Thursday, 5 September 2013

Parental choice determines mating/ marriage in most historical societies

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I have (belatedly) stumbled across the fascinating work of Menelaos Apostolou

http://www.menelaosapostolou.com/

which focuses on the evolutionary significance of the (apparent) fact that in most known historical societies (and indeed in much of the world today) it is parental choice (and not the wishes of participants)  that most strongly determines sexual access.

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For example in "Sexual selection under parental choice in agropastoral societies" Evolution and Human Behaviour  2010; 31; 39-47, he looks across the data on marriage for different types of society such as hunter-gatherer, animal husbandry (herding), agriculture and different mixtures of these - to discover whether marriage was purely arranged by parents, purely by courtship of prospective spouses - a mixture of parent approval confirmed or vetoed by courtship, or vice versa.

Paper available at: http://www.menelaosapostolou.com/papers

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In all types of societies, the parental choice was a stronger influence on women than men; and the proportion of marriages organized primarily by parental arrangement (with or without courtship) was 65% (agric), 82% (animal), 74% (agric-animal), 54% (mixed H&G) and 56% (H&G).

So, most marriages in all societies are mostly chosen by parents, but this is especially the case for the kind of post-hunter-gatherer, herding and agrarian societies which have increasingly dominated the world over the past ten thousand years, or so.

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This means there have been approximately 400 generations (at a rate of 4 generations per 100 years) for human evolution to be shaped by the selection factor of extremely significant parental choice - at least in those parts of the world which have experienced agriculture for the longest.

This in turn implies... well many things!

For a start that many of the signals of attractiveness which draw together men and women in the modern world of almost pure courtship (little influenced by parental preferences) are novel forms of selection.

Further, that humans are not 'well evolved' to choose mates for themselves - in the sense that it has apparently been usual to have marriage partners chosen by parents for as far back in human society as we have the capability to measure.

And finally (for now!) that - to put matters another way - it was the possession of physical and psychological traits that appealed to your future in-laws (and not to your future spouse) which was probably most important in the past; and which therefore shaped human physical and psychological evolution - especially over the past several thousand years.

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Note: Level of punishment for female adultery.

Apostolou also looked at the level of punishment when a woman is discovered to have committed adultery. Three levels were coded: No punishment or light punishment; moderate punishments including beating and divorce; severe punishment such as beating to death.

The results are pretty shocking: No punishment or light punishment were found in only 5 out of 54 of these agropastoral societies; while severe punishments for adultery were found in about two-thirds of these societies - a large majority of 35 out of 54.

It is therefore possible/ probable that significant aspects of heritable human psychology were formed in an evolutionary context with respect to female marital infidelity that was extremely different from now; and that contemporary behaviour may therefore be considered a 'mis-match' phenomenon - perhaps due to ancient psychology operating in a modern context for which it is plausibly functionally maladaptive?


6 comments:

  1. Further, that humans are not 'well evolved' to choose mates for themselves

    Interesting. It's become common knowledge in the alt-Right that women are poor choosers. I wonder if men are too, more than we've realized, and in what ways that manifests itself.

    it was the possession of physical and psychological traits that appealed to your future in-laws (and not to your future spouse) which was probably most important in the past

    This is certainly obvious. Many, many of the things that men are told today are "attractive" to women are actually attractive to her father.

    I wonder to what extent we reactionary Christians should be endorsing a return to parent-arranged marriages. At this time, I don't think I want fully arranged marriages in the South Asian style, but I think it's pretty much a no-brainer that Christian parents, and churches, should be involved in courthsip in ways that they aren't now.

    Something I was thinking about the other week: when (and why) was the transition point in Anglo culture between heavy parental involvement and full independent selection of mates? On the one hand, we've got Pride and Prejudice-style courtship in the early 1800s, which everyone is familiar with; on the other hand, I feel almost certain that men and women were selecting their own mates by the Edwardian era. When and why precisely did the transition happen?

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  2. Maybe men today are better mate-choosers than women today because men were historically heads-of-family and thus the mate-choosers for their offspring, more than women were.

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  3. @SJ "It's become common knowledge in the alt-Right that women are poor choosers"

    Actually they are wrong, because they say *women* (per se) are poor choosers, whereas this is a culture specific phenomenon - and should be interpreted as indicative of societal breakdown rather than revealing something about how women 'really' are.

    "Maybe men today are better mate-choosers than women today..."

    Not sure about this, but probably to a degree this is true; some of the data on fertility suggests that women are more disorientated by modern society (especially the mass media) then men - but I'm not even sure about that.

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  4. I am currently (slowly) reading Clarissa Harlowe, which stresses the veto power women had or should have had over parental husband choice ... in statistical, or game theory terms, that veto power might count almost as much, or more, when distributed over the generations, than the designation power parents are said to have had.
    Based on personal recollection (of several hundred friends and acquaintances born in the US between 1950 and 1975) I would be astounded if either the male or female sex were, from an impartial view, shown to be significantly better or worse at choosing mates than the other sex.

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  5. @sc - And I suppose the opposite applies in some modern families - parents do exert power on choice. When human relationships are involved, there is not likely to be a clear cut system. Nonetheless...

    "I would be astounded if either the male or female sex were, from an impartial view, shown to be significantly better or worse at choosing mates than the other sex."

    I would be astounded if they were *the same*, given how different men and women are physically and psychologically, and in terms of investment of resources into offspring and sexual strategies.Also the fact that they are trying to evaluate quite different attributes.

    (The standard view would be...) Perhaps it is easier for a man, in reproductive terms he would seek a healthy young woman of steady character; a woman would need to try and find a man of high status potential - which is probably harder to estimate, hence the need for male competitions.

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  6. *I would be astounded if they were *the same*, given how different men and women are physically and psychologically, and in terms of investment of resources into offspring and sexual strategies.Also the fact that they are trying to evaluate quite different attributes.
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    Perhaps from a secular perspective. But from a Christian perspective, where the object of marriage is to form a happy, godly family, the number of disastrous female and male choices is exactly the same, as long as monogamy obtains.

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