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Sex Appeal, Debt, and Deceit: The Science of a Saturday Night
By Heath Shive
Are you the sexiest beast in town? Congratulations!
But there is also a price.
The biology that's hard-wired into our bodies drives us to action. All actions have consequences. One of the consequences is debt...as no doubt you have experienced after a weekend out.
To the science of Saturday night and its bio-economics!
Players Are Poor?
In 2008, Daniel Kruger released a paper that showed that the more sexually active a man was – thus “successful” in evolutionary terms – the more likely he had large credit card debt. The group tested was comprised of men between the ages of 18 to 45, from different zip codes, incomes, and marital status. But the results were the same. The men who admitted to the largest number of sexual encounters also admitted to having the smallest savings and higher debt.
Higher mating success correlated directly to higher financial consumption.
Mating Needs Money?
Kruger's study is cited - among many others - by psychologists Glenn Geher and Scott Kaufman in their amazing book Mating Intelligence Unleashed. Despite the goofy title, this book is the most comprehensive text on the subject of evolutionary psychology (“mating intelligence”) today!
Geher and Kaufman pointed to Kruger’s study for a reason: to show that deceit can be part of a mating strategy too.
Kruger’s study showed that “wealth signals” – expressed as higher consumption – were not the same as real wealth. By definition, someone who spends everything doesn’t have “wealth,” they have the opposite – called “debt.”
You don’t own a car or house until you make the last payment. You can lose your job. Debt can ruin your credit score. But high financial consumption still “signals” wealth and so can be an effective mating strategy.
Women Use Money and Deceit Too?
Yes, women can be guilty of deceitful mating strategies as well!
For starters, women spend much more money than men on makeup and clothing. Creams and moisturizers can hide wrinkles and smooth skin. High heel shoes lift the buttocks and tone the calves. Hair dye conceals the gray. Makeup can enhance sensuality. Provocative clothing (high heels, short skirts, décolletage, etc.) are ways of provoking a sexually exciting response…even when she herself is not in a sexually aroused state.
In another study, researchers found that women could lie about other things to provoke male desire. For example, she could lie about wanting a short- or long-term relationship, about wanting children, or even how much she likes sex!
Deceiving Is Believing?
There’s an old maxim: Fake it till you make it. And sometimes we fool ourselves!
In a study - by researchers Saad and Vongas (2008) - male subjects were given two cars to drive: a “clunker” and a Porsche. Their testosterone levels were measured afterwards. After driving the Porsche, the subjects’ testosterone levels were boosted!
Higher financial consumption is not only more attractive, it can genuinely make you feel sexier too!
So in a way, our spending can deceive us too.
Just because a strategy can be effective doesn’t mean that it’s for the best. Debt is poison to long-term finances. You need savings to build wealth.
Deceiving people with a false sexual allure is not going to be successful in the long-term either. That’s why we have reputations. Is such deceit a sound basis for a relationship?
The mating instinct drives us. What price are we really willing to pay?
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Buss, D.M. The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. Basic Books, 2003.
Geher, Glenn and Kaufman, Scott. Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love. Oxford University Press, 2013.
Haselton, M. G., Buss, D.M., Oubaid, V., & Angleitner, A. (2005). Sex, lies, and strategic interference: The psychology deception between the sexes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 3-23.
Kruger, D.J. (2008) Male financial consumption is associated with higher mating intentions and mating success. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 603-612.
Saad, G., & Vongas, J. (2008). The effect of conspicuous consumption on men’s testosterone levels. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 110, 80-92.
Fifteen Pretty Cool Facts About Pumpkins
By Heath Shive
America is pretty pumpkin-crazy from September through November. In 2012, American Studies Professor Cindy Ott wrote an exhaustive book entitled Pumpkins: The Curious History of an American Icon - which details how the pumpkin went from poor people's food to an autumn idol of Americana.
From her book, here are some facts for your pumpkin “fix.”
1. The word pumpkin is a derivation of the French pompion, which comes from the Latin pepo, meaning to ripen, or “cook by the sun.” Before Europeans colonized the Americas, a pompion connoted a large fruit, melon or gourd – basically, anything round in a garden.
2. Although Americans today commonly refer to the pumpkin as a vegetable, it is by definition a fruit! It is a seed packet encased in flesh and develops from a flower, like apples and berries.
3. The pumpkin is probably the oldest domesticated plant in the Western Hemisphere! Archaeologists discovered the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds in a cave at Guilá Naquitz, Oaxaca, Mexico. The seeds date from 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, which is 2,000 years earlier than the oldest corn or bean seeds yet found!
4. What we call a “Pumpkin” today was domesticated by American Indians living in eastern North American about 5,000 years ago. Their yellow and green squashes were the source for the species Cucurbita pepo. The modern field pumpkin (your jack-o’-lantern) is born from the species Cucurbita pepo!
5. Here’s where it gets a little weird. The orange field pumpkin is derived from species Cucurbita pepo – and so is the zucchini! Zucchini, acorn squash, patty pan squash, and the classic orange field pumpkin are all the same species! They’re just different varieties (cultivars).
6. But there’s more than one species of pumpkin! The other great pumpkin species is Cucurbita moschata. From C. moschata, we also get butternut squash, winter crookneck, and the famous Dickinson pumpkin (the best pumpkin for pies). C. moschata dates date back to 6,900 years ago and was born in Mexico. The pumpkin species C. moschata is the pumpkin you touch more often, because it’s the pumpkin you eat – not the pumpkin you carve.
7. That’s right! Your jack-o’-lantern and your pumpkin pie are made from two different kinds of pumpkin! Your jack-o’-lantern is made from Cucurbita pepo, but your pumpkin pie is made from Cucurbita moschata. This fact is often overlooked so that some people believe that pumpkin pie is actually made from squash. No, no, no! Pumpkin pie is made from pumpkins - just a different species of pumpkin, the Dickinson pumpkin of Cucurbita moschata!
8. To be more precise, about 90% of the pumpkin eaten in the United States is made from the Dickinson pumpkin, a pumpkin variety of C. moschata. Dickinson pumpkins are famous for having the most flesh and the best taste. Libby’s – the most popular brand of canned pumpkin – makes all of its canned pumpkin from a variety of the Dickinson called “Libby’s Select.”
9. Incidentally, the word squash is derived from the Algonquian language of Native America. Squash and pumpkins were called isquoutersquash or askutasquash, summer squash and winter squash respectively. Squash means “to eat raw.” Pumpkins were included with askutasquash.
10. One of the greatest assets of pumpkin and winter squash was their ability to be preserved over the winter, when other food was scarce. Memoirs of French voyageurs describe how American Natives would cut the pumpkin into slices and string them up to dry. It would last for months and was eaten like beef jerky.
11. All colonial farms had pumpkin patches by the 1700s. The pumpkins were famous for bearing a large number of large fruits that could last all winter. Pumpkins were crucial to colonial survival. As Cindy Ott describes, “When people had no apples for pies, barley for beer, or meat for supper, they could substitute the prolific pumpkin.”
12. In the early 1800s, pumpkins were derided as a “poor people’s food.” By this time, pumpkins were used principally as food for cows and pigs.
13. As squashes acquired respectability as a food and commodity, they became a part of the modern world. The pumpkin was different. Because the pumpkin – the field pumpkin in particular –retained its association with the subsistence farm economy, it remained a powerful symbol of nature.
14. By the late 1800s, the only time most people ate pumpkin was for Thanksgiving. The pumpkin pie became a Northern tradition – and so its symbolic power increased.
15. The pumpkin became more and more powerful as a symbol - for the harvest season, from Halloween to Thanksgiving. By 2007, 87 percent of pumpkins were not even eaten but were put on display as Halloween and autumn decorations. The pumpkin is now an American icon.
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Ott, Cindy. Pumpkins: The Curious History of an American Icon. University of Washington Press, 2012.
“Peacocking” and the Von Restorff Effect: The Science of Standing Out
By Heath Shive
Back in the 2000s, there was (and might still be) a legion of people on the internet identifying as pickup artists.
The most famous pickup artist (PUA) of them all was a man named Mystery, who was the central character of the best-selling book The Game by Neil Strauss.
Mystery popularized the idea of "peacocking” – the use of flair and wild dress to invoke interest. He would enter bars with rings on all his fingers, platform shoes, black fingernails, and a crumpled black velvet hat.
The point was to first get noticed – only then could a PUA begin to cultivate interest.
In psychology, the von Restorff effect predicts that the stimulus that differs the most from others is most likely the stimulus remembered.
More different is more memorable.
During the 2000s – following the lead of the PUA gurus – God-only-knows how many men were walking into bars with rings, rhinestone glasses, and shaved heads.
It’s easy to notice such men – but people ignore Science at their own peril.
To the science!
The von Restorff Effect
The von Restorff Effect is named after Hedwig von Restorff. She is the most famous (though not the first) early researcher on the role of distinctiveness on memory.
Von Restorff’s most obvious contribution was that the distinctiveness of an item depends on a strong similarity among the non-isolated items.
Read the following list: 1, 2, 3, 4, purple, 6, 7.
Easy to see that the word purple stands out. All other items on the list are numbers, thus strongly similar.
Distinction Can Be a Bad Thing Too
Now read this list: otter, raccoon, tarantula, penguin, giraffe.
Now which word stands out? Most likely you say tarantula. But why? Haven’t you noticed that giraffe is also very different? The giraffe is an herbivore, all the others are hunters.
But tarantula has a greater emotional response than giraffe.
Psychologist R. Reed Hunt - who wrote a great summarization of the subtleties of the von Restorff effect – reminds us that equating “perceptual salience with distinctiveness blurs a fundamental distinction.”
In other words, difference is dissimilarity with the surroundings; but distinctiveness is the “psychological effect of dissimilarity.”
So you can be a vivid memory, but what is your psychological effect? Are you distinctly...awful?
Mystery and his hat-wearing, purple-boa sporting crew went into urban night clubs – places where they could be different…but not in a bad way.
When I read The Game, not once did I read of Mystery and his gang walking into a country-western bar or biker bar or a bar next to a Marine base – places where their flair would be a bad distinction.
For that matter, I never read of them going to Trent Reznor or Marilyn Manson concerts – where their wild clothing would make them strongly similar (conform) rather than isolate them distinctly.
In other words, “peacocking” must be tailor-made – done in a specific way in specific crowds for specific effects.
Standing out can make you distinct – and it can make you an easier target too.
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Hunt, R. Reed . (1995). The subtlety of distinctiveness: What von Restorff really did. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 2(1), 105-112 (Accessed 15 Oct 2018)
Strauss, Neil. The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. Reganbooks, 2005.
Dark Matter: The Ghost Right Next to You Is Big As the Universe
By Heath Shive
Right next to you. Right now. There is a ghost as big as the universe.
You cannot see it. No device or instrument on Earth can detect it. But it is there.
It is called dark matter.
Dark matter and dark energy comprise the majority of the universe. By the numbers, 68% of the universe is comprised of dark energy, 27% is dark matter, and only about 5% of the universe is detectable by modern science. As one NASA article said, “More is unknown than is known.”
If Undetectable, How Do We Know About Dark Matter?
Early astronomers had noticed that stars were not evenly distributed and instead seemed to form patches and “clouds.” By the early 20th century, astronomers realized that the “clouds” were actually different galaxies – which meant the Milky Way was not the whole universe.
Even weirder, these galaxies seemed to form clusters which spun around an unseen axis.
In the early 1930s, Swiss physicist Fritz Zwicky made measurements of the Coma galaxy cluster. By measuring the star density, he could estimate the total mass of the galaxies. He then measured how fast the galaxies were spinning.
But the galaxies were spinning far too quickly! They should be flying apart! But they were stable.
Galaxies Spin, So What?
Let me borrow an illustration made by Michael Brooks in his book “13 Things That Don’t Make Sense.” Imagine that you have a tennis ball on the end of a rope. Now imagine that you are spinning while holding that rope. Now the ball is spinning in a constant orbit at a constant height.
Now put a bowling ball on the end of the rope! Now imagine how fast you would have to spin to have the bowling ball fly in the same orbit as the tennis ball. You would have to spin much, much faster, right?
The greater the mass, the faster you have to spin to maintain orbit.
Zwicky noticed that the galaxies were spinning at a far greater velocity than their size would indicate. They should fly apart! But they were stable. Zwicky concluded that the galaxies were actually much, much denser – with an enormous mass that science could not detect.
Dark Matter Discovered
Zwicky couldn’t see the extra mass. It was invisible. This invisible mass was an order of magnitude greater than the visible mass! This was the first true discovery of dark matter.
Dark matter and dark energy form the majority of the universe. They cannot be seen. They do not create any measurement in the electromagnetic spectrum – and thus are not detectable by any technology that humans possess!
They are ghosts – ghosts as big and wide as the universe.
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Brooks, Michael. 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time. Doubleday, 2008.
“Dark Energy, Dark Matter.” Nasa.gov. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Accessed 15 October 2017. https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy/
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.