April 26, 2006

I've got it bad

There's this one Catalan girl who has the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen -- so beautiful they can't but inspire half-baked stalker poems. :) Better to vent here in English rather than to her in Spanish or Catalan!

* * *

When you begin to awaken,
Your eyes slowly peck open your eyelids
And emerge like two snowy fledglings
From their plum shells,
As if Diana parted the nocturnal clouds
To reveal the full moon.

* * *

April 21, 2006

Never make a pretty woman your wife?

Over at GNXP, there's an informal thread in the comments to posts about females & feminism (here and here). The basic idea is that you can use evo psych to your advantage if you want a date. For example, focus your efforts on females who are shorter, younger, and of lower status than you: you're more likely to appear a good catch. Also, rather than attempt to show how high status you are via bragging, have guy friends -- or better yet, attractive female friends -- approach and congratulate you on something, even if bogus (e.g., "Ha, this guy puts the rest of us to shame at work!"). Praise from others is harder to fake, so she'll eat that up more easily than if you had bragged yourself.

There's also another thread on "tracking" -- as in, separating students into ability groups. The motivation was Judith Rich Harris' new book No Two Alike (which I reviewed here and here, where the tracking thread is). Basically, she shows how personality can be shaped into adolescence, based on what others think of you and then adjusting your personality in light of that information. For example, if you inspected the minds of your peers and found out that, on average, they regard you as a wimp, it doesn't pay to be aggressive and cocky in the competition for status, so dial down your physical aggressiveness and search for a niche less dependent on physical intimidation.

Now, how do these two relate? Well, as designated "sensitive guy" at GNXP (source: GC), it's my responsibility to show how you don't have to use a Machiavellian approach to getting the girls you want. Don't get me wrong: the approach seems to work, and pieces of it are necessary no matter what your overall strategy (e.g., do things that boost your confidence, which is a huge factor in winning over girls). Let's say you're not that great of a catch among your peers, and yet you'd still like to win over a pretty, pleasant girl. Say you're a 6 on a good day, and the girl you're after is an 8. Since humans tend to mate assortatively (the male 9s match up w/ the female 9s, etc.), it's unlikely she'll have even a remote interest in you.

But what if, even though objectively an 8, she regarded herself as only a 6 or 6.5? Then it wouldn't be an exercise in futility to approach her. However, the hard part is finding good catches who don't realize they're good catches. But if we recall Harris' comparison-based view of personality changes, then it's possible -- you just have to look where the population average is higher than in your native population. Consider a military boarding school's effect on the guys there -- even if you're an aggressive badass, so are all your peers. Thus, when you inspect their minds to see what the average peer thinks of you, you'll get a much wimpier self-image than if you surveyed the general population at random. You'd be put in your place.

Returning to looks, all you do is sample a population where the girls are much better looking -- that way, an 8 from your p-o-v might only be a 6 or 6.5 from her p-o-v, and assuming she was raised there through adolescence, her self-image as a 6 - 6.5 will be as stable as any other personality trait. Simplifying for concreteness, assume your score from 1 - 10 is what decile you're in for the population you were raised in through adolescence (e.g., if you were at the 53rd percentile in your native pop, you'd be a 6). Also assume "good looks" is distributed normally. Let's say there's another population where the mean is 1 standard deviation above your native mean. So a girl 1 SD above your native mean, if she came of age in your population, would be at about the 84th percentile, meaning she'd be a 9. By contrast, the same cutoff in the better-looking foreign population would be the 50th percentile, meaning she'd be a 6! Assuming she grew up in your group, on average she'd think she was the bee's knees and behave like a raging snob w.r.t. dating; if she grew up in the foreign group, she'd be humble, even if not desperate.

Now, I gave a marked difference -- 1 SD -- in the means, but note that this isn't unheard of for desirable male traits like height (compare the Vietnamese with the Japanese, let alone the Swedes) or IQ / education (compare the African-Americans to European-Americans, let alone the Ashkenazi Jews). Sure, "good looks" may be more slippery to get one's quantitative hands on, but it's not ineffable. Just poll the world's populations to see how attractive a particular group is on average. As an aside, this also works for XXs who want a tall or smart guy who's also not cocky -- cockiness is predicted by how tall / smart he was in adolescence (see Harris' book for discussion), so if he were 6' tall and grew up in the Netherlands, he wouldn't regard himself as anything special, and thus he'd be more accepting of you even if you're not particularly hot. Ditto for people who have IQ of 115 from various populations.

Nice theory, but does it have any basis in reality? Well, as readers of my many posts on the differences between Spanish & American girls will anticipate: yes (see here, here, here, and here). Anyone who's spent more than a mere day in a foreign country can't help but notice these differences -- if the country you're visiting is hotter, you're struck by how nonchalant and approachable the girls are who you'd consider 8s or 9s; whereas if the country is uglier, you're struck by how perplexingly deluded the girls are who you'd consider 4s or 5s (or for those who don't travel, think of the questionably "pretty" girl in a group of geeks who acts like she's hot stuff). And if you knew of any international students at your college / graduate school, you couldn't help but notice these differences. Ah, and then there are the celebrities -- how crude and how unjustifiably large the egos of our typical Hollywood actresses compared to those from Spain, Italy, or France! (Click links for visuals: safe for work.)

So, that's my non-Machiavellian evo psych solution for the guys (or girls): stick with those who were raised in a country w/ higher average good looks (or height). Note that this doesn't backfire, as guys & girls aren't identical. Though my Spanish male competition is better-looking on average than here, they're also shorter and not as high-status. Likewise, if you're a girl looking for that typical 6' tall Dutch guy, your Dutch female competition is taller than here, but guys don't care about height, so don't worry.


In fact, as pathetic as my dating luck was in college, the two girls who accepted date invitations from me were international students: a (white) Ecuadorian and a Bulgarian. The latter ended up cancelling, as she didn't realize I was much shorter than she was (and I hadn't noticed she was that freaking tall), but still, at least I got my foot in the door. We later worked at the same place on campus and became friends; she was very easy-going and cool. And the Ecuadorian girl, despite being an easy 9 by American standards, was so unassuming and cultured that I was taken quite aback. (Aside: no financial aid given to intl students where I went, thus they were fantastically rich as well, making their conduct even more surprising to me.) We really hit it off (and only stopped talking when the coffee house closed up), but in more of a "potential best friends way," so it didn't go anywhere. Still, that sole encounter with an other-worldly incarnation of beauty and nonchalance was much more than anyone of my status could have asked for. I noticed later on that she'd found a boyfriend -- only slightly on the tall & good-looking side, and otherwise not high-status, rich, or popular. So, her easy-going attitude was a rather stable trait. On the one hand, I'd hoped that she'd choose a tall, rich prick so that it'd be easier to dismiss her and get on with my search -- but on the other hand, though it made it more difficult to get over her, it also opened my eyes to an unexplored world of attractive yet cool girls.

After graduating, I went to Barcelona for three months, and two hot Catalan girls made their, um, intentions known. One I had to decline, since she was a student (she 21 and I 23, nothing sketchy). The other I decided to play it slow with, lest I come off as desperate. Unfortunately, she mistook that for lack of interest and left to hit on some other guy. I mention this not to brag (hardly brag-worthy), but to show how sudden the changes in female attention can be when you sample different populations.

April 11, 2006

Genes for hourglass shape

Razib links to a study looking for genes involved in body shape and obesity, of which they found three. I haven't read it (it's not yet on the web, and I don't have university access in any event), but it would be interesting to see the global frequencies of the allele(s) involved in hourglass shape for females. My guess is that they're more frequent among those of southern European, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent, and least among Northeast Asians and sub-Saharan Africans (who, as Steve pointed out, are more "deep" than "broad" in pelvic shape). As I speculated below, this is the sort of thing that could be a wedge to split apart the fog about how everyone's the same genetically, and that there are no recent selection events in humans.

Awhile ago, I blogged here about how current mating strategies in high pathogen load areas likely reflect recent selection. In brief, Buss & Gangestad found that the higher the pathogen load, the more both sexes emphasized "good looks" in mate selection. So, if there is selection for "good looks" in these places, then the populations could quickly change in average appearance in response to pathogen load. Who knows, maybe the very first generation of admixed Brazilians weren't the sex bombs they're perceived as today. In fact, Donald of 2blowhards blogged here about the changing standards in beauty from Classical to modern times -- namely, the ideal female chin of yesteryear was strong, and only recently has the ideal shifted to a more gracile form.

That could reflect not just changing aesthetic standards but changes in average appearance over the 40 or 50 generations since then, as Razib blogged about here. With respect to pathogen load, the Mediterranean isn't exactly India, but it's no Finland either. The Athenian Plague and the Black Death are two of the more remarkable examples. Perhaps the current high correlation between pathogen load and emphasis on looks obtained in Classical & Medieval times as well -- one possible reason for why Mediterranean girls are so voluptuously hot nowadays.

Now, I couldn't very well post about this topic without some evidence, eh? Another one of my internet friends from Barcelona -- though by blood she's from Extremadura and has a discernably Semitic look to her face. (NB: pictures taken from her public webpage, nothing sketchy on my part. Sorry guys, she's taken.) She's your average post-punk revival, exotically tattooed, warm, extoverted, nonchalant chick -- who happens to look like one of those impossibly curvy Modigliani models. I realize populations are distributed about a mean, but I tell you, the Spanish mean is in a different universe from the American. I tried to focus on her hourglass shape, but her eyes are too exquisite to let pass. She's got the half-moon eyelids that I'm so fond of, but her stare is quite penetrating as well -- they look like venus fly-traps if she's looking straight into the camera. Ahem, enjoy guys.

April 10, 2006

Recent selection for obeying rules

I'm in the middle of The Human Web, and this passage from the chapter covering 1000 - 1500 caught my attention (p. 141-2):

Europeans, in other words, seem to have sustained a more luxuriant growth of autonomous private groups than other societies did. The plow team was probably the cell from which this capability grew. Travelers may notice that people in those parts of Europe where cooperative moldboard plowing once prevailed still obey rules, form queues, and in general trust one another more than do the inhabitants of land where separate families cultivated their fields independently and often distrusted their neighbors because of boundary disputes or the like.
In other words, if you weren't a polite team player in moldboard plowing lands, you were ostracized: you wouldn't be able to grow as much stuff as others (if any at all), which had a huge fitness impact during this time period, as the end of the Medieval Warm Period and the Black Death made it difficult to scrape by even with teamwork. Throughout this book, the authors waffle w.r.t. Darwinian selection as opposed to cultural selection, though I remember reading a parenthetical remark which showed they're not opposed to the notion of recent natural selection in humans. And given the papers that've been coming out on this topic over the past year (which I wrote about here and here), the idea has even more support.

I mention this because I wonder whether it will be important in determining which part of the globe will make the most impressive breakthroughs on recent selection in humans. So far the Americans have been ahead, though the data are drawn from among the three major racial groups, rather than from within, say, Europe, where regional differences and recent history are better understood. Indeed, Europeans can't help but notice national differences in personality, as when a Briton visits Spain or Italy and is perplexed by the local lack of queue-forming ability. Now, we Americans notice even greater differences between the various races that make up our country, but this is less PC to investigate, whereas using molecular and cultural data to test hypotheses about what makes the Mediterraneans (compared to Nordics) more extroverted, queue-deficient, and attractive -- while anathema to the EU's axiom of national sameness -- isn't so offensive to the general intellectual culture. Could they be the wedge?

April 7, 2006

Cherry blossoms in DC

Just a few more pictures while I'm in between writing various things up.