yeah, I’ve heard of him.

Yeah, he’s a, yeah, he holds the American flag

and likes the water.

Anyway, so there’s been criticisms

of social networks and so on,

and I just wanna ask you about the broader question here,

that there’s objectification of the human body in the media,

and that creates standards for young women,

for young men, perhaps, but more young women.


You mentioned to the cruelty

that women can have towards each other in terms of,

well, let’s, you know, cruelty is already a moral judgment.

Just, you’ve made a statement about the fact

that women seem to point out imperfections in other women.


Do you think it’s a problem in our modern society

that we objectify each other in this way?

Do you think this is a fundamental aspect of our biology

that we need to suppress versus celebrate,

just like we might suppress our natural desire for violence

if such exists in modern society?

Well, a couple of thoughts on that.

I think it is damaging,

the fact that so many images are displayed in social media,

and so what I would say is that there’s,

what’s called in the field, an evolutionary mismatch.

So we evolved in the context of small group living,

where there was made competition,

but your competitors were a small number

of other potential individuals,

and so people do comparisons.

Okay, but now what we have is this bombardment

of our visual system and our sexual psychology

and our mating psychology with thousands and thousands

of images that are not at all representative

of who our actual competition is in the mating domain.

And so I think that, and there’s actually evidence on this

that Baz Luhrmann actually said something like this

in his sunscreen song.

I don’t know if you ever heard that,

but it’s like a set of, it’s a wonderful string of advice,

song about advice, but he says-

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, sorry.

Yeah, he says, don’t read beauty magazines

that will only make you feel ugly.

You know, and I think that there’s truth to that,

that is, especially with women,

they look at all these images,

and, you know, of course, they’re photographed,

they’re Photoshopped, they’re highly selected

and not at all representative.

And so women compare themselves to that.

So I think this social comparison

is an evolved feature of humans.

I mean, males do it, females do it,

but it’s exacerbated in the modern environment

in wildly evolutionarily mismatched ways.

And so I think that it is destructive, it’s harmful.

There’s evidence that it hurts women’s self-esteem.

So here’s just another factoid or fact, if you will,

that at least in Western cultures,

males and females have roughly the same

overall average levels of self-esteem,

but once puberty hits, all of a sudden,

women’s self-esteem starts to drop.

And I think it’s because when they enter,

make competition, then they start

elevating the importance they attach to physical appearance.

And then as you point out, the tremendous objectification

that saturates social media and media in general

is damaging and harmful.

I don’t know how to undo it, though.

I don’t know how to design a society that undoes that.

Well, one of the ways we undo things,

just like you pointed out, is we use words.

We manipulate society, we manipulate social

and status hierarchies using our words for ill,

and we can do the same for good.

And that’s why there’s a lot of clickbait articles

about Instagram leading to a lot of suffering

amongst teenage girls and all those kinds of things.

I’m criticizing the clickbait nature

and not the contents of the articles.

But, you know, and those articles hopefully become viral

in a way that makes us rethink about how we

build social networks that kind of allow us

to too easily misrepresent how we look

when we are quote-unquote influencers

and what mental effect it has on young people

that look up to those influencers.

But I guess it’s not the objectification fundamentally

that’s the problem, it’s the inaccurate,

it’s the fake news, it’s the misrepresentation.

You still objectify the male body, the female body,

but you do so while misrepresenting the actual truth.

And so you’re moving the average,

you’re moving the standard representation

of what a male should look like,

what a woman should look like.

And the dishonesty is the problem, not the objectification.

Here’s just one other interesting empirical finding

on that, and it has to do with another dimension

that I think is harmful, and that’s the thinness dimension.

And so if you, and these are studies originally done

by Paul Rosen, but they’ve been replicated,

where if you ask men, okay, what is your ideal figure

in a woman, and so they have these, say, nine figures

that vary from very, very thin to average to plump.

Men give it the midpoint.

They say the midpoint is in relative thinness

or plumpness is what I value.

And you ask women, what is your ideal body type for you?

They give it, they say thinner, but then if you ask them,

what do you think male’s ideal body type is?

They put it in exactly the same spot

that they put their own ideal, which is thin.

And so there’s actually an inaccurate perception

of how thin men desire women to be.

And I think that’s partly exacerbated

by the fashion industry, where the models

are often real thin and, you know,

the lore is that clothes hang better on thin models

and then on TV, they say you gain 15 pounds

over what you really are or whatever.

For whatever reason, women misperceive

how thin men want them to be.

This is another huge sex difference, is eating disorders.

Anorexia, for example, bulimia, binging, purging,

where these eating disorders are nine to 10 times

more common in women than in men.

Can I just take a small tangent?

Because it was such a beautiful, the sunscreen song,

such a beautiful one, if I can read some of the words

from it, I really enjoy it.

Yeah, it’s a great, it’s a great song.

For people, you should check it out.

It’s called Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.

I guess it’s actually a speech to a class.

I don’t know if that’s artificial or real,

but it’s a speech that gives advice.

And it goes, ladies and gentlemen of the class of 97.

I just remember it even now, those words.

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future,

sunscreen would be it.

The long-term benefits of sunscreen

have been proven by scientists.

Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable

than my own meandering experience.

I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth.

Oh, nevermind, you will not understand the power

and beauty of your youth until they’re faded.

But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back

at the photos of yourself and recall in a way

you can’t grasp now how much possibility

laid before you and how fabulous you really looked.

You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future or worry,

but know that worrying is as effective

as trying to solve an algebra equation

by chewing bubble gum.

The real troubles in your life are apt to be the things

that never cross your worried mind.

The kind that blindsides you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Saying don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts.

Don’t put up with the people who are reckless with yours.

Floss, don’t waste your time on jealousy.

Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.

The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults.

If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters,

throw away your old bang statements.

Stretch, don’t feel guilty if you don’t know

what you want to do with your life.

The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22

what they wanted to do with their lives.

Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know

still don’t.

For me, that’s true for 50, 60, and 70-year-olds, honestly.

Get plenty of calcium, be kind to your niece.

You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t.

Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t.

Maybe you’ll divorce at 40.

Maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken

on your 75th wedding anniversary.

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much

or berate yourself either.

Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body, use it every way you can.

Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it.

It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it

but in your own living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines

that will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents.

You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings.

They’re your best link to your past

and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go,

but a precious few who should hold on.

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle.

For as older you get,

the more you need the people you knew when you were young.

Live in New York City once.

I actually took this advice.

This is fascinating advice.

I remember this advice well.

It’s broadly applied.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once,

but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths.

Prices will rise, politicians will philander,

you too will get old, and when you do,

you’ll fantasize that when you were young,

prices were reasonable, politicians were noble,

and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you.

Maybe you have a trust fund,

maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse,

but you never know when either one might run out.

Never mess too much with your hair,

or by the time you’re 40, it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy,

but be patient with those who supply it.

Advice is a form of nostalgia.

Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past

from the disposal, wiping it off,

painting over the ugly parts,

and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

So this is, thank you for allowing me to read it.

It’s almost sentimental for me.

I don’t know when I first heard it,

but there’s a few pieces of advice in that,

similar to the poem, If, by Rajat Kipling,

there’s some deep truths when you step back

and look at it all, and also the places where you live.

Because I lived for a time in, I guess, Northern California,

with Google, and so on.

And one of the reasons I had to leave

is I felt I was becoming soft.

This is my own personal experience.

And the same is true for the cities of the East.

They can, if you’re not careful, make you hard,

because everybody’s super busy and rushing around,

and there’s just a buzz to the city,

which is exciting, it’s empowering,

but it can change you in ways.

And so it’s one of the reasons I’m here in Austin,

that I fell in love with the city,

because it’s such a nice balance of both.

And yeah, I’ve lived on both coasts as well,

Boston area, and then Berkeley, California.

So I’m familiar with both.

How’d you end up in Austin, as a small side?

Well, I got my undergraduate degree here,

and then left for 20 years, and migrated around.

So went to UC Berkeley for my PhD,

Harvard for my first job, University of Michigan,

and then a job opened up at University of Texas

for an evolutionary psychologist.

And so they wanted me, fortunately,

so I was very happy to, so I’ve always loved Austin.

Yeah, the love never died, it was there.

Yeah, yeah, it’s a great town.

I was glad that I left, so, and experienced,

well, both coasts and also the Midwest,

but happy to be back in Austin.

Let me ask a difficult question.

Now, we did pretty good with some difficult questions

already, but there are people in this world today

who believe that gender is purely a social construct.

You, I think, are not one of those people.

To you, what are the difference between men and women?

How much of those differences are nature,

and how much is nurture?

I guess if you’re asking the question

morphologically or psychologically,

I assume you’re asking psychologically.

The question is what it is, and the answer,

sometimes the questions don’t contain with them

the trajectory you take with the answer, right?

So I think I was asking both,

and the fact that both are a thing

is an interesting thing.


So you wrote a book, textbook, I should say,

Evolutionary Psychology, right?


Both of those words are in the book title,

psychology, that’s the human mind.

Yes, yeah.

How much of gender, how much of sex is the human mind,

and how much of it is the biology?

The way that I phrase it, so I don’t like

sort of dividing the world into two categories,

things that are biological

versus things that are not biological.

So biology is actually defined

as the study of life and life processes,

and so at that sort of abstract level,

everything we do is biological,

including culture and our capacity for culture,

which I think is an evolved capacity that humans have.

So when you get to the issue of sex and gender,

I mean, one cut at your question is,

are there universal psychological sex differences?

And the answer to that question is, yes, there are some.

So for example, well, and this is in one of your areas

of specialty, engineering,

one of the interesting things is that,

it’s called the people’s thing dimension.

So do you want an occupation?

You want a job that involves people, social interaction,

or are you happy with a job that just involves things,

mechanical objects or computer code or whatever?

And this is one of the largest psychological

sex differences that exists, and it’s true in every culture.

So in terms of, I don’t know, magnitude of effects,

it’s an effect size of more than a standard deviation,

difference between the means

on this psychological sex difference.

And so one of the interesting things is,

so if you go to places like,

go to the most gender egalitarian cultures in the world,

so places like Sweden or Norway,

which are explicitly gender egalitarian

and are truly in many, many ways,

but you allow people freedom of choice,

some of these sex differences actually get larger,

the psychological sex differences,

and also assortment into different occupational choices.

Now, but this is not something that I study,

I study mating and the sex differences,

if you ask in what domains

are the sex differences the largest,

it turns out they occur

within the domain of mating and sexuality.

So our evolved sexual psychology,

our evolved mating psychology

is to some degree sexually dimorphic.

Okay, with the very important asterisk

that we’re talking about overlapping distributions.

So there are some things that,

so if you look at human morphology,

we talked about breasts earlier,

women have evolved functional breasts

that’s functional for lactation, men don’t.

So there’s no amount of culture or social coercion

can cause men to have lactating breasts.

Psychologically, we don’t see dimorphism that extreme

where something is literally present in one sex

and totally absent in the other.

So there’s overlap in the distributions.

So I mentioned earlier that in the mating domain,

men more than women on average

prioritize physical appearance,

physical attractiveness, relative youth.

Women on average prioritize resources,

resource acquisition,

qualities that lead to resource acquisition

like status, ambition, industriousness, and so forth.

But there’s overlap in the distributions.

So some women place the total priority

on how physically attractive the guy is

and some men view that as irrelevant.

And so the point that I’m making

is that there are psychological sex differences

that make some people uncomfortable.

But it’s one of these things where I’m a scientist,

I’m not a political advocate.

And so I adhere to the empirical data.

Empirical data are very strong in these domains.

So with respect to sex differences

in the mating domain and sexuality

and things we haven’t even talked about

like desire for sexual variety

and sex differences in the whole desire

for short-term mating, huge sex differences there.

And these have been documented universally in all cultures.

So, okay, now, are there things that are culture-specific

or social-cultural overlays

onto these fundamental psychological sex differences?


But there’s also an issue of levels of analysis,

levels of abstraction,

and how closely you look at the phenomenon.

So quick analogy, language.

So you say, well, in China, they speak Chinese.

In Korea, they speak Korean.

In Brazil, they speak Portuguese.

So look how culturally infinitely variable languages are,

which they are at that level.

But do humans have a universal human innate grammar?

And I think the evidence points to the answer yes to that.

At least that’s what Steve Pink or Paul Bloom

and some others argue.

So at one level of abstraction,

things are infinitely culturally variable

or at least highly culturally variable.

At another level of abstraction, there’s universality.

So here’s one example in the mating domain of this.

So Margaret Mead, who is a famous anthropologist,

studied the Samoan Islanders,

and she tried to argue basically

for the infinite malleability of things like gender

and gender roles and so forth.

And she said, look at this culture.

In this culture, it’s the men who paint their face,

whereas in Western cultures,

it’s the women who wear makeup and so forth.

Well, it turns out if you look carefully

at the culture where men paint their face,

they’re painting war paint on their face.

They’re not putting on makeup

to enhance their cues to youth and cues to health.

They’re putting on war paint

to make themselves more ferocious

or to demarcate what tribe they’re in,

what coalition they’re in.

And so at sort of one level of abstraction,

you could say, well, there’s high cultural variability

in application of face paint,

but on another level,

there’s really a fundamental functional difference

in the purpose to which the paint is applied.

Yeah, and then you can abstract the paint away

in any fashion in general,

magnify the characteristics

that are appealing to the opposite sex,

because war paint is probably,

you’re magnifying the characteristics

that are appealing to the other sex.

So ability to gain resources, maintain resources,

status in the hierarchy, all those kinds of things.

Well, that’s part of it,

but I think another part has to do with,

in that case, male coalitions.

So we’re in a intense,

this is another unique characteristic.

I don’t know if you got into this with Richard Wrangham.

I don’t remember you talking about this,

but he’s written a lot about male coalitionary psychology

and humans cooperate to an extraordinary degree

in forming coalitions for the purpose

of competing with rival coalitions.

And so you even see this with,

well, you see it in the sports arenas,

with team sports,

this team wears a different uniform than that team,

they have different mascot, et cetera.

And so part of that is male coalitionary psychology.

Well, so you write, again,

so returning to the textbook,

now, people should know you wrote a lot of incredible book

that is maybe more accessible

than the evolutionary psychology textbook, but.

The evolutionary psychology textbook is very accessible.

Yes, it is extremely accessible,

that’s not your thing.

And on Amazon, you can’t, it’s a pain, it’s a textbook.

It’s not, it’s a little bit more of a pain to purchase,

which I did, I bought all your books.

They’re amazing.

We’ll talk about a bunch of them.

But in terms of coalitions,

in chapter 12 of your evolutionary psychology textbook,

you write about status, prestige, and social dominance.

So how do hierarchies of status and social dominance

emerge in human society?

And what’s the value of status in sexual selection?

We talked about cues of individual health

and all that kind of stuff,

but what the heck’s the purpose of status?

Why does it matter if I’m the big boss?

Well, it matters because status

influences your access to resources

and your ability to influence other people

within your group.

And so this is part of the reason why women

prioritize a man’s social status,

how he is viewed in the eyes of others,

because high-status men have access to more resources.

It’s interesting that you ask about that

because I’ve just published,

this is with Patrick Durkee,

a former graduate student of mine,

we published a couple papers on precisely this issue

where we looked at what we call human status criteria.

That is, what are the things that lead to increases

or decreases in status?

And we did this in 14 different cultures.

And we found some things that are universal,

but also some things that are sex-differentiated.

And so universal things like people value trustworthiness,

they value intelligence, wisdom, knowledge.

So it’s even if you go across cultures,

even to the small-scale cultures

that we alluded to earlier,

there are these wise people, wise men,

wise women in the culture

who have people go to for advice, for wisdom.

And so having a wide range of knowledge

is a universal status criterion.

And there’s some things that are sex-differentiated

and they often fall into the mating domain as well.

This is where mating and status

are interestingly related to each other

in that successful mating increases your status,

but having high status also gives you access

to more desirable mates.

And so the game gets harder and harder always.

So wait, so are we talking about what are the characteristics,

what’s the role of power and wealth, those kinds of things?

So you said wisdom is universal.


What about wealth and power?

Yeah, well, I guess it depends on what you mean by power.

So I think of power as the ability to influence-

A large number of people.


And this is one of the interesting things

about the fact that cash economies

are evolutionarily very recent

in that where people are like,

so I guess recently or it’s about to happen

that Elon Musk is gonna buy Twitter.

Yeah, it’s happened.

Has it happened already?


Okay, so they say like the wealthiest

or one of the wealthiest men on earth

has now purchased the most influential media platform

on earth.

So obviously you or I couldn’t compete with Elon Musk

for the purchase of Twitter.

And so the fact that cash economies

allow the stockpiling of unprecedented amounts of wealth

produces these tremendous power differentials

that didn’t exist in over most

of human evolutionary history.

So their wealth is power,

but you can also be,

power can be attained through other ways.

Yeah, but I would say that the interesting thing

about wealth is that it’s an infinitely fungible resource.

So you can use it and translate it

into many, many other things like buying Twitter

or buying a big house or even getting mates

or an artificial in the,

I don’t know if you wanna get into that at all,

but they have these sex dolls

or virtual reality sex that some people are developing.

If you have enough resources,

you can purchase things like that.

So you can translate wealth

into a variety of other tangible things

in ways that you couldn’t ancestrally.

That’s one really powerful thing,

but there is still power that’s correlated

but not intricately connected to wealth,

which is like being leaders of nations.

Like technically the president

of the United States salary is not very high.


Presidents and then you look,

you go outside of that and to the half of the world

that’s living under authoritarian regimes,

you have dictators and those are very powerful,

usually men.

And presumably there’s some value there

in the mating selection aspect.

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

And it’s not by chance that most of them are men.

And this is gonna sound strange

or, and hopefully not offensive to people,

but if you ask the question,

why is it the case that men are in positions of power

so much more so than women?

Well, in part, it can be traced to women’s mate preferences.

So it’s one of the sex differences

that women have over evolutionary time preferred men

who had power, status, resources, et cetera.

And what that has done

is it’s created selection pressure on men

to attach a high motivational priority

to clawing their way up the status hierarchy.

And studies of time allocation distribution show this,

where men are, they’re more willing to sacrifice

their friends, their grandmother, their kin or whatever

to claw their way up to the top of status hierarchies.

Women, much less so.

Women spend more effort maintaining relationships

with their kin, with their friends,

their friend networks and so forth.

And so in a way, you could say,

not only are men in positions of power more than women,

now you’re blaming women for why they are.

And it’s not a matter of blame,

but I think that what I just outlined

is an essential part of the causal process,

the co-evolution of women’s mate preferences

with men’s motivational priorities.

How much do you think these mating strategies

underlie all of human civilization?

Like what motivates us?

You know, there’s Becker with the denial of death.

Why do we build castles and bridges and rockets

and the internet and all of this?

Is it some complex mush or is it underneath it all?

Are we all just trying to get laid?

Well, I wouldn’t reduce it to something

quite as trying to get laid,

but I think mating is certainly part of it.

I wonder how big of a part,

because with Ernest Becker,

the idea is that we’re all trying to achieve

an illusion of immortality.

So we’re trying to create something that outlasts us

and therefore we create bigger and bigger things

in societies and bridges and architecture.

What’s missing from Becker’s analysis is,

it’s a fascinating book to read, Denial of Death,

but what’s missing is that I think that the reason that,

and again, I think it’s more men than women,

I think there’s a sex difference on this,

that men want to build a lasting legacy

because that will in turn affect their lineage.

And although I do, now Woody Allen is out of favor,

but I remember this quote from him, he said,

he didn’t want to achieve immortality through his work,

he wanted to achieve immortality by not dying.

Oh boy, the funny ones are also deeply flawed often.

Staying on the topic of sex differences

in a very different way, perhaps.

So dominance and submissiveness,

something you’ve also written about.

What’s the role of that inside relationships

about this human dynamic of dominance and submissiveness?

Is that a feature or a bug?

So the stable state that these dynamical systems arrive at,

is it good to have an equality within a relationship

or is it good to have differences in a relationship?

Are you talking about romantic relationships

or just in human relationships?

Romantic, probably, because unless it could be generalized

to human relationships, perhaps it could be generalized

to human relationships.

I wasn’t thinking that, but perhaps it could be,

but let’s start with romantic.

I guess one-on-one.

I’m personally in favor of equality on that dimension

within romantic relationships

and I don’t talk about my personal life,

but I’ve been in relationships

and the best ones tend to be those where there’s equality

and one person does not dominate the other.

But I guess the reason I ask you

is in what type of relationships,

because there are some things like coalitions

where hierarchy is very important

to the function of the coalition.

So it’s like if you’re like a war coalition or something

in small group warfare, you can’t just have equality.

You have to have leaders

that are determining the battle plan, so to speak.

And so if you’re attacking a neighboring group or something

and everyone gets an equal say,

it’s not gonna work that way.

And so we tend to appoint as leaders,

those who are, it doesn’t always work out well,

but those who are presumably wise or good, effective leaders

and even talk about, and I’m sure you’re familiar with this

and I’m not an expert on this,

but wartime leaders versus peacetime leaders.

And so, again, it depends on what the goal is

of the group that you are a part of.

And so I think there is functionality and utility

to a lot of our evolved psychology of status

and dominance and submissiveness.

So for example, and you have to look

at the individual psychology,

and this is actually something I’m currently studying,

again, with Patrick Durkee,

where one advantage of the status hierarchies

is that you’re not always battling.

So you determine, and that’s why,

here’s another sexually dimorphic aspect of our psychology,

formidability assessment.

So there’s evidence that males engage in this,

can I take this guy or can he take me?

And it’s like a-

The entirety of my life, yes.

It’s like a spontaneous assessment of formidability.

And it also, that information is critical

because that means who you should not challenge

or who you can challenge with impunity.

And there’s functionality to submitting as well,

because you defer to someone so that you don’t get vanquished

and you live to see another day.

So I think we actually have a very rich psychology

of status hierarchies and dominance and submissiveness.

So especially sort of violent conflict, yes.

But back to relationships.

So maybe phrased another way,

what is masculinity, what is femininity?

Is there value inside a relationship for differences?

You talked about mating strategies with the dating stage

where you’re selecting the mate,

but also within mating broadly defined

as the entirety of the process.

Should those differences be magnified and celebrated

or sort of suppressed?

I’ve seen enough different relationships work

and I’ve seen enough relationships implode

to say there’s not one size fits all on these things.

So even with respect to masculinity and femininity,

some reduce it psychologically to two other terms,

which are agency and communion.

So where agency is, are you instrumental, goal-oriented,

get tasks done, et cetera.

Communion is more the love and forming connections

with other people and so forth.

And I published a study a while back

on what’s called unmitigated agency

and unmitigated communion.

So there are good and bad aspects of agency and communion.

So there’s toxic, as they say, masculinity,

toxic femininity.

You can just rephrase that saying

there could be toxic agency and toxic communion.

Yeah, yeah.

And so some elements of masculinity,

the unmitigated masculinity is, I think, terrible.

I was actually walking around downtown Austin earlier today.

I’ll just give you this example.

And this guy was, I guess, stuck

and wanted the car ahead of him to move.

And all of a sudden, he screamed out of his mouth,

move your fucking car!

And then jumped out of his car to approach the guy.

To me, that’s toxic masculinity, if you will.

We don’t need that, you know?

Yeah, so, and by the way,

as somebody who worked with cars quite a long time

in terms of human interaction

with semi-autonomous vehicles,

it’s so fascinating how the car and traffic

brings out the worst in human nature.

In a sense, or maybe to rephrase that,

it maybe challenges you to explore something

that in terms of temper, in terms of anger,

in terms of anxiety that you have been bottling it up.

There’s something where the car is like a vessel

for psychological experiment

of how much stress you can take.

And some people, that stress is like heating,

it’s making the water boil.

And it’s fascinating to see what that results in.

I think if you are the kind of person

that explodes emotionally in traffic,

that means there’s deeper issues to sort of confront.

And it seems like the traffic and the car

is a place where you get to confront the shadow.

Carl Jung’s shadow.

There’s something deep within that

that we don’t often fish.

We’re alone with ourselves

and we get to see who we truly are.

Yeah, well, yeah, it can bring out road rage.

And also there’s this, I don’t know,

when you’re in the vehicle,

you have this shell around you.

And so there’s this feeling that you are protected from.

Yes, so you could be yourself,

you could be your true self in this moment.

And sometimes that true self in this moment

is an angry, screaming person,

which means you have to introspect that shadow,

shine a light.

Let me ask you about something that’s ongoing currently.

It’d be fascinating to get your opinion on.

So something I’ve been watching,

some of the world has been watching,

is the defamation trial

brought by Johnny Depp against Amber Heard.

Have you gotten a chance to watch any of it?

I haven’t watched it, but I’ve read some reports of it.

What’s your analysis on this particular dynamic?

We talked about toxicity

in the space of agency and communion.

What do you make of this relationship

that’s presented to the world in its raw form?

You know, I don’t have strong opinions on it.

I think in this stage in the trial,

we’ve heard from him primarily.

We have not, and we should say,

for people listening,

in case this is published a little bit later,

we have not heard from Amber Heard.

Right, not heard from Heard.

If we haven’t heard from Heard,

we’re doing that, that’s going to be happening this week.

I don’t know.

I think that I’ve seen,

and this is another topic that I have studied,

is intimate partner violence

and some of the nastier stuff

that goes on within relationships.

And I think that when this nasty stuff happens,

sometimes it’s asymmetrical,

but sometimes it’s symmetrical

in the sense that they get into these downward spirals

where one is insulting the other,

or even with physical violence,

one starts pushing the other,

shoving the other, hitting the other,

and then the other hits back.

And so you get into these cycles.

And so coming at one point in time,

in this case of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard,

years later and trying to disentangle

what actually went on in their relationship,

I don’t feel qualified even to do that.

Well, it’s fascinating to see.

So first, I mean, I have a lot of opinions,

particularly because I’m just a,

a fan of Johnny Depp as a person,

and a fan of Johnny Depp, the actor,

and the kind of characters he created.

The person, because maybe this is fiction,

maybe this is reality,

but they tend to rhyme and mirror each other.

But his fascination with Hunter S. Thompson,

and there’s some aspect of him

taking on the Hunter S. Thompson personality,

where there’s this layers upon layers of wit and humor,

and also anxiety and darkness

with the drug use and all that kind of stuff.

So it’s very human, very real person.

And so you get to,

one of the beautiful things about this trial

is you get to basically have a long-form podcast,

and you get to reveal the complexity of this human,

the humor under pressure, under stress,

but also just the rawness of love,

the things that love makes you do,

or whatever that is.

Whatever the things that keeps us in relationships

that are toxic, in that turmoil,

the hope, the self-delusion,

the push and pull of longing and fights,

the ups and downs, whatever the-

Yeah, the rollercoaster.

The rollercoaster of it.

The make-up sex.

Yeah, exactly.

You know, yeah.

And the questions arise

whether that’s a feature or a bug.

Like, why are we drawn to that?

You mentioned in mate selection,

for long-term mate selection,

I think you said women,

but I think maybe both don’t want a kind of,

you had scientific and eloquent words to use,

but basically crazy people.

You want somebody who’s stable.

Emotionally unstable, yeah.

Yeah, so.

But here it seems like maybe we’re drawn to that still,

like flies to the light.

Right, well, it can be addictive,

but it’s not good for long-term relationships.

I mean, that characteristic,

and there is a stable personality characteristic.

It goes under different names,

anxiety, neuroticism, emotional ability, et cetera,

but that’s the single personality characteristic

that is most predictive of breakups and divorces.

And in studies that I’ve done,

predictive of conflict in couples,

people who are emotionally unstable,

they just get into a lot of conflict with their partner.

They create havoc.

So, that can be exciting,

but bad for long-term happiness.

They seek conflict in order to attain intimacy.

So conflict creates attention.


And if you take intimacy broadly, it’s intimate.

If you’re raw, fragile, you’re right there.

Yeah, well, and there’s one hypothesis

that was put forward by an Israeli biologist

named Amos Zahavi called the testing of a bond.

And so he asked the question,

why do people inflict costs on their partner?

Even like kissing, you’re introducing,

it’s a disease vector.

Why do people do these weird things,

inflicting costs, or emotional ability

is a way of inflicting costs.

And what he argues is it’s the testing of a bond.

If the person’s willing to tolerate this level of stress,

this level of cost imposition,

then that means they must be very committed to me.

And so, and I think that’s something people do

in romantic relationships,

is they do test the strength of the bond.

They test the commitment of the person.

And I think that’s a feature, not a bug,

in the sense that,

especially in the early stages of love, romantic love,

we tend to overly romanticize and idealize our partner.

So when there’s an absence of evidence,

we impute positive values.

And what you, and this is one of my recommendations

to friends that I know is,

if you’re really considering a good long-term commitment

to this person, go on vacation with them,

ideally to a foreign country

where both of you are unfamiliar.

Oh, I love it, road trip or something like that.

Yeah, so where you experience unexpected things,

stresses, you get a flat tire or whatever,

you encounter, and you see how the person deals with stress

and you see how you deal with each other under stress.

And I think that that’s,

unless you have put stress tests on relationships,

you really don’t know where things stand.

Yeah, that’s a beautiful way to put it.

I’m a huge fan of that, like road trip.

And not just late in a relationship, like day one.


Road trip, not day one, day negative one,

before it even happens, just see, stress test.

Because it makes everybody better.

It creates intimacy or it creates,

it creates or it destroys.

But, you know, on the Johnny Depp,

so they also, they both suffered childhood abuse.

One of the things that I took away from the trial,

for me, it was just educational.

I don’t get to see inside, as most of us,

maybe don’t, like toxic relationships or fights and so on.

A lot of things that people maybe do inside of relationships

and we don’t get to see it presented in such a raw way.

So, well, one of the things I learned is that,

you know, in terms of partner violence,

a woman too, can be violent.

Yeah, absolutely.

That to me, so emotionally and physically violent,

that, I almost don’t want to,

you know, Amber Heard, I mean,

there’s no limit to my dislike for that person,

in particular, because clearly, to me, at least,

I stand with Johnny Depp.

To me, that guy’s full of love and,

but full of demons because he’s drawn

to whatever the chaos that’s created there.

But also, it’s just an education for me

that I tend to associate sort of men with violence

and toxicity and destruction inside relationships,

but it was interesting to see that women too

can be like directly violent.


And men too, which was also surprising to me,

have the capacity to stay in such a relationship

and to not walk away, which is what I thought is my,

in terms of toxic, violent relationships,

I thought there’s a male figure who will do emotional

and physical, mostly physical violence,

and then kind of manipulate the mind of the female

to stay in the relationship.

But that dynamic goes, can go both ways.

Yeah, it does go both ways.

And I think even the emotional abuse

is sometimes even worse than the physical abuse.

I mean, you see that in studies of,

even like childhood abuse,

where it’s the emotional abuse that is the most damaging.

What about the role of jealousy?

Something you also written about in a relationship.

Is that a feature or a bug?

You started to speak about it,

but is it good to be jealous of your partner

inside of a relationship?

How does it go wrong?

The pros and cons.

So I’ve written a whole book on this

called The Dangerous Passion,

Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Sex and Love.

And I think that one cut at your question

is that a moderate, so first of all,

I think it’s a feature, not a bug in most cases.

So in the sense that you have to have an adaptation

that is sensitive to threats to a valued relationship.

And I think I alluded to this earlier

that just because you’re in a relationship

and you’re in a relationship with a desirable partner,

it doesn’t mean that you’ve finished solving

the problems of mating that you need to solve,

because there are threats from the outside.

So mate poachers, people who try to lure your partner away

for either a sexual encounter

or a more committed romantic relationship.

And then there’s also dissatisfaction

within the relationship.

So your partner might become tempted

to be sexually unfaithful or romantically unfaithful

or emotionally unfaithful.

And so we need humans with the evolution

of long-term pair bonding,

we need adaptations to guard the relationship

and be sensitive to threats to the relationship.

And I think jealousy is one of those.

I think it’s a key one.

And now that I think that there are a variety

of benefits to it, but also a variety of costs

or downsides to jealousy,

because we know that jealousy, male sexual jealousy

is the leading cause of spousal abuse

and spousal violence, physical violence,

probably emotional violence as well,

or psychological violence.

And so that’s why I call it the dangerous passion.

It’s a necessary emotion, but it is also a dangerous emotion.

Leads to homicide, you know, leads to…

And I’ve studied also homicidal ideation,

which intersects with this topic in that men,

sometimes women to a lesser degree,

develop homicidal ideation about people

who are trying to poach their mates

or who do poach their mates,

successfully poach their mates.

So what jealousy does is it alerts you

to a threat to the relationship,

and it motivates checking out the source of the threat.

How threatening is this?

So people tend to increase vigilance of their partner

in the modern world includes, you know,

hacking into their cell phone or computer,

monitoring them, sometimes stalking them,

but also can include positive things.

So it might be that…

So one trigger of jealousy

is a direct threat to the relationship,

but there’s another more subtle trigger of jealousy,

which is a mate value discrepancy.

So usually when people mate,

they assort or pair up on overall mate value.

In the American 10-point scale,

the eights tend to pair up with the eights,

the sixes with the sixes,

the tens with the tens,

and the ones with the ones.

The American, is there other scales?

I wonder if the numerical systems,

well, there’s a binary.

I just call it the binary, zero, one.

Sorry, go ahead.

The eights pairs with the eights, sevens.

Yeah, yeah, so in general,

but there are errors in mate selection.

You kind of alluded to that issue earlier

that sometimes people make errors,

in mate selection, which they do.

So sometimes you think this person

is well-matched on mate value, but they’re not,

but then things change.

So let’s say they’re the same,

you have two sixes,

and then all of a sudden,

the woman’s career takes off.

All of a sudden, she’s getting promotion,

she’s acquiring wealth,

she’s attracting men who are of a different mate value

than she previously did.

Well, that triggers jealousy in the guy.

Even if she swears she’s gonna be totally loyal

and she has no signs of leaving

or no signs of infidelity,

a mate value discrepancy is gonna trigger jealousy.

Now, what can it do?

Well, it can do, in the broadest sense,

people can do two classes of things.

They can do cost-inflicting things

or benefit-providing things.

So the man in that situation might say,

okay, I need to devote more attention to my partner.

I need to up my game when it comes to resource acquisition.

I need to lavish more attention and gifts on her.

And so there’s a whole suite of benefit-provisioning things

that can help to reduce that mate value discrepancy.

And then there’s also cost-inflicting things,

and humans, unfortunately, do both sets of things.

Yeah, there’s also this, maybe that’s love.

I notice the people I especially love

or have a connection to, romantically or otherwise,

there’s a feeling like I don’t deserve you.

So with friends, with so on.

Like, I mean, I tend to think that about almost everything,

which is why it’s a strong signal

when I don’t feel it that way,

which is like, I can’t, how lucky am I to have this?

And that’s a weird illusion

of inflation of value or something.

Like, I think that the positive effect of that

is makes, motivates me to be better,

I guess on this one to 10 scale, to be higher.

And you sort of kind of have to like,

it’s a nice feature that your mind sees others

that you have affection towards as higher value,

and it forces you to have that.

Like, I’m a person that experiences jealousy,

and that forces me to be better.


I get my shit together.

Yeah, well, and I think that sometimes

the best relationships are when both people

feel lucky to be with the other person.

Yes, exactly, it’s balanced that way.

And then that’s when you, in terms of jobs,

in terms of going to the gym, all those kinds of things.

And yeah, so a little bit of jealousy.

I have discussion with those people.

I always wonder, there’s people in relationships

where like, no, no, there’s no,

they never experienced jealousy.

I wonder what that’s like,

because they’re very successful relationships,

but, and I always wonder, you know, I’m currently single,

so I’m always doubt that I know

what the hell I’m doing at all.

But I’m definitely somebody that experiences jealousy

and kind of enjoys jealousy, like a little bit,

of like missing, to me, that’s like,

you’re missing the other person.


Or longing for the other person.

And here’s another interesting wrinkle

that I also talk about in the book,

is sometimes people intentionally evoke jealousy

in their partner.

And I think that’s also a kind of testing

of a bond kind of issue.

So, and especially women, but I think both sexes

interpret a total absence of jealousy

as a sign that their partner’s not sufficiently committed

to them or sufficiently in love with them.

So if you like to say, I don’t know,

if you go to a party with your partner

and then you leave the room for some reason,

you come back and your partner is passionately kissing

someone else and doesn’t bother you at all,

that might be a cue to the partner

that, well, maybe you’re not very in love with that person

or not very committed to them.

And so-

So it’s a good way to test.

That said, I mean, I love the term meat poaching,

by the way.

I believe here in Texas, meat poaching is officially legal.

So I’m allowed to,

one of my favorite songs by Hendrix is, Hey Joe.

Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?

And yeah, I actually always wanted to play that song,

but I get, I start to think about guns and so on.

I think it’s supposed to capture a feeling.

It’s not actual violence.

It’s saying, I’m going to shoot my old lady.

I caught her messing around with another man.

That’s a blues type of feeling,

like of anger of, I guess, for meat poaching,

for meat switching performed by the partner

and then the frustration and the anger that’s resulting.

I always wondered why the violence

is directed towards the partner

versus the person who did the other male.

It tends to be evenly split.

So sometimes, and that’s, I mean,

men especially, when someone poaches on their mate,

they have homicidal fantasies.

Or which equally split.

Toward the mate poacher.

Yeah, but equally split.

So it’s, I think the non-lethal violence

tends to be more directed toward the mate

because it’s, and this is a horrible thing

of male sexual psychology,

but I think part of the violence is functional

in the sense that it’s designed to keep a mate

and prevent her from engaging in anything

with other potential mate poachers.

But people do.

So even, it goes back to the French law

where they had the so-called crime of passion.

So if a husband walked in and found his wife

having sex with some other guy in bed and shot him,

that was viewed as a crime of passion.

It’s still not legal, but you kinda get a discount for it.

Whereas if he goes home, thinks about it for a while,

then gets a gun and comes back,

then that’s premeditated murder.


See, to me, I guess everybody’s different.

To me, I have zero anger towards the partner

in that situation.

To me, because that’s definitive proof of disloyalty.

So like, why, what’s the function of the anger there?

To me, all of my anger is towards the guy, the poacher.

Right, right.

Because some of it has to do probably

with the status establishing.

Like it’s, what was the term you used?

The formidability?

Yeah, formidability assessment.


And I’m like, wait, wait, wait.

Did you just say you’re more formidable than me

in this situation?

I wanna reestablish, at least in my own mind,

the formidability.

And that seems to be, I guess we’re all different,

but maybe because I roll around with guys a lot,

like grapple and wrestling, all that kind of stuff.

To me, to establish status,

it’s competing with other males, not with the female.

Because that’s a break of loyalty.

Like why, what’s the point of anger at this point?

That’s just betrayal.

Well, except that a lot of it,

a lot of the mate poaching is discovered,

or cues to mate poaching are discovered

before the consummation of the act.

So it might be just-

Oh, like the emotional cheating leading up to it.

Or mild flirtation, you know, things like that.

And so the violence is designed to head off

the threat before it becomes real.

Boy, aren’t human relations,

especially romantic ones, complicated?



But that’s what makes them so fascinating to study.

And so fun, yes, exactly.

From a science perspective,

and to study from within, sort of,

what’s like Richard Ranham with the chimps,

like, you know, be in it.

Study from the end of one perspective.

What do you make of polyamory?

So what the heck is, what do you make of marriage?

What are your thoughts about marriage?

What are your thoughts about lifelong monogamy?

And what’s your thoughts about polyamory,

given that we’ve been talking about ideas

of mate switching and poaching,

and all that kind of stuff?

Yeah, I think that we evolved to be,

I prefer the term pair-bonded species.

So pair-bonding is one of the strategies.

Pair-bonded long-term mating is one of the strategies.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean

for decades and decades, or lifelong,

because we often pair-bond serially.

So get into a relationship that might last a year,

or five years, and then break up,

and then form another relationship.

So we engage in serial mating.

We engage in infidelity.

We engage in some short-term mating.

And so we have what I describe

as a menu of mating strategies.

And which particular mating strategy

an individual adopts depends on a wide variety of factors.

I think some are just kind of personal proclivities.

Some depend on your mate value.

So if you are an eight, a nine, or a 10,

you have more options for what mating strategy

you wanna pursue.

If you’re a one or a two,

you’re not gonna be able to be polyamorous

in all likelihood.

There’s a lot of attention to polyamory now.

And it’s unclear whether there’s an increase in it,

or whether people are just talking about it more.

It is the case, and I know several people

who are in polyamorous relationships,

and I’ve talked with them in detail about them.

And jealousy is often a factor in that.

And they describe it as kind of like an emotion

that has to be somehow tamed or dealt with in some way.

And so in polyamory,

there are many different types of polyamory.

So one type, for example,

is you have a primary love partner,

and then some others on the side that are permitted,

usually within, in consensual terms,

within an explicit contract

that the primary partners work out.

So it’s okay if you, I know as one couple,

it’s okay if you do it outside the city limits

of Los Angeles, but not within.

Some say it’s okay for Thursday,

but I want the weekend, the Friday and Saturday nights to me.

It’s okay if there’s sexual involvement,

but no emotional involvement.

So there are different strategies that people work out,

and some of them are designed

to try to keep jealousy at bay.

So I think it’s an evolved emotion

that is a natural emotion that people experience.

Now, interestingly, while we’re on this topic,

there’s a sex difference therein.

Namely, if you contrast sexual jealousy

with emotional jealousy,

or sexual infidelity with emotional infidelity.

And so in one set of studies,

I put my participants, or we used to call them subjects,

into this, what I call the Sophie’s Choice

of the Jealousy Dilemmas, where I said,

imagine your partner became interested in someone else,

and you discover that they have had

passionate sexual intercourse with this person,

and they’ve gotten emotionally involved with them,

they’ve fallen in love with them.

Which aspect of the infidelity upsets you more?

And when you, and that’s why I call it the Sophie’s Choice,

both terrible choices, right?

But men, much more likely to say the sexual infidelity

is what upsets me.

More women, it’s like, why are you even asking me?

It’s a no-brainer.

85% of the women say the emotional infidelity

is what bothers them more.

Former student of mine, Barry Cooley,

did a really interesting study of analysis

of this reality show called Cheaters.

I’ve actually never seen it,

but where if you suspect your partner of cheating,

then a detective from the TV team will follow the person,

and then they’ll call up and say,

we’ve just found your husband here in the No-Tell Motel,

do you wanna come down and talk to him?

And so what he analyzed, though,

was the verbal interrogations that people had

when they confronted their partner,

and women wanted to know, are you in love with her?

Men wanted to know, did you fuck him?

Or did you have sex with him?

And so it’s this sex difference in sensitivity

to these different cues of infidelity.

And of course, there’s an evolutionary logic

to this sex difference, and it’s been replicated,

not the Cheaters study,

but the hypothetical Sophie’s Choice study

that’s been replicated now in Sweden and China,

and it’s a universal sex difference.

So given that sex difference,

and you mentioned another one that just returned to,

which is in the engineering disciplines.

Yeah, person, thing, orientation.

So until I started to see,

writing about it in the psychology literature,

I observed this anecdotally a lot.

And the reason I observed it is I was confused,

so I care a lot about robots, I’m a robotics person.

And so a lot of males in the robotics community

really didn’t care about what’s called

the human-robot interaction problem,

which is like robots when they interact with humans.

And then a lot of females, all brilliant,

in the robotics community,

cared about the human-robot interaction.

They cared about the human,

what the robot communicates with the human,

human in the picture, human in the loop.

And I was really confused,

because the difference to me in my anecdotal interactions,

but the end is quite large there.

Like I, you know, I’m in the robotics community,

I know a lot of people.

And I was confused because for me,

I really care about human-robot interaction.

I see, I care about both a lot.

And in the same thing here,

in terms of emotional cheating versus physical cheating,

I care a lot about both,

and I have like this oscillating brain.

So I wonder what that says about my brain.

So I’ll often wonder this,

because there’s specific sex differences

that are represented in the data and the literature,

and I seem to oscillate depending on mood.

And I wonder what that says about me.

Why do I care so much about that robot on the floor?

I care not, half I care about how it works,

and the other half, how it makes other people feel.

What is that?

Yeah, so I guess what I would say,

this gets back to our earlier discussion

of agency and communion,

where I actually think that it’s a sign

of being well-balanced,

to have both capacities within you.

And so you get people who are unimodal,

or they just have one mode of operating.

Let’s say it’s the thing mode,

which engineers tend to be good at.

You have to be good at it to be a good engineer,

because things have to actually work.

It’s not in some dream or hypothetical state,

things have to actually work.

But with the agency and communion,

I think it’s good to have a balance.

And that’s why I think some of the best

romantic relationships are those where people are,

they’re high on what they used to call androgyny,

where they have both the positive features

of agency and communion,

the positive features of masculinity and femininity

within the same mix,

but also with the footnote of not the unmitigated agency

or unmitigated communion,

both of which can be negative.

And so I view these as capacities,

and some people are out of balance,

some people have a good balance between the two.

It sounds like you have a good balance between the two.

Well, but also the allocation.

I feel like it’s a very dynamic thing.

It’s like, I’m at least aware, for me personally,

of the beauty between humans,

of the dance, of the push and pull,

of the different moods.

It’s like a dynamical system.

It’s not two static entities fully represented

and consistent through every interaction.

Sometimes, you know, people might confuse the fact

that I often talk about love,

and I love humans, that I don’t have a temper,

that I don’t have, like, I lose my shit all the time,

especially on things I really am passionate about,

like people I work with and so on.

I’m all over the place.

But underneath it, there’s a deep love

and respect for humans,

but I lose my shit all the time.

And that chaos, that rollercoaster,

I think that’s what makes human relations awesome.

I mean, the push and pull of it.

Of course, it can oscillate too far,

which is when it becomes Amber Heard type of situation,

when it turns to emotional or physical violence,

when it turns to jealousy,

crosses a line where it’s hurtful.

And there’s like, it crosses that vast gray landscape

of what is abuse versus what is just

beautiful turmoil of human nature, right?

Yes, yeah.

And it’s complicated, it’s, yeah.

Yeah, it’s complicated and it’s dynamic.

And I would just add to that,

I thought you phrased that brilliantly,

but I would just add to that,

it also depends on sort of what you’re trying to do.

And so I think some of the oscillation can be what task,

what problem you’re trying to solve.

And so if you’re, I don’t know,

trying to build a bridge or something,

you need to be very thing-oriented

and make sure the damn thing actually works

and doesn’t collapse when a car goes over it.

If you’re trying to form a relationship

and you’re entirely thing-oriented,

it’s not gonna work.

And that’s one of the people,

one of the things with,

and males tend to be more on the so-called spectrum

side of things where one of the hallmarks

is a deficit in social mind reading.

It was just to add to your point about,

I guess I’ve already made it,

that of the dynamic properties of the rollercoaster

is depending on what problem you’re trying to solve,

you might wanna toggle back and forth

to one pole or the other.

You wrote a book called Why Women Have Sex,

Understanding Sexual Motivations

From Adventure to Revenge, that sounds fun,

and Everything in Between.

So, why do women have sex?

Well, I co-wrote it with a female,

who’s Cindy Meston, a wonderful friend and colleague

and co-author and co-collaborator.

I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to write a book

called Why Women Have Sex by myself as a male.

Did you contribute anything to this book?

I’m just kidding.

I did, but I have to tell you a story

about the origins of this idea,

which I give credit to Cindy Meston for.

She’s a colleague in the psychology department with me,

and we would go out to dinner once a week or so,

and we were just talking about this.

She raised this issue, and so we started to brainstorm.

Originally, it was why humans have sex,

and that’s the scientific article we published

was why humans,

because we’re interested in males and females.

I said, I would come up,

well, they have sex because of X,

and then Cindy Meston would come up,

she’d say, oh, here are seven other reasons,

and then I’d come up with one more,

and she’d come up with another seven,

and so it was like,

so she’s, in some sense, importantly,

the originator or fountain of this idea, but-

Oh, so she’s able,

there’s something about the way she thinks about sexuality

that’s able to deeply introspect about reasons for sex.

Yeah, and probably especially about female sexuality,

and this is one of the interesting things

and why it’s so fun for me to collaborate with,

in this case, a female,

because they do have a different sexual psychology

than males, and I’ve noticed this.

That’s why in my graduate,

so I’ve had 30 or so PhD students,

about half have been male, half have been female,

and the women come up with different questions,

different scientific questions

that I wouldn’t have thought of, necessarily,

and so, anyway, so it turned out to be a good collaboration.

I will say that we co-wrote it

and that I did contribute to it,

and especially the evolutionary insights.

So is there a good few words you can say

to why women have sex?

What are some primary motivations?

Well, we originally came up with a list of 237 reasons

for why humans have sex,

and they range from some of the obvious ones,

because it feels good,

because I want it to relieve stress,

to relieve menstrual cramps, to get rid of a headache,

to get my boyfriend off my back

so I could get some work done,

so things like that, to others.

Here’s another one,

so that he’d take out the damn garbage, was one,

but another one, it was kind of interesting

that one nomination was to get closer to God,

so there were some that were kind of spiritual motivations

for having sex,

and then some of the nastier ones,

like to get revenge on my partner

or to get revenge on a rival,

so that’s like sleeping with my rival’s boyfriend,

so there’s some nasty stuff and some good stuff in there.

It’s so fascinating because, yeah,

sex has such a powerful role in our psychology

but also in our culture,

so you can make significant statements

in the status hierarchy

about the selection of your sexual partner.

It’s interesting, so it’s not just because you’re horny,

it’s all those other kinds of things.

Yeah, well, horniness is one,

but there are other reasons.

What about different kinds of sex?

Again, this is not the Human Room and Lab podcast.

Rough sex versus, quote, making love,

what’s the explanation between all of that,

all the various kinks?

No, that’s just a basic sort of split,

but all the different kinks that humans establish,

all the different fantasies and all those kinds of things.

Yeah, well, that’s a complicated question

for which I don’t think we have sufficient time

to get into that in detail,

and it is complicated

because there are some sexual fantasies that,

sexual fantasies, by the way,

I think are a really fascinating window

into our sexual psychology

because, in a way, they’re unconstrained

by things like rules and norms in society

and cultural presses that you’re kind of free

to fantasize about whatever you want to fantasize about.

So I think it provides an interesting window

into human sexuality,

and there are some predictable ones,

and then there are some also individual

or idiosyncratic ones,

and, again, there’s a fundamental sex difference in this

in that when you talk about fetishes

or shoe fetishes, leather fetishes,

different types of things,

males are much more prone to those than females.

Shoe fetish, you said?

Shoe fetish, almost all fetishes.

Males are overrepresented,

and I think it’s partly because

there’s some evidence that they’re classically conditioned,

so I think that first or early sexual experiences

that people have kind of condition them

to the cues that are present during those early ones,

and so if your first sexual experience happened to be,

involve visual images of shoes

or you’re having to be looking at shoes

when you first had sex,

it’s just an example,

or leather or zippers or whatever the case is,

that people develop these very individualistic

sexual turn-ons based on these early sexual experiences.

So it could also be, you said have sex,

but it could also be sexual feelings,

early sexual feelings.

So I wonder what that is about men,

that they have a more,

when they first start experiencing sexual feelings,

that they’re more sensitive to the cues,

and those cues somehow have a deep psychological effect

on their development of their sexuality.

So if they have kinks,

that means they’re somehow more cue-sensitive,

and maybe, does the matter of society

slap someone on the wrist for it?

Does that help solidify the kinks?

Yeah, I don’t know about the society slapping on the wrist,

but I think what it is is this,

I think this is the evolutionary hypothesis, anyway,

about why there’s this sex difference,

and that is that men are conditioned to anything

that’s gonna lead to sex,

whereas women don’t have to be.

From a male perspective,

because of women’s greater investment,

because the nine-month pregnancy, et cetera,

in order to reproduce,

women have to invest this tremendous amount.

Men don’t.

One act of sex can produce an offspring,

and so, for men, but not for women,

and so this huge asymmetry in investment

means that the payoff matrix

of different sexual strategies differs for the sexes.

In that context, women become the valuable

and scarce resource over which men compete,

so anything that leads to successful sex

is gonna be selected for it,

and so men are very sensitive to being sexually conditioned,

that’s what’s called sexual conditioning,

to whatever cues are associated with sex happening.

From a woman’s perspective, sex is not a scarce resource,

so a woman could go out here in Austin any night,

or probably any day on 6th Street,

and have no problem having sex with a guy within 10 minutes.

Guy would have more difficulty.

He’s not gonna go out,

unless he’s Johnny Depp or really, really charming.

Yeah, yeah, that’s a fascinating dimorphism

or asymmetry in our mate selection.

What do you think is the effect on this young male brain,

but female too, of pornography?

So, one of the fascinating things

that the digital world brought us,

now, I grew up at a time when a magazine,

like a Victoria’s Secret magazine

was my source of sexual inspiration,

but that was before the internet,

and now the internet with pornography

makes it extremely accessible.

All kinds of kinks, all kinds of wild variety.

I mean, variety in quantity is immense.

So, what do you think that has,

how that affects mate selection, mating,

and just the human psychology of the two sexes

of the species?

Yeah, great question, a big question.

So, I mean, we could have a whole podcast

just on that, or at least talk for a while about it.

So, I’ll just say a couple of things about that.

One is, again, there’s a sex difference,

and I feel like I’m a broken record here

hammering on this, but it is-

So, a lot of, just to actually echo the thing,

please be a broken record,

because it’s interesting.

The more we get to the mating,

the more the sex differences present themselves.

They surface.

Yeah, yeah, that’s right.

And in many psychological domains,

there are no sex differences,

or the sexes are very similar.

But pornography is consumed,

about 80% of the consumers are men.

So, it is very heavily a male consumer industry,

if you will, and I think that

it can have positive and negative effects,

depending on the circumstance.

So, one potential negative effect

is that men might develop unrealistic expectations

about what sex will be like,

or should be like in real life.

And so, I remember actually,

I just heard about this one case of,

I won’t mention any names,

where a man got married,

and he had been accustomed to seeing very large breasts

in his pornography consumption,

and discovered that his wife

had what he perceived to be very small breasts.

In fact, they were actually just medium size.

But because he had been so heavily exposed to pornography,

and the artificially enhanced breast size

that is often depicted in pornography,

that he had come to expect something that was unrealistic,

in this case, not leading,

that’s not the way to lead off to a great sex life

with your wife by being disappointed in her breast size.

So, I think that people can develop,

in this case, men, unrealistic expectations,

also about the kind of sexual acrobatics

that porn stars engage in,

and when they get in real life situations,

can put pressure on women to become,

to fulfill those kinds of images.

But the other thing,

the other kind of detrimental effect that it has is,

and this is something that is emerging culturally,

is I think it has a dampening effect

on men’s pursuit of real life relationships.

Because in some sense,

it kind of bleeds off some of that sex drive,

or sexual desire, or sexual energy.

And so, some men get addicted to it.

So, they’re spending hours and hours and hours a day

consuming pornography.

And so, I think it can have a detrimental effect,

even on men’s ambition.

Yeah, there’s something really powerful

about that sexual energy,

not to be all spiritual about it,

but it seems like that’s somehow correlated with ambition.

So, like, one of the things that pornography can take away

is like, exactly as you said,

is your pursuit of love out there,

including women, but also love of things,

meaning like building awesome, epic things.

So, the love of both bridges and women.


Bridge building and relationship building.

Yeah, there’s something about that energy.

And also, yeah, there’s a sort of a vicious downward spiral,

because it somehow staunts your development

because it limits social interaction,

that the push and pull of romantic social interaction,

it cuts the edge off of that,

and it forces you to spend way too much time with yourself

without the development of that social interaction.

I don’t know, but there,

so, outside of the expectations

on all those kinds of things,

it seems to have a detrimental effect

on the development of the human mind.


What is that?

I don’t, because some of that is echoed,

and people talk about the metaverse,

that some of our life would be in the digital space.

And it’s like, on one hand,

well, if it brings you happiness,

if it brings you joy, short-term and long-term,

why isn’t the metaverse not the same

or better than the real world?

But there is something still missing.

And what is that?

Something of the pleasure you feel with porn

is still missing.

It’s really not representing

some of the fundamental pleasure you feel

when you interact with real people.

And that could be just the growth you experience.

Like, real people can reject you.

The challenge, again, the push and pull,

all of that, the dance of human relations.

Yeah, yeah, and the exploration of your sexuality.

So, on porn, you can kind of passively explore

because you can see, as you mentioned,

a wide variety of things, and people do that.

But in terms of exploring your own sexuality,

I think there’s no replacement for a real human being.

So, you’ve written about violence.

And here, we’re talking about porn and sex.

I don’t know if you have thoughts on this,

but I’d love to ask your opinion on, quote, incels.

So, here, I would like to quote Wikipedia

that define incels as members of an online subculture

of people who define themselves

as unable to get a romantic or sexual partner

despite desiring one.

They also write,

now, I don’t know if Wikipedia is the accurate source

about incels, but here it is.

They write, quote, at least eight mass murders

resulting in a total of 61 deaths

have been committed since 2014 by men

who have either self-identified as incels

or who had mentioned incel-related names and writings

in their private writings or internet postings.

Incel communities have been criticized by researchers

and the media for being misogynistic,

encouraging violence, spreading extremist views,

and radicalizing their members.

Is there some insight that you draw

from this connection of sex and lack of sex to violence?

Well, I think sex and violence

are linked in various ways.

And it’s not just incels.

So if you look at serial killers, for example,

and this is another thing that I’ve,

true crime is kind of an avocation of mine.

I just enjoy reading about true crime

and following true crime stories.

It’s an avocation.

Hobby or side interest.

Super fancy word for hobby, I got it, cool.

Like Ted Bundy, he was actually very charming

and didn’t have any trouble attracting women,

but his killing spree started shortly

after he was rejected by a very high status,

attractive woman, and he felt a rage

about being rejected by her.

Now, who knows, that’s an N of one,

we don’t know if being rejected

causes serial killing per se,

but sex and violence are related in different ways.

I argue, and I haven’t studied

the incel community in detail.

I actually have an incoming graduate student

who’s gonna start in the fall

who has been studying the incels,

and so he’ll have a more informed picture.

But my attitude is there are ways

to improve your mate value.

If you’re having trouble attracting a mate,

there are ways to improve your mate value

because a lot of things that women want

in a mate are improvable.

Women want guys who are compassionate,

who are understanding, who are ambitious,

who acquire resources, et cetera,

who are physically fit.

There are things you can do to improve your mate value.

And so I would say, rather than,

I would encourage incels or the incel communities,

rather than being hostile toward women

or being angry at women,

just do things to improve your mate value

and then you will be more successful

at attracting women.

Yeah, I mean, some of it, that’s a fascinating,

so your student will be studying that.

There’s a, listen, I love the internet.

The internet always wins.

And there’s a fascinating aspect to it,

which is just humor.

And I’m fascinated by seeing the humor,

whether it’s 4chan or Reddit and all that kind of stuff,

where people maybe will self-identify as incels as a joke,

as a kind of, basically representing the fact

that it’s hard to get women.

This is the struggle, the struggle.

And for women, it’s hard to get a mate that they,

they’re basically jokingly representing the challenges

of the mate selection process,

that the desirable group is smaller than the entire group.

That’s it.

And they’re joking about it.

But then it’s interesting how quickly humor,

again, the dynamical system, it can turn into anger.

And that, on the internet, is so interesting to watch,

like how trolling, light trolling, is humor,

but it can turn into aggression.

And I’ve just seen, it’s weird.

It’s weird how, this is true on the internet,

but you also just look at the dark aspects

of the 20th century that I’ve been reading a lot about,

how kind of lighthearted things turn dark quickly.

And it’s interesting.

I don’t know what to make of it,

because it’s basically sexual frustration

that all humans feel.

It’s dating in general, can turn into anger,

can turn into sophisticated philosophical constructs,

like about how the world works,

of who really is pulling the strings.

And that turns some of the worst crimes committed

by the Nazis, for example,

or by extremely intelligent people

that constructed models of how the world works.

And there’s something about sexual frustration

is one of the really powerful forces

that could be a catalyst for constructing such models.

And once you’ve done that,

shit gets a lot more serious.

And it’s no longer joke, it’s serious.

But at the same time, when you just look from the surface,

it’s kind of jokes.

It’s just weird.

That’s interesting points that you’re making.

I think that this is one way

in which evolution has built into us

a feature which is really bad for our overall happiness.

And that is that it’s created desires

that can never be fully met.

And that includes in the mating domain.

So even with people who are successful

in attracting somewhat desirable mates,

maybe they want, you know, Giselle Bündchen or some,

you know, they desire things that are,

women that are higher in mate value

or a larger number of partners

than they can successfully attract.

And in a way, I mean, these serve as,

evolution’s built into these

because they’re motivational devices.

They motivate us to try to get what we want,

but it also makes us miserable

or at least unhappy or dissatisfied

because there are desires that can never be fulfilled.

And this is, to mention one more sex difference,

this desire for sexual variety,

meaning a variety of different partners,

is much, much greater in men than in women.

And so that’s why even like in pornography consumption,

men will like, you know,

go through multiple, multiple, multiple images

and sex scenes and so forth

compared to what women who consume pornography go through.

But this desire for sexual variety

is something that makes men miserable

because it’s something that they can’t,

most men, unless you’re a king or a despot

or, you know, have a harem,

it’s something that can never be fulfilled in everyday life.

And so I even think that, you know,

you talk to men who are walking down a city block

in Austin or New York City or San Francisco or wherever,

and they pass by, they could pass by six women

and feel a sexual attraction

to six different women in one city block, you know?

Now, and so this is, again,

where evolution has created in this

desires that can never be fully met.


Well, it’s useful, right?

And the hilarious thing,

now this is always about my own mind,

but just observing people,

once you get that 10 or that beautiful woman

that you’ve been lost,

you take her for granted and move on to the next thing.

There are classic cases like,

I don’t know if you remember this case,

but Hugh Grant was with Elizabeth Hurley,

who is a gorgeous model,

and he was caught having sex with a prostitute,

I think it was in LA or whatever.

He’s got Elizabeth Hurley,

why are you having sex with a prostitute?

But it’s the male desire for sexual variety.

Well, let me do a little bit of a tangent here

and ask you about just your work in general

in terms of its interaction with the scientific community

and with the world at large.

So many of the ideas you do research on

are pretty controversial,

or at least the topic is controversial somehow.

Maybe you can speak to that.

But what are your thoughts

in the current climate of cancel culture,

or maybe there’s a better term for it,

that word is like loaded now,

about you doing research in this space

that is so essential,

so crucial to understanding human nature?

What are the difficulties?

What are the concerns for you

to be able to freely explore?

Yeah, I’ve been doing research on these things.

So when you combine sex or sexuality

with sex differences, with evolution,

each of these topics are controversial by themselves,

and you bring them together,

the intersection becomes especially controversial.

But I guess view myself as a scientist,

and so I would rather be scientifically correct

than politically correct, if you will.

So I have no interest in, I don’t have an agenda,

I don’t have a political agenda,

I don’t have any agenda other than discovering human nature.

That’s what I’ve devoted my scientific career toward,

and that’s why I do the studies

in responsive to empirical data

and the best theories that we have available,

the best conceptual tools.

So do some of these things upset people?

Yeah, yeah, they do.

As a matter of fact, even early in my career,

before I started publishing on some of these things,

I gave a talk in a sociology department.

This was at University of Michigan,

and a female professor came up to me afterwards and said,

you know, you really shouldn’t publish

the results of your studies.

And I said, why not?

And she said that women have it hard enough as it is

without knowing about these things.

And my view is that’s naive.

I think suppression of scientific knowledge is a bad thing,

and suppression of scientific knowledge

about sex differences is a bad thing.

Men and women are not psychological clones,

especially when it comes to the mating domain

and sexuality domain.

The only other domain that shows massive sex differences

that we haven’t touched on is aggression and violence.

So the leading cause of violence is being a male.

Males have, and the more extreme the violence,

the more males have a monopoly on us.

When you get to homicide, the warfare,

males have a monopoly on it.

And we need to understand human nature,

and we need to understand sex differences therein

in order to be in a position to effectively solve

some of the social problems

that these sex differences create.

So, you know, so I’ve been gotten some flack.

No one’s tried to cancel me in my work so far.

So I’m-

Just wait.

Yeah, just-

But does it hurt you personally?

Just is it psychologically difficult, you know,

to do this work?

Because what is research is thinking deeply through things

and like doing studies, but also interpreting them

and thinking through what is the right questions to ask.

What does this mean?

And for that, you have to have a clear mind,

an optimistic mind, a free mind, and all of that.

So you’re just a human.

So psychologically, is it difficult?

Does it wear on you?

Yeah, I would say not really,

but I’ve been, I think, fortunate.

So even say my latest book,

I published a book recently on conflict between the sexes,

and it deals with very controversial topics,

including intimate partner violence,

like with the Johnny Depp, Amber Heard thing.

And I don’t talk about that in the book,

but, and it’s been largely well-received,

you know, and I think partly it’s because I am careful

in my publications not to endorse it.

So one of the common conflations that people make

is they think that it’s something that you think is good,

you know, that, you know, if you find a sex difference,

that there should be a sex difference.

This is the is-ought confusion.

And so I try to make it very clear

that I’m studying what is not what ought to be.

And a lot of things that I discover about what is the case,

I would prefer them not to be.

And I think, you kind of alluded to this earlier

by saying that we have to override

some of our violent inclinations or impulses,

or the way I would phrase it is we have to-

Control them?

Control or keep quiescent or suppress

some of the nastier sides of human nature.

And we’ve successfully done that in some domains.

So you can talk about, like one group that fascinates me

is the Vikings and the whole, that whole era.

And so you have, in Sweden, Norway, for example,

these have like the lowest homicide rates on earth.

But you go back 400 years ago, 600 years ago,

people were killing each other right and left, you know?

And so finding that, so this leads me to be optimistic

that we can change conditions

to suppress our evolved proclivities.

Just like one physical example that I sometimes use

is callous-producing mechanisms.

We have evolved callous-producing mechanisms

that are very valuable.

We develop thickness in the areas of our skin

that have experienced repeated friction.

But we can, in principle, design environments

where we don’t experience repeated friction.

And so we won’t grow callouses.

And so you’ve designed an environment

that basically prevents the activation

of our callous-producing mechanism.

I think we can do the same thing

with some of these other inclinations

and have succeeded in, you know, reductions of homicide

even in the last couple hundred years.

And some of that has to do with the myths and stories

we tell ourselves, like again, it’s language.

Because I mean, I love the Vikings.

I mean, I love the Vikings.

Valhalla, that idea.

That’s a myth, that’s an idea,

that’s a promise for the great land beyond,

over there beyond the mountains.

It’s like Animal Farm, Sugarcane Mountain.

That is promised to you if you’re a great warrior.

I believe Valhalla is where half the soldiers go

as a reward for great soldiering, for being great warriors.

And the thing I just recently have been reading

quite a bit about Valhalla,

which is it’s such a fascinating

how these myths are constructed.

I believe, I just think this is such an awesome setup

in terms of a kind of heaven,

which is they spend the entire day fighting

for joy, and if they die, they’re reborn the next day.

So it’s, you’re basically the passion,

the thing you’re passionate about without the consequences.

On top of that, I think there’s a pig or a boar

that is, they keep eating.

So it’s regenerated every single day.

So unlimited food, and there’s unlimited beer, I believe.

So it’s like-

Or mead, maybe.

Mead, mead, yes, yes, yes, yes, it’s mead.

I don’t know, that’s fascinating

that we construct these myths.

And at the same time,

these myths can be used to get humans

to do some of the worst atrocities.

So some of the violence requires us to have those myths

of what is waiting for us beyond death,

sort of beyond over there in Sugarcane Mountain,

as Crow says that in Animal Farm.

And so I think the more and more in this modern society,

the positive of not constructing so many myths

is that we get to live more in the moment,

and that forces us to optimize and improve the moment,

and we get to face the irrational

and the painful aspect of violence.

Maybe we should reduce that in the here and now.

Yeah, the downside is we may not,

if we dispose of God or these kinds of religious

and spiritual ideas,

we might descend into what Nietzsche

worried about with nihilism.

And it’s a beautiful dance,

because humans seem to tie themselves

together with narratives.

Yes, yeah.

And with myths and stories that we all believe,

if you completely dispose of them,

society, I don’t know, we don’t know.

We don’t know what’s going to happen,

if it’s going to collapse,

or if it’s actually going to rediscover better myths,

better stories, more scientifically grounded ones,

ones that are driven in data and all those kinds of things.

Yeah, I don’t know.

I mean, it’s an interesting question.

I mean, I don’t have any brilliant insights into it

other than that, you know,

to agree with you that people construct narratives,

well, of their own lives,

and sometimes the life after death.

But I guess I would add,

and this is maybe a more cynical view,

but you mentioned atrocities.

I think that leaders can sometimes exploit

those under them to create

forms of violence or justification for warfare.

Like in, you know, like the group that we are conquering,

they are a subhuman, they’re insects,

they’re an infectious disease that is, you know,

and so these narratives can be used by leaders

to exploit and motivate people under them

to commit these atrocities.

So it’s a nastier part of our psychology,

both that leaders do that,

but also that people are vulnerable

to narratives of that sort.

Yeah, it’s fascinating to look pre-internet.

You hope the internet makes us more resistant to that,

which I do have probably a question on that.

But if you look at just the propaganda machines

during World War II,

on the Nazi side and on the Soviet side,

on every side, but particularly in those two,

it’s so fascinating both how effective

a simple message can be in a leader being able

to convince the small inner circle around them,

convince themselves, which is fascinating,

propaganda, you start to believe

the propaganda you generate,

and then how easily the populace is convincible.

Again, you hope that the internet,

the distributed nature of the internet,

makes it more difficult to run a propaganda campaign,

at least of the classical sort.

I do have a question about this,

because you mentioned Elon Musk,

when we’re talking about status hierarchies,

like you and I can’t buy Twitter.

And wealth accumulation, yeah.

What do you think about Elon buying Twitter,

in particular, in the reason, the state of reason,

that he’s doing so in emphasizing free speech?

That’s an interesting question,

but I don’t really have an informed opinion about it.

I don’t know, it’s not my area of expertise,

and I don’t know enough details.

And I also don’t know what his plans are for Twitter,

what changes he proposes to implement.

Well, the reason I bring that up is because,

and you’ve kind of said you don’t necessarily

feel a tremendous amount of pressure,

but in doing controversial research,

in doing research on controversial topics,

you’re also a communicator,

and Twitter is a platform in which you communicate.

And there’s going to be, if you get canceled somewhere,

you get canceled on Twitter.


And so there’s pressure.

So what does free speech look like in these public platforms?

It’s communicating difficult ideas.

It’s changing your mind, it’s exploring ideas,

and not fearing the mob.

The mob that pressures the platform

to remove you from the platform,

or to ban you, shadow ban you from the platform,

decrease your reach artificially on the platform.

And those are really fascinating questions

that we get to deal with in this new digital age.

So there’s a lot of ideas.

You said what Elon is planning to do.

Forget Elon, how do you do this well?

That’s the question.

And there’s sort of an absolutist view of free speech,

let anyone say anything.

And I tend to be a person that believes

everybody should have the freedom to say anything.

The question with a social media platform is,

well, can you force anyone to hear what you have to say?

Because the virality, the viral nature of communication

means that you can control who hears what you say.

The virality of that, the search and discovery aspect.

And I think that’s a fascinating question

from the algorithmic perspective.

The amount of data out there, just like papers,

there’s a huge amount of papers.

What you want is to find the best papers,

the ones you agree with,

but also the ones that challenge you.

And you don’t want to nonstop read

the papers that challenge you.

You’re going to be mentally exhausted.

There’s a bucket of attention and focus

and mental energy you can allocate.

The ones that really challenge you,

the ideas that really challenge you are exhausting.

It’s good, just like going to the gym, it’s good.

But then you also want to read things that are fun for you.

And those are, you know,

if you’re spending your whole life in arguments,

that’s going to be exhausting.

You want to hang out, chill with your friends,

watch Netflix, have fun, whatever, easygoing.

And sometimes have difficult academic arguments

with people, for example, with people you disagree with,

but not all the time.

And you have to have a platform.

What does free speech actually looks like?

It’s a platform where everybody can challenge anybody,

but not destroy them by doing so mentally.

So you have to balance personal growth

of each individual person on the platform.

But definitely removing people from a platform

is a terrible thing.

So on top of that, it’s like,

how do you get measures that the platform is doing good?

What I really like what Elon said,

and I’ve talked to him about this,

is pissing off everybody equally,

the extremes of every side equally.

In the political spectrum,

you could say the left and the right

is measuring by pissing off the extremes equally,

because currently there seems to be an asymmetry in that.

So that’s one good measure

that allows you to maximize, as he says,

the area under the curve of human happiness.

That’s one thing.

The other is people representing themselves honestly.

So removing the bots from the platform.

It’s such a weird world we live in

where you don’t know who’s real or not.

So anonymity is an awesome thing.

The awesome aspect of anonymity

is it protects people’s privacy.

It actually gives them freedom to think,

freedom to speak even more so.

But when anonymity is weaponized,

it allows you to be cruel to others

without the repercussion of cruelty

that you would feel in the physical world.

So you wanna use anonymity as a shield versus as a sword.

So to protect yourself from the attacks of others,

but not as a way to hurt others.

And those are all really tricky things to figure out.

And not all of it’s gonna be solved with an edit button,

which I believe is the most requested Twitter feature.

Anyway, I think this is fascinating,

not just for people talking about politics,

which is what everyone seems to care about,

but also for science,

for people challenging each other in the scientific domain.

Because I at least have hope for scientific communication

where people can start playing around

with different mediums of communication.

So not just academic papers,

but just ideas, playing with those ideas.

Yeah, absolutely.

Especially when you have, so evolutionary psychology,

well, no, even that, it can be super high turnover rate

of importance.

But you have with COVID,

it seems like the progress of science and scientific debate

is most powerful in that context

if it’s done really quickly.

And it feels like Twitter,

like most of the best things I’ve learned about COVID,

to stay up to date, was on Twitter.

It’s so exciting to see science happening so, so, so quickly

in all kinds of domains there.

And that was great.

But then you step in with labels of what’s misinformation,

you have this kind of conformity seeking labels

of what is true and not,

which is a very unscientific thing to me,

in the name of protecting the populace.

It’s a weird impulse that people have,

which is, well, here’s an organization,

here’s an institution that is a possessor of the truth,

and everybody else is untrue.

Now, a lot of the time, maybe majority of the time,

that institution is going to be correct.

This consensus.

Consensus is the consensus because it’s usually correct.

But the biggest ideas are going to be against the consensus.

And certainly that’s true in evolutionary psychology,

where it seems like, are we even, is the cake even baked yet?

It feels like there’s a lot of turmoil

in terms of figuring out human psychology.

Well, there’s a lot that we don’t know.

I mean, if human psychology, if it were a simple thing

and we only had, you know,

three or half a dozen psychological adaptations,

we would have discovered all of them by now.

It’s that it’s so complex, multi-faceted, multi-mechanism

part that describes human nature

that it was what makes it exciting,

but also the amount that we know is small

compared to the amount that we don’t know.

And so that’s why you have to approach these things

with a certain humility.

And that’s why even like in the mating and sexuality domain,

which I’ve been studying for a number of years,

I keep coming across things that I don’t know,

questions that are unanswered,

which makes it exciting from my perspective.

I mean, that’s what the joy is of being a scientist.

You mentioned, I gotta return real quick to Ted Bundy.

You mentioned you have,

so you’ve written about murder and violence

in a long distant past,

but the thread runs through your work today.

Who to you is the most fascinating serial killer

of the true crime things that you’ve explored?

I think, well, Ted Bundy’s way up there.

I think Charles Manson is another.

Have you seen on Ted Bundy,

because I find him super fascinating.

Have you seen, there’s a lot of movies on him,

extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile.

It’s a retelling of his life

from the perspective of his long-term girlfriend.

No, I have not seen that one yet.

Which ties together a lot of our conversation.

So it’s probably my favorite one.

A lot of people say it’s the best movie on Ted Bundy.

So you should definitely watch it.

I will.

I recommend it to others,

but it’s from a perspective of the relationship.

And it just,

one of the really powerful windows

into a serial killer that I saw there

is that from the perspective of the relationship,

you can have just this healthy looking relationship.

Yeah, there’s some fights and so on,

but the usual dating and all that kind of stuff

was all there.

So all the murders he was doing,

he had a long-term girlfriend throughout all of that.

And also throughout all of that,

I’ll try not to give away

in case you don’t know the story,

throughout all of that, she stood by his side.

She refused to believe everything that was happening

until the very end.

Of course, it shifts in the very end,

and that’s a fascinating shift,

the breaking of the illusion.

But it’s really fascinating

that you can have those two things.

Yeah, well, I think that part of it is

we have these stereotypes

that we expect people like serial killers

to be these ugly, drooling creatures

that are sort of evil all the time.

And so that’s why even like you had,

I don’t know if I’m remembering this correctly,

but like Stalin who killed millions of people,

apparently loved his kids and loved his family and people.

So we have, that’s part of the complication,

the complexity of human nature and human psychology

is we don’t have just this one,

this one property that dictates

how we behave in all circumstances.

Yeah, the devil is going to be charismatic.

That’s why, that’s one of the things I’ve learned

about just looking at evil people,

looking at Jeffrey Epstein,

who seemed to have hoodwinked quite a lot of people.

Yes, yeah, that’s another fascinating case.

Yeah, he wasn’t a serial killer,

but a serial sexual predator.

And a lot of people I know and respect

didn’t see the evil.


And so I never met the guy,

but it’s like, are you guys oblivious?

Like what was, there must’ve been something,

from everything I see is purely just charisma.

It’s the smoke and mirrors that-

Yeah, well, he was a very charming psychopath.

Yeah, but I think every psychopath

to be effective has to be charming.

Yeah, the successful ones, yeah.

Yeah, successful psychopaths.

Oh, yeah.

And that was, I mean, Ted Bundy was one.

He was a good-looking guy, intelligent,

and could turn on the charm, and then had this evil.

Is there something interesting to be said

that I think a large percentage of the fan base,

like I’ve seen numbers like 80% plus

of the fan base for true crime shows is women?

Is there some psychology behind that?

I haven’t seen that.

I’m not aware if, a sex difference that I’m not aware of.

I mean, I’ve heard that in a lot of places,

so I wonder if there’s something about true crime,

maybe because it’s just like sexual kinks

for men develop early on, the cues.

Maybe for women, there’s the cues of the threat of violence.

The attentiveness to violence develops early on,

and therefore, fascination with violence.

Well, I think that, I mean, one thing is that,

well, with serial killers specifically,

I don’t know if this is true of true crime in general,

but serial killers, you find a lot of people,

well, a lot of women fall in love with them,

or even if they’re jailed for serial killing,

and I think one of the features of it

is that it parasitizes or hijacks status mechanisms

in that a key cue to status is the attention structure.

That is, the high-status people are the people

to whom the most people pay the most attention,

and so serial killers garner a lot of attention,

and even though for evil deeds, it’s still attention.

So I think that that hijacking

of our status allocation adaptations

is partly responsible for that.

Is there, given the trajectory of your life,

you mentioned Berkeley and the East Coast and Michigan,

you got everything.

Is there, given the trajectory of your life

in geography and in science,

can you give advice to young folks today,

high school, college,

thinking about how to make their own trajectory,

how to make their own way through life

that they can be proud of,

either career or just love life or life?

Yeah, well, not necessarily on careers,

but I can give advice on mating,

and I think it’s one of these things

where we have requirements for the courses

that students have to take in high school, for example,

and I think there should be a required course

on relationships, on mating.

So not just sex.

Yeah, not just sex at all.

Most of what’s taught is they teach about sexual health

and how not to get an STI and so forth.

Yeah, my teacher put a condom on a banana.

Right, right.

It was very exciting.

But how to select a mate?

How do you know if you’re in a bad mating relationship?

How to get out of a bad mating relationship?

I think that there’s, at this point in the science,

even though there’s a lot that we don’t know,

we know enough to at least provide some heuristics

or general guidelines to things to watch out for.

So just as a concrete example,

with intimate partner violence,

and this is male to female,

there are statistical predictors of,

is this guy, does he have an increased probability

of beating you up?

And there are things like,

if he starts to insist on knowing

where you are at all times,

if he starts cutting off your relationships

with your friends and your family.

So there are these kind of early warning signs,

and I think women should know about those.

Or even things like that women are most in danger

of being killed by an ex during the first three

to six months after they’ve broken up with him.

That sometimes they think it’s,

the guy will say, meet with me one last time,

and then I won’t bother you again.

No, this is a dangerous time.

So I think there’s some knowledge that we do know

that can be used to make informed decisions

about our mating lives,

and I think that should be taught.

So consider that,

like take the mating strategies,

the mating life seriously.

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

And because, aside from a small number of people

who are totally uninterested in any kind of mating

or sexuality, and there are a small percentage

that fall into that category,

we all confront problems of mating.

How do you, you know there’s that,

called the mathematical model,

like secretary problem, marriage problem.

I don’t know if you’re familiar,

but basically you have, it’s a silly, perhaps not,

it’s a formalized, simplified queuing theory type of thing

where you have N subjects,

and you get to date some number of people,

and then there’s a stopping condition,

I believe it’s N over E,

beyond which you pick the next partner,

which is better than anybody you’ve dated before.

So let’s not overemphasize that idea,

but if I were to psychologize it,

I would say that some exploration is good,

some dating is good,

but at a certain point you pick somebody,

given the set of people you’ve explored,

you pick somebody who is pretty desirable

within that group.

Yeah, yeah, but I would add that what you also wanna do

is you want to mate with someone

who’s equivalent in mate value,

or has even what’s more difficult

is has a likely equivalent future mate value trajectory,

because nothing remains static.

Yes, that’s beautiful.

But it’s also the case that there are individual things,

we haven’t talked about these,

but things like religious orientation,

political orientation, values,

these are extremely important to be compatible on.

You do have cases of, let’s say,

a Democrat marrying a Republican,

and that sometimes works,

but you’re gonna get into a lot of conflict,

other things being equal,

or someone who’s deeply religious

versus someone who is not at all religious,

this is gonna be a problem,

or someone who’s of a different religious faith.

And so compatibility on those things,

compatibility also on personality dimensions,

I think there’s some main effects,

so I would recommend avoiding that dimension

we talked about of emotional instability,

because if you sign up for that,

you at least should know

you’re gonna be in for a lot of conflict.

It may be exciting at times,

but there’s gonna be a lot of ups and downs.

Know what you sign up for.

What about how much to date?

So there’s a culture,

I’m speaking soon to a founder

and longtime ex-CEO of Tinder,

so there’s that culture of digitalized dating,

of swipe right, swipe left.

Is it positive, negative?

How much should you date?

What’s the number?

And also, what number of sexual partners should you,

what’s optimal, asking for a friend?

I don’t know if there’s a single optimum there.

I was hoping there was.

I think that-

Is it single digits or double digits?

I need answers.

Well, I don’t know.

I get some of my wisdom from lyrics, from songs.

So there’s this Eagles song,

I think Don Henley said something like,

there are too many lovers in one lifetime,

ain’t good for you, or something like that.

But I think there is a-

Take it easy is a good one too.


Or basically don’t get too attached.

Don’t take heartbreak too seriously.


So, but I think, I mean, internet dating,

and there’s been some work on them,

I think has its pluses and minuses.

And one of the pluses is it gives you access

to potential pools of mates

that you could never possibly meet in real life,

where mating and dating used to be either people you knew

or friends of friends, or you go out to bars or parties.

But so that’s the good thing,

gives you access to those extended pools.

But also it gives people the illusion

that there’s always someone better out there for you.

Someone who’s just a little more attractive,

a little more compatible, a little more.

And so it produces what’s sometimes

called decision paralysis.

You have too many options and you can’t choose.

I think one other potential negative,

which I think could be corrected

by these internet dating sites,

is that the picture, the photographs of the face and body

tend to overwhelm all other sources of information.

And so, especially if you’re just looking for a sex partner,

that’s one thing, physical appearances,

it’s fine for that to be overwhelmingly important.

But if you’re looking for a long-term mate,

there’s so many other things

that are really, really important.

And so, but people tend to be swamped by the visual input,

which is natural because that’s where we evolved

to respond to visual input.

We’re not evolved to respond to words,

like, oh, I like to go fishing or something like that.

So if there’s some way for these sites to,

in long-term mating, for these other characteristics

to be made more salient in people’s information processing,

I think that would be a valuable improvement.

Yeah, because even, forget long-term beauty,

even sex appeal is, like even the word appearance,

it feels like, to me, people that are super sexy

in real life are a lot more than their picture.

Yeah, yeah.

Like, it’s actually surprising,

like they come to life in different ways.


It could be either submissiveness as shyness

or extravagant wit and humor,

or like super confident or super,

like whatever they are,

whatever the weirdness that they are comes through.

So when people say, well,

which is the case of sort of proponents of dating apps,

it’s like, well, when you meet somebody at a bar,

you’re getting the same experience as you do

on a dating site.

You have very little information.

All you get is appearance.

But I don’t think appearance on the screen

is the same as appearance in real life,

especially with people that, for some reason,

you find super sexy.

It’s like, and again, the objectification

that we mentioned earlier is the,

it over-optimizes for people

who are good at taking pictures of themselves.

Like, they’re representing themselves inaccurately.

They’re not just even in the physical features,

but in the way those physical features

are used in physical reality,

like in terms of body language,

in terms of flirtation,

in terms of just everything, everything put together.

So I just, I wonder if there’s a way to close that,

to close that gap.

And I don’t know what that is exactly.

I tend to believe more information is good on dating.

I don’t use, actually, dating apps.

I just, because they don’t make any sense to me,

because there’s not enough information.

Like, what this, like, to me,

like, whether you know Dostoevsky or not is important.

And I don’t mean that because you’ve read, specifically,

a book by Dostoevsky, but there’s something about,

have you suffered?

Have you thought about life deeply?

Have you been shaken in some way?

And that’s not, sometimes books can reveal that.

Sometimes something else can reveal that.

But this kind of very shallow resume,

like, I like to travel.

I have boobs.

It’s like this kind of thing is,

it loses the humanity of it all.

I want, because, listen, as a fan of technology,

I would love dating to open up, like you said,

the pool of possibilities out there.

But the soulmate idea, like,

I believe that there’s an incredible people out there

for you that is an emotional connection,

not just a physical connection.

And so that the promise of digital tech

is that you can discover those people.

And that’s not just for a romantic relationship,

it’s for friendships, it’s for business partners,

it’s for all that kind of stuff, like your friend groups.

But yeah, there’s something,

seems broken about dating sites.

Yeah, well, that’s why, I mean,

when I’m asked for advice on this,

I say, if you feel like you have a connection with someone,

meet them in person, meet them in real life.


And take the road trip, like you said.

Yeah, take the road trip.

Stress test it.

Yes, yeah.

Because there’s only, I mean,

so much you can learn through messaging and so forth.

Amongst all of this, we didn’t really,

we didn’t really mention love, which is hilarious.

So let me ask you, in the last just few questions,

what’s the role of love in all of this

in the human condition?

So we talked about mating, we talked about mate selection,

we talked about all the things we find attractive in a mate,

the status hierarchies and all that kind of stuff.

What about that deep connection with a human being

that’s hard to explain?

Well, we talked about it a little bit,

but so we’re talking about love, like romantic love.

I think it’s an evolved emotion that evolved in part

to solidify long-term pair bonds.

And is it different from the love of a parent for a child

or brotherly love or sisterly love or other friendship love?

I think these are different phenomena.

But if we’re talking about romantic love,

I think it’s an evolved emotion.

Leading hypothesis is that it’s a commitment device.

So if I say to a potential mate,

oh, you exceed my minimum thresholds on intelligence

and looks, I think we make a good couple.

It’s a good pickup line.

Yeah, it wouldn’t do much emotionally.

But if you say, I love you,

it’s I can’t stop thinking about you.

It’s this uncontrollable emotion that I feel toward you.

It’s a sign that I’m committed to you at least for a while.

And I’m not gonna abandon you when an 8.5 comes along.

I’m not gonna drop you and go with the 8.5.

Yeah, that’s so interesting.

But it’s still the reality of the emotion is there.

However, it evolved, it’s still there.

And it’s interesting.

It’s one of the more puzzling pieces here.

Even broader than romantic love,

but in romantic love, what is that?

How much of that is nature?

How much of it is nurture?

Because even, I mean, I ask that myself all the time.

Like I’m deeply romantic.

How much of that is nature?

How much of it is nurture?

How much is the people I spent my childhood with,

the ideas, I mean, the Soviet Union sort of is known

for the literature and the movies and so on

that are very over, they’re heavily romanticized.

I don’t wanna say over romanticized.

Maybe there’s no such thing.

But so maybe, what is that?

Is that my upbringing?

Or is that somewhere in the genetics

that I value that emotional connection?

Yeah, well, most humans have the capacity for love.

Whether it is activated in any individual person

such as you or anyone else,

it is gonna be adjusted or suppressed

by different social and cultural and upbringing factors.

I mean, there are cultures where parents

basically lock away girls, they cloister them,

and so they can’t ever meet anyone else

until the parents arranged to marry them.

So they override any possibility of love.

But I think it’s an evolved emotion.

And I mean, one kind of test of this,

and this is just slightly circumstantial evidence,

but in China historically, there have been arranged marriages

and then individual choice marriages.

The arranged marriages tend to have higher breakup rates

and lower child production

than the ones that are sort of voluntarily chosen,

so called matriarchs.

I’ve heard sort of contrasting stuff from India.

I wonder, contrasting where the arranged marriages

are longer lasting.

It’s so interesting, because you said China.

I would love to see the data and the dance of that

because there’s a lot of other interesting factors,

like how the arranged marriage is arranged.


Is it for the families?

Is the interest of the families

for some kind of like in the monarchies

to make agreements to trade resources,

or is the interest of the family

to maximize the success of the marriage?

So compatibility, is it,

are they looking for maximized compatibility

or are they looking to maximize resources?

Well, historically, it’s often been an arrangement

where they’re trying to maximize the status and power

of the alliance with this other extended family.

But that also varies from culture to culture.

Like there’s the Tiwi culture where there’s,

the men basically bestow their daughters on other men,

and they try to gauge which men,

which of these young up-and-coming men

are really gonna be chiefs, high-status guys,

and which ones are gonna be losers.

And so you have this weird phenomenon.

They have a polygynous marriage

where a guy will get one daughter bestowed on him,

and then other men use that as information

that this guy must be rising in status,

and so they give their daughters to the guy as well.

And so the guy might go from like zero to seven wives

in a very short span of time.

Yeah, the rich get richer.

That’s fascinating.

The Game of Thrones, and sex is a part of that game.

Let me ask you about yourself, your own self.

We mentioned Richard Wrangham.

Think about mortality.

Do you think about your own mortality?

Are you afraid of death?

Yeah, interesting.

I’m not afraid of death.

I agree with Richard Wrangham.

I’m not eager to leave the party.

I don’t wanna leave the party soon.

I enjoy life in all of its interesting complexities.

I enjoy my scientific work.

I enjoy my relationships with other people.

I enjoy exploring the universe.

So I’m not eager to leave, but I’m not afraid of it.

And I think part of that is that I was married for a while

and my wife died prematurely of cancer.

And so I spent basically eight months

with her watching her die after she was diagnosed.

And there’s some, it was a horrible time for me

and for her, obviously, but there’s some way

in which it kind of made it more familiar

so that it became a lot less frightening.

How did that experience change you?

Just as a scientist, as a thinker about humanity,

or as a human yourself?

Well, I guess-

So you’re saying you felt like you felt

a little bit more ready for this whole end of the party?

Well, yeah, it’s, I mean,

because we tend to be afraid of things

that we’re not familiar with, you know?

And so if you’re familiar with it,

I don’t know, at least in my case,

that caused a lessening of fear on that dimension.

But I don’t know, it also kind of, you know,

there are these existential thoughts

that it brought about, like how ephemeral life is.

And I remember this Richard Dawkins quote,

he said something like,

we’re all gonna die and we’re the lucky ones.

Yeah, that we even got a chance.

Or even, you mentioned Russian writers.

One of my favorite writers is Nabokov, Vladimir Nabokov.

I don’t know if you’ve read him,

but he said once that life is a chink of light

between two eternities of darkness.

And you’re saying that’s not terrifying to you?

Well, I prefer, I’m happy with the prior,

the first eternity of darkness.

I prefer the second not to occur, but it’s going to occur.

I mean, we know that Elon Musk aside,

I’m skeptical that we’ll be colonizing other planets

in any substantive way.

And so our star, our sun will burn out.

And so it’s gonna take a few billion years or so,

but it will eventually,

the earth will become a cold lump of dirt

floating around in the universe with no life on it.

So it’s not just your light,

the light of your consciousness,

it’s the light of our human civilization

that will eventually go out.

Yes, everything, at least here.

I do believe that there is life and intelligent life

in other parts of the universe on other planets.

I sometimes wonder if the second eternal darkness

is the thing that makes the light possible.

So in the other places out there,

I wonder how successfully can you truly be

without the deadline of death,

both at the human scale and at the civilizational scale.

I feel like we, in order to create anything beautiful,

we have to live on the edge of destruction.

That seems to be, some people would say

that’s just a feature of our past,

that our future can be otherwise.

But like you, I’m somebody that looks at the data.

And currently the data says otherwise,

but of course we’re constantly changing the data

because there’s change.

So we’ll see.

I wonder what the future holds for us.

Speaking of which, as somebody who wrote a textbook

on evolutionary psychology,

what do you think is the meaning of the whole thing?

What’s the meaning of life?

You’re very good at describing

how the human mind is the way it is,

but why is it here at all?

What’s the purpose?

Well, I can give you my answer to that,

but I would actually love to hear your answer

because I know you’ve asked this question

of dozens and dozens of people on your podcast.

And what are your thoughts on that?

Well, first of all, my mind changes on that a lot.

And I think the process of answering the question

is the fun thing, not the actual final answer.

I think the question itself is the most fun thing.

But for me, usually is two things.

One is love, and we can talk a long time.

What I mean by that is it’s not just romantic love.

And two is to create, and hopefully to create beauty.

So, and again, I can talk forever what that means.

For me personally, creating beauty means engineering

and creating experiences, like connection with others.

On the love side, it’s just the actual feeling,

the experience of deep appreciation

of everything around you,

like the sensory experiences of everything around you,

just feeling it every single moment,

saying, I’m damn glad to be alive.

That light with the darkness on each side,

just being appreciative, like being in the experience

of truly present and experiencing it.

Because it’s not going to be there for long,

the whole thing ends.

And that to me is love.

And the reason romantic love is so important

is that other people are just awesome.

They’re fascinating black boxes

that can generate awesomeness.

So can like other animals and objects for me.

But humans in particular, for some reason,

are just generators of awesomeness.

They surprise us.

And therefore a good target of love.

Well, so that’s a much more eloquent answer

than I could give, but I’ll just say a thought or two

on that.

And I mean, one of the things,

what is the meaning of life?

I mean, in some sense,

if you’re thinking about some eternal purpose,

meaning like if we look 5 billion years hence,

will any of this mean anything?

I think the answer to that is probably no.

Okay, but, and this is I think where my answer

would concur with yours,

is that I think we have a rich, evolved psychology

that contains many complex adaptations.

And at any one moment in time, most are quiescent.

Most are not activated.

But for me, part of the meaning of life

is experiencing the activation of a lot

of these complicated, evolved psychological mechanisms.

And they include romantic love.

They include friendship.

They include being part of a group or coalition,

because I think we’re an intensely coalitional species.

So there’s something about being a group member.

So just even, I don’t know, if you’re in sports,

if your team wins, you feel that somehow

that you’re a part of that.

But this goes for both the positive

and the darker sides of things.

So for example, warfare,

you see these men who have been through a war together,

and where their lives have depended on each other,

and they’re like best friends for life,

and have a bond that is stronger than most people

form with a friend ever in their life,

because they’ve been through these life or death experiences.

And so I wouldn’t want to,

doesn’t cause me to want to charge off and be in war,

but there are some types of adaptations,

even like warfare adaptations,

where in principle, I would like to experience them.

I would like to experience, and never will,

but what is it like to be in a coalition

where you are in combat with another coalition?

Not modern warfare, because it’s horrible,

but where your life is in danger,

where your life, you depend for your life on other people,

and they’re depending for their life on you,

and there’s this kind of coalitional solidarity

that is unique.

Now, another thing that, of course,

I’ll never be able to experience is murder,

because I’m never going to murder anybody,

but studying homicidal ideation really gave me a,

it was an eye-opener.

It was as interesting as studying sexual fantasies,

because if you ask what triggers homicidal thoughts,

ideation, most people have had them.

Because I asked this question,

have you ever thought about killing someone?

And I get about 91% of men say yes,

and about 84% of women say no,

and even when I talk to people, they say, one-on-one,

they’ll say, oh, no, I’ve never thought of killing someone.

What kind of person do you think I am?

And then 10 minutes later, they’ll say,

actually, there was this one time

when I got, this guy humiliated me in public,

and I, you know, and so,

but I think thoughts about killing, homicidal ideation,

and they’re very predictable

from an evolutionary perspective,

if you, like we mentioned mate poachers earlier,

and infidelity, and there are other things,

but things like that, being humiliated in public,

status loss, you know, do trigger homicidal thoughts.

So anyway, I don’t go off too much on that,

but I guess what I’m saying in answer to your question

is experiencing the rich array of,

complex psychology that we have within us,

most of which remains unactivated,

and some of which will never be experienced.

Like, you know, there’s some people

who will never experience love, for example,

because of, you know, cultural restrictions or whatever,

and so, to me, that’s part of the meaning of life.

So that’s so beautifully put,

the saying that they’re kind of dormant,

inactivated aspects of the psychological mechanism.

So we have the capacity to experience a bunch of stuff.

It’s almost like in video games,

you can unlock levels and so on.

And so this is basically,

there’s all of these things that are dormant in our mind

that we have the capacity to experience.

And part of the meaning is to try to experience

as many of them, or as many new ones,

novel for the particular society,

or maybe the entirety of human civilization, who knows?

Psychedelic drugs, like you said, violence,

experiences that might have to do

with brain-computer interfaces,

the interaction with all of those are experiences.

And so the question is, what is the ceiling?

What are, like, how infinite or nearly infinite

is the capacity of the human mind

to experience all those things?

And we’ll get to discover those things.

So I’m glad you never got a chance,

and never will get a chance to murder,

but I just want to put it on record that,

that’s definitely something on my bucket list.

Why do you think I dress like this?

Anyway, there is something appealing.

Like one of my favorite movies is Leon, the Professional.

Oh, I love that movie.

What is that?

Why is that so, listen, maybe it’s the OCD thing.

Like killing other bad guys.

No women, no children.

Also loving that with Natalie Portman,

an incredible actress.

Also the complex, whatever that is,

the fatherly or romantic,

whatever that is, like Lolita type of thing.

I don’t know what, I’ve never read a PhD thesis

on that interpretation of that movie,

but that’s a fascinating one.

Violence and love and sex,

that’s what makes life worth living.

That’s what makes it fun.

David, you’re an incredible person,

incredible scientist.

It’s a huge honor to share a city with you,

or I’m the visitor.

You own this place, you run this place.

Well, I don’t, we both live here now.


And it’s been great talking to you.

It’s a great honor for me.

I’ve followed your podcast for a long, long time now,

and tremendously enjoy your interviews,

and you have a very inquisitive, inviting style

that brings out things in your guests,

which I think is fantastic.

Activates all those dormant psychological mechanisms.

That’s what life, that’s what conversation is all about.

Thank you for talking today.

Thank you.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with David Buss.

To support this podcast,

please check out our sponsors in the description.

And now, let me leave you with some words from E.B. White.

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy.

If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.

But I rise in the morning torn

between a desire to improve the world

and a desire to enjoy the world.

This makes it hard to plan the day.

Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.


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