I recently rented a discovery channel special on the science of sex appeal. This coupled with an amazing book my girlfriend got me for Christmas, The Artificial Ape, have got me thinking about human evolution. To those who know me personally, this is no big suprise as many of my friends say I should have gotten a degree in anthropology or sociology. Anyway, I realized that the concept of natural selection does not apply to the human species, with a few exceptions. One of the bits in the show I rented was a pole on the correlation of income and sexual attractiveness. They showed this by doing an “on the street” survey. They showed women a stat card of a man who was deemed to be unattractive. The first time they did this they showed a picture of the man as well as his job and income, which was around 30,000. On a scale of 1 to 10 the women rated him as a 3 or 4. When they showed the same picture to women with his job being a management position that paid around 80,000, he was rated as a 6 or 7. Now this is far from scientific, but it did show a basic trend in the human species, social power and money can overcome physical attractiveness, but only to a certain extent. This made me think about human behavior and the reasons behind many of the things we do.

One thing I realized was that fashion actually serves a purpose.  What I mean by this is that our societal need to have the newest fashions, the best suits, a gold watch, whatever it may be does more than simply make a person “better” than their peers; it makes them the most successful individual in the group.  This instinct to be the best is no different than the instinct that drives rams to fight over a female, or a lion to groom their mane.  That guy who spends thousands to modify his car with spinners and hydraulics is really no different than the ram with the thickest horns.

Both of these are just males trying to pass on their genes

the only difference is the social evolution of the species

This then got me thinking about the idea of natural selection and it’s relation to humans.  I’m starting to think that natural selection has taken a back seat in our evolution, with a few exceptions.  This would mean that we as a species have created an environment where we rarely have to worry about being picked off by predators, or not being in an area where food is plentiful, again there are exceptions.(The link in this second exception is a charity, so go check that one out.)

So if natural selection is the lesser of the processes working on humans, than what is shaping our evolution?  Well, like I said earlier, it seems like our natural instincts to attract mates have adapted really well in the society we created.  So, “Social Selection” would be a big factor.  The person who has the most money and can show it would stand a better chance at providing for a family and passing on their genetics.  It actually makes sense, if a person has enough money to waste on things that are not necessities than they must be successful enough to provide for future generations.  I think the best example of this phenomenon is the perceived attractiveness of one Mick Jagger.

Call me strange, but he's not that hot

Mick is deemed attractive my untold numbers of women who are fans of his music.  This seems to defy the odds, he’s not that attractive, he’s uncoordinated, and according to interviews and testimonials he’s a bit of a jackass in person.  So why do so many people think he’s attractive?  Well, when you consider the concept of social selection it makes much more sense.  He’s rich!  This man has tons of money and social standing due to his rockstar status.  This makes him more attractive to women despite the many traits that would normally make him unattractive.  This is possibly one of the best examples of the phenomenon that was shown in the documentary I rented, an unattractive man being seen as better looking when they carry social power.  This does bring up another aspect of our evolution that I will probably get to in another post, Sexual Selection.  The ultimate mate would be a physically attractive person who is also rich and in power of some kind.  Sound like American politics anyone? 🙂