Thursday, 19 September 2019

The hardest problems for evolutionary psychology - part three: introversion

While introversion is usually not mentioned as a problem for standard evolutionary psychology, it should become clear that for any theory that assumes that females will have a preference for successful alpha males, introversion in males should be a puzzle. I have cursed my deep introversion many times in my life, not because I couldn’t reach for alpha positions, which I actually do not want, but because it has left me feeling like an omega male instead. I never was able to even make a big effort to try to impress a girl, because it actually feels “fake” for me, just like showing off with an expensive flashy car or a shiny new iPhone would feel “fake” for me.

For these reasons I had the feeling, I was a born “omega male” when I was a teenager. I wasn’t even interested in the usual stuff my teenage friends were interested in: cars, sports, and hanging out in clubs.

Later, at university when I came across Evolutionary Psychology, I used the following explanation for girls who complained about guys to me: females get exactly those guys who the previous female generations chose to mate with. So, there is not much reason to complain about guys whose genes were actually chosen by females.
As true this actually is, there is an important detail missing here. Not all girls go for alpha males. Not because they can’t get one, but because their genes are programmed not to want one in the first place. They prefer nice and intelligent guys to muscle-flexing sporty guys. At university, I met quite a lot of girls, who seemed to be happy with introverted, geeky “omega males” like me. And in my 30s I finally found the girl who would be happy to get married to me.
What does this mean for evolutionary psychology? It means that instead of postulating one general mating strategy it there should be at least two opposing mating strategies with many shades in between. In general, the girls who start to have sex earlier are more interested in the alpha males, whereas the girls who tend to start sex later prefer “partners in child-rearing” (alloparenting), who are actually less sexually dimorphic.  
More r-selected
More K-selected
Early-onset of puberty
Late-onset of puberty
More hierarchically structures
More egalitarian
Partner: status-oriented (alpha males)
Partner: alloparenting oriented
Higher sexual dimorphism is more attractive
Lower sexual dimorphism is more attractive
More promiscuous
More monogamous

Where do these two different mating strategies come from? They stem from our evolutionary past as hunter-gatherers and farmers/herders respectively.
Hunter-gatherer societies practice alloparenting, with many members of the band helping to raise the children. They are highly egalitarian and showing-off, as well as a display of status, are discouraged and mocked at. There are simply no hierarchical positions like “alphas” and “omegas”. One way of achieving this is for females to mate with humble, introverted males instead of assertive, extraverted ones. It is in this way that females actually have indirectly control over males. This means that introversion in males is ancient and goes back at least 200.000 years when early homo sapiens appeared.

Here are some reasons why hunter-gatherer females chose introverted males, all of which help maintain the egalitarian and monogamous hunter-gatherer lifestyle:
  • More humble and potentially less aggressive
  • Less able to form big coalition to achieve and maintain alpha positions
  • Spending more time with “family” and children than trying to make allies or find new mating opportunities
  • More monogamous
When humans took to farming and herding they could have a more steady supply of calories and they could double the rate of having children (every 2.5 years instead of every 5 years)  and start puberty earlier. It also allowed the more extraverted (higher levels of dopamine) and physically stronger (higher levels of testosterone) males to accumulate more resources than those males who didn’t have as much “drive”.  
These two mating strategies (with the shades in between) accounts much better for the patterns we see today: some girls starting sex early and going for the “herder” alpha males and some girls starting late going for the kinder and more intelligent “hunter” types, with “farmer” types typically in-between. Of course, evolution has produced many mixed strategies too.

Currently, our world seems to become both more extroverted and more introverted. While the world of work has been getting more extroverted, or private lives have been getting more introverted. I suppose it is because extroverted types tend to be less willing to settle down have children, as the possibilities for them seem endless both in the job and mating markets, whereas introverts quickly reach their limits in both domains. It would at least explain the table below:


Dedicated to the wonderful Susan Cain, who helped me accept my introversion and understand it as a strength rather than a weakness.

3 comments:

  1. In a hierarchical situation, being a beta male is a good strategy to ensure staying alive. Intelligent IN men have probably been choosing to lie low for thousands of years.

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  2. What if we have a bipolar personality, boss?

    ReplyDelete