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Evolutionary Psychology and the Beauty Myth?

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Presentation on theme: "Evolutionary Psychology and the Beauty Myth?"— Presentation transcript:

1 Evolutionary Psychology and the Beauty Myth?
Charles Crawford Department of Psychology Simon Fraser University Burnaby, BC, Canada, V 5A 1S6 Website: Slide 1 Fashion drawing

2 A Central Problem for Humans
How can we set up societies that are founded on moral principles, and yet are pliable and comfortable enough for people so that the society will persist? Example: Collapse of the USSR Resolving “naturalistic” and “moralistic” fallacies Is there a role for evolutionary psychology?

3 The Beauty Myth Standards of human physical beauty are arbitrary.
Individual3s are very susceptible to cultural pressures to conform. The media in western cultures impose beauty standards. Men somehow use the “beauty myth” to control and oppress women. Slide 2 Princess Di.

4 Blame for Standards of Beauty
“Oh my God, we are so sick in this society.” “Better watch out girl. You're getting a little broad across the beam.” “I believe in sin, therefore in a sinner; in theft, therefore in a thief; in slavery, therefore in a slaveholder; in wrong, therefore in a wrong-doer.” William Lloyd Garrison/Naomi Wolf The Beauty Myth

5 Today’s Talk Physical beauty: What it may tell us
Fluctuating body asymmetry Waist-to-hip ratio. The thin female physique Reproduction suppression model of anorexic behaviour. empirical support for it. Slide 3 Peacock Slide 4 Eyespots and reproductive success. Slide 5 !kung family Slide 6 !Kung woman day’s foraging Slide 7 Ache woman carrying child Slide 8 Ache women making baskets

6 1,000,000 years

7 Assessing Quality of Prospective Mate
Qualities: May not be directly observable Resources Fertility Parental care Parasite resistance Assessing health, fertility,... Body asymmetry Waist-to-hip ratio Slide 9 FA Benzil Washington


9 Fluctuating Body Asymmetry
Genes produce the basic design of organs. Environmental conditions and genetic quality impact on expression of the design. Many traits bilaterally symmetric in design. Asymmetry results from imprecise expression of the design. It can indicate poor genes or high levels of environmental stress. Slide 10 Female face Slide 11 FA and age at first sex Slide 12 FA and life time partners.

10 What is being Displayed?

11 Dev Singh: Waist-to-hip Ratio
Ratio of waist to hip measurements Women: WHR = 0.7 Cross cultural evidence Indicator of health Body scarification Slide 13 WHR figures

12 Adaptations: Tools for Ancestral Survival and Reproduction
Fever fighting parasites Upright walking Assessing Waist-to-Hip Ratio in choosing a mate Assessing Fluctuating Body Asymmetry in choosing a mate Detecting cheaters on social contracts

13 Adaptations as Information Processors
a set of genetically-coded developmental processes that enabled ancestral organisms to implement cost-benefit analyses in response to specific sets of environmental contingencies, and that organized the effector processes for dealing with those contingencies so that the allele(s) producing the decision processes were reproduced better than alternate allele(s) examples: recognizing kin, forming social contracts, deceiving oneself, choosing mate,...

14 Evolutionary Psychology Defined
Problems humans encountered in the EEA Finding high quality mates. Psychological adaptations that evolved to help solve those problems Assessing Waist-to-hip ratio/Symmetry. The way those adaptations function now Women in advertisements, TV, & movies

15 Anorexic Behaviour Disturbance in way body weight/shape is experienced
Fear of gaining weight Amenorrhea Most common in: Young women Industrialized countries Upper status women

16 Anorexia nervosa:Some Basic Statistics
Prevalence: 0.5% - 1% Age of onset: Average age: 17 years Peaks: 14 and 18 years Much less common in Afro-Americans Less severe symptoms - more common Our interest.

17 Non Evolutionary Explanations
Sociocultural Taking control Family pathology Political: Men want power over women. “Juvenile” women easier to control. Men “juvenilize” women to control them. Others...

18 Unanswered Questions What is it about industrialization that encourages a thin standard of beauty? Why do some girls progress to very thin levels of emaciation? Why do we not see “pathologies” associated with other aspects of attractiveness, i.e. eyelashes? What environmental variables drive the passion for thinness? What are the relations to the physiology of ovulation, menstruation, and hunger?

19 Adaptive Reproductive Suppression
Female reproduction is very costly. Individuals can improve their lifetime reproductive success by delaying reproduction if current conditions for reproducing are poor, but are expected to improve. Value of body fat for women: Insulation Storage of calories Regulation of reproduction


21 Hypothesized Stresses that May Make Delay Adaptive
High levels of: Female-female competition Attention from undesirable males Exacerbating conditions: Fat-rich diet Work needed to raise body fat level Early puberty relative to social maturity

22 Female-Female Competition: Initial Naive Predictions
1. Incidence will be positively correlated with social status Reason: Female-female competition is more intense in upper status groups. 2. Incidence will be increasing in societies where the age of puberty is falling Reason: Changes in diet, etc. producing earlier physical maturation do not necessarily cause earlier psychological maturity.

23 Female-Female Competition: Initial Naive Predictions
3. As the level of female-female competition increases women are expected to increasingly value thinness. Reason: Since reproductive suppression mechanisms are being activated at a low level in many women thinness will become attractive to many women. 4. As women gain political and social skills incidence will begin to decline Reason: Avoidance of stresses

24 How do we Validate Evolutionary Explanations?
by modeling ancestral selection processes to determine if the adaptation could have evolved cross cultural studies to determine how the adaptation functions in different environments experimental studies to make causal statements about psychological mechanisms locating the basis of the adaptation in nervous and endocrine systems to give biological credibility

25 Modeling Ancestral Fitness Costs and Benefits
Explain: Contribution to ancestral fitness Predictor variables: Reproductive effort - Now/Later Reproductive success - Now/Later Reproductive value - Now/Later Parameters: c = cost of delay k = effect of reproducing now.


27 Environmental Variability: In Standards of Beauty
Human Relations Area files 63 societies Dependent variable: Standards of beauty plump/fat, moderate fatness, slim. Independent variables: Predictors of standards of beauty for several hypotheses latitude, protection of girls, menstrual taboos, value of women’s work,... Slide 15 Hypotheses ( ) Slide 16 Food security ( ) Slide 17 Climate ( ) Slide 18 Women’s work ( ) Slide 19 Battle of the sexes ( ) Slide 20 Adaptive reproductive suppression ( ) Slide 21 Female dominance (273.07) Slide 22 Summary (273.08) Slide 23 Cherished notions (273.08).

28 Some Hypotheses Whims of fashion Food security Latitude
Battle of the sexes - control of fertility Value of female work Adaptive reproductive suppression

29 Food Security & Climate
Independent variable: Food Results: Societies with unreliable food supply have plump standard of beauty (r = 0.28) Independent variable: Latitude Results: Societies with high latitude have plump standard of beauty (r = 0.273)

30 Battle of the Sexes: Fertility Male-female Battleground
Independent variables: Dominance, Machismo, value of female life, courtship choice, control of sex Results: Strong emphasis on machismo have plump standard of beauty (r = 0.433). Husbands dominate wives (r = 0.426).

31 Value of Women’s Work Independent variables: value of female work, menstrual taboos Results: Few menstrual restrictions (r = 0.377) Female work (r = 0.284)

32 Adaptive Reproductive Suppression: Protection
Independent variables: Risk associated with reproduction Societies with high probability of adverse consequences of sexual maturation have slender standard of beauty Exposure, premarital sex, illegitimacy attitude (r = 0.234) Sexual expression, permission (r = 0.325)

33 Adaptive Reproductive Suppression: Female Dominance
Multiple regression of beauty on dominance measures for 62 societies Results: With female dominance (R2 = 0.423) Without female dominance (R2 = 0.209) Female power associated with slender standard of beauty.

34 Experimental Studies of Psychological Mechanisms
Causal statements about psychological mechanisms Experimentally manipulate: Nature of delay: Indeterminate / Determinant Reproductive stress: Female-female competition, undesirable male attention Non reproductive stress: Gardening, Hospital visit Susceptibility measures

35 Experimental Design Control group Experimental group Pre test Yes Yes
Stress manipulation Low High Post test Yes Yes

36 Pre and Post Tests Pre tests: Indicators of susceptibility on:
Interoceptive awareness Interpersonal distrust Ineffectiveness Post tests: Effects of the imagined stress on: Drive for thinness Body dissatisfaction Maturity fears

37 Female-female Competition: Female subjects

38 Female-female Competition
subjects Female subjects

39 Male Attention: Female Subjects

40 Gardening and Music: Female Subjects

41 Stress and Time: Female-female competition

42 Media Study

43 Risk

44 Relating physiological processes to ancestral cost-benefit analyses.

45 Unanswered Questions What is it about industrialization - thin standard of beauty? Stress: Duration & intensity Why do some girls progress to very thin levels of emaciation? Vulnerability, stress “Pathologies” associated with other aspects of attractiveness, i.e. eyelashes? Reproduction What environmental variables drive the passion for thinness? Competition, attention, others What are the relations to the physiology of ovulation, menstruation, and hunger????????

46 Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth
Anorexia is spreading because it works. Not only does it solve the dilemma of the young woman faced with the hunger cult, it also protects her from street harassment and sexual coercion; construction workers leave walking skeletons alone. Having no fat means having no breasts, thighs, hips, or ass, which for once means not having asked for it. Woman’s magazines tell woman they can control their bodies; but women’s experiences of sexual harassment make them feel they cannot control what their bodies are said to provoke.

47 Members of Evolutionary Psychology Laboratory
Charles Crawford, Judith Anderson Sally Walters, Joanne Nadeau Maria Janicki, Gerald Beroldi Martin Renaud, Windy Brown Laura Dane, Larua Ward, Erica Nance, Oonagh Zuberbier

48 Darwin in The Descent of Man
Man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy that feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest of living creatures, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system -- with all these exalted powers -- still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin. (Charles Darwin, 1871/1898, p. 634.)

49 Naturalistic Fallacy: “What is, is what ought to be.
Women are more caring than men... Men are more sexually aggressive than women... Men’s sexual jealousy... Women care for children...

50 The Moralistic Fallacy: “What ought to be is what is.”
Women ought to be more caring than men... Abortion ought to have no negative effects... Coercion ought not to be involved in sexuality... Men and women ought to have the same sexual agendas...

51 Wilson on Natural Selection and the Human Mind
Camus said that the only serious philosophical question is suicide. That is wrong even in the strict sense intended. The biologist, who is concerned with questions of physiology and evolutionary history, realizes that self-knowledge is constrained and shaped by the emotional control centers in the hypothalamus and limbic system of the brain. These centers flood our consciousness with all the emotions--hate, love, guilt, fear, and others--that are consulted by ethical philosophers who wish to intuit the standards of good and evil. What, we are then compelled to ask, made the hypothalamus and limbic system? They evolved by natural selection. The simple biological statement must be pursued to explain ethics and ethical philosophers, if not epistemology and epistemologists, at all depths. (Edward O. Wilson, 1975)

52 Conspiracies and the Tragedy of the Commons


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