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Will Wilkinson’s piece on use of shaky evolutionary psychology to explain dating behavior reminds of me a question I’ve always found mysterious: why isn’t more serious thought put into explaining dating behavior?

Wilkinson:

One day a tidy disquisition explaining why human behavioral ecology is the bees non-vulgar knees will issue forth upon this page, but until that glorious day I present to you Lucia, a “dating/relationship expert specializing in Cougar relationships,” and two of her “12 Reasons Women Can’t Stand Nice Guys.”

It’s clear Wilkinson disapproves of this particular analysis of dating, but unless he presents an alternative explanation to a set of important and interesting questions, he hasn’t advanced the discussion very far.  I’ve never seen a particularly good discussion of the simple, quite empirically testable question, “What percentage of women can stand nice guys?”  I know the answer isn’t zero, since my dad’s a pretty nice guy, and my mom seems to like him okay.  Lacking serious-minded analysis, the rational response is to skeptically apply the weak theory that’s out there.  A map drawn by a five year-old is better than no map at all.

Honestly, what would happen if you polled women across a range of ages and relationship statuses, with two questions: “On a scale of 1-7, How much do you like nice men” and, if appropriate, “On a scale of 1-7, How nice is the man you’re in a relationship with?”  A lot of words have been written on this topic, very few of them by particularly serious thinkers.  I once read Neil Strauss’s book The Game, which contains some fairly innovative theories, some of them supported by anecdotal evidence, or some of the wishy-washy evolutionary pysch that Wilkinson decries.  Why don’t academic social scientists study these hypotheses?  Putting aside sweeping theories of why dating behavior, start with a fact base.  For instance, testing whether stuff like this works.  It’s not a difficult study to design.

Of course, there is a small number of academics asking these questions, but at most universities, the field most likely to ask these questions is Gender Studies, which is generally classified in the humanities, and not approached with the scientific rigor I’m looking for.  This is a topic that’s ripe for investigation by economists, psychologists, sociologists, if not creation of a field specific to the topic.  Why are questions about dating studied so significantly less important than, say, questions about politics, which has multiple academic fields devoted to it?

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One Comment

  1. The title to this post is false. If a five-year old draws a map that says your house is 3 miles south of my house, but in actuality, your house is 500 north of my house, that map has no value. Possibly negative value. Arguing otherwise is stupid.

    Regarding dating research: OK Cupid’s “OK Trends” blog has some pretty good analysis on online dating behavior on their website (however, the most recent post on race is not up to academic standards). http://blog.okcupid.com/ I expect that the reason research in the area is so terrible is because people’s statements about what they want are inconsistent with what they actually do. And there’s not good data on who has actually dated whom.


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  1. […] an earlier post, I noted how academia’s disinterest in important questions related to dating facilitated the […]

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