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Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life

A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity Are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature

By Douglas T. Kenrick
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Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity Are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature by Douglas T. Kenrick
Synopsis

Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life (2011) looks at the many ways in which our evolutionary survival and reproductive instincts influence our behavior in the modern world. From conspicuous consumption to cold-blooded murder, it often seems that humans will do just about anything to survive and reproduce, and these blinks takes a closer look at what drives these profound desires.

Key idea 1 of 6

Preference for beauty and social dominance is linked to our reproductive instincts.

Have you ever found yourself gazing at an attractive person across the bar – even though you had a partner waiting for you at home? While this kind of ogling is more or less inevitable, it still has clear consequences.

For starters, your level of commitment to your partner is likely to drop when exposed to attractive or socially dominant people. This was demonstrated in an experiment conducted by the author and his colleagues, in which men and women were exposed to attractive members of the opposite sex. Afterwards, participants were asked to rate their level of commitment to their partners.

The experiment revealed that men undervalued their commitment to their partner after seeing beautiful women. Women, however, tended to undervalue their commitment to their partners after being shown a series of socially dominant men.

If you want to nurture your loving relationship, then it’s certainly not in your best interests to seek out beautiful or socially dominant people.

Interestingly, the same wisdom applies if you are actively seeking a partner.

To illustrate this point, the author shares an anecdote from his time at university. During his studies, he and one of his friends were at odds over the number of beautiful women on campus. The author believed that there were beautiful women everywhere; his friend disagreed since, despite being an average-looking guy, he couldn’t seem to get any dates.

The author finally understood why they didn’t see eye-to-eye after seeing his friend’s bedroom: the walls were lined with Playboy centerfolds. Being surrounding by impossibly beautiful women made his friend unable to recognize other people’s beauty.

So why do we show such deference to beautiful and socially dominant people? In essence, we perceive them as the best mating partners.

Our Stone Age ancestors always sought out the most beautiful women or most dominant men when it was time to find partners with whom they could mate and reproduce. Though we’ve come a long way in our modern society, this primal drive hasn’t left us.

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