- Introduction and Motivation
- Emotion and Rationality
- What are Emotions?
- Emotions as Rationalisations of Instinctive Behaviour
- The Evolution of Cooperation
- The Evolution of Altruism
- Evolution of the Pair Bond
- The asymmetric pair bond
- Which emotions contribute to the pair bond?
- Emotion and Gender
- APPENDIX: The various proposed bases for monogamous pair-bonding in humans
- A.1 “MCFC” (males compete / females choose)
- A.2 Material Provisioning
- A.3 Social Provisioning
- A.4 Female Shortage
- A.5 Traditional Mate Guarding
- A.6 Failed Mate Guarding
- A.7 Sexual Crypsis Driving the Pair Bond
- A.8 The Male Genetic Filter
- A.9 Declining Female Mate-Value
- A.10 Attachment
- A.11 Patriarchal Oppression and Control
It has been suggested that just 7% of people in the UK are feminists, and only about 4% are anti-feminists, or MRAs, and hence that nearly 90% are “neutral”. But that is a very misleading perspective if one is concerned about issues facing men and boys. Unfortunately the vast bulk of people – more than 90% I would guess – are gynocentric. By “gynocentric” I mean people exhibiting the gender empathy gap. If it were not for this overwhelming majority, which comprises both sexes equally, the feminist lobby would not have gained such influence.
To address issues facing men and boys is synonymous with eradicating the empathy gap. So – and this must be faced – there is a problem with 90+% of the population. That’s why it is a problem.
The role of political ideologies in feminism is well known. However, gynocentrism – which I identify with the empathy gap – is not politically based but is a phenomenon of social psychology. Consequently I am becoming increasingly interested in social psychology. An obvious place to start is with the human pair bond in its natural state.
The occupational hazard of the theoretical physicist is intellectual arrogance. We physicists are brought up to believe that, given a blank sheet of paper, we can develop a theory for anything – probably complete with differential equations and an analysis of the boundary conditions required for their unique solution. I don’t really believe it, obviously, but it is an ingrained attitude of mind. Here I give full rein to this tendency (sans equations) on the subject of the social psychology behind human pair bonding. Emotion plays the starring role.
Indeed, it is actually the nature of emotion which initially concerned me most. Much criticism is levelled (generally rightly) at those who are inclined to think too much with their feelings. Yet human social psychology is guided far more by emotion than reason, whether one approves of the fact or not. I confess I was partly motivated to think about these matters by irritation. A certain woman of my acquaintance (no, not my wife) has a habit of looking me in the eye as she tells me how emotionally stunted men are. Annoyance is an emotion, isn’t it? The Section 10, below, is my reply.
This stuff is a far cry from the usual MRA material, but I think you will ultimately see the relevance. Throughout this article I have in mind the natural, or evolved, pair bond. This has been traduced in the feminist world, but that is not my concern here. The status of the pair bond now, in the modern world, is not addressed. Throughout I use ‘pair bonding’ to mean a monogamous partnership for the primary purpose of mating.
What are emotions? What are emotions for? Why did emotions evolve?
I am not so arrogant as to imagine I can do justice to these enormous questions. Here I merely make some elementary observations about emotions, the purpose of which is ultimately to clarify some aspects of contemporary gender issues.
One view is that emotions evolved to be cognitive shortcuts. To quote David Matsumoto,
“The emotions humans experience today emerged (or were naturally selected) in our evolutionary history as rapid information processing systems that helped us deal with the environment and events that occurred. That is, emotions evolved to help us cope with events and situations that had consequences for our immediate welfare. If humans didn’t have emotions, we wouldn’t know when to attack, defend, flee, care for others, reject food, or approach something useful, all of which were helpful in our evolutionary histories.”
“In fact emotions-as-information-processing-systems are extremely adaptive because they allow us to take immediate action without thinking. There simply is not enough time to think through the consequences of every single event that elicits an emotion. Emotions evolved to allow us to rapidly, efficiently, automatically, and unconsciously react to the world without thinking, and prepare us to act (or react) appropriately.”
From this perspective, emotions are consistent, in principle, with logical reasoning – but have the crucial advantage that they are far quicker to process than conscious analysis. No doubt this perspective is correct for some emotions.
On the other hand, emotion is often presented as being in opposition to rationality. In popular culture it is common to align extremely high levels of rationality with emotional coldness – think Mr Spock. Similarly, emotional floridity is often aligned with irrationality: an overly emotional person may present as unreasoning. These extreme caricatures encourage us to regard rationality and emotiveness as antithetical. I shall claim that in some important instances, this is precisely the truth – and actually essential.
But there is a paradox here. Homo sapiens are simultaneously uniquely developed in terms of both rational cognition and also in terms of emotional range, depth and expressiveness. If rationality and emotiveness are antithetical, why are both uniquely well developed in the same species?
I will argue that this is no coincidence. On the contrary, whilst rationality and emotiveness are indeed often in counterpoint, they necessarily coevolved. I shall argue that our emotional capacity evolved in proportion to our capacity for reasoning because of the very fact that they are (sometimes) required to be oppositional. It is suggested that the evolution of key emotional attributes is intimately related to the evolution of altruistic behaviours. Since altruistic behaviours are to the detriment of the individual, such behaviours are – from a purely selfish perspective – irrational.
When discussing altruistic behaviours, the benefits to the individual’s gene line are proffered as the underlying causality. Indeed this is correct, as long as one is focussed on the distal cause (i.e., the ultimate, or root, cause). But what about the proximate cause – the motivation for the individual to behave in a manner conducive to genetic advantage even when it is disadvantageous to the individual? In such discussions, proximate causes are often either ignored or conflated with distal causes.
Consider the man who saved his son from the river but at the cost of drowning himself. What was the reason for his action? Was it because he was optimising the propagation of his gene line? Or was it because he loved his son? The answer is: both. But was his behaviour learnt behaviour? No, his behaviour, and the emotion which promoted it, must be innate because the first answer ties it to evolution.
The argument to be amplified herein can be summarised thus,
Emotions provide a trick by which the genotype cons the phenotype into behaviours which benefit the genotype despite being detrimental to the narrow self interests of the individual organism. Emotions provide a proximate cause of phenotypical behaviour whose distal cause is genotypical success. In other words, emotions provide a mechanism for altruistic behaviour which promotes gene line propagation. The emotions involved in such cases, and their induced behaviours, must be innate because they are evolved. Emotions also provide a rationalisation of instinctive behaviours.
Humans experience a wide range of feelings. Examples are being happy, sad, fearful, angry, surprised, disgusted, contemptuous, tired, bored, sleepy, excited, hungry, ashamed, enthused, proud, embarrassed, jealous, despairing, etc. etc. These tend to be referred to as “emotions”. More strictly, though, these feelings are just one part of the associated emotional complexes, namely the affective part. (Nor, in psychological parlance, are emotions the only affective phenomena).
Quoting David Matsumoto,
“Feelings are an important part of everyone’s psychology because they are our private readouts of internal processes, informing us without words how we evaluate the world around us and events that happen to us, and what may be going on in our bodies. They are windows to our souls. And, feelings and emotion are aspects of mental life that all humans have a lifetime of access to, and a lifetime of contemplating the proper words to describe nuances of an inner physiological state or sensation. Thus it is not surprising that people lump ’emotions’ and ‘feelings’ all together in one messy category.”
But emotions are not just feelings. Here is a possible definition of what is meant by “emotion”, again quoting Matsumoto,
“Emotions are transient, bio-psycho-social reactions designed to aid individuals in adapting to and coping with events that have implications for survival and well being. They are biological because they involve physiological responses from the nervous systems, and prime skeletal muscle activities. They are psychological because they involve specific mental processes required for elicitation and regulation of response. And they are social because they are often elicited by social interactions, and have meaning to those interactions.”
So, emotions are social, psychological and motivate action.
Having made these clarifications, it will not be necessary for our present purposes to be so exacting. The key facet of emotions which I wish to emphasise here is their role in motivating behaviours. Indeed, the very etymology of “emotion” suggests this connection. Nico Frijda in The Laws of Emotion writes,
“If an event has no repercussion on an individual’s inclination to act, one will hesitate to call it an emotion…”
It is this connection between emotion and behaviour which is central to my thesis herein. If emotions did not influence the physical world then they could not influence evolution. And if they did not influence evolution, emotions could not have evolved. However, concentrating upon the role of emotions in motivating behaviours does not imply that all emotions have such an impact on all occasions. Frijda completes the above sentence as follows,
….except perhaps in the case of emotions evoked by art.”
Aesthetically induced emotions we may safely dismiss as secondary or artificial – the designation as ‘art’ rather gives the game away. An analogy is with the role of hunger, and the pleasure of eating, in causing an organism to seek and devour food. The pleasure of eating having been established for this survival-related “purpose” does not prevent the subsequent pursuance of the pleasure of eating for its own sake – and the promotion of culinary skills as an art.
Matt Ridley in The Origins of Virtue reinforces the more typical point that,
“Emotion rather than reason (is) the wellspring of human motivation.”
Instincts are behaviours which are automatic and irresistible. Instinctive behaviours arise without the need for conscious deliberation. Indeed, an individual may find it extremely difficult, or impossible, to modify instinctive behaviours. How, then, is an organism with a highly developed rational cognitive capacity, replete with cultural and moral pretensions, to react to apparently being controlled by crass instincts?
Our consciousness deludes us into believing that our conscious “I” is in charge. It is certainly not in charge of everything. Our conscious selves would be overwhelmed if faced with the need to maintain all our autonomic bodily functions. The nightmare of having to concentrate in order to keep one’s heart beating whilst also keeping breathing would be short lived because the neglect of the myriad biochemical processes in one’s lungs, liver, pancreas, thyroid, pituitary, etc., would quickly be terminal. But we can (and do) remain ignorant of all this in favour of concentrating only upon ‘external’ issues. It would be harder for our conscious selves to ignore our overt behaviours as an organism. It would be disconcerting (to the conscious mind) if one found oneself constantly doing things without any apparent reason.
Take, for example, eating. In terms of the functional requirement to ingest nutrients, and hence to survive long enough to raise offspring, evolution might just as well have made seeking and devouring of food purely instinctive, devoid of any motivation which could be apprehended by the conscious mind. This is indeed the course taken in the case of lower organisms without sufficient cognitive capacity to be distressed by such a situation. But if that were the route taken by evolution in the case of Homo sapiens, my conscious mind would be bemused by my own actions. Why, I would wonder, am I spending all my time hunting down these roots and berries and then sticking them in my mouth and swallowing them? The emotion of hunger and the pleasure of eating provide the consciousness with a comprehensible impetus towards, and reward for, action in find and devouring food. I know why I hunt those roots: it’s because I’m hungry and I like eating. But actually, it isn’t. That’s a con.
For a conscious mind with highly developed rationality, a causal narrative has to be provided to ‘explain’ instinctive behaviours, to avoid massive cognitive dissonance. Strictly, the explanation is bogus. The affective part of emotion is a stick or carrot which provides a cogent reason for the action taken. I eat to avoid the stick which is the unpleasantness of hunger and to achieve the carrot which is the pleasantness of eating. Without these emotions I would have no obvious (rational) reason to eat.
The distal reason for your endeavour to keep yourself fed is, of course, to achieve successful reproduction via the expedient of remaining alive. But one does not think to oneself, “I must obtain nutrients so that my biological processes remain in good condition until I fulfil my prime directive of reproduction” despite this being the underlying causality. You just feel hungry and want to eat.
The impulse to eat, which evolves as an instinct, cannot be permitted to act entirely subconsciously in creatures which entertain the conceit of self-control.
In these circumstances, affective emotion is a sop to the consciousness to maintain the illusion that it is in charge.
There is no mystery as to how cooperative behaviour arises in those cases where there is an eventual benefit to both involved individuals, albeit possibly delayed. It is merely a case of enlightened self-interest.
The evolution of cooperation is sometimes presented as paradoxical, but really it is not. The prisoners’ dilemma is the archetype of cooperative behaviour presented as a game-theoretical paradox. Details are unimportant but the essence of prisoners’ dilemma type game-theoretical situations is as follows. Suppose two individuals, A and B, each have a choice of two behaviours which we will label as “cooperating” and “declining”. They are obliged to make their choice in ignorance of the other party’s choice. If both individuals choose to “cooperate” they will both benefit more than if they both “decline”. However – and this is the rub – if A “cooperates” but B “declines” then B benefits even more than if both cooperated, whilst A gets totally trashed, gaining no benefit at all. Thus, the combination in which A “cooperates” but B “declines” is the most beneficial for B but the least beneficial for A.
Cold rationality and the assumption of selfish action leads to A deciding to decline – because whatever B decides, A does better by declining. But B deploys the same reasoning. The result is that both decline. This is the so-called Nash equilibrium. But by both declining, both do less well than they would have done had both cooperated. This is the paradox of the purely game-theoretical situation, the defining essence of which is that the two individuals have no prior knowledge of how the other party is likely to behave. Herein lies the shortcoming of this overly simplistic situation as a model of human behaviour.
The crazy logic of the Nash equilibrium can be broken if both individuals are willing to trust each other. The art of cooperative behaviour is to tap into the potential for both individuals to benefit by cooperating. But this requires A to trust that B will indeed cooperate, and vice versa. If A trusts B but the dastardly swine reneges on the agreement (“declines”), A gets trashed and B laughs all the way to the bank. But if trust is mutual, both benefit compared to if mistrust is mutual.
The good news is that conditional cooperation is what actually happens, and not just when games of this type are played by humans. Simulations on computers also tend to evolve similar strategies to humans. The key to breaking the Nash equilibrium is that individuals must be recognisable and that individuals retain a memory of other individuals’ past behaviour. In the myriad of ‘deals’ of which social interactions consist, your reputation goes before you.
Thus, a strategy which does well is to cooperate until the other person declines, and thereafter decline with that person. Many refinements are possible which may do slightly better, but the essence of a good strategy aligns well with the human tendency to trust those who have proved trustworthy before but to mistrust those who have betrayed your trust previously.
Note that the evolution of cooperation depends crucially on the ability to recognise individuals, as well as to retain a memory of their behaviour. Hence the highly pronounced human ability to recognise individual people by their faces. Trust requires recognition. [This, incidentally, is why it is natural – and rational – to mistrust someone who wears a mask which conceals their identity].
Note that the evolution of cooperative behaviour is naturally tied to the evolution of general cognitive capacity – ‘big brains’ – because of the necessity to recognise individuals and to retain knowledge of their past behaviour.
However, where cooperative behaviour benefits the parties involved, albeit perhaps after some delay, only rational cognitive function is strictly necessary, not emotional capacity. This is illustrated starkly by observing that the same strategies evolve in computer simulations (devoid of any emotion) as in experiments on human participants (see “Prisoner’s Dilemma” by William Poundstone).
This does not mean that emotions play no role in cooperative behaviour in practice. It may very well be that your decision to trust, or not to trust, someone is based upon a ‘feeling’ you have about them. This is an example of emotion acting as a cognitive shortcut. Such considerations become dominant if you have had no previous dealings with the individual in question. You may not have come across the individual before, but you may be able to recognise that he is “of your tribe” – or not, as the case may be. At this point the issue of cooperation intersects with the issue of in-group preference, which will be discussed in a later post.
However, the lesson here is that, whilst cooperative behaviour may be emotionally enhanced in practice, in principle cooperative behaviour does not require emotional involvement when cooperation leads to mutual benefit. I make this point to emphasise the difference between cooperation of the enlightened self-interested type and genuine altruism, to be discussed next.
Altruism differs from cooperation of the enlightened self-interested type because, in true altruism, the individual accrues no benefit at all, even long term. In general the true altruist will actually suffer as a result of his actions. How, then, can altruism arise?
The answer is simple: behaviours evolve to benefit the continuance of the gene line, not the individual organism. By virtue of inherited behavioural characteristics the individual organism favours actions which promote the chances of his, or her, gene line prospering. This is the tautology of evolution, by which reproductive success breeds more reproductive success. Altruism at the level of the individual is actually selfishness at the level of genes.
Some might react to this with dismay. Does this not undermine the virtue of self-sacrifice? As Matt Ridley, paraphrasing Hamilton and Trivers, puts it,
“The relationships between parents and offspring, or between mates, or between social partners, (is) not one of mutual satisfaction, but one of mutual struggle to exploit the relationship.”
This depressing pronouncement makes Malthus seem positively cheery. But, in truth, it applies to the genes in question, not the people. And if genuine altruism arises spontaneously from selfish genes, is it not comforting? From dross comes forth gold.
[At this point I could wax lyrical by drawing an analogy with the manner in which complex entities – ourselves – arise spontaneously from the primordial fireball, the essence of randomness, in the teeth of the second law of thermodynamics. But I’ll spare you].
But there is as yet something missing from this description of how altruism arises in the case of species with advanced cognitive function. Merely instinctive impulses to self-sacrifice will be resisted by organisms with sufficient understanding to do so. As we have seen already, instincts are best rendered palatable to thinking creatures via a causal narrative provided by emotions.
But in the case of altruistic, self-sacrificial, behaviour, there is a further necessary function of emotion: it provides the motivation. Recall that cooperative behaviour is explicable provided that there is mutual benefit. But in the case of altruistic, self-sacrificial, behaviour there is no benefit to the individual, only disbenefit. Yes, there is benefit to the gene line. But that does not directly, of itself, provide a motivation for the individual to self-sacrifice. A mother does not sacrifice herself for her child because she rationalises to herself that this is the optimal strategy for ensuring genetic propagation. She does it out of love. It is emotion which provides the motivation for altruistic behaviour in organisms with highly developed cognition. In lower animals altruism may be implemented ‘directly’ via instincts, so the individual is unaware of any motivation. But human self-awareness and cognitive capacity would lead to the vetoing of self-destructive impulses if no compelling emotional narrative were provided to motivate it. Without emotions, altruism would not have evolved in humans.
In anthropomorphic language, emotions are a trick used by selfish genes to coerce the individual organism into behaviours beneficial to gene line propagation even though possibly harmful to the individual.
Emotions provide the proximate cause of altruistic behaviours whose distal cause is evolutionary.
I cannot emphasise this too strongly. Without emotions there would be no altruistic behaviour in humans. Rationality alone cannot give rise to altruism because the perfectly rational organism has no allegiance to the gene line per se. This is why (some types of) emotions evolved: because they are a mechanism for selfish gene propagation. It is also why emotional capacity evolved in proportion to rational cognitive function, because the former stands (in such cases) essentially in opposition to the latter.
The Calvinist might opine that a virtuous act is not truly virtuous if done for the selfish gain of emotional satisfaction. As Ridley puts it,
“the more you truly feel for people in distress, the more selfish you are being in alleviating that distress. Only those who do good out of cold, unmoved conviction are ‘true’ altruists“.
But evolution doesn’t care for these protestant scruples. If the act in question promotes the gene line, then the associated emotional satisfaction is the reward offered in the game-theoretical deal that is evolution.
Matt Ridley’s The Origins of Virtue reinforces the point,
“Emotion rather than reason (is) the wellspring of human motivation. The desire to escape or avoid guilt…is a human universal, common to all people in all cultures.”
Ah, yes – guilt. There’s much more needs saying about the destructive force of mis-applied guilt, but that’s a subject for another day.
And quoting Kagan,
“Construction of a persuasive basis for behaving morally has been the problem on which most moral philosophers have stubbed their toes. I believe they will continue to do so until they recognise what Chinese philosophers have known for a long time: namely, that feeling, not logic, sustains the superego.”
Driving home the message, a quote from Nico Frijda’s The Laws of Emotion,
“Voluntary control of cognitive capacities allows letting reality – full reality, including long term consequences – to be what determines emotion. They allow emotions to be elicited not merely by the proximal, or the perceptual, or that which directly interferes with one’s actions, but by all that which in fact touches on one’s concerns, whether proximal or distal, whether occurring now or in the future, whether interfering with one’s own life or with that of others.”
Finally, recall how the pleasure of eating, originally evolved to motivate the physical sustenance of the organism, has become sought after in its own right, divorced from its initial purpose (to the detriment of our waistlines). So it can be with the emotional states promoting altruistic behaviour. While the essential role of (some types of) emotion is to provide the individual with the motivation required to be self-sacrificial under conditions which benefit the gene line, such morally laudable behaviour might become an established pattern, independent of genetic value. Thus, Ridley paraphrasing Frank, writes, “genuine goodness is the price we pay for having moral sentiments – those sentiments being valuable because of the opportunities they open in other circumstances.” So, forget the prognostications of moral philosophers, our ethical conceits are by-products of devious arrangements put in hand by the blind operation of evolution in order to maximise the selfishness of genes.
And yet virtue is still virtue.
And that the virtue of virtue is found not to reside in its atoms, the genes, is of no greater significance than the fact that the merits of Michelangelo’s David cannot be discovered in calcium carbonate molecules.
So we come to the main event: the role of emotion in human pair bonding.
Before we get to the emotional (proximate) bit, what about the genetic (distal) pressure towards human pair bonding?
Homo sapiens have a very strong tendency to pair bond, in which the male remains in a close relationship with the mother well beyond birth – extending to several births. In its modern incarnation this is the nuclear family, but more generally would have been as part of an extended family or kin group. The reason why evolution produced pair bonding in humans is not hard to rationalise, though there are a number of theories which may be either in competition or complementary. I have summarised these in very broad outline in the Appendix, below, assisted by a (very limited) review of the literature. The Appendix concerns the distal causes, for which it is necessary that there be a benefit of pair bonding to both the male and the female gene lines. That there must be such a genetic benefit is certain, else humans would not pair bond.
A key issue is the extended period over which human children remain physically dependent on adults. This in turn is related to our No.1 attribute – our big brains. As a result, human children need 14 years or more of being looked after. How could a primitive woman find enough food etc. for a string of children for so many years on her own?
The matter is not trivial because primates’ offspring also have a protracted maturation but primates do not pair bond. Nor are fathers the only available allomothers (alternative carers).They may not be the most significant allomothers in some cases. And even if paternal provisioning were the correct hypothesis, the degree of evolutionary benefit conveyed by the male being a stable resource provider depends upon the rate of childhood mortality should he not do so, and this will be particular to the ecological niche within which the species in question operates.
For our present purposes the genetic drivers for pair bonding are actually irrelevant. They must exist. And whatever these drivers are, they must be proximately motivated by emotion since the process of reproduction is altruistic: reproduction is of no selfish value to the parents if emotion be ignored. Nevertheless, I make some observations regarding mating strategies for completeness.
Moxon stresses the importance of male hierarchies in providing the female with a guide to the genetic quality of male suitors. He stresses the importance of the ‘male genetic filter’ whereby the failure of low ranked males to mate is the means by which weak genes are purged.
Potential benefits of pair-bonding to the female gene line, amplified further in the Appendix, include,
- The opportunity to form a lasting mating partnership with a reasonably ranked male (in particular, a higher ranked male than she might command later as her fertility falls);
- Protection from insemination by a lesser ranked male;
- By exploiting sexual crypsis, the opportunity to mate with a higher ranked male than would be willing to form a permanent partnership, whilst remaining in a provider-protector relationship with the lesser ranked male (cuckolding).
Benefits to the male gene line include the following,
- Immediate access to a female of high fertility in return for a commitment to be faithful when her fertility falls;
- Access for mating many times during the menstrual month, thus defeating sexual crypsis;
- Securing access to a female long term would be beneficial for a mid or low ranked male compared to ‘proceeding in hope’, especially if females were scarce;
- Greater certainty of paternity (mate guarding).
Whilst the details of the evolution of human pair-bonding raises many questions not yet subject to consensus (see for example Allison Guy and the range of views summarised in the Appendix and in my review of the literature), nevertheless human pair-bonding is certainly an ancient innovation, and the case for paternal investment improving offspring survival is reasonably strong (see my review of the literature) despite the contrary indication from Sear & Mace, 2008 (see the Appendix for a discussion).
So much for the distal, genetic, cause of pair bonding. But what about its motivation to the individual, the proximate cause?
The desire to have sex is an instinct. The desire to have children is also an instinct (at least in women) and the distinction between these two things has become evident now that contraception is widely used. As with other instincts in humans, sex and reproduction come complete with an emotional narrative which provides a proximate motivation and ‘explanation’ of these behaviours. Let’s call it love. For references see the whole oeuvre of romantic literature and music.
The two sexes are not the same: there is a crucially important asymmetry – namely that only females have a uterus and mammary glands. There is therefore a huge difference between the sexes as regards their investment in reproduction. The mother is committed to nine months of energy-sapping gestation followed by the hazardous experience of childbirth. The father has zero investment in these processes. The game-theoretical deal is therefore the provision of child gestation and nurturing services in exchange for male resource provision during and after the birth – or in the provision of quality ‘purged’ male genes, due to preferential selection of a reasonably highly ranked male.
Moxon argues that the male’s investment occurs before sex, in striving to become high ranking enough to be the chosen mate. Women are sex objects; men are success objects. Men choose women for their appearance of fertility (through the proxy of visual attractiveness) whereas women choose men for their genetic quality (through the proxy of status on a male hierarchy).
That there must have been evolutionary pressure in favour of this is clear. But we are concerned now with the proximate causes: what prompts men and women to pair-bond and reproduce? As always the answer is the associated complex of emotions.
But reproduction and pair bonding are not merely cooperative behaviours: they are altruistic behaviours. Emotions aside, there is no benefit to the individual mother in producing children, nor is there benefit to the individual father in provisioning or being glued to a female. So the emotions which prompt these behaviours could not, even in principle, be replaced by rational cognition – as they could with cooperative behaviours of the enlightened self-interested kind. Emotions are the sine qua non of the human pair bond. Who would have thunk it?
In short, mothers nurture their children because they love them, and fathers provide resources for their wives and children because they love them.
Clearly I deserve an award for this momentous discovery.
Sarcasm aside….you may replace the word “love” by whatever emotional complexes you might wish. But however you dress it up, these inherited psychological tendencies – these innate emotional configurations – are the proximate causes of behaviours which implement the Homo sapiens’ evolutionary mating strategy. And these emotional states must be innate, because, by definition, they are driven by evolution.
To quote Finkel and Eastwick, 2015,
“Scholars are converging on the view that the primary mechanism through which evolution increased paternal investment was a deep emotional bond between the mother and the father of young children [see paper for references]. This bond motivates mothers and (of particular relevance to the present discussion) fathers to develop a long-term relationship predicated on mutual love and affection, and it would have had the additional benefit of helping mothers of young children acquire high-quality food and protect their food stores against theft.”
But note that the essential role of emotion as the proximate cause of pair bonding applies regardless of whether provisioning plays any part in the process – in fact, regardless of what mating strategies apply.
The innate nature of these emotional predispositions sounds a warning. If social pressures were to result in a decline in pair bonding – and they have – nevertheless the evolved, innate, emotional drivers will still operate. The result is a social structure which is in conflict with individuals’ psychology. More of this in a subsequent post. For now I quote Lynn Miller and Stephanie Fishkin (item 9 in my review of the literature)
“We would argue that humans, over vast stretches of human history, were adapted to experience responsive caregivers, both fathers and mothers. When humans do not encounter this social environment as offspring, this lack of fit between what humans were adapted for and what they encounter is likely to have a number of emergent outcomes. Chief amongst these may be the impaired ability to trust and feel that one can get close to and dependent on others. Control for such insecure individuals may instead be achieved through emotional withdrawal or attempts to dominate others.”
This is not good.
The pair bond is bidirectional, but its two directions are different: it is asymmetric. The fundamental reason for the asymmetry is that, in the mating deal in question, the woman is selling and the man is buying. This is true whichever of the mating strategies outlined in §7 you may choose to believe is most significant. In the exposition below I shall concentrate, for clarity, on the assumption that male provisioning is the main function of the pair bond. However, essentially the same points apply whatever the mating strategy.
The pair-bond asymmetry results from the unequal investments the two partners make in the conception, gestation and birth of their children. Women’s investment is huge; men’s trivial (ignoring the male “success investment” prior to sex). Women will therefore tend to be rather careful about their choice of mate. Their investment in reproduction is very burdensome, and it would be unfortunate to make such an investment for the sake of either poor paternal genetic material or for a father who is likely to renege on his obligations as resource provider.
The asymmetry of the male-female bond is that the man is committing to provide resource, whilst the woman expects to receive resource. Thus, in respect of resource provision, the man is behaving altruistically whereas the woman is not. Alternatively, if it is the man’s genetic quality which is key to the mating strategy, then it is a man’s striving to prove his quality via the male hierarchy which is his burden. In either case, the male effort to secure mating opportunities is not to his benefit as an individual. It follows that the male pair-bond towards the female must be emotionally based. The reverse is not the case. The mother’s altruistic contribution, on the other hand, is the production of a child. So the mother-to-child bond is necessarily emotionally based. Both these bonds are directional; they are naturally asymmetric because the service provision which has given rise to them is one-way.
Evolution dictates that it is fecundity that a man will look for in a potential mate (whether he knows it or not). Thus a man will favour females showing clear secondary sexual characteristics, indicative of maturity, and youth, because fertility declines with age. That’ll be young women with breasts – so not too young. Men tend to be criticised in our culture for preferring young women with breasts, and yet the opposite would be perverse.
Men are attracted by appearance. Female beauty is strongly related to indicators of general health, another (subliminal) sign to the male of likely fertility. And finally, female beauty is neotenous: an attractive woman’s face retains characteristics of that of an infant. This may be because the adult-infant bond formed first in evolution, and the male-female bond was partly modelled to mimic it. As Finkel and Eastwick note “it appears that, in the genus Homo, pairbonds were scaffolded on top of infant-caregiver attachment bonds“.
But what of female-to-male bonding? The above argument implies that this will not necessarily be emotionally based – though that does not preclude emotional adjuncts arising. The main concern of the woman will be to ensure that she is investing wisely. Caution will be her watchword. She will wish to test her suitor as to his reliability. “Commitment” is the word which most neatly captures her concern – and it is no accident that women today will often criticise men for their lack of it. Yet men are far less likely to criticise a woman for lack of commitment. Is this because women are naturally so very committed? I suggest it is more likely to be because the word “commitment” does not capture very well the woman’s obligation. The deal the man is signing up to is not the woman’s commitment exactly, but the production of children. The one-sided concern over commitment simply reflects the directionality of the male-female bond. [I am over simplifying all this for clarity. It is all more nuanced in truth. In particular, resource provision is not the only function served by the pair bond. For example, pairbonded individuals serve as robust safe havens and secure bases for each other, a benefit to both parties].
This quote from Finkel and Eastwick exemplifies in particular the female perspective,
“In Western cultures today, it takes about two years for a full-fledged pairbond to form… However, the process of developing a potential pairbond begins much sooner than that, sometimes in the first moments of interaction with a partner one finds romantically intriguing. People experience this proto-pair-bonding as a form of attachment-related anxiety regarding the potential partner – as agreement with self-report items like ‘I need a lot of reassurance that this person cares about me’ and ‘I feel uncertain about this person’s true feelings for me.'”
Matt Ridley in The Origins of Virtue says it bluntly,
“Emotions are mental devices for guaranteeing commitment.”
Whilst Fletcher et al opine that,
“Romantic love is a ‘commitment device’ for motivating pair-bonding in humans”
The point I am labouring here is that the female-to-male bond consists primarily in encouraging and confirming the male-to-female bond. The female-to-male bond is a secondary phenomenon, whereas the male-to-female bond is the primary emotional requirement for the altruistic arrangement of resource provision (or any other mating strategy resulting in pair bonding). The pay-off to the man comes with the production of children, in relation to which the female behaves altruistically and is emotionally bonded.
The provision of resources to women will naturally be according to their requirements. And a woman’s acquiescence will be conditional upon demonstrations of the man’s commitment, such as present giving and a willingness to provide as directed. The outcome of pair bonding is therefore that women feel entitled to control men and have men treat them with gentleness and consideration. Women expect men to sacrifice themselves for their benefit, and men do too. Such expectation and entitlement is evolved behaviour. It is the nature of pair bonding. There is no equality in evolution. So, if this perspective is correct, it is inappropriate to cast over these behaviours a pejorative pall.
Since the nature of the pair bond causes women to exercise control over male effort, it follows that women will tend to become the arbiters of what is “good”. In other words, because the needs of the woman attain primacy in the motivation of the man, this has led to a ceding of moral authority to the woman.
My contention is that men’s transference of moral authority to a woman transcends romantic love and becomes a permanent feature, not only of that relationship but of men’s relationship with women in general. This places the man in a subservient position, maintained, not by any external agency, but purely by evolved psychological inclination. This is surely very familiar to most men. It underlies the instinct to protect women. It is the reason for men’s great reluctance to upset women. It is the reason why the word “misogynist” has such power. It is the reason why women advocating on behalf of men possess a moral legitimacy which no man is authorised to possess. And it is also the enabler of feminism which consists essentially of an exploitation of this innate bias. My position is that this female moral authority is deeply atavistic, a psychological deferral by men which has coevolved with pair bonding.
The asymmetry of the pair bond therefore has enormous ramifications. This asymmetry is a key aspect of the traditional gendered society, being the basis of the domestic authority of women (the truth of which has been obscured by the false idea of oppressive patriarchy). But, I shall argue in a later post, these innate psychological dispositions – particularly the assumed moral authority of women – also give rise to the pathologies of feminism when deployed inappropriately outside the family context. And whether an individual person, man or woman, can resist the feminist narrative depends upon the extent to which their rationality can triumph over the, now inappropriate, emotional predispositions.
Workers in the area of emotion usually distinguish a certain class of emotions, called ‘basic emotions’. Basic emotions are defined as those which we share with our primate ancestors. (Some people believe many animals, such as dogs, also share a capacity for these basic emotions). The basic emotions include anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise, and the emotional sub-categories which fall into these general descriptions. Note that these are not the sort of emotions that one would imagine contributing to pair bond formation. Indeed it would be inconsistent with the argument of this article if they did, because primates do not pair bond. The basic emotions probably evolved as cognitive shortcuts, as described above.
So what about the emotions involved in pair bond formation, which I have argued evolved in a very different manner – specifically to facilitate altruism? The alert reader will note that all I have demonstrated is that the male-to-female bond is emotionally based – not necessarily that the emotions in question are benign. Given that their end product is altruistic, it would be peculiar if the emotional drivers were exploitative, though not logically impossible. By labelling said emotions as “love”, with all that word denotes, I have implied that the emotions inducing the bonding are not merely benign but laudable. Indeed, “love” – especially if extended into its Christian sense – is virtually synonymous with genuine altruism. In its more restricted, romantic, sense, the male-to-female bond consists of those feelings of tenderness towards females which overwhelm a male at puberty. Relevant emotional terms are “affection”, “tenderness”, “adoration”, “devotion”, “longing”, “concern”, “sympathy”, “compassion”, “desire”, “passion”, even “worship” – and, yes, “sexual lust”. These things are simply what it feels like inside to be the product of an evolutionary strategy based on pair bonding.
To most people, even now, the claim that pair bonding is driven by love would hardly need defending. But we live in benighted times. Feminists are not in the habit of using the word “love”. And those for whom the very concept of love has become alien are surely in a state of spiritual destitution.
The feminist position is that the pair bond – at least in the institutionalised form of marriage – was created by men entirely for their own benefit. It consists of men using their superior physical and financial power to control and oppress women.
It is never explained why men should want to do this. The implication is that they simply like doing so. In other words, feminist patriarchy theory is essentially the claim that all men are sociopaths.
Now one can refute this based (as a man) on one’s own lived experience. Alternatively, one can refute it based (as a man or a woman) on one’s knowledge of many men. Are they all such monsters? And one can refute it based on one’s own observations of married couples. Wives are always downtrodden, are they? Some are, most aren’t. Many are clearly the dominant partner. And as for long term marriages – are they the ones where the husband is most controlling, or the ones where the husband is most compliant?
But even if we were to accept that all men are indeed sociopathic monsters whose main purpose in life is the oppression of the very people upon whom they depend for emotional succour, feminist patriarchy theory still makes no sense. It makes no sense because it fails to explain how such a view can be consistent with resource provision, which is the essence of the male-to-female bond whose nature is in question. Bullies are not noted for giving gifts to their victims – especially on an habitual, indeed, reliable, basis, sustained over decades. Of course, feminists would claim that resource provision is just financial control. Even if you are inclined to disbelieve in paternal provisioning as significant in the evolutionary origin of the pair bond, there is no doubt that it became significant over the whole of historical time.
And whatever the truth of the ancient mating strategies behind pair bonding, it remains the case that it is essentially altruistic behaviour. The perfectly selfish male would have nothing to gain by pair bonding if the emotional drivers are ignored – the gain is only genetic.
And if power and control were a man’s only interest, how does this explain monogamy exactly? Surely it is the tournament model of mating strategy, adopted by other primates, which best exemplifies power and control. And in this model the most powerful alpha male does most of the mating and most males do none. This is what an oppressive patriarchal culture (in the feminist sense) looks like, I suggest – not monogamy. And if monogamy has weakened somewhat of late, under whose tutelage has that happened? The transition from the tournament model to the pair bond is surely a move away from physical power and male control of female fertility.
The role of emotion in the asymmetric pair bond is the main burden of this post. But by way of a coda before closing I make one final remark about emotionality in males in contrast to that in females.
It is striking that the male-to-female bond depends specifically on a male emotional response. I say ‘striking’ because, in some quarters, male emotional capacity is regarded as considerably muted compared to that of females. The key socio-sexual attribute of Homo sapiens would appear to have been made reliant on the weaker of the two vessels. Men, we are constantly told by the popular media, have poorer emotional intelligence than women. Indeed, so atrophied is men’s emotional functionality, we are told, that some have referred to it as Normative Male Alexithymia. Now alexithymia is actually a clinical condition in which the sufferer has a severe deficit in emotional processing such as is found in cases of traumatic brain injury, severe autism, or postraumatic stress disorder. The Normative Male Alexithymia hypothesis is exemplified by Ronald Levant who writes in A New Psychology of Men (1995), pages 238-9,
“One of the most far-reaching consequences of male gender-role socialization is the high incidence among men of… the inability to identify and describe one’s feelings….men are genuinely unaware of their emotions. Lacking this emotional awareness, when asked to identify their feelings, they tend to rely on their cognition to try to logically deduce how they should feel. They cannot do what is automatic for most women – simply sense inwardly, feel the feeling, and let the verbal description come to mind.”
I don’t suppose Dr Levant regards himself as an emotional cripple. He has, after all, presented himself as an expert on the subject. It’s those other men.
[On final revision of this post I noticed that Peter Wright published an article on this issue on AVFM in October – see that for more details].
The Normative Male Alexithymia hypothesis is essentially the claim that men are emotionally broken, an hypothesis which sits neatly alongside the concept of toxic masculinity, a belief in the sociopathic patriarchy monster, and the persistent trend to regard women as the ideal to which men should, but fail to, aspire.
I might be reticent about demurring from such expert opinion as Dr Levant’s were it not for the fact that even an extremely cursory dip into the literature appears to suggest that the empirical evidence is not actually supportive of men’s emotional stupidity.
Astoundingly, it seems that some people are unable to distinguish between emotion and the display, or expression, of emotion. This is most odd. I was raised to believe that people who wear their heart on their shirt sleeve are probably shallow. I was raised to believe that still waters run deep. Could it be that our society has now become so reduced that it can no longer stretch even as far as such folk wisdom?
Looking back at the definition of emotion we note the following defining characteristics,
- emotions are related to feelings;
- emotions are related to physiological responses;
- emotions motivate behaviours which are often of social significance.
I draw your attention to the absence in this definition of any essential requirement for emotion to be displayed or expressed, e.g., verbally, or otherwise made manifest to observers.
Take, for example, this Finnish study which found that men assessed against the Toronto Alexithymia Scale scored higher than women on “difficulty in describing feelings”, but there was no gender difference in scores on “difficulty in identifying feelings”.
Men’s emotional stance may be described as stoical. In Emotionally Dumb: an overview of Alexithymia, Jason Thompson writes,
“Stoic individuals are not impaired in their ability to interpret emotion, rather, they have chosen resistance to entertain, act out, and discuss emotional matters. In fact stoic resisting of emotional impulses requires an ability to identify one’s emotions in order to go about reducing their effects.”
Stoicism is not to be confused with repression of emotions (which consists of brushing unwanted emotions under the carpet of the subconscious, possibly with detrimental effects). The elision of stoicism with repression is probably the source of much of the criticism of men’s emotional habits.
The original Stoic philosophy did indeed teach that self-control and fortitude were virtues, and specifically because they are a means of overcoming destructive emotions. Stoicism also emphasised the importance of reason and clear judgment, but it did not seek otherwise to denigrate positive emotions. It has been said that the true religion of Victorian England was not Christianity but Stoicism. And it seems to be laudable rather than the opposite if this is indeed a description of men’s nature.
Thompson goes on to critique Levant’s thesis regarding Normative Male Alexithymia, concluding that,
“Whilst Levant may be right in his claim that men are generally less skilled than women in their ability to describe feelings, he is demonstrably incorrect in claiming that men are less able to identify specific feeling states in self or others in the true clinical sense of alexithymia. Here it would seem that Levant has failed to discriminate between the separate factors of (1) identifying and (2) describing feelings. The majority of alexithymia studies reveal that males are equally able to identify feelings in self and others, but occasional studies show that males are less able, or willing, to provide lengthy descriptions of the feelings they have successfully identified. What this means is that, like women, men can equally identify feelings such as jealousy, hatred, anxiety, fear, sadness, love, joy, envy and the like but they may not indulge a longer verbal description, preferring instead to thoughtfully act to modulate the intensity of emotions. This “action empathy” is in no way inferior to verbal empathy, and either of these responses typically employed by males or females can successfully modulate emotional arousal to desired levels.”
There are many hypotheses which one can offer as to why men tend not to display or express emotions so readily as women. Poorer verbal dexterity might be one. Or the fact that the expression of strong emotions in men might carry the risk, in some situations, of promoting violence. But gender role is the most likely explanation, though this may be either innate or socially conditioned. The key, I suspect, is men’s translation of emotion into action – as opposed from display – as alluded to by Thompson, above.
If what we are told is true, gender roles – be they evolved or socially constructed – promote male hyper-agency and female hypo-agency. But recall that the purpose of emotions is to motivate action. In whom is the emotion which is felt by a hyper-agent male intended to promote action? Why, in himself, for he is the hyper-agent. What need has he, then, to display or express an emotion of which he is well aware. He merely translates the motivation directly into action. But in whom is the emotion which is felt by a hypo-agent female intended to promote action? Why, in someone else, of course, for she herself is not an agent. So, for the female hypo-agent, it is essential to display, express and communicate said emotion unto whatever agent might be in the vicinity. From this perspective, the purpose of female emotion is to promote action in another. Female emotion acts indirectly; male directly. And only the former is necessarily visible to an observer through display or expression.
The hyper-agent simply has no need to display emotion – only to act upon it. So it is inappropriate to criticise a hyper-agent (men) for their lack of emotional display. And, in any case, a man displaying emotions of distress is far less likely to be rewarded with assistance than a woman in the same circumstances. What encouragement is there then, either evolutionary or socially constructed, for a man to be emotionally open? To paraphrase Warren Farrell, by displaying his need for help, a man forfeits his right to it.
Here I lay down in briefest outline form the main hypotheses regarding how the human pair-bond evolved. In each case it is necessary to identify benefits to both the female genetic line and the male genetic line. Both must benefit or there would be no effective driver for the adaptation. I have collected together some extracts from the recent literature in this (woefully incomplete) literature review referenced below.
This is the tournament model of mating. It is common throughout the animal world. It applies to the (other) primates, albeit with an overlay of other strategies as well. The recent literature does not support this as a model for humans (or hominins). I mention it for completeness though it does not, in any case, provide a mechanism for monogamous pair-bonding. It usually drives high levels of alpha male polygyny with lesser males not mating at all.
Provisioning consists of the male providing food and other material goods or services, e.g., erection of a living space, protection against aggression and theft. The benefit to the mother-child combination is clear. The benefit to the male genetic line is usually assumed to be the improved survival prospects of the child. In his new book, Steve Moxon has dismissed provisioning as the cause of pair bonding. I think he over-states the counter-argument somewhat. The literature still refers extensively to the role of provisioning, albeit there are other explanations available (below) which some authors prefer. Generally the arguments made are more nuanced. In my short review of 15 published articles on human pair bonding, at least 9 (published between 2000 and 2015) include some element of paternal provisioning, possibly under the terminology of ‘paternal investment’ or ‘paternal caregiving’.
Moxon refers to a paper by Sear & Mace, 2008 (item 12 in my review) which concludes, “Fathers have surprisingly little effect on child survival, with only a third of studies showing any beneficial effects. Overall, this review suggests that whilst help from kin may be a universal feature of human child-rearing, who helps is dependent on ecological conditions.” But Sear & Mace has come in for some criticism in the literature. For example, item 7 in my review, referring to Sear & Mace, states, “virtually all the societies in this study were agricultural societies, and thus it is unclear that the finding is representative of most of human evolution. Furthermore, survival is only one, rather exacting measure of male investment. Paternal care could boost the father’s fitness even without boosting offspring survival. It could, for example, help shorten the woman’s interbirth interval, through reducing the workload and calorific toll associated with raising a young child.” The benefit of pair-bonding to the male genetic line need not be realised by improved child survival. The benefit to the male may simply be ease of access to a mate – in other words, a larger number of offspring (which might mean bigger than zero). This is beneficial even if the survival chances of each child were no better for the father’s involvement.
And an emphatically opposing view, from item 11 of my review is “When the pattern of male provisioning does break down across the overall society, e.g. the Ik, the breakdown signals an overall societal disintegration“. The most likely position appears to be that the benefits of male provisioning are facultative. Where resources are not scarce and/or alternative allomothers are available, the benefits of male investment are reduced.
Social provisioning is a variant on provisioning which could apply only once social structures became sufficiently developed. The idea is that recognition of a child’s father might confer social status, and such status would have material benefit, e.g., as rights to cultivate certain land, or inheritance rights, or other socially controlled rights which would have a direct bearing on access to resources. This is linked, therefore, to a male hierarchy, and hence to male competition, but not necessarily a physical-dominance hierarchy. However, this could not explain the original evolution of the pair bond in humans unless social structures of sufficient sophistication arose prior to pair bonding – which is almost certainly untrue. Consequently, if relevant at all, this would be a later reinforcing of an already-established pair bonding proclivity.
Childbirth is a hazardous business, and was far more hazardous for primitive hominins. It is generally recognised that the transition to bipedalism and the simultaneous growth in brain size in the earliest hominins resulted in a particular birthing problem. On the one hand the impact of bipedalism on the anatomy of the female pelvis was not conducive to the passage of a large baby – especially a baby with a large head. On the other hand, increasing brain size required it. The evolutionary solution was, in effect, to cause human babies to be functionally premature. The resulting complete helplessness of new born humans drives the requirement for doting parental attention – hence the absolute necessity of child provisioning (though this does not prescribe who is doing the provisioning). An hypothesis is that maternal death in childbirth might have been particularly common in this stage of evolution. If this led to a relative shortage of females of childbearing age, it would be beneficial to the male to acquire, and hold onto, this scarce reproductive resource – the pair bond.
By sticking close to a female to which he is pair-bonded, a male may be able to prevent sexual access to her by other males. This is of benefit to the male’s gene line. It is not so clear where the benefit to the female’s gene line might lie. One argument is that the increased paternity certainty resulting from the pair bond would drive greater male investment (in both mate and child). Many references do place great emphasis on paternal certainty. So mate guarding could be beneficial to both parties.
There is another take on the benefits of mate guarding to the female line. Whilst mate guarding would protect the female from a disadvantageous pregnancy by a lower ranked male, equally it might prevent an opportunity for an advantageous coupling with a higher ranked male. At this point the plot thickens due to the phenomenon of sexual crypsis – the fact that it is not apparent to others when a female human is in oestrus. This is unusual in primates and would appear to be a human adaptation. The combination of the pair bond and sexual crypsis presents the female with a great opportunity. She may optimise separately on two variables. On the one hand she can opt to seek out congress with a higher ranked male at just the time when she alone knows she is most fertile, but at the same time she can rely for provisioning on her pair-bonded partner. In other words, paternity fraud as an evolved strategy. Moxon quotes levels of ‘extra pair’ paternity of 10% – 15%, opining that the true figure may be substantially higher. I agree that 10% – 15% is a reasonable estimate for current levels of paternity fraud (see here). And it is worth noting in this context that genetic studies imply that a far larger proportion of women had children than men (about 80% and 40% respectively).
One could take the view that sexual crypsis arose simply because, in a pair bond, it was no longer necessary for the male to be aware of the female’s fertile period. But this does not ring true. Reversing the causality, sexual crypsis would encourage the formation of a pair bond because, never knowing when the female was fertile, the male would be obliged to have regular intercourse until he ‘hit the jackpot’. Hence, the benefit of pair bond formation for the male would be circumvention of the female’s ‘defensive’ strategy of hidden oestrus. The female benefit might be either the provisioning resulting from greater paternal certainty, or the opportunity to exploit the cuckolding strategy, as above.
The role of the male genetic filter has been emphasised by Moxon. It consists of the recognition that the purging of gene copying errors, or other deleterious genetic factors, is implemented primarily upon males. This is facilitated by the fact that more male-originated than female-originated alleles are actually expressed. The historical operation of the male filter is demonstrated by the fact that, based on DNA studies, whilst ~80% of females successfully reproduced in the past, only ~40% of males did so. Moxon’s slant on this is that the male hierarchy functions as a ready-made guide to genetic quality. Thus males will enjoy greater reproductive success, driven largely by female preference, if they are higher in the male hierarchy. A stark illustration of this in historical times is the fact that, when childbirth was almost entirely within marriage, a man would be unable to marry until he first was able to demonstrate sufficient wealth or earning capacity to support a family. Whilst this is ostensibly about provisioning, it is also about the man’s position on a success-hierarchy. In isolation, the male genetic filter does not constitute a pair-bonding mechanism. However, it gives rise to conditions in which males are likely to be willing to enter into a pair-bond because of the very real threat of otherwise being excluded from reproduction entirely – historically the fate of most men. The role of the male hierarchy in providing men with a means of scrambling through the genetic filter to reproductive success presents a different slant on the issue of male reproductive investment. From this perspective, men invest in reproduction before sex, in contrast to women’s much greater investment after sex (as Moxon has put it). From this point of view it is not a man’s provisioning per se which is so relevant as his ability to provision, because this acts as a marker of his position on the male hierarchy, and hence on his genetic quality.
This is another argument emphasised by Moxon (and original to him, I suspect). He observers that a woman’s fertility falls markedly with age, whilst a man’s fertility less so. Consequently the relative mate-value of the two changes in the man’s favour as time goes by. It is therefore in the woman’s interest to lock a man into a mating couple early so as to ‘reserve’ him as a higher mating value partner than she would be able to acquire later. It is essentially a futures contract. Conversely, the man acquires immediately a rather higher value mating partner than he might have expected (especially if he were only offering casual sex) at the price of being committed to a depreciating asset. This pair-bond deal is analogous to a long term, fixed price contract with your electricity supplier. You may be happy to pay over the current market price in the expectation that, later on, you will be paying below the market price which you anticipate inflating. The electricity company is also willing to engage in such a contract on the basis that they value security and predictability of income over the long term, and also the short-term gain. (The customer is the woman in this analogy, and the company is the man).
Actually attachment is not a basis for pair bonding in the sense required here at all – which is not to deny its possible relevance. Many papers on pair bonding refer to attachment as the relevant mechanism. Unlike the other proposals, however, attachment theory relates to the proximate cause of the pair bonding phenomenon, rather than the distal cause. So it is still necessary to identify the distal causes. In other words, even if attachment is the relevant psychological mechanism, we are still required to identify why pair bonding is beneficial to both the male and female genetic lines. So, in practice, attachment must be paired with one of the above explanations. However, the emphasis on attachment in many published articles does reinforce the main point of my post, namely that innate emotional tendency is the central proximate feature of pair bonding behaviour (because attachment is a ‘hardwired’ emotionally based theory).
I joke. I saw no mention of such a theory in any of the articles I reviewed. The nearest one gets to this in the literature is mate-guarding. But, as we have seen, mate-guarding is not what it seems.