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psychology' Ourfirst This column provides an insight into the views of the people behind the books and

the psychologists. interview is with Robin Dunbar, one of the most respected of current evolutionary

Evolutionary reasons for choosing a mate
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obin Dunbar is Professor of Psychology at the University of Liverpool. He is currently involved in a variety of different research projects, including the Lucy-toLanguage project which is investigating how the early human brain evolved. A-level students will know Robin best for his
research using lonely hearts advertisements RD Lonely hearts ads provide us

with

a

vignette of what their advertisers are
looking for in a prospective mate. ln effect,

they are the opening bid in the complex game of poker that we usually call the 'mating game'. lt is the bid that we make when we have a general idea of what the
punters out there might be expecting from us and have in their turn to offer us, but when we do not yet know the specifics of the individuals.

effect, lonely hearts ads give us the individual advertiser's opening bid before they have been forced to compromise on their ideals, after finding out who really is out there in the market. Why do you think this research appeals
so much to students?

to investigate what tralts men and women advertise and seek in prospective partners. Many students base their coursework on

RD Relationships are the beginning and the end of social life: they are what makes the

this

research and,

as Robin

ruefully

Courtship has been described as
process of negotiation

a

or at least the social is really where we spend most world which of our time. I think we just have a deep world go round

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comments, 'lf I charged a fee for it, I would be incredibly rich!' ln a nutshell, what do the lonely hearts
ads studies show?

with

several decision

points, where we pause and ask ourselves whether we want to allow the relationship to develop to the next level of intimacy. ln

fascination with trying to figure out what the rules of the game are. We are intrigued by what makes other people tick. That is why three-quarters of all the books sold

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Ao-A A) PsychologY Review

each year are

fiction

relationships between people - and most ofthe other quarter are biographies - just the real-life equivalent. What would you identify as the major limitation of this research? RD The limitations arisefromthe questions you want to ask. We cannot, for example,

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stories largely about

they do want to find a partner. This is not to say that they do not twist the truth a little to make their case better than it is, but part of the problem here lies with people reading into ads what they would like to see in them. Our analyses suggest that, in general, people know what works, and the risk of being shown up keeps us
purpose

-

tend to emphasise wealth and status in the men they want to meet. You have to see that in the context of family wealth (mainly earned by men) having a huge impact on children's survival. ln modern Europe, that burden of child rearing has been lifted by a

combination of the facts that we are all much more wealthy as individuals and that

say anything about success rates for
different kinds of ads because we do not see the replies - never mind the happy outcomes! Nor do they tell us about the
compromises that we all inevitably make as we work through the long process of finally choosing a partner. They are fine for what they are: a glimpse of our ideals at the start
of the courtship Process.

more or less in line

we would normally be in face-to-face
contexts. Some more recent research, again using

-

or at least as in line as

better healthcare has reduced infant
mortality. With those worries removed, you would expect women to shift their concerns to other areas like the purely social aspects of the family (men's ability to help build the relationship and their willingness to help with childcare and socialisation), since these are now the areas that will have greatest

,

lonely hearts ads, has found that men now advertise'caringness' rather than resources. How can you explain this in evolutionary
terms? RD The mating game is very dynamic;

it

Some people have suggested that these kinds of ads are confou nded by the fact that what people say about themselves is mostly untrue. But in fact the evidence suggests that, so long as you read the signals right, most advertisers are there for the same
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changes constantly

in

response

to

the

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impact on their ability to rear offspring successfully. And that is basically what we
see.
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you look at ads in less economically developed countries, or ads from Victorian England (yes, they were going in greatgrandma's time too!), you find that women

other selection traits that might

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As our social world changes, are there
be

predicted by evolutionarY theorY? RD lt is important to understand that the

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The

opening bid in the mating game

evolutionary perspective is not a different kind of psychological theory from those that already exist. Rather, it is a meta-theory that allows us to bring all the other existing approaches underthe same roof. lt is not an alternative. What it does is identify the criteria that underpin our decisions in the long run. From an evolutionary point of view, that can only ever be one thing: leaving as many copies of your genes in future generations as You can.
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animal evolution was the development of a large brain, because big brains allowyou to respond more flexibly to circumstances and so remain in the game of Iife for longer. Our large brains give us the option of bailing out of the evolutionary game if we choose to do so. This is not a problem: it is a free world and you can choose what to do. You cannot duck the evolutionary consequences ofyour behaviour, but you can choose to ignore them. Finally, if you were going to advertise yoursell what would you write to guarantee success?

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RP Women make much more complex

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decisions about choosing partners than men do, so in some ways men are lucky. That means we have more dimensions to play with. Wealth and status (two sides of the same coin, really) still carry a surprising amount of weight; social skills are certainly increasingly important (that is what the term CSOH - good sense of humour tries to signal); but, surprisingly, so are things like being tall. I would like to go for the last, but I am not sure that I would compete with the younger generation, who have been growing taller by the decade. And I am not rich or a pop star. So it is going to have to be a sense of humour, lthink.
Cara Flanagan has written many books for A-level students, including Nelson Thornes' Psychology Complete Compa nicn series for
AO_A (A) AS

From an evolutionary point of view, this

Evolutionary explanations have been criticised for being gender-biased (as an explanation that exaggerates the differences between men and women). Do you think this is a fair criticism? RD Criticisms of this kind are invariably made by people who do not really understand evolutionary theory and its application. ln reality, core theory in biology hands the principal control of life to the females
(which in mammals like ourselves, happens be the sex that has the XX sex chromosomes - though in some groups, like birds, the females are the ones with the XY chromosomes). That is why biologists sometimes speak of the'redundant males'. Such explanations are also criticised for being determinist. Are they? Rm This is a common misunderstanding. The evolutionary approach is not about the genetic determination of behaviour - not least because nothing in real life is genetically determined in this simple minded way. Rather, the evolutionary approach is about strategic decision-making - the extent to which issues of maximising fitness (how many copies of our genes we leave behind us when we die) guide our choices in life. But that said, one of the big innovations in

is not as straightforward as we might suppose. There is a well established
phenomenon (originally based on studies of birds) called Lack's LaW which states that you do not maximise the number of grandchildren you have if you spread yourself too thinly by pumping out as many babies as you can. Having fewer babies may be evolutionarily more profitable. The reason this is important here is that it reminds us that

and 42 exams with Mike Cardwell.

Her series of books on research methods
Ao_A (A), Edexcel and oCR were

for

published by NelsonThornes in May, July and September
2005.

evolution (and indeed, everything

in

to

biology) is context dependent. What is the
best thing to do depends on the balance of costs and benefits of a given situation, and

One-line theorler
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the situation changes constantly. There is no 'best thlng'in evolution, only the best of
a bad job. Like Alice in Wonderland, we are constantly running just to stay in the game.

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Equally, there

is no such thing

as

lUame

that face

progress in evolution: chance and circumstance play an important role. So it becomes

impossible

to

predict where evolution

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Sigmund Freud

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Stantey Milgfam lvan Pavlov
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might take us until we are right on the spot itself. We can look back and see how we came to be where we are (what philosophers have called 'postdiction'as opposed to 'prediction'), but we can never say for sure where things will go in the future.

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Anna Freud
(AranBadderey)

$ Atan Baddeley

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Ao-A A) Psychology Review