Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In which I draw on my knowledge of Evolutionary Psychology to respond to a student journalist

Dear Professor,

I am writing a newspaper article on how views of relationships and dating differs between genders--specifically at BU where there is a higher percentage of males than females. For example, in the College of Communication there females make up 70% of the school.


It sounds like you already have some ideas below this, as listed in 2-5. Your questions in 3-5 would be answered "yes" by psychologists who belong to the field called evolutionary psychology (see David Buss' book, The evolution of desire.) However, the evolutionary psychologists note that this is just a yes "on average". Both genders pursue both short and long-term mating strategies.

Note: I can't condone using terms like girls/guys. Everyone is over 18, so let's refer to women and men.


The strongest gender difference in mating strategies appears to be men's greater preference for short term partnerships and casual sex. But you specifically mentioned "young college men." There is no evidence that young college men want to date multiple partners more than older men. Young men can fall deeply and monogamously in love, while older men can enjoy having more than one partner. The strongest age-related change for sex/dating appears with women, not men. With maturity, women are more sexually assertive. While a young woman might feel ashamed and chastened to hear her casual sex partner say, "You better not do this often or you'll get a bad reputation" an older women will find such a statement ridiculous.


Seems to be the same question as 5.


Many researchers have noted that a shortfall in desirable men leads women to accept dating terms that are less than than their ideal, where "dating terms" includes exclusivity and prospect of commitment (see Richard Posner's book Sex and Reason). In a fascinating study published in his book Where have all the liberal gone, James Flynn notes that one group of women in the U.S. has a surprising amount of power to bring men to the altar: Hispanic women. Is this just Hispanic family values? Flynn says no,and points to the large surplus in Hispanic men due to greater male immigration from Latin America. In contrast, African American women have limited ability to insist on marriage, because of the vast shortfall of desirable African American males, given under-employment and incarceration of African American males.

If one wants to extrapolate from these studies to unequal sex ratio at BU, then yes, men at BU have the best market terms. If women at BU don't want to accept those terms, they can easily find better market conditions, by dating outside of BU, sticking with BU but dating women.


I answered this question last because it is the most controversial. Certainly, males want females to believe "yes." And... Based on the evolutionary psychology and market views discussed above (both male dominated fields), one would expect that answer to be yes. But while men are more willing to have multiple partners and casual sex than women are, there is no evidence that they are less attached. Men can become obsessively, crushingly infatuated and fixated, as can women. Women can also be aloof, or be in long term relationships where they are the less-in-love partner.

There's a lot more to be said (and researched) about this. I propose that there are no overall gender differences in the ability to become intensely attached, because, from the evolutionary psychology standpoint, both men and women need long-term (i.e., non-casual) mating strategies. Men need to become attached for 2 reasons. If they are low-status, they need to be obsessed in order to take the "love conquers all" risks that either get them killed or get them laid with possibly a baby on the way (and their genes triumphant) even if shooting their wad was the last thing they did. If they are high-status, they need to be obsessed in order to have the emotional energy to mate-guard. Mate-guarding is helpful to ensure paternity certainty and to protect their investment in a high-quality female (and to justify that investment).

Why females become attached is less clear. The evolutionary psychologists argue it is to obtain male resources, including co-parenting effort; that pair-bonded females out-produced single moms because male would provision meat and so on.

To return to what can be our clearest conclusion at present: the strongest difference in dating behavior for young people continues to be young people's susceptibility to societal dictates of what is expected for each gender. Society still has a double standard, in which women are stigmatized for casual sex and males get points for "scoring." With age, these societal views have a weaker effect as individuals gain confidence to pursue the mating strategies that reflect who they genuinely are.

We need more Darwinian feminists... I volunteered to give a talk on "Feminists read Darwin" at my university when a call for talks was passed around; no word back yet on that...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My former student is founder of "Achieve in Africa"

I am a former student of yours. I took Developmental Psychology in the Spring of 2007 as a sophomore. In my final year here at Boston University, I co-founded a non-profit organization called Achieve in Africawith another BU student, Alyssa Snow. Starting this organization has been something I have wanted to do ever since I visited Africa two summers ago (as a sophomore) and saw children thirsty for knowledge, but lacking the facilities and supplies needed for a proper education.

The mission of the organization is to give children in Africa the ability to achieve in school by providing the facilities and supplies needed for a proper education.

For pictures and information about this school and the organization, please visit

After graduation in May, I will be traveling to Tanzania in June to oversee construction.
In Swahili, "Pamoja, Tutafaulu." Together, we will achieve.

Brendan Callahan
Achieve in Africa, Inc.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Iraq War Ends -- revisiting the "July 4 2009" New York Times Spoof

If you didn't hear about the spoof of the New York Times back in November 2008 (surely there was a lot going on), its worth taking a look, and reading about the press coverage of the goals of the "pranksters" who put it together.

Now, United for Peace and Justice has teamed up with The Yes Men, who spent 6 months to make the 14-page NYT hoax.

They're selling the remaining copies for $50, as a way to raise money for United For Peace and Justice. Call the UFPJ to order a copy.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"I really do not understand what socialism entirely."

Excerpt from Rate Your Students:

I teach the U.S. history survey, and my students are reading Howard Zinn as one of their texts. They were asked the following question as part of their homework on a Zinn reading:

"Why were workers attracted to socialism? Why did businessmen find it threatening? What did it threaten?"

I got this response: "I really do not understand what socialism entirely. The word seems to be thrown around in literature and politics that I really cannot grasp what it's supposed to mean. So to save myself the agony of doing hours of reading, I'm not going to answer this question. Sorry."

The proffie then reacts in shock along the lines of what are students coming to these days and you can read about that on RYS.

I wonder if that there is something about how socialism is mentioned in the contemporary media (what the student refers to as literature and politics) that created a reaction in this student that is different than if, say, the homework had been about some other political movement: neoliberalism, environmentalism, global warming, intelligent design, etc.

H thought yes: "Socialism is a swear word."

Or: the S word is mentioned rarely, and when it is mentioned, not explained or discussed in a way that the concept can be grasped from context.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Electronic resources and time-sinks of the young and the restless

"The internet giveth and taketh away"

In terms of giveth, I was wondering if readers had any reaction to this site for teens: "That's not cool" -- advice on how to navigate the electronic social world.

Topics include "where do you draw your digital lines" and "call out cards" (some of these are pretty mean -- are they jokes?)

In terms of taketh away, a sophomore writes about pulling the plug on Facebook. College kids tell me about feeling hurt when a friend greets them in real life with "What's up?" -- the immediate implication is that the friend doesn't know they just broke up with a bf or came out as gay -- with the consequent feeling of rejection: they're not even reading my FB page.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"I couldn't make the final because I wasn't finished with the rock wall back at the dorm"

(Title from Rate your Students)

Hm.... The students at the university where I teach have a chic apartment complex called "Student Village" which appears to fit the profile of the new luxurious dwellings for undergrads that are being developed across the country. I decided to follow the ink from RYS and check out Time Magazine's photos essay on "The Evolution of the College Dorm."

Indeed, I soon found featured the picture of the rock wall (and description below) at the "Fit Rec" at my very own university! (the campus Fit Rec is too huge, multi-floored and posh for my taste so I canceled my membership after a few months, plus I pay less at Gold's Gym).

From Time:
An Uphill Battle
Tanning salons, pool waterfalls, Mongolian grills, and hot tubs large enough for 15 people are some of the amenities offered at colleges across the country — like Boston University's new 35-foot climbing wall. Sandy Baum, a senior analyst for the College Board, says students are driving the trend: "It's not so much colleges wanting to be country clubs, it's students who want to live in country clubs." At this summer's conference for the Association of College & University Housing Officers, administrators swapped stories about the more outlandish requests they've received. (One tale involved a freshman who wanted to know about housing accommodations for his butler, who had accompanied him to the dorms).

H wanted to know: How much does it cost to live in "Student Village"? Do students who can't afford student village have to either commute from home or live in the (now I realize how aptly named) "student ghetto" of neighboring Allston/Brighton (where in fact we live)? Alston was (strangely) recently named one of the worst places to live in America.

Now, I have never toured the John Hancock Student Village or been closer than seeing it while riding my bike down Commonwealth Ave., but when I went looking for a photo, found this amateur video. The view is so beautiful (and apartment so large) I felt like crying...