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, especially with the male animals displaying such traits to the more choosy females.
In humans, male courtship rather 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.
Throughout human history, arranged marriage was the dominant form of mating rather than free mate-choice with direct courtship, which may explain why it is somewhat awkward for most. Though where courtship happens, it tends to take on very primal characteristics due to women's backward sexuality.
Parental investment[edit | edit source]
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). By virtue of their greater inward-orientation and sexual passiveness, human females engage in courtship display to a lesser extent, and largely in shape of presenting their curves and neoteny enhanced by makeup and related means of arousing attention. In fact, contrary to other animals, where the females primarily select male's ornament, this aspect appears to be reversed in humans, with men finding great interest in the well-developed female breast, though women's breasts may also rather have evolved as a means of ensuring men's long-term investment.
Personality[edit | edit source]
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. Furthermore, 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. However, past the initial meeting where only looks matter, both personality and looks are only weakly predictive of long-term and life-long mating performance.
Human courtship hence mainly amounts to a coy waiting time in which the female tests her suitor and gathers social information about his status, which can either be overcome by waiting or coercion in shape of marriage or physical force. In fact, the only male personality traits that do seem to matter in terms of sexual success are dark personality traits such as psychopathy, which are generally related to a higher sex drive, fast life history predispositions and a more coercive sexuality. 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. However, these are generally fast life history traits and do not apply to all women to the same degree.
Women may be a bit less coy if the man is good looking and sexy because potentially better looking and/or healthier offspring will make up for any potential flaws regarding character or resource provision, which may be either explained by the sexy sons hypothesis or by the good genes hypothesis. But anecdotal evidence suggests most women make even good looking men wait (though perhaps shorter), with women with a fast life history predisposition generally waiting less.
Besides social dominance, the ideal and natural mating strategy appears to be to blend in and socialize. Autists are heavily disadvantaged in this regard as they have difficulties producing spontaneous and appropriate facial expressions and other social signals, which appears weird to others, stands out and is a threat to the reputation of the group. The social rejection of autists may be an instance of the behavioral immune system or an instance of intrasexual competition.
Expensiveness of courtship[edit | edit source]
By withholding sex, women can exploit men's sexual frustration to get more investment, commitment, and more expensive (e.g. romantic) courtship display, such as gifting an expensive ring, organizing an expensive wedding or relinquishing other enterprises in favor of spending time with the woman. 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.
Ornament[edit | edit source]
Humans are less ornamented than other animals like birds, but their overall smoothness, homogeneity and symmetry (simplicity) may be considered as an ornament under sexual selection. Women appear to be even more ornamented, especially provided men's strong attraction to large and round breast and their hourglass shaped waist. However, as for facial attractiveness, no link to lifetime reproductive success has been found in in the U.S., and even a negative link in Senegal, rendering the role of ornament in human courtship unlikely.
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 humor and artistic performances. For example, 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. There is negative evidence regarding mate preferences for high intelligence (see IQ).
Direct courtship vs arranged mating[edit | edit source]
The modern concept of dating may be somewhat of an evolutionary mismatch. 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.
References[edit | edit source]
- 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]