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A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 181

David Buss — When Men Behave Badly: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment, and Assault

When Men Behave Badly: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment, and Assault (book cover)

Sexual conflict permeates ancient religions, from injunctions about thy neighbor’s wife to the permissible rape of infidels. It is etched in written laws that dictate who can and cannot have sex with whom. Its manifestations shape our sexual morality, evoking approving accolades or contemptuous condemnation. It produces sexual double standards that flourish even in the most sexually egalitarian cultures on earth. And although every person alive struggles with sexual conflict, most of us see only the tip of the iceberg: dating deception, a politician’s unsavory sexual grab, the slow crumbling of a once-happy marriage, a romantic breakup that turns nasty. When Men Behave Badly shows that this “battle of the sexes” is deeper and far more pervasive than anyone has recognized, revealing the hidden roots of sexual conflict — roots that originated over deep evolutionary time — which define the sexual psychology we currently carry around in our 3.5-pound brains. Providing novel insights into our minds and behaviors, When Men Behave Badly presents a unifying new theory of sexual conflict, and offers practical advice for men and women seeking to avoid it.

David Buss is professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a past president of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. He is the author of several books including The Evolution of Desire, The Dangerous Passion, The Murderer Next Door, and Why Women Have Sex (co-authored with Dr. Cindy Meston). He has written for publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Psychology Today, and he has made more than thirty television appearances on shows including CBS This Morning, ABC’s 20/20, and NBC’s Dateline and Today, among others. Buss has received numerous awards, which include the Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology by the American Psychological Association (APA), a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and the G. Stanley Hall Award from the APA. Most recently, he received the Association for Psychological Science (APS) Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement (2017).

Shermer and Buss discuss:

  • AP breaking story May 9

    A man opened fire at a birthday party in Colorado, killing six people before killing himself. Police said the suspected shooter was the boyfriend of a female victim at t he party at a mobile home park in Colorado Springs.

  • Explanation disclaimer

    “For indignation is so easy and satisfying a mood that it is apt to prevent one from attending to any facts that oppose it. If the reader should object that I have abandoned ethics for the false doctrine that ‘to understand all is to forgive all,’ I can reply that it is only a temporary suspense of ethical judgment, made because ‘to condemn much is to understand little.’ ”
    —Lewis Fry Richardson

  • Proximate vs. Ultimate causal explanations
  • Even if you argue most causal explanations are “environmental,” e.g., “the patriarchy,” we still need to explain why patriarchy evolved in so many human societies.
  • Why is Evolutionary Psychology still politically charged?
  • How do EP researchers test hypotheses?
  • ”On average” disclaimer about sex differences
  • Sexual jealousy: men and women differ
  • Sexual deception

    Deception involves an understanding of what the opposite sex desires. For instance, on dating websites, men exaggerate their income by roughly 20 percent on average and round up their height by about two inches. Similarly, women on dating websites round their weight down by about 15 pounds.

  • Number of sexual partners preferred

    Even in the most egalitarian countries, men prefer more sexual partners compared to women. In Norway, researchers asked people how many sex partners they would prefer over the next 30 years. On average, women preferred five, men preferred 25.

  • Kissing before intercourse

    Even the desire to kiss before intercourse differs between the sexes. About 53 percent of men report that they would have sex without kissing, while only 14.6 percent of women would have sex without kissing.

  • Choosiness vs. less discerning

    Studies of online dating, for example, find that most men find most women to be at least somewhat attractive. In contrast, women, on average, view 80% of men as below average in attractiveness. Another study found that on the dating app Tinder, men “liked” more than 60% of the female profiles they viewed, while women “liked” only 4.5% of male profiles.

  • Perceived cues of sexual interest

    Sexual mistakes are viewed differently. Research indicates that when asked to reflect on their sexual history, women are more likely to regret having had sex with someone, while men are more likely to regret having missed out on sexual opportunities.

  • What men and women look for in a mate

    For same-sex friends, men and women prioritized personality and social intelligence. For opposite-sex friends, though, men assigned greater value on attractiveness, whereas women placed greater value on economic resources and physical prowess.

  • Back-up mates and cheating

    Why do people cheat on their romantic partners? For men, it appears that the main reason they stray is the desire for sexual variety. In fact, men who cheat are just as happy in their marriages as men who are faithful. In contrast, women who stray are often unhappy. Women who have affairs often want to detach themselves from relationships in which they are unsatisfied and seek a better partner. In fact, only 30 percent of men report falling in love with their affair partners, while for women it is 79 percent.

    “Many men are burdened by lust for a variety of different women, constant cravings that cannot ever be fully satisfied … It explains why a handsome movie star such as Hugh Grant would have sex with a prostitute, despite having Elizabeth Hurley, a gorgeous model and actress, as his then steady girlfriend.”

  • Attractiveness mismatch and cheating
  • The evolution of sex differences: physical and psychological
  • Sex, as defined by biologists, is indicated by the size of our gametes.
  • Mother’s baby, father’s maybe
  • Jealousy

    Although both men and women philander, get jealous, mate guard and mate poach, in the context of expanding women’s reproductive rights and men’s attempt to restrict them, male jealousy and mate guarding — whether through vigilance or violence — are strong causal factors. (Studies show, for example, that in the U.S. more than twice as many women were shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance than were murdered by strangers using guns, knives, or any other means, and that women make up the majority of victims of intimate partner/family-related homicides.) From stalking to chastity belts to female genital mutilation, throughout history men have tried to control women’s sexuality and reproductive choices. And women have developed several strategies in response: contraception, abortion, clandestine affairs, mariticide (killing one’s husband), and infanticide.

  • Long-term vs. short term mating strategies
  • Moral progress in rape and sexual assault
  • The Dark Triad that leads to violence

    Narcissism (entitled self-importance), Machiavellianism (strategic exploitation and duplicity) and Psychopathy (callousness and cynicism)

  • Sexual harassment perceptions

    Unsurprisingly, men and women react to sexual harassment in ways that accord with evolutionary psychology. When men were asked how they would feel if their co-worker of the opposite sex asked them to have sex, 67 percent of men said they would be flattered and only 15 percent said they would be insulted. In contrast, 63 percent of women said they would be insulted and only 17 percent said they would be flattered.

From The Moral Arc: As an example of the long history of sexual violence, which was sanctioned in the Bible, recall the story of what happened when Moses assembled an army of 12,000 troops as recorded in Numbers, 31:7–12:

They warred against Mid′ian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and slew every male. They slew the kings of Mid′ian … And the people of Israel took captive the women of Mid′ian and their little ones; and they took as booty all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods. All their cities in the places where they dwelt, and all their encampments, they burned with fire, and took all the spoil and all the booty, both of man and of beast. Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses.

That sounds like a good days pillaging, but when the troops got back, Moses was furious. “What do you mean you didn’t kill the women?” he asked, exasperated, since it was apparently the women who had enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful with another God. Moses then ordered them to kill all the women who had slept with a man, and the boys. “But save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man,” he commanded, predictably, at which point one can imagine the thirty-two thousand virgins who’d been taken captive rolling their eyes and saying, “Oh, God told you to do that, did he? Right.” Was the instruction to “keep the virgins for yourselves” what God had in mind by the word “love” in the “love thy neighbor” command? I think not. Of course, the Israelites knew exactly what God meant (this is the advantage of writing scripture yourself — you get to say what God meant) and they acted accordingly, fighting for the survival of their people. With a vengeance.

Consider the morality of the biblical warlords who had no qualms about taking multiple wives, adultery, keeping concubines, and fathering countless children from their many polygamous arrangements. The anthropologist Laura Betzig has put these stories into an evolutionary context by analyzing the Old Testament. She found no less than 41 named polygamists, not one of which was a powerless man. “In the Old Testament, powerful men — patriarchs, judges, and kings — have sex with more wives; they have more sex with other men’s women; they have sex with more concubines, servants, and slaves; and they father many children.” And not just the big names. According to Betzig’s analysis, “men with bigger herds of sheep and goats tend to have sex with more women, then to father more children.” Most of the polygynous patriarchs, judges, and kings had two, three, or four wives with a corresponding number of children, although King David had more than eight wives and twenty children, King Abijah had 14 wives and 38 children, and King Rehoboam had 18 wives (and 60 other women) who bore him no fewer than 88 offspring. But they were all lightweights compared to King Solomon, who married at least 700 women. There were Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women he married, then for good measure added 300 concubines, which he called “man’s delight.” (What Solomon’s concubines called him was never recorded.)

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