“Blondes” in the Weekly Standard!

Posted in book reviews by jenapincott on November 29, 2008

logoYes, I’m surprised by the source, but I love any good review. The book reviewer, Pia Catton, kindly said that Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes? is an…”informative and amusing book…The short answers are judiciously packed with information culled from hundreds of peer-reviewed studies. All of it is relayed in a light, engaging tone…” Very cute that she noted I’m a brunette and called me traitorous. Nice birthday gift.

How women’s brains light up to macho men

Posted in news by jenapincott on

campaign_marlboroDo Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes? is a book about unconscious, under-the-radar biases when it comes to dating and mating. Of those blind biases, one of the most fascinating, at least to me, is the way women’s tastes in men shift in favor of masculinized faces and dominant behaviors when women are most likely to conceive.

A new brain imaging study led by Heather Rupp at the Kinsey Institute found neural evidence that brain activity is different during the high-fertility phase of the cycle. Near ovulation, gals who look at masculine Marlboro Man-type faces light up in their anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a region of the brain associated with decision-making and the evaluation of risk and reward. The ACC is activated when you’re in conflict about something, and it also helps regulate blood pressure and heart rate. (Interestingly, artificial stimulation of the ACC has also been found to ease depression.)

Tough guy types might be riskier but more rewarding, which gets the ACC all hot and bothered. From an evolutionary perspective, a dominant macho man seems like a good mate because his high-testosterone traits suggest good genes and healthy development. Unconsciously, you might want to bear this man’s child. But not all macho types are exactly daddy types. Consciously, you might know better.

POLL: Would you take a drug to stay madly in love?

Posted in news, Polls and Surveys by jenapincott on November 19, 2008

The truth about romantic outliers. At last, a preliminary report on the brain scans of couples who have been passionately in love for decades! I was particularly excited about this research because it promised to give us insights into why some people are able to preserve the intensity of their initial love, while for most couples passion fades or becomes something more like a comfortable companionship. The researchers — Bianca Acevedo, Lucy Brown, and Helen Fisher — found that these outliers, madly in love for more than twenty years, have something in common with people who have just recently fallen in love: an active ventral tegmental area (VTA), a “reward region” of the brain. The VTA releases dopamine, the hormone of pleasure and addiction (also activated by cocaine and chocolate).

While a super-stimulated VTA defines most early-stage love affairs, it’s exceptional in twenty-year marriages. But what separates these late-stage lovers from early-stage lovers is calm in the the brain regions associated with anxiety and compulsion. They get passion without obsession.

The results inspire further questions: Love is expressed in so many different ways; how to measure its intensity? What makes some people romantic outliers in the first place — good genes or the right partner, or both? What are the other characteristics of romantic outliers — are they Panglossian iby nature? When, exactly, does the VTA dim in most relationships, and why, and how to prevent it?

We know from other studies (detailed in BLONDES) that there are certain hormone receptors in the VTA that influence pair-bonds in romantic relationships, and genes for these receptors vary among individuals. Some people have receptor genes that have been associated with commitment problems. Other genes that have yet to be identified might do the opposite — facilitate long-term love and bonding.

To be madly in love with one person for decades! Too many couples are nostalgic about the first years of their relationship, wishing they still felt that old fervor and zeal. If you could take a gene-altering drug to help sustain intense passion for your partner — to maintain the flame that burned so brightly in the beginning — would you do it?

The more sex a woman has with her partner, the more committed

Posted in news by jenapincott on November 15, 2008

42-15225272The more sex a woman has with her partner, the less attracted she is to other men. That’s the upshot of a study by medical psychologists Ursula Hess, Stuart Brody, and their colleagues, who asked female subjects to report the details of their sex lives and rate the facial attractiveness of twenty-four men. Sexually sated women gave hot guys significantly lower ratings than did women who weren’t having as much sex. Simply put: the more sex women recently had with their partners, the less attracted they were to hunky alternatives. It’s as if biology blinds them to other opportunities.

Several factors may be at play here — and hormones are implicated. As I describe in BLONDES, the hormone prolactin, released after orgasm, makes a person feel sated, at least for awhile (two days, according to some studies, and up to a week according to others). The hormone oxytocin — released when touching, caressing, kissing, and orgasming — makes a woman feel more attached to and trusting of her current partner, even if he’s just a fling (the study didn’t measure relationship strength). Naturally, the more attached a woman feels, the less likely she’ll be on the lookout for another beau. Or it just might be love. A separate study led by evolutionary psychologist John Maner also found that women (and men) in love are automatically less likely to pay attention to the faces of good-looking strangers.

(Of course the whole phenomenon could be a virtuous cycle: the more committed, the more sex — and the more sex, the more committed.)

As a separate and interesting side note, researchers in the sex study also found that depressed women — even those with partners — masturbate more, which the researchers think may either be self-soothing or actually exacerbate depressive symptoms. That, or it just might be that these women are down because they haven’t found the right partners. Perhaps they’ve blinded themselves to other opportunities.

I’d like to know if the same is true for men.

orang-utans prefer blondes, too

Posted in news by jenapincott on November 12, 2008

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According to an amusing Reuters article today, Sibu, an organg-utan in a Dutch zoo, is sexually aroused only by human blondes. Of course, it just might be that Sibu’s primary caregiver, who fed him and reared him, happens to be a blonde. Like many males, he prefers mates who remind him of Mom.

the clued-in cuckold

Posted in news by jenapincott on November 11, 2008

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In the book I write about the overperception bias — that is, the tendency of the average guy to overestimate a woman’s sexual interest, thinking she wants him when in fact she has no interest whatsoever. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s better for a man to overperceive a woman’s interest and get rejected than to underperceive it and miss out on an opportunity to spread his genes.
According to a recent study led by Paul Andrews at Virginia Commonwealth University, men are also more likely than women to perceive — and also overperceive — infidelity in a relationship. When 200 couples filled out confidential questionnaires that asked whether they’d ever had an affair, men detected 75 percent of the reported infidelities and women detected only 41 percent (29 percent of men admitted to cheating, compared with 18.5 percent of women). Not only were men more likely than women to tell if a partner cheated, they were also more likely to accuse a partner of being perfidious even when she was faithful. (Then again, who knows? Maybe women are less likely to report infidelity, even confidentially.)
In the end it all comes down to that old evolutionary bias: Men have evolved to be on the lookout for infidelity as a way of ensuring paternity. On an unconscious level, hthey’re safeguarding their genes. No matter how many people a woman sleeps with, she knows the baby is hers. A guy doesn’t have that certainty, so he compensates with suspicion — which is sometimes justified.

A smart man is just sperm’s way of spreading more sperm

Posted in news by jenapincott on November 6, 2008

super_spermEvolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, author of The Mating Mind and the famous stripper study described in BLONDES, recently found another interesting connection: smart men have better sperm.

Analyzing the data of 425 veterans who took IQ tests and submitted sperm samples, Miller found a statistically significant link between men’s IQ and their sperm quality (higher scorers had higher sperm count and motility). Miller is the biggest propagator of the theory that intelligence is a sexually selected trait. Women, the choosier sex, are attracted to intelligence — expressed in anything from problem-solving to songwriting — because it’s a sign of “sexy” high-quality genes and overall developmental fitness. And because a woman can’t test a man’s sperm directly for these qualities, she has to judge him by what comes out of the head sitting on his shoulders.

Like moths to a flame

Posted in news by jenapincott on November 3, 2008

The hottest new study on attraction shows that men are more attracted to women who wear red. Researchers at the University of Rochester, Andrew Elliot and Daniela Niesta, asked men to rate the attractiveness of women in various experiments: 1.) in a photo bordered by either red or white; 2.) in a photo that contrasted red with a background of gray, green, or blue; and 3.) with a shirt that was digitally altered to be either red or blue.

In all three experiments, the women shown wearing or framed by the color red were considered more sexually desirable by the men (but not more likable, intelligent, or kind). Moreover, when men were asked how much money they’d spend on a date with women in the photos, the guys were more likely to say they’d spend more on the women in red.

The researchers also say that they have preliminary evidence that women are also more attracted to “gentlemen in red” and that “neither sex takes the evolutionary high road.”

Adding a bit of fun is a previous study by the same researchers that found that the color red has a negative effect on IQ test performance.

What about red turns people on (and decreases intelligence)? It could be cultural conditioning; after all, red is the color of love and Valentine hearts. The researchers also suggest that the attraction is an unconscious biological bias for the color signal of sexual excitement: blood-engorged sex organs. Reading the two studies, one wonders if blood drains from the brain to the genitals.

In the study on men’s attraction to red is a line that sounds like a page out of my playbook:

As much as men might like to think that they respond to women in a thoughtful, sophisticated manner, it appears that at least to some degree, their preferences and predilections are, in a word, primitive.

Perhaps there’s another explanation for the red bias. Could it be that the judges are voting Republican?

Science Fantastic

Posted in media by jenapincott on November 2, 2008

Dr Michio Kaku, physicist and author of one of my favorite reads this year, Physics of the Impossible, has a wonderful Talk Radio Network show called “Science Fantastic.

Topics on the show are usually weightier, but today Dr. Kaku decided to turn to love and attraction and Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?. I was delighted to be invited for an hour-long interview and answer questions about the evolutionary underpinnings of porn-watching men and romance-book-reading women, casual sex, dance, beauty, and what women seek in a man. I loved Dr. Kaku’s catchphrase:  Evolution wrote the book of love.

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