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Evolutionary psychology and the mathematics of choice: a critique of David Buss -Part 2



This is a follow-up critique of David buss 1998 article. It relaxes some conditions on the mathematics and nevertheless shows that the evolutionary psychology paradigm is woefully lacking in credibility
Evolutionary psychology and the mathematics of choice:
a critique of David Buss - Part 2
African Century Journal
March 2021
Much of the discursive introduction to evolutionary psychology is more propaganda rather
than formal argument. This approach to human behaviour is strictly ideological in that it
promotes a debased view of humanity and corrupts the culture. By arguing that it is an
evolutionary dynamic to focus on resource provision, this theory may well affect the culture
of a society and promote what it says is true, a veritably mercenary approach by a woman
to mating, now justified as an evolutionary directive, not a breakdown in human values. One
has to consider the Christian marriage vow ‘for better or worse’, which under this
evolutionary directive is replaced by ‘as long as the resource provision holds out’.
Women who marry deformed or disabled men are not devoted women following their hearts
despite obvious detriments but demented and confused. Women who stick with their
spouses when fortune abandons them are now unfortunate failures unable to recognise the
directive to pursue alternatives as quickly as possible.
Behind much of this discussion is the assumption of a) permanent scarcity, and b)
competition of each against all, often summed up as ‘survival of the fittest’. However, human
life is a cycle of scarcity and plenty, whether individually, family, society or nation. Great
cultural explosions have happened during periods of abundance. It is an unfortunate society
that is in an eternal state of scarcity. Also, survival is as much cooperation and collaboration
as competition. Those who fail to collaborate or co-operate will almost certainly decline. All
warfare is based on collaboration and cooperation. Political alliances have always trumped
brute strength and every army requires its members to cooperate thoroughly.
There are some absurdities in Buss’ evaluation that need to be addressed before further
mathematical analysis, and two will be selected: Buss writes:
‘ Mathematically, the number of short-term sexual encounters is constrained to
be identical, on average, for men and women. Each time a woman has sex with
a man with whom she has never had sex, a man is simultaneously doing the
same.’ 3
Most close observers of university campuses would recognise that Pareto’s Law applies: a
small number of boys are having most (but not all) of the sex. This renders averages
somewhat meaningless and the concept of ‘identity in behaviour’ off the mark.
Buss then adds:
3Buss, 22.
2At one point Buss identifies cooperation (social skills to enlist allies) as competition without noticing
that competition is loosing its original meaning and drifting towards ‘performance’.. Specifically, the
surviving group may be made up of genetically ‘inferior’ specimens who collaborated better. Buss,
‘Sexual Strategies Theory’, 20.
1Garfield, ‘Against the Odds’.
‘men more than women, as is widely documented, desire a large number of
short-term sexual partners’4
In this age of Tinder one would be circumspect about such generalizations given the power
of social norms. Two reports onTinder, one in Ireland and a larger one in Spain showed
significant expressed differences in motivation which suggest the prudish culture of Ireland
compared to Spain may influence expressed responses as to motivation for using the app,
given that the usage of the app was almost identical.5
That behaviour, particularly expressed behaviour, is mediated by social norms is indisputable
and casts question marks against linking desire and conduct. Crudely put: heterosexual
orgies cannot take place without female participation.
Case 2
In Part 1 we considered the case where the human female expresses only two values, only
one of which is resources. We now relax this condition and allow women as a whole to have
an infinite variety of values and to have an indeterminate number for each woman.
In the case of 2a each woman has 5 values in addition to resource provisions. If F1=
resource provision, F2-6 are the other important features for her preference. Her rankings
would be R1-6 generating a preference profile of FR. In such a case it is entirely plausible for
resource provision to be the least important of the important criteria for every woman. If F2-6
are so selective on their own that they determine an extremely small set, then F1could
become irrelevant on its own. Mathematically this can be expressed as the set of men who
satisfy criteria F2-6 but do not satisfy F1is empty.
In the case of 2b, each woman has10 values in addition to resource provision. It is perfectly
possible that the sum of the values of F2-11 totally overwhelms any value for F1..
Let us consider the following mathematical puzzle. Consider a set of beautiful women, P,
who consider the minimum value for resource provision for a mate they will consider
marrying is an EV (expected value of lifetime income or inheritance ) of $5m. However the
set of men who meet the requirements of F2-11 does not include anyone with an EV below
$15m. To an outside observer it may appear that these women have a minimum EV of $15m
when it is clearly not so.
Conversely the opposite would not apply. An ugly man, T, with poor character and an
unsocial demeanour but an EV of $30m may not be able to copulate let alone marry any of
the women in set P. Since the women in set P have a choice why should any of them choose
to copulate with let alone marry T? If he fails every value in F2-11 it seems improbable that he
should be considered desirable by any woman in set P. This is not to say that no woman
could be found for T.
Case 3
Consider the case 3a, where there is an indefinitely large set of features such that though
each woman has a choice of ten in addition to resource provision none of the ten overlaps
with anyone else’s choices. In each case resource provision can be either of moderate or
minor value but will stand out on a regression as the predominant value despite no woman
6Ladimeji, ‘Evolutionary Psychology and the Mathematic Sof Choice - a Critique of David Buss’.
5Lopes and Vogel, ‘Women’s Perspective on Using Tinder’., Barrada and Castro, ‘Tinder Users’.
4Buss, 22.
considering it important. We can relax the conditions for case 3b, where there is overlap
between the choices but each combination remains unique and only one woman has that
particular set of ten feature requirements. A similar result is available in the non-importance
of resource provision on its own.
Let us translate this into another context. In decorating an elite household there may be 40
items required one of which may be the national flag. Again everyone may choose at least
one national flag to be present but consider it of minor importance. However all the other
features which they consider of critical importance in decorating their house are unique to
themselves or their combination is unique to themselves. Similarly on a regression the most
important factor will be found to be the national flag though for no actual family was it of any
significant importance.
However there appears an additional issue here. This is the difference between copulation
and marriage. There appears to be an underlying assumption in this paper that men are
dogs and that a woman only has to signal availability and any man will be available to her.
While we may leave the issue of copulation undecided it is patently clear that women do not
have free choice on who will marry them. Unlike with dogs, a woman can only marry one
man. The more demanding her preference the more likely she will have severe competition.
She may signal willingness to marry to the man who meets her severe demands but such a
man is likely to be sought by other human females and only one of them can attain marital
status at a time.
What we have then is a preference curve and only if both her and his preference curve
meets is the game on. Just because a woman has a preference schedule does not mean
that she will find a man whose preference curve intersects with her feature set. A man who
meets her requirements may have specific requirements for a woman that she does not
Case 4: Consider the extreme romantic set:
One can imagine an optimisation, in that a woman’s preference schedules and her own
feature set should be matched by one and only one man. If we relax this to allow for
inclusion of a value for presence , i.e. she requires a man to be present in her life in some
way, then we allow for several men who might have been suitable if they had been present
in her life and if she divorces or her mate dies they might become available to her. This
condition can also be a requirement of the male preference schedule.
Buss’ suggestion that women should be more ’choosy’ about their mates simply contradicts
the facts. If the male has the resources he is the one who needs to be choosy about whom
he will share these resources with. In any case the assumption that men will happily throw
their life’s resources at any woman who signals availability beggars credibility. It is also
mathematically nonsense. If a man has resources and according to Buss this is the critical
factor for human female mate selection, then the man will have options and therefore will
consider his investment with care. If it is men with resources who are scarce then those men
will have options. If men with resources are not scarce then that feature cannot be critical.
Case 5: Fertility
Buss paper treats fertility as a vector and not a gate. Buss quotes Symonds;
‘Symons further argued that men and women should have different
mate-selection preferences, with men focusing more on aspects of women that
signal high fertility or reproductive value and women focusing more on the
aspects of men that signal the external pro- visioning of the woman and her
There is no evidence that a man would indicate a preference for a woman who could in
principle have 10 children over a woman who could in principle only have 5, when the
maximum men generally expected is now 3. Taking his own assumptions as given that a
man invests in his children, then given a man’s own resources his demand for children will
not be limitless but could be severely constrained. (This appears truly counter intuitive as the
number of children per family generally decreases with wealth rather than increases.) If
such a male whose maximum demand for children is say 4, is faced with two women X1and
X2who can potentially have 5 and 10 children each, it is difficult to see why the increased
fertility of X2should be of any relevance. Fertility would clearly be a gate not a vector.
Case 6: Africa
There is a eurocentric bias in many of Buss’ assumptions. In ancient Greece women had no
legal personality and could not own their own property. Under such a regime a woman
cannot become an independent economic entity. However from a much earlier time women
in ancient Egypt had equal legal personality as men, could own property and could divorce
at will . Such women would be independent economic units and so would not be choosing
their mates based solely on their own maintenance needs. Buss’ assumption that women
must look to men for their maintenance is a reflection of European history, not a matter of
human evolution.
Case 7: Disabled
A key difference between women's expressed preference and their revealed preference can
be illustrated by the situation of disabled men. If surveyed it is highly unlikely any women will
be found who would consider a disabled person a member of the class of desirable mates,
or the men they were seeking. On the other hand as a matter of fact male children born with
thalidomide defects were able to marry attractive women (as a matter of human sympathy
references will not be given for this. The curious can search for themselves.) For any
disabled person it is simply irrelevant whether most women would marry them. All that they
require is that at least one woman they consider highly desirable should be willing to marry
them and given they can only marry one woman their needs are met. If Buss’ supporters
attempt to finesse this by arguing that thalidomide defects are not inheritable then their
whole theory falls apart for almost all the features that make a man desirable F1-11 are not
inheritable either. Even in the case of trust funds the amounts available to a beneficiary are
not guaranteed to be equally available to his or her children.
Buss wrote:
Women were nearly universal in their expression of a stronger desire for men
with good financial prospects, as well as the cues that lead to resources, such
as ambition, industriousness, and social status. Furthermore, women
8Johnson, ‘Women’s Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt’.
7Buss, ‘Sexual Strategies Theory’, 22.
universally desired long-term mates who were older than they were, another
established cue to the acquisition of resources‘ 9
This reference to age firstly ignores that women mature earlier than men and that this would
be most marked at early marriageable age and less relevant later on which is what is
observed . But the counterfactual of Buss’ statement does not make sense and shows its
folly as it implies that a young woman of fortune would prefer to marry a man younger than
We hope to have shown that the popular trope that women care only about resources is
simply not theoretically supported by the evidence. It is obvious that in a society that
discriminates against a woman's ability to earn her own living that she should be concerned
about her spouses’ ability to maintain a family. However this only establishes the financial
criteria as a gate not a vector. Further, even if a particular woman had a demand for a
wealthy mate, given the skew of wealth distribution, such a mate will be scarce and in high
demand and she may not be able to make her demands effective given the competition. But
every poet knows that a poet can enchant some woman to support a penniless poet
because he can make her life magical with the hint of immortality. This so-called evolutionary
psychological model truncates human experience and, far worse, threatens to degrade
human life.
Barrada, Juan Ramón, and Ángel Castro. ‘Tinder Users: Sociodemographic, Psychological,
and Psychosexual Characteristics’. International Journal of Environmental Research
and Public Health 17, no. 21 (November 2020): 8047.
Buss, David M. ‘Sexual Strategies Theory: Historical Origins and Current Status’. The
Journal of Sex Research 35, no. 1 (1998): 19–31.
Garfield, Simon. ‘Against the Odds’. The Guardian. 21 September 2002, sec. Society.
Johnson, Janet H. ‘Women’s Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt’. African-Century Journal,
September 2019.
Ladimeji, O. A. ‘Evolutionary Psychology and the Mathematic Sof Choice - a Critique of
David Buss’. Africa Century Journal, September 2018.
Lopes, Milena, and Carl Vogel. ‘Women’s Perspective on Using Tinder: A User Study of
Gender Dynamics in a Mobile Device Application’. Sigdoc 17 (11 August 2017): 10.
Vargas, Elizabeth, and Alan Goldberg. ‘The Truth Behind Women’s Brains’. ABC News, 28
September 2006.
10 Vargas and Goldberg, ‘The Truth Behind Women’s Brains’.
9Buss, ‘Sexual Strategies Theory’, 26.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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Tinder is the most popular and most used dating app in the world today. Due to the recent popularization of the phenomenon of dating apps, there are still some gaps in the literature. Therefore, this study had a threefold objective: (1) to determine the prevalence and characteristics of Tinder users and Tinder use among young university students; (2) to know why these young people use Tinder; and (3) to analyze the relationship between Tinder use and different psychosocial correlates (positive and negative affect, body satisfaction, sociosexuality, and attitudes towards consensual nonmonogamy) and psychosexual well-being (self-esteem as a sexual partner, satisfaction with sex life, and preoccupation with sex). Participants were 1261 Spanish university students (77.4% women, 77.5% heterosexuals) between ages 18 and 26 (M = 20.59, SD = 2.04) who completed a battery of online questionnaires. A prevalence of Tinder use of about 15% was found. The motives for use most frequently reported by the participants were those of curiosity, passing time/entertainment, and sexual orientation. Besides, Tinder users showed greater sociosexuality than nonusers, as well as increased dissatisfaction with their sex life and sexual preoccupation, and more positive attitudes towards consensual nonmonogamy. Importantly, no or very small differences were found in the general emotional well-being-related variables. Tinder seems like just another tool used by young people for their romantic and/or sexual interactions, without any negative connotation.
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This paper - Part1 of a multi -part report, focusses on the hidden assumptions behind David Buss' work and seeks to show that the model is self referential and that the testing does not take into account many simple factors in human mate selections such as access to resource as against income where there is no genetic trait involved in such access. It uses a simple mathematical case study to show how human choice as an individual could quite legitimately be vastly different from the summation of population choices while better reflecting actual human conduct.
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Mobile applications expand possibilities for interaction and extend the boundaries of communication. Regarding online dating, Tinder is one of those applications that make it easier to connect people, and it brings out a new concept of relationship in which emotional bonds are established in a virtual space. However, it is relevant to investigate whether Tinder enables women's empowerment and how the user-mobile device interaction and the graphical user interface bear upon gender dynamics. Forty women were interviewed and the findings show that Tinder is not meeting women's expectations, rather it is stimulating the objectification of women. Considering that online dating is a growing trend and that it can be a revolutionary tool to connect people, we analysed the interface and pointed out some issues that should be considered to enhance women's experience.
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Against the Odds'. The Guardian
  • Simon Garfield
Garfield, Simon. 'Against the Odds'. The Guardian. 21 September 2002, sec. Society.
Women's Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt
  • Janet H Johnson
Johnson, Janet H. 'Women's Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt'. African-Century Journal, September 2019.
The Truth Behind Women's Brains'. ABC News
  • Elizabeth Vargas
  • Alan Goldberg
Vargas, Elizabeth, and Alan Goldberg. 'The Truth Behind Women's Brains'. ABC News, 28 September 2006.