Critically discuss the relationship between human reproductive behaviour and sexual selection Essay
The sociobiological theory applies principles of evolution to understand relationships; it believes that both males and females are seeking to produce the healthiest offspring possible in order for their genes to survive into the next generation.Sexual partners will be sought who can produce and provide for health children, meaning that characteristics differ in what males and females look for in the opposite sex – makes focus more on sex, get straight to the point, and decide whether they want sex with the person or not almost initially whilst women want the ‘happy ending’ so focus more on loving and the tiny details, gossip about these details whilst overanalysing, are quite materialistic, sometimes tend to be clingy, insecure, and more mature.Darwin says that we evolve through sexual selection, so therefore this is where to survival comes into play – the two types of selection are based upon survival – as natural selection is survival of the fittest whilst sexual selection is survival of the sexiest. There are also two types of sexual selection which are intra and inter – the pressure of this has led to a number of consequences for physical characteristics and behaviour, some being: facial preferences, gender differences in attractiveness, gender differences in jealousy, body symmetry and body shape, and sexual enthusiasm.The first consequences of intra and inter sexual selection is facial preferences as humans tend to be attracted to physically attractive people as these types of people are seen to have good, healthy genes and this is what people want in a partner as they will produce a similarly good looking and healthy offspring with this individual.
Humans may have an innate preference for an attractive face, though, as a study from Langlois et al (1987) found that when babies under 12 months are shown faces that adults consider attractive or unattractive, they spent longer amounts of time looking at the former face showing that they prefer them – however, they have not yet learned cultural standards of beauty as they are too young, supporting the innate idea. Research has shown that certain characteristics are seen as universally attractive: males – square jaw-line, small eyes and hin lips as these portray masculinity, and women – wide eyes, small nose, full lips and high cheekbones because this shows youth, indicating fertility and good looking children. Gender differences in attractiveness are also affected as research suggests that physical attractiveness is more important to males than for females as males use physical attractiveness as an indicator of reproductive fitness to a much greater extent to what women do as they are more interested in fertility whilst women prefer to go for men who are mature and resourceful – such as money, wealth, ambition, high status, and power.A cross-cultural study carried out by Buss (1989) in 37 countries, involving 100,000 people, showed that men seem to give a universally higher priority to good looks in their female partners whilst the situation is reversed when it comes to good financial prospect and good earning capacity.However this study has some flaws because of the fact that it was alpha biased as it hugely exaggerates the gender differences, whilst there may be an alternative reason for women going for resourceful men – women traditionally had to be dependent on the men because of the fact that they didn’t work, so because women still don’t tend to earn as much as males do, they may want to have the male there for support when bringing up their offspring.
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Although, there are some strengths of this study including the fact that it was done in 37 different cultures around the world and therefore can be applied to everyone as its findings were universal – because of all the different cultures there had to be 100,000 people to be accurate in their findings so the large sample means it can be generalised to the whole population.Buss carried out another study into relationships, but this time it was about sex differences in jealousy (Buss et al, 1992) involving undergraduates in America who were observed for physiological responses whilst thinking about their partner being unfaithful either sexually or emotionally.The results of the study found that men are concerned with sexual infidelity while women tend to be more affected by emotional infidelity which was supported when the participants were wired up as men showed heightened distress to thoughts of sexual infidelity to emotional and reverse for women. This supports the theory of gender differences in jealousy and the evolutionary model as it backs up the idea that males don’t want anything to give them the idea that the child is not theirs as this thought will taunt them until they find out 100% if it is their child.The sample used for Buss’s study was bias as it used students, this means that the findings cannot be generalised to the rest of the public, other age groups, because of the fact that it is said that students, usually young adults, are said to be having fun and not looking for anything serious as they are focussing on their studies, whereas other people – such as a 40year old man, for example – would be looking for somebody to settle down with so it does not apply to longer-term relationships.
As the participants were observed on how they reacted to the image of their partners being with somebody else, it cannot be 100% proven how this affects the person because of the fact that it is only looking at how they physically react, therefore is not scientifically proven in the first part of the experiment, however the second part in which they are wired up to machines and tested for signs that they are getting jealous, i. e. high blood pressure, means that it has higher validity as it can be proven.Another issue, however, with this study is that it was only imagining that their partner was interacting with somebody else, therefore they may be over/under-thinking the idea and so results may not be real due to the fact that they might see things different to what the experimenters might, for instance: they may have different definitions of infidelity, so the study is artificial. Another consequence of intra and inter sexual selection is body symmetry and body shape; facial symmetry is also the best predictor of body symmetry.Research indicates that women with symmetrical partners have the most orgasms and women with symmetrical breasts are more fertile than more asymmetrically breasted women, while males and females with near-perfect body symmetry report two to three times as many sexual partners as those with most asymmetrical bodies. However some argue that it may not be symmetry which is attractive but rather being more dominant or having high self-esteem.
Another physical characteristic shown to be universally attractive concerns body shape as Singh (1993) found by carrying out a study called the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) and found that, over a 50 year period, small waist set against full hips was a consistent feature of female attractiveness whilst bust line, overall body weight, and physique varied over the years. He concluded that large WHR indicates fertility. However cross cultural research hasn’t supported Singh’s findings as Singh himself now suggests that WHR may just act as an initial filter to attraction.Sexual enthusiasm is the last consequence from intra and inter sexual selection; sexual enthusiasm is the capacity to be sexually aroused, in which males have a lower arousal threshold than females do. The sociobiological theory believes that men are more eager for sex than women so makes sense for a male to have multiple partners to increase their chances of producing an offspring from any woman that is able to.
A supporting study of this is Clark and Hatfield (1989) who tested American university students by approaching them and asking one of three questions: 1. Would you go out with me tonight? . Will you come over to my apartment? 3. Would you go to bed with me? The study found that males and females have different strategies when deciding who to mate with; both men and women were willing to go on a date with a person they just met, men were 11 times more-likely to agree to visit the person’s apartment, and no women agreed to sex whilst 75% of the men did. This supports the hypothesis that men are more eager to have sex as it shows that men and women have different strategies to choose a mate, they help to provide answers to the ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘how many’ questions of sexual behaviour.There are issues with this study, though, including the fact that it was carried out with American university students – making the sample very difficult to generalise to the rest of the population as it cannot be applied to long term relationships as it was carried out with students who want a fun, short-term relationship, and it may not be able to be generalised to other cultures as it was carried out in the USA and they have different factors in relationships to what some cultures might.
As the study was carried out in a natural environment with normal people, it has quite high validity, however there may have been demand characteristics as people could play up to the role that they believe they should be portraying – for instance: a female may have wanted to go to somebody’s apartment but been scared to do so due to social norms that it may go against. According to Miller, the application of sexual selection theory to human ehaviour has been the greatest success story in evolutionary psychology, therefore show that all research and theories into the relationship between sexual selection and human reproductive behaviour is correct and that we are able to make predictions about the future through looking into the theory; there is lots of supporting evidence such as Clark and Hatfield (1989), Regan et al (2000) etc. so is proven that all assumptions are correct.However there has also been some contradictory research in which comes from Strassberg and Holty (2003) who found that, in personal ads, what sexes look for in potential partners is changing so the roles of sexes are altering. A methodological issue with the research into this theory is that most of it relies on self-reporting methods, such as: questionnaires, keeping notes, etc.
so this means that socially desirable answers can be given which would therefore affect the final results making them unreliable to be generalised to the population.The evolutionary theory provides good practical application as people can predict who they are going to be attracted to so therefore it is useful for magazines, dating websites, etc. so can be good for society. Although, it believes that males look for a young and beautiful woman and that men look for mature and resourceful men so stereotypes quite a lot, so doesn’t explain different types of relationships, such as: women-young men relationships, for example: Madonna and her many younger partners.
But a way this could be explained is that some women just don’t need the resources, so social/cultural factors can change our innate drives and go for those who we are most physically attracted to. In conclusion, sex differences in mate preferences do exist and the theory does offer a plausible explanation for these differences, but the big question is whether this can be explained by evolutionary or social and cultural factors.As the theory is based on the biological approach it only looks at what is inside the body, such as the innate drive, so therefore doesn’t take into account extraneous variables such as situations or other people. This means that it ignores nature factors, too, so it deterministic as it ignores free will; the theory states that this is what we are determined to do and nothing can change this, however examples like Madonna and her young partners have proven this incorrect as she doesn’t need any of the resources or maturity in a man as she is the most dominant in the elationship – this has developed over time as women have become much more independent than, for example, 50 years ago. The theory is gender biased as it exaggerates differences between males and females so it is n issue as it may be that females and females have more similarities than proposed by the theory.
This might also mean that any similarities are ignored, for example: Buss’s cross-cultural research found that kindness and intelligence were rated the highest by both sexes, however he forgot to include this.There are many methodological issues with this theory, including the fact that it has been devices in North America and most of the research was carried out in the USA therefore is culturally biased, except from Buss’s cross-culture study, so much of the research could be explained through social and cultural factors so it is probably likely that it cannot be generalised to collectivist cultures.Another methodological issue is that the principles of the theory is based on animals so means the theory cannot be extrapolated to humans efficiently, meaning that it also reductionist as we do not know whether innate drives are exactly the same within animals and humans. It promotes gender stereotyping that exists in society so can lead to discrimination in participants which can cause great amounts of distress.