Courtship is the demonstration of one's genetic quality to the opposite sex in order to be selected for reproduction. In many animals this involves the display of ornamental traits that are under runaway sexual selection. In humans, male courtship additionally consists in costly signaling of the willingness and ability to provide resources as women depend on them, whereas the female makes promises of sexual exclusivity.
What can be achieved by personality traits like confidence/extroversion, niceness etc. ("game") during courtship seems to be highly overrated as research indicates initial romantic interest is mainly about looks and that personality traits do not play any role. Fruthermore, access to women is thought to be largely determined by dominance status among males as determined by looks, resources, status, competence, neurotypicality etc, rather than direct courtship.
Human courtship hence mainly amounts to a coy waiting time in which the female tests her suitor and gathers social information about his status. The sexy sons hypothesis explains the phenomenon that women are less coy if the man is good looking and sexy because potentially better looking offspring will make up for any potential flaws regarding character or resource provision.
The only male personality traits that do seem to matter are dark personality traits such as psychopathy. Feminist Camille Paglia claimed that female coyness pretty much necessitates men to engage in some kind of rape, saying, "woman's flirtatious arts of self-concealment mean man's approach must take the form of rape." This notion is corroborated by research by Eibl Eibesfeldt who concluded the male dominate/female surrender pattern in human sexuality may be a remnant of ancient courtship adaptations in which pair formation only succeeds when the male is able to dominate the female, a behavior that can be observed in many reptiles, birds, and mammals.
Since men's positive personality traits play no role in human courtship, the only kind of behavioral traits that may still matter during courtship are likely limited to "sub-personality" behavior such as smiling, facial expressiveness, neurotypicality, artistic behavior etc., which may be aesthetically selected by runaway selection, possibly in addition to selection for the purposes of social signaling. Autists are disadvantaged in this aspect as they have difficulties producing spontaneous and appropriate facial expressions and other social signals.
In many species, the females are more coy because they have more parental investment, hence the males need to be more actively advertise themselves to the opposite sex. This also applies to humans, in fact, ethnologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt observed that courtship in terms of flirting and female coyness is prevalent and pretty much the same the world over. Using his charm, he was able to elicit the "coy glance" in girls around the world (see figure). Human females engage in courtship display to lesser extent in shape of presenting their curves, nubility, neoteny enhanced by makeup and related means of arousing attention.
Courtship among humans is special due to the disproportionally large amount of resources that males provide, which is, in fact, unique among primates and also extreme compared to animals overall (see hypergamy). For this reason, human males not only engage in display of their ornament, but also their wealth, e.g. by buying an expensive ring.
Humans are less ornamented than other animals like birds, but they do seem to have ornament which mostly consists of smoothness, averageness and symmetry (simplicity). Such ornament and exaggerated sexual attraction to it may have evolved by runaway selection. Courtship of both sexes involves presentation of this ornament, e.g. a male may groom himself and show off a nice smile, whereas the female may present her "curves".
Geoffrey Miller suggested that human intelligence and social behavior has also been selected by runaway selection and is merely "cognitive ornament", with males eliciting super stimuli in women in order to be selected, e.g. by humour and artistic performances. In fact, instrument building has been a near exclusively male activity across cultures. Though this notion conflicts with data mentioned above that neither IQ nor extroversion, but only looks matter during initial romantic interest, so only very superficial behaviors may have (in part) been selected this way.
Expensiveness of courtshipEdit
By withholding sex, women can exploit men's sexual frustration to get more investment, commitment, and more expensive (e.g. romantic) courtship display. The more the man invests in a woman, the more valuable she will appear, as a result of the sunk cost fallacy. By playing coy, downplaying their attraction and deferring sex, women can hence trick men into more commitment and reliable resource provision.
Direct courtship vs arranged matingEdit
The modern concept of dating may be fairly evolutionary novel. Historically, most couples were arranged by the parents and the group. In fact, in 70% of societies that were analyzed, arranged marriages were the most predominant mating practice and also in medieval Europe and the Middle and far East such practices have been very common in the past. This suggests, courtship may have often consisted in impressing not (just) the female directly, but her parents and the overall group, i.e. by gaining prestigious social status.
- Eibl-Eibesfeldt I. 2017. Pair Formation, Courtship, Sexual Love. In: Human Ethology. Rougtledge. [Excerpt]
- Wachtmeister, C.A. and Enquist, M., 1999. The evolution of female coyness–trading time for information. [Abstract]
- McNamara, J.M., Fromhage, L., Barta, Z. and Houston, A.I.. 2008. The optimal coyness game. [Abstract]
- Grammer K. 1989. Human courtship behaviour: biological basis and cognitive processing. In: Rasa, A.E., Vogel, C. and Voland,E. (eds.): The Sociobiology of Sexual and Reproductive Strategies Chapmann and Hall,1989, New York. [FullText]
- Eibl-Eibesfeldt I. 1989. Pair Formation, Courtship, Sexual Love. In: Human Ethology. Rougtledge. [Excerpt]