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Using Evolutionary Psychology To Breakdown Pop Music

November 19, 2010

I’d like to take some time and break down a pop song using evolutionary psychology.  Let’s use a song by Justin Bieber as an example.  Let’s try to get into the heads of listeners and learn why this sort of music is so popular.

I just need somebody to love
I, I don’t need too much
Just somebody to love
(Somebody to love)
I don’t need nothing else
I promise girl I swear
I just need somebody to love
(I need somebody I, I need somebody)
(I need somebody I, I need somebody)

It can be tricky to make sense of a song like this.  It almost sounds as if he’s saying that he’ll settle for any girl and that she doesn’t need to be special at all.  “I don’t need too much, just somebody to love.”  If so, that doesn’t make much sense does it?  How could something like that appeal to a woman?  Surely he’s not saying, “Hey girl.  I’m not asking for much.  Any random girl will do.  I just want somebody, ANYBODY, to love.”   So what does he really mean?  What’s this song communicating to these tween women?  What are we missing? Look a little later in the song.
And you can have it all
Anything you want I can bring
Give you the finer things (yeah)
But what I really want I can’t find
Cause money can’t find me
Somebody to love (oh whoa)
Find me somebody to love (oh whoa)
Is she out there
Is she out there

I just need somebody to love

Oh tween girl, where art thou?  Baby I got my lunch money and an extra dollar to get you and me a juice box!  Bringing you the finer things!

Throughout this song, Bieber appeals to major aspects of female psychology and it’s helping him sell millions of records.  He’s exhibiting athletic prowess with his dance moves, he’s signaling commitment, and he’s demonstrating his plentiful resources to provide for her.

Let’s take a look into David Buss’s textbook Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science Of Mind (2007).  I did tell you all about all my new books didn’t I?  *giddy grin* –  *Thumbs through pages* – Ah, here we are.  Chapter 4: Women’s Long-Term Mating Strategies.  It begins,

Nowhere do people have an equal desire for all members of the opposite sex. Everywhere some potential mates are preferred, others shunned. Imagine living as our ancestors did long ago-struggling to keep warm by the fire; hunting meat for our kin; gathering nuts, berries, and herbs; and avoiding dangerous animals and hostile humans. If we were to select a mate who failed to deliver the resources promised, who had affairs, who was lazy, who lacked hunting skills, or who heaped physical abuse on us, our survival would be tenuous, our reproduction at risk. In contrast, a mate who provided abundant resources, who protected us and our children, and who devoted time, energy, and effort to our family would be a great asset. As a result of the powerful survival and reproductive advantages that were reaped by those of our ancestors who chose mates wisely, many specific desires evolved. As descendants of those winners in the evolutionary lottery, modem humans have inherited a specific set of mate preferences  (Buss 106).

1. Generosity:  Bieber is displaying his willingness to share his plentiful resources.

Consider the case of an ancestral woman trying to decide between two men, one of whom shows great generosity to her with his resources and the other of whom is stingy. All else being equal, the generous man is more valuable to her than the stingy man. The generous man may share his meat from the hunt, aiding her survival. He may sacrifice his time, energy, and resources for the benefit of the children, aiding the woman’s reproductive success. In these respects the generous man has higher value than the stingy man as a mate. If, over evolutionary time, generosity in men provided these benefits repeatedly and the cues to a man’s generosity were observable and reliable, selection would have favored the evolution of a preference for generosity in a mate (Buss 108).

Men showing off their wealth, cars, and bragging about their ability to provide is quite common behavior.  It’s how us men compete for mates.

Another indication of the potency of women’s mate preferences comes from their effects on men’s behavior. The theory of sexual selection predicts that the mate preferences of one sex should establish domains of mate competition in the opposite sex. If women value resources, for example, men should compete with each other to acquire and display those resources in mate competition. Many studies document exactly that. In studies of tactics of attraction, men are more likely than women to display resources, talk about their professional successes, flash money, drive expensive cars, and brag about their accomplishments (Buss, 1988b; Schmitt & Buss, 1996). When men derogate their competitors, they use tactics such as indicating that a rival is poor, lacks ambition, and is unlikely to succeed professionally (Buss & Dedden, 1990; Schmitt & Buss, 1996). In studies of deception tactics, men are more likely than women to inflate their status, prestige, and income to potential mates (Haselton, Buss, Oubaid, & Angleitner, 2005).

This is why every rap video is filled with rappers in flashy cars and huge gold chains.

2. Commitment:  Bieber will give her all that he has.

I would take every second every single time
Spend it like my last dime
Step to the beat of my heart
I don’t need a whole lot
Coming for you I admit I’d
Rather give you the world
Or you can share mine
I know I won’t be the first one
Giving you all this attention
So baby listen

The other day I posted about college students and their hook-up behaviors.  I mentioned that I didn’t think most women were comfortable with that sort of thing, and that I rooted my opinion in evolutionary psychology.  Study after study shows that most women seek commitment in partners.

Women long have faced the adaptive problem of choosing men who not only have the necessary resources but also show a willingness to commit those resources to them and their children. This may be more problematic than it at first seems. Although resources can often be directly observed, commitment cannot. Instead, gauging commitment requires looking for cues that signal the likelihood of future fidelity in the channeling of resources. Love may be one of the key cues to commitment.  (Buss 124).

3. Athletic Prowess:  Bieber is showing his dexterity, vitality, and good health with his dance moves and good looks.

One benefit to women of long-term mating is the physical protection a man can offer. A man’s size, strength, physical prowess, and athletic ability are cues that signal solutions to the problem of protection. The evidence shows that women’s preferences in a mate embody these cues. In the study of temporary and permanent mating, U.S. women rated the desirability of a series of physical traits. Women judged short men to be undesirable for either a short-term or a permanent mate (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). In contrast, women found it very desirable for a potential marriage partner to be tall, physically strong, and athletic. A study of women from Britain and Sri Lanka found strong preferences for male physiques that were muscular and lean (Dixon, Halliwell, East, Wignarajah, & Anderson, 2003).

Women also prefer and find attractive men who show the “V-shaped” torso, that is broad shoulders relative to hips (Hughes & Gallup, 2003).

U.S. women consistently indicated a preference for men of average or taller height, roughly 5 feet 11 inches, as the ideal marriage partner. Tall men are consistently seen as more desirable as dates and mates than are short or average men (Ellis, 1992). Furthermore, the two studies of personal ads described earlier revealed that, among women who mentioned height, 80 percent wanted a man to be 6 feet or taller (Cameron, Oskamp, & Sparks, 1978). Perhaps even more telling is the finding that ads placed by taller men received more responses from women than those placed by shorter men (Lynn & Shurgot, 1984). Women solve the problem of protection from other aggressive men at least in part by preferring a mate who has the size, strength, and physical prowess to protect them (Buss 120-121).

This also has a lot to do with the man’s ability to provide.  In the past, a woman needed a man who could hunt and get the family food to eat.  Health and strength were critical factors.

Mating with someone who is unhealthy would have posed a number of adaptive risks for our ancestors. First, an unhealthy mate would have a higher risk of becoming debilitated, thus failing to deliver whatever adaptive benefits he or she might otherwise have provided such as food, protection, health care, and investment in childrearing. Second, an unhealthy mate would be at an increased risk of dying, prematurely cutting off the flow of resources and forcing a person to incur the costs of searching for a new mate. Third, an unhealthy mate might transfer communicable diseases or viruses to the chooser, impairing his or her survival and reproduction. Fourth, an unhealthy mate might infect the children of the union, imperiling their chances of surviving and reproducing. And fifth, if health is partly heritable, a person who chooses an unhealthy mate would risk passing on genes for poor health to his or her children. For all these reasons, it comes as no surprise that women and men both place a premium on the health of a potential mate. In the study of thirty-seven cultures, on a scale ranging from 0 (irrelevant) to +3 (indispensable), women and men both judged “good health” to be highly important. Averaged across the cultures, women gave it a +2.28 and men gave it a +2.31 (Buss et aI., 1990).

Considering that this post has went from Justin Bieber to the psychology of female mating preferences, I might as well briefly talk about some other factors most women look for in a mate.

4. Women seek men who are similar to themselves, share their values, and political viewpoints

Successful long-term mating requires sustained cooperative alliances over time. Similarity leads to emotional bonding, cooperation, communication, mating happiness, lower risk of breaking up, and possibly increased survival of children (Buss, 2003). Women and men alike show strong preferences for mates who share their values, political orientations, world views, intellectual level, and to a lesser extent their personality characteristics. The preference for similarity translates into actual mating decisions, a phenomenon known as homogamy people who are similar on these characteristics date (Wilson, Cousins, & Fink, 2006) and get married (Buss, 1985) more often than those who are dissimilar. Homogamy for physical appearance might be due to “sexual imprinting” on the opposite-sex parent during childhood (Bereczkei, Gyuris, & Weisfeld, 2004). Interestingly, daughters who received more emotional support from their fathers were more likely to choose similar-looking mates. Finally, there is strong homogamy for overall “mate value,” with the “10s” mating with other “10s” and the “6s” mating with other “6s” (Buss, 2003).

5. Women prefer men who like children.


6. Women prefer men who are ambitious and industrious.

How do people get ahead in everyday life? Among all the tactics, sheer hard work proves to be one of the best predictors of past and anticipated income and promotions. Those who say they work hard and whose spouses agree that they work hard achieve higher levels of education, higher annual salaries, and anticipate greater salaries and promotions than those who failed to work hard. Industrious and ambitious men secure a higher occupational status than lazy, unmotivated men (Jencks, 1979; Kyl-Heku & Buss, 1996; Willerman, 1979).
The other day I quoted from Steven Pinker’s book How The Mind Works.  He recounted that during one of David Buss’s lectures, a young college student stood up and said that men were scum.  She said that the only thing on their minds was sex and they were unable commit to a woman.  Well, women can be just as nasty.  In order to attract women, us men have to pretend we love our jobs, even if we hate work.  And if we lose our jobs, study after study shows that women are much more likely to leave us.  So it goes both ways.
U.S. women seem to be aware of this connection, because they indicate a desire for men who show the characteristics linked with getting ahead. In the 1950s, for example, 5,000 undergraduates were asked to list characteristics that they sought in a potential mate. Women far more than men desired mates who enjoy their work, show career orientation, demonstrate industry, and display ambition (Langhorne & Secord, 1955). The 852 single U.S. women and 100 married U.S. women in the international study on mate selection unanimously rated ambition and industriousness as important or indispensable (Buss, 1989a). Women in the study of short- and long-term mating regard men who lack ambition as extremely undesirable, whereas men view lack of ambition in a wife as neither desirable nor undesirable (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Women are likely to discontinue a long-term relationship with a man if he loses his job, lacks career goals, or shows a lazy streak (Betzig, 1989).

7. Women like men with a sense of humor.

Women clearly prefer long-term mates who have a good sense of humor (Buss & Barnes, 1986; Miller, 2000). Humor has many facets, two of which are humor production (making witty remarks, telling jokes) and humor appreciation (laughing when someone else produces humor). In long-term mating, women prefer men who produce humor, whereas men prefer women who are receptive to their humor (Bressler, Martin, & Balshine, 2006). Precisely why do women value humor in a mate? One theory proposes that humor is an indicator of “good genes” (a fitness indicator) signaling  creativity and excellent functioning of complex cognitive skills that are not impaired by a high mutation load (Miller, 2000). Although there is some support for this theory (Bressler et aI., 2006), additional studies are needed.

8. Women like men with a deep voice.

Several studies support the hypothesis that women find a deep voice especially attractive in a potential mate (Evans, Neave, & Wakelin, 2006; Feinberg, Jones, Smith, Moore, DeBruine, Cronwell, et aI., 2005; Puts, 2005). Hypotheses for why a deep male voice is attractive are that it signals (1) sexual maturity, (2) a larger body size, (3) good genetic quality, or (4) all of the above. Evidence that voice attractiveness is important to women in mate selection is indicated by the findings that men with attractive-sounding voices have sexual intercourse earlier, have a larger number of sex partners, and are more often chosenby women as affair partners. These findings, along with direct evidence that women prefer men with a low voice pitch mainly in casual sex partners, suggests that this preference is more central to short-term than to long-term mating (Puts, 2005).

9. Women search for a men who are rich, smart, and good looking.

A second source of findings pertains to women who are in a position to get what they want — women who have the qualities that men desire in a mate such as physical attractiveness (see Chapter 5). What are the mate choices of these women’? In three separate sociological studies, researchers discovered that physically attractive women in fact marry men who are higher in social status and financial holdings than do women who are less attractive (Elder, 1969; Taylor & Glenn, 1976; Udry & Ekland, 1984). In one study, the physical attractiveness of women was correlated with the occupational prestige of their husbands (Taylor and Glenn, 1976). For different groups the correlations were all positive, ranging between + .23 and + .37.

A longitudinal study was conducted at the Institute of Human Development in Berkeley, California (Elder, 1969). Physical attractiveness ratings were made by staff members of then unmarried women when they were adolescents. This sample of women was then followed up in adulthood after they had married, and the occupational statuses of their husbands were assessed.

The results were examined separately for working-class and middle-class women. The correlations between a woman’s attractiveness in adolescence and her husband’s occupational status roughly a decade later was +.46 for women with working-class backgrounds and + .35 for women coming from middle-class backgrounds. For the sample as a whole, a woman’s physical attractiveness correlated more strongly with her husband’s status (+ .43) than did other women’s variables such as class of origin (+.27) or IQ (+.14). In sum, attractiveness in women appears to be an important path to upward mobility; women who are most in a position to get what they want appear to select men who have the qualities that most women desire-men with status and resources.

10. Women prefer older men to younger.

A third source of data on women’s actual mate choices comes from demographic statistics on the age differences between brides and grooms at marriage. Recall that women express a desire for men who are somewhat older. Specifically, in the international study of thirty-seven cultures, on average women preferred men who were 3.42 years older (Buss, 1989a). Demographic data on actual age differences were secured from twenty-seven of these countries. From this sample, the actual age difference between brides and grooms was 2.99 years. In every country, grooms were older on average than brides, ranging from a low of 2.17 years for Ireland to a high of 4.92 years for Greece. In short, women’s preferences for older husbands translates into actual marriages to older men. Actual mating decisions of women accord well with their expressed preferences (Buss 134-135).
There are other subtleties as well.  For now, I’m getting too far off track.  Hopefully by now you can readily see what’s going on in Justin Bieber’s video.

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