RNDP 21: This Week's Developments

Game theorists at University College London, University of Warwick and the London School of Economics and Political Science have found an explanation for why dating can take so long. Their conclusion? "Courtship enables a male to signal his suitability to a female and enables the female to screen out the male if he is unsuitable as a mate."

These researchers raise an interesting question. Why do humans spend as long as they do choosing mates?

One partner - often the male - may pay the greater part of the financial cost, but to both sexes there is a significant cost of time which could be spent on other productive activities. Why don't people and other animals speed things up to reduce these costs?
- Mathematician Robert Seymour

How did they answer this question? They built a mathematical model based on a number of assumptions that include:
  • Women are trying to avoid mating with "bad" mates, but can't tell who is "good" from surface characteristics;
  • Men whether good or bad, will mate with any women; and
  • A "good" man will not give up on a courtship as early as a "bad" man will.
From a female's point of view, males are not all equal. A female would like to mate with a good male, but cannot tell a male's type from his appearance alone. The strategic problem the female faces is how to screen out bad males, and this is where long courtship comes into play. A male is assumed to always want to mate with a female, but a good male is more willing to pay the cost of a long courtship in order to claim the prize of mating. This leads to an outcome in which the female is not willing to mate immediately, but instead requires the male to wait for an indeterminate time before she agrees to mate with him. During this time, the male may give up on courting the female.
- Dr Peter Sozou

This is one of those studies that makes me want to play with the software and modify the assumptions. For example, if "bad" men knew that giving up signaled they were bad, and "good" men knew they were hot properties and could get action elsewhere, and maybe also cared whether they were with a "good" or "bad" partner, could we still wind up with long courtships? Even though it meant that the women were likely to wind up with bad partners?

In other news, social neurobiologist Dr Larry Young at the Yerkes National Primate Center reports that there is still no workable love potion.

1 comment:

coyote said...

Awww. Isn't it cute when mathematicians try to use their discipline to unravel the really imponderable mysteries of the universe?

I hope Bob & Pete get dates sometime... soon.