Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Men's Preference for Financial Risk and Women's Preference for Masculine Faces and Intelligence

Following on from the theme of my previous post...evolutionary biology offers incredible new insights into our understanding not only of health and disease, but also human behavior.

The current and previous issues of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior have many great examples of this. I want to highlight just three. Consider first this article, which examines the role of testosterone in male risk preferences. Here is a sample:

The findings of this study suggest an association between activational effects of testosterone and, possibly, its organizational effects during puberty and behaviors related to risktaking in men. Men with higher levels of circulating testosterone and masculine faces are more likely to make risky financial decisions.

....Monetary transactions are a recent phenomenon in human history, but the acquisition and accumulation of resources by men is not. Money is, in this sense, a proximal currency used to maximize returns in some other currency, such as utility or fitness (Daly & Wilson, 2002). Men may have evolved to engage in riskier behaviors compared to women because the potential returns in terms of fitness payoffs can be higher. A woman's reproductive success is limited by the number of offspring she can produce whereas in men it is limited by the number of partners he can attract. Increased resources in men may translate into both increased mating opportunities and increased child survivorship. Indeed, studies have found that women find wealth to be an attractive quality when choosing a mate and value it more than men do in potential mates. Therefore, there may have been increased selection pressure on men to maximize resource acquisition in order to attract members of the opposite sex.

We suggest that one possible way for a man to increase his resources relative to other men would be to engage in risky financial investments with the possibility of lucrative monetary returns. Since men differ in the degree to which they are willing to trade off expected value against variance, they will also differ in their resulting financial payoffs.

Having greater financial payoffs can result in greater access to resources and, thus, greater ability to attract women. Potentially, financial risk-taking might be comparable to other risky male behaviors associated with reproduction. For example, males of many species engage in direct male–male competition over both resources and mates, and this behavior is often activated by testosterone during the breeding season (Balthazart, 1983; Harding, 1981). In light of financial risk being a potential form of male–male competition, there are clear reasons to expect that men with higher levels of circulating testosterone would be more economically risky as evidenced by our study.

And the current issue of the journal has this piece which examines why women prefer masculine faces. Here is the abstract:

Women's preference for masculine faces varies with hormonal state, sociosexuality, and relationship status, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. We hypothesized that hormones and psychosexual factors (sociosexuality, sexual inhibition/excitation) mediate the perception and evaluation of male faces thereby influencing women's preferences. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity in 12 women as they evaluated pictures of male faces (half 30% masculinized, half 30% feminized). Participants were heterosexual women, age 23–28 years, who were not in a committed relationship and not using hormonal contraception. Women were tested during both the follicular and luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. We found five brain regions related to face and risk processing that responded more to the masculinized than to the feminized faces, including the superior temporal gyrus, precentral gyrus, posterior cingulate cortex, inferior parietal lobule, and anterior cingulate cortex. Increased activation in the anterior cingulate cortex, specifically, may indicate that women perceive masculinized faces to be both more risky and more attractive. We did not see any areas that were more strongly activated by feminized faces. Levels of activation were influenced by hormonal and psychosexual factors. The patterns of hormonally and psychosexually mediated neural activation observed may offer insight into the cognitive processes underlying women's partner preferences.

But those men that do not possess masculine faces need not despair! For this article suggests that intelligence and creativity also play a big factor in mate appeal.