August 20, 2010

Do Cougars Exist?

she appears to be whatever age that puts her out of reach

Does modern society really want hot older women with shirtless, hairless college boys?  Time Magazine, always on the cutting edge, says no:

Michael Dunn isn't buying it. The noted psychology researcher at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff has just released a study that he insists renders the cougar craze a "myth." After examining the age preferences expressed in 22,400 singles ads on popular dating websites in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan, he found no sizable cohort of women seeking younger men.

If that were the simple finding I could shake my head at the ignorance, but that wasn't exactly the conclusion that Dr. Dunn wanted to reach, the one which Time Magazine was fortunately too bored to discuss.

First, his results: when he looked at online dating profiles of 22k people, he found that men of all ages preferred women their age or younger; and women of all ages preferred men their age or older.   Oh.  So why is the Discussion section 5 pages long?

It's five pages long because he writes like this:

It would appear that the sex-role reversal lifestyles of the rich and famous as exemplified in the popular press, more specifically pertaining to the tendency for older females to form relationships with younger men, is in no way reflective of the desires evident in the general population. Indeed the toy boy phenomenon may be illusory, being restricted universally to an insignificant elite, as cross-culturally men and women appear to conform to strategies consistent with evolutionary hypotheses.
That's just the first sentence.  No one could read that; Time certainly didn't.  And so they missed his real "conclusions" and why they're wrong.


The study appears in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.  The whole point of this study is to show that mating is "consistent with evolutionary hypotheses. "

Contrary to the evolutionary perspective on sex differences in age preferences are theorists who posit that any sex differences that do exist do so primarily due to both sexes conforming to sociocultural expectations, economic predicaments or "arbitrary norms." By opposing or at least de-emphasising an adaptive strategies interpretation for these differences such theorists by default if not by direct advocacy subscribe to the view that age cues as attractiveness indices may indeed be more flexible cross-culturally and historically with the capacity to change periodically due to for example changing sociopolitical and/or economic conditions.
If you are reading a story in which the words "adaptive strategies interpretation" are used as a noun, then you are experiencing the linguistic equivalent of The Human Centipede:

human centipede.jpg 

One does the talking, everyone else has to eat it.

What he means to say is that there are certain people in this world (e.g. me) who thinks our "mating strategies" aren't guided by evolution but by "sociocultural expectations."  I may be all in on evolutionary theory, but not when it comes to human beings mating, not in 2010, not when the media has already decided how I'm going to talk, think, and feel.   If evolution isn't driving your decision to drink 10 cans of Diet Coke a day, how could it possibly be driving my choice of sex partner, let alone wife?  Birthing hips?  Really?

kim kardashian.jpgI'll pass


Here's where he study goes wrong.

An opportunistic sample of 22,400 participants' age preferences were collected between November 2008 and January 2010... taken from each of the 14 countries and two religious groupings

That's supposed to make you feel like this is a study about human beings, i.e. evolution.  It isn't: guess what isn't one of the 14 countries?  The U.S.  Huh? 

This isn't my nationalism, it's important to the methodology. You can't attack a "social constructivist" hypothesis and leave out the very nation that is doing the constructing.  Yes, I realize that they included Canada which is technically part of Buffalo, but you can't rely on Canadians' stated dating preferences if "Take Any Offer" isn't available as one of the choices.  Damn Canucks coming down here to steal our women.  Strengthen the borders is all I'm saying.

pamela anderson.jpgyou only wish Canadian women looked like this

The use of dating website profiles is also flawed because it does not represent ordinary mating.  It's probably an oversimplification to say "they can't get laid on their own", but it is impossible to take explicitly stated-- i.e. cognitive-- preferences as reflective of instinctual preferences.  If you want to measure innate preferences maybe you can show some pictures but for God's sake, you can't ask them.  "I like a guy with a sense of humor..."  I'll self-servingly assume that's code for "heavy penis."

a-rod.jpgCameron told me he's hilarious


But the biggest problem with the study is its misunderstanding of the significance of the cougar phenomenon.

Men don't want older women; and women don't want younger men, in reality.  They do, or do not, based on the usual things men and women look for in mates.  But middle aged men fantasize that middle aged women are with young men.  The point of it isn't the age difference but the fantasy of wanton sexuality that they (the men) can't participate in.

Evolutionary theory can't explain this.  You have to turn to those media driven "sociocultural expectations" for the insights.   Quoting Marshall McLuhan: "it's way easier to masturbate to horny bitches your age, then it is to penetrate horny bitches your age."