The Art Of Mating

Geoffrey Miller took up one of Darwin’s thoughts about evolution, that is the one about sexual selection working with natural selection. Not that this is meant to imply anything un-natural about choosing a mate, but we humans go about it differently from many other species. For example, male Bower Birds set up a very elaborate decorative display to catch the eye of a passing female.

Most of us guys, when in our prime anyway, don’t have very elaborately decorated bowers at our disposal. Our bed, computer, TV for football, and a fridge for our beer cover most of the essentials. All that fancying up the place and moving furniture around comes later under strict design guidance.

Now that doesn’t seem to cut it with Clegg, Nettle and Miell who have their new analysis published in The Frontiers in Personality Science and Individual Differences (1). They focused their attention on a group of 236 visual artists. The base concept is that creative behaviors don’t fit neatly into the survival mechanism as a useful adaption and therefore it must have something to do with sex.

Their chosen artists were then grilled as to their art, views and successes. Now relaxed and chatty, they were grilled about their mating habits with details like the number of “one night stands" to the number of longer term relationships. The age demographic was suitably large at 18 to 78 years old. 151 of the artists were women and 85 were men. Everyone was heterosexual and 91% were of western-white ethnicity.

The estimation of artistic success was necessarily complex as those selected ranged from hobbyists to established professionals. Their mating success was easier to measure, with the number of partners fitting onto a log scale covering 1 to 250. Note though that it was heavily skewed with a mean around 11 over the last 5 years.

The conclusions? Well, the more successful the guys were at art, the more successful they were with their mating. This didn’t work for the women artists who were looking for longer relationships. Now the strange observation: the successful male artists also were seeking long term mates, but seemed to want to try more out before settling.

The good news for us run of the mill guys is that they found that women preferred creative guys, even if poor, over richer non-creative ones, but there is a rider – for short term mates only.

Note to self: replace old tubes of water colors ASAP.


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