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‘Blatant benevolence and conspicuous consumption’ – Evolutionary Psychology hit and miss theory. I think they missed with this one.

Posted by Adrian on August 9, 2007

Evolutionary psychology has kept a steady presence in popular culture, namely because Evolution psychology is designed to be popular culture science. It’s an easy science to understand, as far as the basics of human interaction, in which Evolution psychologists base their theories on early human evolution, which they believe answers a lot of our cultural and society complexities in the present time. To put it simply, evolutionary psychologists look at the brain as a modular set up, formed over million of years, each modular aspect of the brain is designed for specific tasks; conditions in the environment set off a ‘trigger’ or effect the part of the brain designed to react to that environmental challenge.

The pop culture basis, the most assessable and the most popular aspect of evolutionary psychology is the sexual desire mystery. That evolution psychologists proponents claim they have cracked or demystified the sexual attraction code. Of course this all goes back to evolution (survival of the fittest), we attract a certain mate that we feel will give us healthy children. Evolutionary psychologists make an educated guess with what happened in our ancestral past, they then reverse engineer that speculation so they can try to understand the complex mating rituals of our culture today.

But, the problem is the simplicity in their findings. If you had a Evolution Psychology handbook on how to date, pick up, get laid you would be disappointed every time. It’s a rigid science, smart at times albeit speculative and rarely or throughly tested.

Recently the printed an article Evolutionary Psychology: Blatant benevolence and conspicuous consumption, with the subheading, “Charity is just as “selfish” as self-indulgence”.

The gist of the article is the peacock tale scenario, in this case the brain. Where your reputation is enhanced or status improved by giving to charity, you don’t really care about some hungry kid in Africa. But you do it, so that the girl you are dating will think you are some altruism hotshot, a smaller version of the philanthropist Bill Gates. From the article,

“That is characteristic of the consequences of sexual selection. An individual shows he (or she) has resources to burn—whether those are biochemical reserves, time or, in the human instance, money—by using them to make costly signals. That demonstrates underlying fitness of the sort favoured by evolution. Viewed this way, both conspicuous consumption and what the researchers call “blatant benevolence” are costly signals. And since they are behaviours rather than structures, and thus controlled by the brain, they may be part of the mating mind.”

So in other words, my charitable non rewarding altruism, as far as no returned favour from the person receiving my charitable gift, is designed primarily for me to get laid. Because hopefully, my actions will be viewed by a female which will in turn flick a switch on in her mating mind?

It’s crazy logic, but apparently it has been tested with two test groups. One group was given pictures of ‘attractive’ members of the opposite sex, the other group pictures of buildings and they were required to write about the weather.
“The participants were then asked two things. The first was to imagine they had $5,000 in the bank. They could spend part or all of it on various luxury items such as a new car, a dinner party at a restaurant or a holiday in Europe. They were also asked what fraction of a hypothetical 60 hours of leisure time during the course of a month they would devote to volunteer work.

The results were just what the researchers hoped for. In the romantically primed group, the men went wild with the Monopoly money. Conversely, the women volunteered their lives away. Those women continued, however, to be skinflints, and the men remained callously indifferent to those less fortunate than themselves. Meanwhile, in the other group there was little inclination either to profligate spending or to good works. Based on this result, it looks as though the sexes do, indeed, have different strategies for showing off. Moreover, they do not waste their resources by behaving like that all the time. Only when it counts sexually are men profligate and women helpful.”

In it’s reasoning a silly experiment. First of all, of course if a spare $5,000.00 drops into your account you are going to either spend it, or invest it – depending on the individual. Ok, so the group (males) see their perspective dates. They spend, and not give a damn about the needy. But that is what money and purchasing does, whether there is a ‘hot date’ or not. The point is, the mating aspect or the ‘showing’ the ‘peacock tale’ in some ways doesn’t even matter. Why would it? Is the $5,000.00 guaranteed to impress your ‘hot date’? Hard to say, maybe, or maybe she is a little more wise to the game. Either way she may not want to carry your babies and DNA? The most reliable aspect a wealthy guy could do with his money and have guaranteed results is see a high class prostitute and she certainly won’t carry his children. Money generally gives you more leverage or power. Money, power and wealth don’t necessary mean you are overstimulating your ‘mating mind’. In some ways you are far more vulnerable, to extortion, con people (women and men). It would be extremely simplistic and flawed to assume that people with money that give to charity, or women that work in charity do this primely for the other sex to notice. Did Bill Gates donate huge amount of his profits to charity to have more admiring women want to bed him? Unlikely. If anything his altruism was to increase and represent the profile of his company Microsoft, to gain more recognition hence more sales – product or brand advertising.

The poor Joe Blow in the street shouldn’t bother competing with a poorly tested and controlled psychology experiment. Why should he feel anxious with his girlfriend and the guy behind him drops $5 into the busker’s guitar case, and Joe didn’t even muster up 10 cents. Did the ‘peacock’ mating mind shine for the $5 man?

Evolution psychologists sometimes tend to formulate experiments that will provide the results they want to see, in other words poorly tested. To force the hand of favorable results, for example in the experiment the other group didn’t spend any money and nor could be bothered with the needy. They were bored at looking at photos and thinking of the weather, they became borderline depressives probably; who wouldn’t staring at pictures of buildings and making notes about the weather – without any perspective social interaction whether male or female.

Not everything is connected to the proliferation of replicating our genes.

But poor women, get ready for this your self sacrifice and chartable behavior attracts your mate:

“These two studies support the idea, familiar from everyday life, that what women want in a partner is material support while men require self-sacrifice. Conspicuous consumption allows men to demonstrate the former. Blatant benevolence allows women to demonstrate the latter. There is, however, a confounding observation. The most blatant benevolence of all, that of billionaires giving away their fortunes and heroes giving away (or at least risking) their lives, is almost entirely a male phenomenon.”

So next time you see a woman volunteering at the homeless shelter, it’s not she cares for those stinking bums, only she is doing this to show you how maternal and nurturing she is, she is sending out a signal of good wife material.

And when we drop our hard earned pay (reluctantly) into some ‘needy’ fund, we don’t give a f*** about the cause – save the animals, or help some family dying in Africa. We (males) are only interested that women will notice our ‘good’ deed – by sending out a biological signal of fitness.

In conclusion a bizarre hypotheses, the Evolutionary Psychology theory of ‘Blatant benevolence and conspicuous consumption’ has been banged out without much thought.

article “Charity is just as “selfish” as self-indulgence”


One Response to “‘Blatant benevolence and conspicuous consumption’ – Evolutionary Psychology hit and miss theory. I think they missed with this one.”

  1. Scott said

    No, you can do things for more than one reason.

    I may choose to go to a party for both cake and ice cream, but not for either alone. Similarly, I may volunteer at a homeless shelter both to help the needy *and* gain social prestige.

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