David Buss [00:00:19]:
Dan Riley [00:00:19]:
Well, first, just wanted to say thank you for letting me into your home and giving me the time. It's great to meet you, and welcome to the show.
David Buss [00:00:25]:
Well, thank you. Delighted to talk to you.
Dan Riley [00:00:27]:
Same. I know we were talking just before we press record about kind of the rough outline of what we wanted to talk about. And I would love to give you an opportunity to speak about the history, maybe just in your lifetime, that you have seen related to your field of expertise, which is evolutionary psychology. How did it start? Where did it start? How the hell did you get interested in this in the first place?
David Buss [00:00:52]:
Okay, that's a great question, but making me feel a little bit older in your life back in the 18th century? Yeah. Okay. Well, very briefly, when I was an undergraduate, I became interested in psychology. And what I was really interested in was human nature. What makes people tick, what causes people to get out of bed in the morning, what motivates people to do the things that they do. And so I thought that psychology had the answers to that and could provide a theory of human nature or insights into human nature. And so I went to graduate school at UC Berkeley in psychology and personality psychology, because I thought that the field of personality psychology dealt with the big theories of human nature, like Freud and Jung and Rogers and all these grand theories of personality. But what I discovered very quickly was that all these theories had elements that had intuitive appeal, or certain elements of them had intuitive appeal, but they all lacked a scientific foundation in the sense of like, well, what is a fundamental science on which we can build a theory of human nature? And so that's why, over time, I was drawn more and more to evolutionary biology.
David Buss [00:02:18]:
There was no such thing as evolutionary psychology at the time. And so I started reading, even though I had no training in it and literally had never taken a course in evolutionary biology. I started doing a lot of reading in evolutionary biology, starting in graduate school, and then I got my phd in mainstream personality psychology. I got a job at Harvard, which was very fortunate for me, because Harvard basically leaves you. Here are the keys, here's where the Xerox machine is. You're on your own. And check back with us some other time. So, for the first time, the total freedom to explore what I wanted to explore.
David Buss [00:02:58]:
And so I did two things. One is I took over a course on human motivation that was originally previously taught by a guy named David McClelland, who was a very famous personality psychologist. And I organized the course around an evolutionary framework that was kind of the meta theoretical framework, while simultaneously doing a lot of reading. In evolutionary biology. And then I also started designing studies of couples. The first study I designed at Harvard was a study of married couples. And as I was designing this, I thought that I could actually use that study to test some evolutionary hypotheses that had been floated in the literature that I'd been reading about. And so, and so that's really the first project that I got involved in.
David Buss [00:03:47]:
And it was a project on mate preferences and ultimately led to my 37 culture study of what men and women want in a long term mate because I realized originally people wouldn't believe results coming out of a sample of 100 Cambridge, Massachusetts couples. So I thought, I really have to demonstrate this not just for the field, but for my own satisfaction. And many evolutionary hypotheses require demonstrations of universality. So if you just find it in what are now called weird western educated cultures, no one's going to believe you. But do these findings hold up if you go to other cultures? But as it happened, and this is why I say the Harvard connection turned out to be very beneficial, because at the time, there was a graduate student in psychology named Lita Cosmetes, and she was married. I don't know if they were married at the time, but her long term mate, subsequently, husband John Tubi, he was a graduate student in Bioanthro. And she heard that I was teaching a course organized around evolutionary theory. And so that was a key interest of theirs.
David Buss [00:05:07]:
And they hadn't published anything on evolutionary psychology yet, but we became friends. And then I started corresponding with the very few people around the world who were doing anything evolutionary. And so that was kind of the start of it. My first papers were really about mating, and this was a very fortunate thing to get into. And I'm not quite sure how I stumbled into it, but it turned out to be a very fruitful thing and theoretically important, because from an evolutionary perspective, in sexually reproducing species, everything has to go through mating. You don't mate, you don't reproduce. What we expect is if there are features of our evolved psychology, they have to be oriented around two big classes of things, survival and mating, or mating related things. Now, of course, it's considerably more complex than that, but as it turned out, mating was a very good topic to stumble into or get into.
David Buss [00:06:18]:
And it started out kind of as a sideline. So then, in terms of the origin of the field. So I started becoming friends with the very few people who are working in this area, Alita cosmedias and John Tubi. As I mentioned, she was working on cheater detection and social exchange, although she didn't publish it. I think that was her doctoral dissertation, 1985, but her first actual publication, and it was not till 1989. And so there really wasn't anyone doing this stuff except for a couple weirdos. But of course, Lita and John were extraordinarily brilliant theoreticians, and so that friendship was very important. So fast forward a few years.
David Buss [00:07:15]:
So I was at Harvard for four years, and then Michigan offered me a job. And so I shifted to Michigan, which also had a very strong evolutionary community. But then I got invited to be at the center for Advanced Studies out at Stanford. And it's one of these elected kind of things you don't have control over. You can't say, hey, I'd like to spend a year there. But for some reason, I got elected to be a member. And you have the opportunity to organize a special project, if you want, and propose it. And that would involve inviting some people to be there with you at the center for a core focus group.
David Buss [00:07:53]:
And so I proposed foundations for evolutionary psychology and invited. I wanted to invite Lita cosmetics, John Tubi, Martin Daley, Margot Wilson, and Don Simons, who I wanted to invite, but turned out that didn't work out. And so that happened. 1989. The five of us were out there, and we were going to write a book that was basically going to be called something like foundations for evolutionary psychology. But if you know anything about academics, it's like the cliche of herding cats, extremely difficult to do. I'm not a bad herder. So, like, I even had.
David Buss [00:08:35]:
This was. There was an earthquake in the San Francisco area. You probably weren't even born at this time, but I know you're talking about it. Yeah, but it was 1989, I think the big earthquake, the Bay Bridge, got totally knocked out. And so there's this earthquake hits. We're in the middle of our evolutionary foundations meeting, and everyone gets nervous, and I say, no, we must go on. And so we go on for another ten minutes or so, and then there's a big aftershock. And then John says, I think we better stop.
David Buss [00:09:05]:
I'm getting nervous about my apartment. So we finally stopped. So the joke is that I kind of lashed them into working through the earthquake. But at any rate, that book never came to fruition. Even though we all wrote drafts of chapters and everything. Eventually I decided I just had to do it myself. And so I wrote what became the first textbook in evolutionary psychology, evolutionary psychology. I grandiosefully titled it the New Science of the mind.
David Buss [00:09:37]:
Subtitle, but I think that was and is appropriate.
Dan Riley [00:09:42]:
Let me ask you there. When you began this work with your former colleagues, and then eventually, which led to the textbook, did you have the sense that you were hitting on something big, that this was a precipice or a potential precipice for a vast new potential source of insight and knowledge?
David Buss [00:10:02]:
Yes, I did. I started out. So just to backtrack 1 minute here, so my training at Berkeley was very empirical. So Berkeley came out of this strong empirical, basically. And psychology tends to be like that. So it is not very strong theoretically, but it's very strong empirically. So whatever, to convince someone, you have to just show the hard hand of data is what decides everything. And so I had that very strong empirical training, which is what partly led me to do large cross cultural studies.
David Buss [00:10:46]:
But at the time, I didn't realize the full scope of evolutionary psychology. And then over time, partly as a result of my friendship with Lita and John, and partly as a result of a gradual growing community, I realized that evolutionary psychology was the foundation for not only all of psychology, and this is going to sound preposterously grandiose, but actually all the social sciences. So economics, economic behavior, is human behavior and has to have its foundation in our evolved psychology. And of course, psychology now has partly moved into economics. So you have the whole field of behavioral economics. But, yeah. Back to your question. Did I realize that it was the foundation for everything that humans do? Probably not as much as I do now, but I had some glimmering and came to believe that there really aren't any other alternatives because there's no other causal process that we know about other than evolutionary processes that can create complex organic machinery like our complex brain and the psychological mechanisms that it houses.
Dan Riley [00:12:11]:
Yeah, for people that are unfamiliar with the phrase evolutionary psychology, or just briefly, I think maybe it would be helpful to have a quick explanation of what those two words mean if you could just shed some light on the basics of what evolutionary psychology is essentially trying to get at.
David Buss [00:12:30]:
Sure. A little bit of background for that. So the field of psychology historically has been, until evolutionary psychology, basically has been a functional that hasn't asked the question, what are our underlying psychological mechanisms designed to do? What problems are they designed to solve? Evolutionary psychology is taking evolutionary principles, evolution by natural and sexual selection in particular, and using that evolutionary lens to examine the human mind, the components of the human mind, that is, the underlying psychological mechanisms which are housed in the brain and their functions. So that is the fact that as infants, we grow up and we have fear, fears and phobias. So we develop as infants fears of snakes, darkness, spiders, strangers, hostile forces and heights, things that historically damaged our survival. I mean, strangers could be hazardous to your health.
Dan Riley [00:13:53]:
And these are innate?
David Buss [00:13:54]:
Yeah, well, so I actually don't like the term innate simply because all we have is our evolved psychology. There is no such thing as a non evolved psychology. All we have is our evolved psychology. So the key question is, well, what is the nature of that psychology? How is it designed? And the reason that I don't like the term innate is because it has a lot of baggage associated with it. That is, people think that somehow it should be present at birth, and some things are. But even things like stranger anxiety is not present at birth. It doesn't come online until people start to locomot. Breasts in females aren't present at birth.
David Buss [00:14:40]:
Functional breasts. So things come online at different points in development. Developmental psychologists in particular confuse the term innate with present at birth. And that's not really what it means, even just to take a slightly more distant example. Well, in my domain, mating. So our full blast of mating adaptations don't come online when we're born. They don't come online when you're in elementary school, all of a sudden you hit puberty, and all of a sudden there's a new world opened up to you, a new set of attractions and so forth. And then even down the line there, when you become a parent, a different set of adaptations come online that you didn't even know were there.
David Buss [00:15:29]:
People find themselves, from a martian perspective, it would seem irrational. This parent seems like irrationally in love with and devoted to this blob of an infant, but it happens to be theirs. They're not in love with the next door neighbor's infant. The other reason that now that I'm rambling, that I don't like the term innate is simply because it has connotations of immutability or insensitivity to environmental input, whereas many of our psychological adaptations, and we can get into examples when it comes to mating, are exquisitely sensitive to environmental input. So just to take one example within my domain, mate value. So you're not born knowing whether you're a six, an eight, or a ten, but you get feedback. Some people are attracted to you. Other people find you repulsive.
David Buss [00:16:28]:
You range from being an incel, involuntarily celibate all the way up to being, I don't know, a rock star who every woman in the world wants to sleep with. But you get the point. So we get in this case, social feedback that then calibrates our self perception of our mate value. And so many of our adaptations are like that, that require input from the world, input from the social environment to be calibrated and then implemented successfully.
Dan Riley [00:17:05]:
Yeah, this is fascinating stuff. I said this to you before we started recording that to me, this is one of, if not the most fascinating realm of academic inquiry. If you're interested in humans, I don't know how you couldn't be interested in the subject. To get back to the history you were talking about, you and the weirdos who were getting together and getting together at conferences and talking about these subjects, but you were the weirdo that wrote the book, or wrote the first book. Tell me about that process, what you were uncovering, how that experience was for you.
David Buss [00:17:36]:
Well, writing the evolutionary psych textbook, it was a wonderful intellectually growthful experience, because psychologists tend to, and I was more or less the same. I've always have very broad interest, but nonetheless, people specialize, and you study your small area of expertise. And what the textbook forced me to do was to deeply explore topics that I didn't have much knowledge of. So, for example, the evolution of cooperation, which is a huge field now within evolutionary psychology, was a smaller field when I wrote the textbook. The evolution of status hierarchies, that humans evolved in groups. All groups contain status hierarchies. Position in a status hierarchy is critical in determining your access to reproductively relevant resources. And so we must have a large suite of adaptations that involve motivation to get ahead, dealing with being in a subordinate position or a superior position or a peer position, dealing with rivals who are competing with us for the same position.
David Buss [00:18:52]:
Kinship is another domain. I never studied anything about kinship, but we evolved in small groups where our genetic relatives were a key part of our social environment. And so we should also have a very rich kin psychology. And again, very little was known, but there were some things that were known that were very kind of cool. That, for example, one of my favorites back then, which I still think is cool, is the burning building study that Eugene Bernstein did. So it's like a building is on fire. You have time to rush in and save one person, but only one. Who are you going to save? And there's.
David Buss [00:19:33]:
In. There is your sister, your female friend, your first cousin, whatever. And they did these hypothetical experiments. Of course, ideally, you'd like to put people in burning buildings to see who people would rush in to save. But these studies revealed that, for example, genetic relatedness was a very important predictor of who people chose to save. And there were more complexities than that. But the key point that I'm making in answer to your question is that it really opened up kind of intellectual vistas that I didn't know about, and also that there were theories in some of these areas anchored in evolutionary theory that had nothing to do with humans but could be applied to the study of humans.
Dan Riley [00:20:23]:
Yeah, you were saying earlier, I mean, it is as though you were speaking about the word innate and how you're not a fan of that word and how at certain points in human life, things come online. It strikes me that it's almost as though the insights about human nature are coming online in your brain, perhaps for the first time in some areas, or at least being compiled for the first time, systematically put into this book. That must have been a rather riveting experience for you, I must imagine.
David Buss [00:20:56]:
It was. As I said, it was a period of great intellectual growth for me personally. I mean, very few people have that opportunity to cast a net so widely.
Dan Riley [00:21:11]:
Yeah, I'd be curious to know, as you're going through your own growth there, and I know it's a big book, so we can't necessarily cover all the topics, but what is the story that is beginning to get unfolded or is being unfolded as you're doing the research that either was going against the traditional narrative of human nature or human psychology? What are you discovering in terms of the major themes that are worthwhile for you to be interested in and for the public to know about?
David Buss [00:21:41]:
That's a great question. That's a big question. So I guess I'll pick out a couple, and then maybe you can direct me if you think I'm going off track on this. So one has to do with fundamental assumptions about the human mind. And this gets back to the notion that all we have is our evolved psychology. But the critical question is, what is the nature of that evolved psychology? So if you go to behaviorism, you have B. F. Skinner and Pavlov.
David Buss [00:22:15]:
So the behaviorists, they believed that these principles of learning evolved so they didn't come out of magic. But the nature of those mechanisms is that they were basically blank slate, totally domain general mechanism. And that's why Skinner could study pigeons or rats or it didn't really matter what the organism was. They came in with essentially a blank slate. And on that slate were written either through processes of learning or, if you're a bandurian, social learning, observational learning, just.
Dan Riley [00:22:52]:
For people, just to specify something for people who are not familiar with the blank slate theory. And correct me if I'm wrong about this. The general idea there is that essentially an organism is fully influenced by their environment and conditioning, that there is no nature that is sort of baked into the cake at the time of birth.
David Buss [00:23:11]:
Dan Riley [00:23:11]:
Is that fair?
David Buss [00:23:12]:
Yeah, that's fair. I think a cursory knowledge of evolutionary theory would tell you that that notion can't be correct because there are some adaptive problems that are too important to be learned about, so to speak. That is, you can't wait till a tiger attacks you or a stranger or you fall off a cliff to learn, oh, no, I actually shouldn't be walking near steep cliffs. There's some things that are too important. And I think mating is the same way. I mean, you can't say, okay, well, I'm going to rely on my parents and peer group to tell me who I should mate with. We have fundamentally evolved attraction mechanisms that are very much like food preferences. So we have evolved food preferences for sugar, fat, salt, and protein, and we have evolved mate preferences for other qualities depending on whether you're going for a short term or long term mate, whether you're male or female, et cetera.
David Buss [00:24:28]:
In answer to your question, though, so one issue is, what is the nature of the mechanisms? Are they blank slate, totally domain general, or does the human mind contain more specialized adaptations that are designed to solve very specific problems or adaptive challenges? And evolutionary psychologists come down heavily on the second view, although there's still debate about how general or specific they are, which is perfectly fine. It's a legitimate and healthy scientific debate to have. But the other thing, the other answer to your question, I would say, is that Psychology has had this historically, this fundamental belief that all the good stuff, to the degree there's good stuff, is in part of human nature. And all the bad stuff, all the bad stuff humans do is due to bad parents, bad cultures, bad environments, poverty, or whatever. The notion that we could have evolved to do some bad stuff is anathema to some people, and it does violate, I think, a core belief that some people have about human nature, and especially in american culture, that is that we believe in the sort of infinite perfectability. And there was this view, and I don't know how prevalent is, but if you just leave children alone, they will blossom into wonderful flowers that will be cooperative and altruistic and all that. Now, I may be a little bit atypical as an evolutionary psychologist, in that I tend to be fascinated by the darker sides of human nature. So my new book deals with sexual harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence, sexual coercion, and I also wrote a book about murder, why people kill.
David Buss [00:26:27]:
And so I tend to be drawn to this, but not everybody is. I mean, there's a huge literature on the evolution of cooperation, on the evolution of altruism on group level cooperation, on cultural evolution. There are many fascinating domains of inquiry, and I think that's good and accurate in the sense that it is not the case that all the bad stuff people do comes from the outside and all the good stuff kind of comes from the internal flower blooming. We have the capacity for good and evil, for doing the nastiest stuff, like, for example, warfare. I think we have evolved warfare adaptations that cause men to want to go out and form a coalition and kill another group. But we also have adaptations for altruism, for generosity, for bestowing benefits on other people. And which adaptations get activated are very context dependent in predictable ways. Right now, among the most peaceful cultures on earth are the scandinavian cultures.
David Buss [00:27:45]:
So Norway, Sweden, Denmark, for example. But you go back 400 years, there were Vikings that were raiding the UK and Ireland and killing the men and capturing the women. That was merely 400 years ago. So does that mean that fundamental human nature changed? No, I don't think fundamental human nature changed, but the expression some warfare adaptations are no longer activated, which is a good thing.
Dan Riley [00:28:18]:
Yeah. I want to go back to you writing the book and what the epiphanies were for you, or the things that were coming online in your mind that were revelatory in changing misnomers or just enlightening you about conclusions that you thought you had really hit on, that shed rather conclusive light on elements of human nature that either had never been discovered before or had never been encouraged to be spoken about, that you were rather confident were true about us as a species.
David Buss [00:28:56]:
Okay, well, I guess I would point to a couple, but one big one would be sex differences. So evolved sex differences. Let me say a few words about that. So when I was in graduate school, I had four different mentors, in part because when I was an undergraduate, I asked the most successful graduate student I knew, what should I do when I go to graduate school? And he said, one piece of advice, seek multiple mentors. I think it was great advice. So I hit the ground. I had four mentors, but one of my mentors was a woman named Jean Block, and she was of the blank slate view very deeply. And moreover, she wrote articles about sex differences where she argued that it was solely environmental in the sense of, like, parents dress girls in pink and boys in blue.
David Buss [00:29:54]:
They give boys baseball bats and tonka trucks and they give girls Barbie dolls. And all sex differences are a result of the sort of differential parental treatment. And she even did a science documentary called the Pinks and the blues that kind of captures that essence. But that view was widespread in the field. If there are any sex differences, they're solely due to differential treatment by parents. Now, of course, nowadays, any parent who has a son and a daughter would know that ain't the case. But. So evolutionary theory provides what I view is the only coherent meta theory of where you see sex differences and where you see similarities.
David Buss [00:30:43]:
You only expect to see sex differences in domains in which the sexes have faced fundamentally different adaptive problems recurrently over evolutionary history, where they face the same problems. You expect to see similarity between the sexes. And so, like in many domains of survival, both sexes have faced problems of food shortages, of parasites, of predators. So males and females are very similar in many aspects of their psychology around survival. Where they differ is in the mating domain, centrally. That's the largest domain, even sex differences. So one of the largest sex differences that people have known about for some time is in aggression. So physical aggression, men are just, even from age three or whatever, boys are more like, beat each other up more than girls do physically.
David Buss [00:31:42]:
But even that is closely related to mating, for reasons that we can get into. But this larger point, that there are fundamentally evolved sex differences and to some degree, still is anathema to people today. So in the modern environment, we have what some people call sex difference denialism, where it just. You even see this in neuroscience, which is just crazy, because the data are very clear, the scientific evidence is very clear that male and female brains do differ, and pretending that they don't, or there's some, I think, ideologically driven, fast footwork to somehow make things look the same. So if you look at it at a very gross level, you say, well, males and females, they both have two hemispheres in their brains. Yes, they do. They are similar. They both have a corpus callosum, which communicates the two hemisphere.
David Buss [00:32:42]:
Yes, they do. Well, males and females are just the same in the brain. So obviously a conclusion that doesn't follow. But I think that at this point, the evidence for this meta theory is just overwhelming and I think transformational. It is covered now to various degrees of scientific accuracy or ineptness, depending on the writer in all intro to psychology textbooks.
Dan Riley [00:33:18]:
And the big differences between the sexes, if we want us to keep on this, and I think you stated this, that the biggest difference is in mating preferences or sexual behavior or sexual preferences, shed some light on that. What are the big differences? And specific to that one, how do the differences turn out to be?
David Buss [00:33:38]:
Okay, well, that's also a big question. I've devoted a lot of my research career to unpacking that. Here's the issue. Sex differences don't emerge until you have sexual reproduction. We evolve from asexually reproducing species. Sexual reproduction evolved. Their estimates vary, but let's say 1.3 billion years ago, we have a long evolutionary history of being sexual reproducers. So in sexually reproducing species, of which we are one, there are two sexes.
David Buss [00:34:16]:
Sex is defined biologically, not by pulling people's pants down, looking at their genitals, which some people think it is, is defined by the size of the sex cells. So the gametes, so the big ones are the females. Big gametes. If you run into any species, biologists say, look at the size of the gametes. They have big ones, that's a female, they have small ones, that's a male. So in our species, males basically have sperm and egg. So sperm are basically little packets of dna with an outboard motor attached to try to get as fast as they can to the target, which is the nutrient rich egg. If you've ever seen photos like the egg is gigantic and nutrient rich and so forth.
David Buss [00:35:04]:
So what you see is in sexually reproducing species, this is where it starts, but it doesn't end there. So once you get the evolution of sexual reproduction, the sexes start to diverge. And in our case, what we've evolved is internal female fertilization, an obligatory nine month parental investment that occurs within the woman's body, which is metabolically very expensive and costly to the female. Males don't do any of that. Then, because fertilization occurs internally, you have an adaptive problem that males have faced, which no woman ever has, which is the problem of paternity uncertainty. Some cultures use the phrase mama's baby, papa's maybe to capture that men can never be sure. Women are always 100% sure of their maternity in their child. And then you have, of course, breastfeeding, which is also metabolically expensive.
David Buss [00:36:10]:
And so what you have in our species and many Sexually Reproducing species is you have one sex. That's basically, not, to put too fine a point, on the more valuable sex. Sure. So the high investing, very valuable reproductive resource over which the lower investing sex competes. So this is an OversImplification, but this is basically Darwin's theory of sexual selection in its modern form, as modified by trivers or as elaborated upon by biologist Robert Trivers. And so what that means, though, is so you have these massive differences in investment, which are mostly obligatory and like, even breastfeeding occurred for, say, two to four years in most traditional cultures, infant would die without it. What you have is to an evolutionary psychologist or biologist, there have to be evolved psychological, strategic and behavioral strategies that coevolved with these fundamental differences in reproductive biology. What that means is that, for example, males will have adaptations to solve the paternity confidence problem, the paternity uncertainty problem, and they do, in mate selection, in the emotion of sexual jealousy.
David Buss [00:37:47]:
Women, as the high investing sex, will have adaptations to be extremely choosy about who they have sex with, because having sex with the, quote, wrong person could result in getting impregnated by a man who won't stick around, won't invest, or possibly doesn't have genes for good health or whatever. So making a bad sexual decision is more costly for women than for men. In long term mating, both sexes are very choosy, of course, because both sexes are investing heavily in the mateship and in subsequent offspring. Typically, what we have is. I know I'm kind of wandering a little bit here, but what we have is large sex differences when it comes to short term mating. So we have things like desire for sexual variety. How many sex partners would you ideally like to have in the next ten years, if we could give you your magic wish? Well, men and women give different numbers to that. Men say 18, women say one or two, maybe three.
David Buss [00:38:58]:
And some men say 1000, they were like 1000, which when I first saw, we started doing studies on this a long time ago, and some men put 1000, they were like 1000. I thought, this is preposterous. But then you read about some very successful athletes, successful basketball players or whatever, and some of them actually do, or rock stars do get up to numbers that high. Now, when it comes to long term mating, the sexes are more similar to each other because they're both investing heavily in offspring. And so both men and women want partners who are intelligent, kind, healthy, dependable, low mutation load. Of course, they don't think in weird evolutionary terms like that, but that's partly what it is. We differ in mutation loads. Everybody has ume, we all have a mutation load.
David Buss [00:39:53]:
Some people estimate that it's like, averages about 500 mutations in each individual, but some might have 1500 and some only have 200. And so mutations can basically degrade the development of your physical or psychological machinery. It's like kind of throwing sand in a machine so they can produce asymmetrical development, for example, and people find symmetry attractive in a mate. It's a health hue and a signal of low mutation load.
Dan Riley [00:40:25]:
I know you mentioned this earlier, that I think one of the pushbacks that I have seen among people that are resistant to some of the conclusions of evolutionary psychology is that there's no way that the conclusions that the field has reached have universal applicability, that these are biased studies, that they're not actually indicating objective reality. You noted earlier that one of the key components, as I understand it, to the research, is doing widespread global research, regardless of individual culture, to make the determinations that the field ends up making. I would love for you to talk about how you know, what you know and how you feel confident. And if I'm correct in the brief description about how the research is done, maybe there's something to that. But why there is the general confidence that it's not just a subjective, biased subject or bias, conclusions that are being reached by the field in general.
David Buss [00:41:27]:
Yeah, okay, good. Excellent question. So a couple of thoughts on that. One is that evolutionary psychologists have been at the forefront of doing cross cultural research. So I mentioned, I think earlier, it was one of the first studies that I did, is a study of 37 cultures of mate preferences. And I did that precisely for that reason. You don't want to just demonstrate it in an american sample or a western european sample, but that study had basically every major religion, cultural group, political system, economic system that you could want. And subsequent to the 37 culture study, the conclusions that I came to, basically, I stopped after doing, after 37, I kept trying to get one more culture after one more culture.
David Buss [00:42:23]:
It took me five years to do it. But these findings have been replicated by independent researchers, and that's really another key criterion. Can people replicate it who don't necessarily buy into or originate the hypotheses that you're testing? And the answer to that, one of the things that I take some pride in, or sense of scientific happiness in, is that my work is among the most replicable work in the whole field, including evolutionary psychology. So people even, there's a whole group of researchers out of the UK that try to replicate all these effects, and I would say at least half of them, they try to replicate, don't replicate, but mine replicate. So I'm very happy about that. And part of that gets back to that Berkeley training in empirical data. And you don't want to go out there as a scientist if you're not confident that your data are replicable. That it was instilled in me in my scientific training very early on.
David Buss [00:43:39]:
So now there's one other cut. One. One cut at your question has to do with levels of analysis. And evolutionary psychologists make a distinction between the underlying psychology and its design and its expression and behavior. And so if you just looked at behavior, you would probably draw wrong conclusions. So, for example, you could say, well, let's see. If you go to Zimbabwe, they are polygonous and they allow men to marry multiple wives. If you go to the Zulu tribe in South Africa, they limit the number of wives to four.
David Buss [00:44:22]:
If you go to the United States or most western european countries, they limit legally number of wives to one say, well, see, mating is just like infinitely culturally variable. Well, it's not. So you have to look at, well, what is the underlying design of our sexual psychology? And part of the underlying design of our sexual psychology for males is desire for sexual variety. Now, if you grow up in a polygynous system, you might try to have multiple wives. If you grow up in America, where you're legally prohibited from having multiple wives, well, you might want to get on Tinder and have multiple sexual encounters, or you might want to do serial know. So mate with one person, break up, mate with another person, break up. And that's a very popular strategy for men who have the mate value. To successfully implement that strategy, my point is that you have to look, evolutionists generally expect universality at the level of the underlying psychological mechanisms, but not necessarily at their expression and behavior, which can be variable.
David Buss [00:45:33]:
So let me give you one more example of that that relates to my work and then some of my work that's recently been replicated in a very, very non weird traditional culture. One of the things that I discovered was sex differences in the design of jealousy, where males tend to focus in very heavily on cues to a partner's sexual infidelity or accused, that might signal that. And that's by hypothesis, that was what was predicted. Because if your partner has sex with someone else, that is the act that's going to jeopardize your paternity. Sorry.
Dan Riley [00:46:11]:
David Buss [00:46:17]:
We found this sex difference, and women tend to be more cued into signs of emotional infidelity, signs that their partner is falling in love with another person, signs that their partner is becoming attached to another woman. And these are cues for the long term diversion of his commitments and resources to that other woman. And so we find these sex differences, and they do hold up cross culturally. They replicated in a zillion cultures, but we say, well, what about a really strange non traditional culture, like a traditional hunter gatherer culture? So Brooke Skelza is her name, recently did a study and I can't remember, this was the. I think it was the Himba tribe where she went and looked at that, found the sex difference there. Yeah. She did a study of eleven different cultures, many of which were these traditional sorts. And what she found is there was some cultural variability, but it had to do with how much men in the culture invested in their offspring.
David Buss [00:47:27]:
So in cultures where men invested heavily in their offspring, they were especially keyed into the sexual infidelity aspect. Cultures where there weren't so invested, there was a bit of a relaxation of that. So she replicated the sex difference, but found predictable cultural variability dependent on the amount of male parental investment that they engage in, which is brilliant, because one of the things that we want to do is we want to explain cultural variability as well as the universality.
Dan Riley [00:47:59]:
Yeah. I have to imagine you are, in non pandemic times, a very popular guy at cocktail parties, because this subject strikes at the core of who we are. And you've been in this field now for decades, and I'm curious what to you still stands out as the most fascinating stuff you've learned or the conclusions that you're confident we really do know about human nature that are worth spreading and sharing just because they're just so fascinating?
David Buss [00:48:27]:
Well, yeah, well, part of it, cocktail parties, which I very much enjoy, by the way.
Dan Riley [00:48:34]:
David Buss [00:48:35]:
One of the things that I am glad about is when people find out what I study, which is human mating psychology, I often show curiosity about their own mating lives. And I've been very pleasantly surprised that people feel very comfortable and eager to open up about their mating lives, the problems they're having in their mating lives, or seeking advice about what they should do about their mating lives. And to me, as a scientist, it's a wonderful thing because I can basically, in essence, interview, get firsthand glimpse into people's mating psychology just by talking to so many people. I do it everywhere. If I'm sitting next someone on a plane, over the course of the plane trip, they'll be telling me all about their mating lives. I love that aspect of it. And I think in terms of replicable work, there's just so much of it now. Almost all the mating work has been replicable.
David Buss [00:49:48]:
The sex differences are rock solid. Sex differences in mating psychology are rock solid. I'm not sure if your listeners know about this. I mean, this is a replication cris in psychology, and there's also discussion about magnitudes of effect. So is this a weak effect? Is it a strong effect. And psychologists get very happy if they have a magnitude of effect that is basically 0.3, which is equivalent to three tenths of a standard deviation difference between two groups, say. But the sorts of things that I've published of the sex differences in our mating psychology and our sexual psychology, they start at zero three and they go up to zero 5.8, sometimes over 1.0. And that's partly why they're so replicable.
David Buss [00:50:41]:
These aren't small effect sizes. They're analogous to sex difference in magnitude. They're analogous to sex differences in upper body strength. If you look at, forget about psychology, look at male and female bodies. So one of the biggest sex differences is upper body strength and not so much leg strength. So males are stronger in leg strength, but especially upper body strength, which is really interesting because it relates to things like warfare and fighting ability and success in aggressive confrontations.
Dan Riley [00:51:26]:
When people do come to you, I think part of the reason why people are so interested in this is that it's at the mating, dating, long term relationships. This is at the heart of human life. And I'd be curious to know when you're having these conversations on airplanes or just throughout your life, where you're interviewing people or talking to people about it, and they seek your counsel or wonder what the research tends to indicate is worth keeping in mind. If someone is in the dating process or is interested in finding a long term partner, what do you tell them?
David Buss [00:51:58]:
Yeah, well, I can tell them lots of things about that because I've also studied, I mean, starting with that first Harvard study of married couples, I've studied what leads to breakups, what leads to conflict in relationships, who's likely to cheat on you in a long term relationship? So I have a lot to say about that. But one of the things I'll tell you, here's one insight that I had through one of these conversations. So back when I had good knees, I used to play squash, competitive, not high level competitive squash, but I was on a squash team, and we'd go around and one of the people that I played with was the woman who was the best squash player in Ann Arbor at Michigan. She was on our team, and she was married. She had three kids. She was absolutely terrific athlete, and it was wonderful. We'd go to this other club and they'd see there was a woman on our team and they go, shut. But she would beat 90% of these guys.
David Buss [00:52:59]:
But anyway, so we would get to talking and in between matches or after the match, and she once told me she said, I think my husband might be having an affair. And this is another thing people tell you about. Her husband is a lawyer. I said, well, who I also played squash with. He wasn't as good as she was, so I knew him. I said, well, why do you think that? And she said, well, I was going through his closet looking for something, and I found this expensive piece of jewelry, like, right before Christmas. And I thought, oh, how lovely. He's bought me jewelry for Christmas.
David Buss [00:53:39]:
So she carefully patched it up, put it back in the closet. Christmas came and went. No jewelry. And then he started staying late at work. So he had a lot of legal work to do, and he started staying late. But what she noticed is that when he came back from these late stays, he smelled differently, basically smelled of condoms. So she tells me all this, and then she says, but I actually don't think he's having an affair, because my husband is the most honest person I know. And when I confronted him with this, he told me he wasn't having an affair.
David Buss [00:54:19]:
So I believe him. Now, one of the things I realized, so this is the self deception and the powers of self deception. So this is a woman. She had three kids, no source of income. She had a committed husband who was invested in the kids. If she got divorced, it would have been really bad. It would have been traumatic for her, for the kids, especially going out on the mating market. Kids are a cost, not a benefit on the mating market.
David Buss [00:54:54]:
And I think that what it opened my eyes to was something that I hadn't really realized is the power of self deception that she could literally, even though the cues were so apparent. And I happen to know her husband, and he never said, oh, I'm hanging to fear. But he was what I know from my scientific studies, to have the personality type to be likely to do that, which is what? High on narcissism and basically high on what I talk about in my new book, the dark Triad traits. So narcissism, machiavellianism, and a little bit of psychopathy got you. I didn't say anything. I didn't say, those are pretty strong. She gave me a few more like that before concluding that her husband wasn't affair.
Dan Riley [00:55:46]:
David Buss [00:55:47]:
So. But anyway, it was kind of an eye opener that people can talk themselves into believing something that is not true even though the evidence is so apparent.
Dan Riley [00:55:56]:
Yeah. For people who, let's say, hypothetically, there are people listening to this who are in a stable relationship and are generally happy. Right. But everyone in this country knows that a large percentage of people who get married don't make it. And I think it's even worse for people who get married a second time. You mentioned this earlier about change in mate value between couples and how maybe that may have been what you were getting at, that it can affect the end result between the couple. But for people who are looking to maintain their relationships, what is worth keeping in mind if one is interested in trying to maintain that over the long haul?
David Buss [00:56:42]:
Yes, great question. Well, I guess there are a couple of things. So one of the things that I see. So there are people who break up. I actually think that it's good that some couples do break up. So, for example, people, as you alluded to, people do change over time. And I've seen this with some of my graduate students. They get married when they're 22 or as undergraduates, and then they change, and ten years later they're no longer the same person.
David Buss [00:57:11]:
And so a person could be a perfect mate for you at one stage of your life, but not so great at another stage. I actually do talk about this issue in my new book. I don't think breakup necessarily means that you made a bad mate choice. On the flip side of that, there are couples who stay together that live what is proverbially called the lives of quiet desperation. So they're unhappy, they're unfulfilled, they're just going through the motions. But they don't want to get divorced because they're scared or because of the kids, or they don't know what their mate value is if they break up, go on the mating market, and then couples lives get so entangled that breakups can be extremely costly, emotionally, financially, and for kids and for many other ways. But if you want a recipe, I actually have a recipe in the book for mating Harmony. In the new book, it's an evolutionary recipe for mating Harmony, and it involves 14 components.
David Buss [00:58:19]:
So I can't go into all of them now, but I'll just mention a couple. So one is you want to pick someone who's similar inmate value to you. So if you're a six, don't try to lock in an eight because the eight is more statistically, our studies and others have found the eight is more likely to dump you, eight is more likely to cheat on you if you do manage to get them into a relationship. And the eight might feel entitled to other things beyond the mate chip. So that's 1 second. You want to mate with someone who has a similar mate value trajectory over time because it doesn't remain static and people can start out quite well matched on mate value. An eight with an eight. But let's say he loses his job or becomes an alcoholic or she becomes a famous actress or people's mate value changes over time with the vagaries of life, successes, failures, health injuries, other things.
David Buss [00:59:31]:
And that's a harder task to figure out whether you're on similar or mate value trajectories. A third thing is, and this is based on my research, I mentioned I was trained as a personality psychologist. So in my studies of couples, I always include a lot of personality measures. And I can tell you that some personality characteristics are disastrous in a long term mate. And the one that's most disastrous is emotional instability. So it's called different things in literature, neuroticism, emotional instability, et cetera. But it's basically one hallmark of that is that we all experience stressful events, and so we get kind of knocked out of whack, so we get physiologically distressed or whatever. How quickly you recover from that, how quickly you return to baseline is a hallmark of emotional stability or instability.
David Buss [01:00:33]:
So people are emotionally unstable, they experience a stressful event, and it kills them for ten days or a month. So it knocks them out of baseline for a much longer period of time. And what we found in my studies is emotionally unstable people are just very taxing. What I call in the new book, I call it relationship load. This is by analogy to mutation load. So we all have a mutation load, but individuals differ on it. We have a parasite load. So some people have a riddle with parasites, others have a low parasite load.
David Buss [01:01:17]:
We also have relationship load. People who are emotionally unstable impose a high relationship load on their partner, and it produces a lot of stress and a lot of time and effort that has to get devoted to dealing with that emotional instability. And that's time and effort that you're not spending doing fun stuff or things that are more deeply rewarding. Emotional instability. And it is a predictor of divorce.
Dan Riley [01:01:48]:
What are the symptoms of that, of that personality type? Is it just neuroticism, something that could be observed in a person if you hung out with them for a few hours? How do you know somebody possesses that trait?
David Buss [01:01:59]:
Yeah, a few hours won't do it. You need to see the person over time. What I recommend, and this is what I recommend to people who ask me for mating advice to say, I'm dating this woman or man, and I'm thinking about, maybe we should take it to the next level, get a little more serious. I say go on vacation with them because on vacation at least in a lot of vacations, you're exposed to novelty, stressful conditions. You're in a different economic currency. You don't know all the local customs, and you can observe relatively quickly, let's say a week or two, how the person responds to the stresses and strains of these novel environments. And that's usually a test. So if you really do well together on vacation, then that's a good sign that you're going to do well over the long run.
David Buss [01:02:51]:
If things. If the person can't handle it, a piece of luggage gets lost and they're stressed out for five days, you got to get a roll with the pipe. I heard one story. Some woman was telling me that she was with her fiance. In this case, they were traveling in Italy and got a flat tire. They had rented a car and they were stuck in a mud puddle or something like that. And this guy was off the charts stressed out about it, basically going to panic mode. And she was laughing.
David Buss [01:03:27]:
Look, we got the cell phone. Call someone fix the tire, get us out of the mud. It was like no big deal. But that event revealed his level, in this case of emotional instability, not being able to handle stress. So that's why I said, go on vacation. Do it early in the. If you're thinking about getting serious with someone, go on vacation.
Dan Riley [01:03:49]:
What role in your judgment does intuition or feeling play in the accuracy of being able to trust those sort of sensory experiences as a person in judging how well you will match with a person? You mentioned, I think everyone knows how important attraction is in just that and getting a relationship off the ground in the first place. But what level of appropriateness do you give to emotions, to intuition, to feeling related to if a couple is actually well matched for one another?
David Buss [01:04:27]:
Yeah, I guess a lot. This isn't something that I've studied in my own research program, but I think that people are often right in their kind of gut feeling and sometimes go against their gut feeling, and it sometimes ends in disaster. But I don't know. I don't have empirical data on that. My intuition is that you should go with your intuition.
Dan Riley [01:04:56]:
There are also instances of people that I'm familiar with who break up for a while, grow or change, or something happens, get back together, and it actually sometimes works. Sometimes it doesn't work either. And people kind of get in this perpetual loop of breaking up and getting back together. I don't know what's your general sense? And you're welcome to hone in on your specific research that you're an expert in, but what's your general sense of breakups? Getting back together, getting divorced, getting back together. Does that ever actually work out in your experience?
David Buss [01:05:37]:
Yeah. Well, again, I resort to the empirical data. I haven't seen studies of that. I mean, sometimes it does work. Actually, that happened to my grandmother, my mother's side. She and her partner got divorced, and then they remarried five years later and remained together until death parted them.
Dan Riley [01:06:03]:
What happens in those situations that allows it to work in the end?
David Buss [01:06:08]:
Yeah, I don't know. Unfortunately, they're both dead now. So I would have liked to ask them that question, like, why did they break up to be with and why do they get back together? But I think that often, though, the reasons for breakups don't necessarily go away. I've seen more cases in my friendships and experience of the latter where people break up, get back together, break up, get back together, and then finally break up where it doesn't end up working.
Dan Riley [01:06:41]:
Yeah. Do those tend to be just core personality conflicts that continue to resurface that people. You talked about self deception earlier, is that what tends to happen in those situations, in your experience?
David Buss [01:06:55]:
Yeah, I don't know. I mean, it's a great question, but I don't have any insight into what causes it to work or not work.
Dan Riley [01:07:04]:
Yeah. Let's talk about your book. You were mentioning that earlier, and I know it's coming out. Right. It's not available quite yet. It's coming out in July.
David Buss [01:07:12]:
Well, April 27 in the United States, July 1 in the UK.
Dan Riley [01:07:17]:
Okay. What got you interested in the subject of the book and talk about it? What's in there?
David Buss [01:07:23]:
Okay, well, the title of the book is when men behave badly, and the subtitle is the hidden roots of sexual deception, harassment, and assault. And so it basically deals with bad stuff men do. Brief bit of background of that. So I've always been interested in conflict between the sexes just because I've witnessed a lot of it in my life, some in my personal life, but also in everybody I know. And even in the studies that I did of couples, I never found a single couple that had no conflict. There's always conflict, sometimes a lot, sometimes little. And how they deal with it matters quite a bit. But the book is about conflict between the sexes.
David Buss [01:08:10]:
And what happened was, I originally thought when I started writing the book and outlined it, there would be sort of equal ways in which men and women would torture each other. And that is true to some degree on the mating market. So in Internet dating, both men and women post deceptive profiles, deceptive photos that are not accurate. But the more I got into it, when I started getting into some of the topics like sexual harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence, and sexual coercion, it became clear that men, the more extreme you got on these aspects of sexual violence is the bigger umbrella term. The more men tended to have a monopoly on being perpetrators and women being victims of it. And so that's why the book ended up being when men behave badly, because the book, even though it covers some bad stuff women do, it ended up focusing more heavily on the bad stuff men do. Because when it comes to sexual violence, men do a lot more bad stuff. And then the hidden roots of sexual harassment, deception, and is, as it happened, I was talking to somebody and they said, boy, your book is really timely because there are all these things in the news now, governor of New York, I mean, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, or now there's another politician.
David Buss [01:09:48]:
I can't remember his name off the top of my head. There's always, it seems like this is really timely to look at the hidden roots of sexual assault and harassment and all that. But I think it's always there. So if the book were published a year from now, there'd be a different set of things hitting the news. And one can even ask, well, why do people care so much? Why is that such a newsworthy thing? And I think that's revealing of how important these topics are and how the social sciences have not adequately dealt with identifying the causes. And that's why I say the hidden roots of these things, because they are, of course, evolutionary roots. They boil down to an examination of the underlying sexual psychology of men and women and how that gets played out in different contexts. And so trying to solve some of these pernicious social problems, and I think sexual violence is a pernicious social problem, perhaps the most widespread one in the world, that we have to identify the causes.
David Buss [01:11:00]:
We have to identify the underlying psychological mechanisms that are at play, the circumstances that activate or inhibit them, the defenses that have evolved to prevent becoming a victim to them. And it's only by this deeper scientific understanding that we'll be able to solve some of these social ills. And I think they are social ills. And I think social sciences has done a really bad job of that, in part because their model of human nature is fundamentally wrong. If, for example, your belief is that all ills in the world stem from patriarchy, to use one example, or from bad parenting or something, you're not going to get very far, because sexual violence occurs in non patriarchal. So as an example, you go to cultures, countries like Denmark, Sweden, Scandinavia, they have very low rates of violence in general. But 30%. Ballpark, 30%.
David Buss [01:12:09]:
This is what the studies show of women in these scandinavian countries will experience intimate partner violence, really? At some point during their lives. Yeah, 30%. And these are not patriarchal cultures. In fact, just the opposite. They're among the most sexually egalitarian cultures in the world, clearly. Now, do patriarchal institutions have something to do with it? Yes, they do. And I talk about that in my book, but they're not separate from our evolved psychology. So as an example, I talk about one of the links between our evolved sexual psychology and these patriarchal institutions.
David Buss [01:12:49]:
For example, there used to be laws that said that marital rape was not rape, literally not rape. And if you went to one of these cultures that had this, as we did, and they said marital rape, they would say that is what's called an oxymoron. That's illogical concept. There can't be such a thing, because by definition, marriage, the woman gives her body freely to the man no matter what, and there's no such thing. Well, now, in the United States and in many western european countries, we have laws against that. But who created the laws to begin with that said that, well, rape within marriage is not rape, but rape outside of marriage is rape? Well, it was obviously males who created that. And so even the laws that have been historically created that are called legitimately patriarchal laws are laws that are partly a product of male sexual psychology. And I go into this in some depth in the book when it comes to more modern things, like in our culture, like laws against sexual harassment, where because males and females have different evolved psychology around this, fundamentally different.
David Buss [01:14:11]:
So the same acts of sexual harassment, men do not perceive those as sexually harassing as women do, observing exactly the same actions. And so the reason this matters is because legally, there's what's called the reasonable person standard. And when it comes to sexual harassment or stalking, the issue is, would a reasonable person judge these to be sexually harassing or judge these to be instances of stalking or induce fear in the victim? And so, in other words, it's a very small subset of laws, but they're relevant to sexual violence. The laws are defined in part by the psychological state of the victim or imputed psychological state. But if you apply a reasonable person standard to sexual harassment, then it will result in harms to women. If there's a male judge or a male dominated jury that's deciding, because there is no reasonable generic person, there's a reasonable men and reasonable women. And so it's an interesting legal issue, and I've talked to legal scholars about this very issue about, well, how do you design a law when the psychological state of the victim is critical for determining whether a crime has been committed, when the male and female differ so profoundly in that psychological state? I think some say, well, maybe we should split the difference or whatever. I don't think that does the trick, because, again, that would harm women, who are the primary victims.
Dan Riley [01:15:53]:
I'm curious what you think about the field right now. I mean, I know that there are other evolutionary psychologists that I'm familiar with that are becoming more public figures. Jeffrey Miller, I think, at the University of New Mexico Gadsad, who's canadian, I know, is also in the field. What's the field generally curious about? What do we not yet know that you think is perhaps forthcoming in the coming years that is being investigated?
David Buss [01:16:20]:
Well, I think there's still a lot of gold to be mined in the mating vein because it is related to everything. And I've started studying, this is the psychology, I alluded to this earlier psychology of status, prestige and reputation, because people live and die and kill for their status and reputation, and we know very little about that. So my lab and some other labs around the world have started exploring that. I think there's a very rich vein there. I think coalitional psychology is another big area, and this is one of those areas where there are also going to be huge sex differences because women, there's no evidence that women ever formed a female coalition to go to war, to attack another female coalition, kill the women and capture the men as husbands. I mean, zero cases, but men have done that throughout human history. And so I think males have a fundamentally different coalitional psychology. And I think it's important to understand that even things that are going on currently with respect to things like defund the police and some of these current issues, I think what's happening is male evolved coalitional psychology is getting activated.
David Buss [01:17:48]:
Police are seen as the enemy, an opposing coalition, and we need to vanquish them, defund them, or in some cases, kill them. And so I think that to solve some of these social problems that are coming up in the world today, we need to understand about our evolved coalitional psychology. And there's been very little work on that.
Dan Riley [01:18:11]:
You were speaking earlier about the biggest issues that tend to lead to divorce and how the neurotic, emotionally unstable characteristic is often the death nail for relationships. What are the qualities to look for? What are the things that you are confident actually increase the probability of a long term successful relationship with people.
David Buss [01:18:33]:
Okay, well, great question, and I'll just mention a few, please. So one is similarity of fundamental values. And these could be religious values, or lack of thereof, political orientation. Those are the two big ones, even a worldview. So similarity of values, because if there's a conflict there, let's say a conservative and a liberal or a deeply religious person and an atheist, there's going to be fundamental conflict. So couples have to be, don't have to be. There are cases where they're not aligned on those things and still have happy marriage. But talking about increased probability of.
David Buss [01:19:20]:
Second, you want to also pick someone who's similar to you in intelligence. Let's say you are. I don't know if you're in a long term relationship, but if you are too much smarter than the person you're with or not smart enough for her, then you have difficulty communicating. On same level, a smarter person has to dumb everything down. The more cognitively challenged person is always feeling like they're not getting anything. So you have to be in the ballpark. So similar in intelligence so you can have interesting conversations. I think sense of humor is important for a long term relationship.
David Buss [01:20:02]:
You got to be able to laugh at stuff. Even like I mentioned earlier, you get a flat tire, there is a tragedy. You got to laugh about it, and shit happens. Another way of phrasing that you got to sometimes roll with the punches. So someone that's adaptable, good sense of humor, emotional stability, I mentioned earlier, that's critical and I guess also aligned on some fundamental life goals. So, for example, children. Some people are adamant that they never want to have kids, and some people want to have two or three. If there's misalignment there, that's going to be critical.
David Buss [01:20:44]:
It's also important, maybe less important now, but I still think it's important. But I mentioned earlier that we evolved in small groups where our genetic relatives are often close by. Having your partner getting the approval of your kin group or your family, I think is important. It doesn't necessarily make or break a relationship, but if, let's say, your friends in your family don't like your partner or think that they're really a bad match for you, I would listen to that information because you're not the only judge, especially when people fall in love and you get the sexual passion which clouds the brain. Getting other people's perspectives could sometimes be valuable. You always have to look at the okay. In other words, don't trust everybody's view.
Dan Riley [01:21:37]:
Yeah. There's a line that I was writing today that I love. I think his name is Joseph Tussman, something like that. And it's something like, if the pupil is to learn anything, it is that the world will do most of the work for you and if you try to defy the world, it will teach you a lesson. That's good. I'm butchering that to some degree. But I think the general idea is you were saying earlier, if you're a six, it would actually probably behoove you, if I'm understanding you correctly, to kind of get to deal with reality, to admit reality, and that that actually long term is probably a better strategy if that's kind of what you were getting at.
David Buss [01:22:19]:
Yeah. Although that's not always easy to do, but in part because men in particular, there's evidence that men, more than women, overestimate their mate value. So the man might be a six, but he thinks he's an eight and gets very angry at the women who are eights that spurn his attention. But, yeah, listen to the world. That's a good insight.
Dan Riley [01:22:50]:
Yeah. You've written, I think, I don't know how many books, but multiple books. What do you want to spend your time researching now? I mean, this publication is coming out here shortly. Are there other subjects that are still deeply interesting to you in the field that you want to pursue over the next many years?
David Buss [01:23:10]:
Oh, yes. I feel like I'm just getting started. I have actually my next few books in the queue already, so writing this book, this is actually my first new new book in a bit over a decade, although I've revised previous books, which I very much enjoy, because you can correct all the errors and update things. But I'll just mention two. One that interests me very deeply is the topic of morality, and in particular, sexual morality. And the topic of morality has become a huge topic in the field, but almost no one's looking at sexual morality. So my lab, this is with a couple graduate students, former graduate student Kelly Asal and current graduate student Courtney Crosby. We're looking at sexual morality and looking to see whether which elements of sexual morality are cross culturally universal, which are variable across cultures which show sex differences.
David Buss [01:24:20]:
And it's one of these things where you ask the question about sex differences and I ask it and sometimes it annoys people, and I do. I said, have you analyzed your data for sex differences? And half the time no one's even bothered to look at it. But sometimes there are really interesting sex differences and we're finding there are in the domain of sexual morality. So that's a long term interest. Whether or not it will turn into a book or not, I don't know, but we're doing pretty intense cross cultural research on that. Another is the status, prestige, reputation. I've always been fascinated by that, and we've started to publish articles on that. And so typically what my pattern is, I'll publish a bunch of articles on a topic, and then if I feel like there's enough there for a book, then I'll want to write a book, because I love writing books and I love reaching a wider audience.
David Buss [01:25:17]:
And, in fact, I talk about ethics and morality. I actually think that academics have a moral duty to disseminate their work because we as professors, we are supported by the public. So, I mean, I'm a professor at the University of Texas. The state of Texas pays part of my salary, right? So why should all that information, the scientific knowledge that I generate, why should it just be spoon fed or not spoon fed, but disseminated to a small group of other psychologists who read the three journals that are mean, everyone in this case in the state of Texas, should have access to that knowledge. And so I view it as kind of a moral obligation to disseminate the scientific work if it's important. Of course, not all work is important, but I think this work, like on sexual violence toward women, I think it's important and important for everyone to know about it. So those are a couple of things. And I have a couple of other books in the queue for people who.
Dan Riley [01:26:28]:
Are really interested in this subject. Who else are the luminaries that you point to as being like, this is a really talented person doing interesting research in the field that you would recommend other people also seek out?
David Buss [01:26:39]:
Yeah, okay, well, there are a bunch. So here's one that I would recommend, is a former student of mine. He's a professor at UC Santa Barbara. Now, his name is Dan Conroy Beam, and he hasn't written a book yet, but he's doing amazing, groundbreaking research on human mating. A second person I would point to is a guy at University of New Mexico in the psych department. His name is. I'm going to butcher his name, but it's Marco del Gudici, I think is how you pronounce it. I could be butchering that.
David Buss [01:27:17]:
But he's another absolutely brilliant evolutionary psychologist. He recently published a book on evolutionary psychopathology. So using an evolutionary lens to look at disorders, psychological disorders, absolutely brilliant. Everything he writes is brilliant. Those are two that come to mind immediately on the kind of off the charts. These are going to be superstars. They're on that trajectory.
Dan Riley [01:27:48]:
Yeah. I would love to know, too, in your own life, just personally, how what you have learned over your career has influenced or changed you. I mean, do you feel like the knowledge you have gained over the years has changed your behavior or changed the way you look at people? Anything like that?
David Buss [01:28:07]:
Absolutely. I don't know. I think it's certainly changed the way I look at human mating in the sense that I feel like I have x ray vision into people mating psychology in a way that I didn't back then. And I can see just even trivial stuff, like a woman says, did you see how short her skirt was? That slut or whatever? I understand. I've done studies on derogation of competitors, and so I understand exactly what's going on mate guarding tactics. So I feel like I do have more of an x ray vision into people's mating psychology. I think that it's probably made me more optimistic about human nature. So evolutionary psychology, if you just focus on the bad stuff, which I've done a lot of in my career, you can get a pretty jaundiced view of human nature.
David Buss [01:29:15]:
But the fact that we have adaptations for cooperation and altruism and generosity and really good stuff is encouraging to me. That's why I have not a jaundiced view of human nature, but I guess a mixed view. We're a mixed bag.
Dan Riley [01:29:35]:
Yeah. In closing here, winding the conversation down, and I'd love to get just a little bit more information about just mating in general, because I do think it's one of those topics that every living adult human being is interested in and likes to glean as much knowledge as possible about the subject we've talked about, the negative traits, the positive traits. I would be curious to get your take on just the institution of marriage in its likely in its role, I guess, in the 21st century, when I think of evolutionary psychologists and I guess in my own generation with millennials, that people are getting married a lot later, there's more openness to different forms of mating, different types of long term partnerships and open relationships. I don't know that anyone knows what works or what won't work over the long haul, but I would just be curious to get your intuition on the traditional institutions in America and whether you think they are still relevant and wise for young people who might be listening to this, who are in love, who love their partner, are interested in having kids, but are maybe a little bit skeptical about the lifetime component to traditional marriage that they may have seen in their parents?
David Buss [01:31:04]:
Yeah. Okay. That's a big question and a really interesting question. And I don't have any great insights into the future. Those who try to predict the future on these things are usually wrong or bound to be wrong, despite the confidence with which people will make their predictions. But I think that long term mating is here to stay. So whether we call it traditional marriage or not is a different issue. But people, I think we do have adaptations to form long term, committed relationships.
David Buss [01:31:42]:
Of course, there are individual differences in that. And there are also stages of life issues. I wouldn't encourage a 16 year old or even an 18 year old or maybe even a 20 year old to lock in on their one and only at that early age. I think having more mating experiences is, in general, a good thing. Gets you experience and clarifies what works for you, what doesn't work for you. I see the proliferation of different mating lifestyles as a positive thing. In that I don't think there is a one size fits all. And I know that for some people, locking into a long term mate chip is the perfect thing.
David Buss [01:32:25]:
For other people, polyamory seems to work, and I know couples who. That actually works very well for them. It kind of satisfies desire for sexual variety while at the same time gives them the stability of a committed partner. But that wouldn't work for everybody. I don't think it wouldn't work for me. For example, my evolved sexual jealousy mechanism would interfere with that lifestyle. Some people really go for short term mating and so get on Tinder and want to have sex with a different person every night or whatever every week. So I think that I tend to be non judgmental about different mating lifestyles of whatever sort.
David Buss [01:33:14]:
And that includes, obviously, homosexual relationships and whatever nudist camps, anything, whatever people want. Life is short, and then you die. So you might as well go with a mating strategy that suits you. And there isn't one size fits all on that.
Dan Riley [01:33:38]:
Last question I want to ask you is about. You've done a lot of these interviews, and you've answered a lot of questions today. You've interviewed a lot of questions in past interviews. Be curious to know if there's anything that you wish you would have been asked that you've never been able to address publicly. Or if not, if there are subjects or misnomers about your field of expertise that you think it's important to correct the record on.
David Buss [01:34:07]:
Well, that's a whole. We could talk for an hour about misconceptions. But, yeah, I would say that the biggest misconception is that an evolutionary perspective leads to the conclusion that we have a fixed, unalterable, immutable nature that cannot be changed in any way and is impervious to eliminating the bad aspects. I think that once people understand the nature of our evolved psychological mechanisms, they will realize how context specific they are. And in fact that they were designed to deal with different contexts. Now, not all contexts, but just that our evolved psychology is a lot more flexible than people. Stereotype is when they think about, oh, it's evolved, therefore I can't change it. I think it's more difficult to change desire than it is to change its expression and behavior.
David Buss [01:35:14]:
Just like when, let's say you want to get fit, you want to lose ten pounds, it doesn't cause you to not like to eat ice cream or pizza or whatever you like. You still want those things, but in the service of a different goal, you choose not to eat those things for a period of time in order to drop the weight. And the same is true of mating. You might be in a committed mateship and you have sexual attractions to other people, very common. But whether you express those, whether you say, okay, whether you might interpret that to me now, I don't love my partner, which some people do, and that's an incorrect inference, because you can have love for your partner and still desire for sexual variety and attraction to other people, but you might choose not to express that attraction by having an affair or sleeping with that other person for a variety of reasons. You might want to preserve your mateship, or you may feel like it would cause a breakup, or it would cause damage to your social reputation or a variety of things. So we have at any moment in time, many, many desires, many of which get subjugated to other desires that are more important to us.
Dan Riley [01:36:32]:
Yeah, well, I love the subject. It's one of my favorites. And I can't tell you how much I appreciate the time. I know you're a really busy guy and a really productive guy. I have been looking forward to this conversation for a long time and I wish you all the best. I think the field is, it feels to me like one of those growth areas that a lot more people could benefit from knowing about and that a lot more people will get interested in. And yeah, I just want to thank you for all of the years of work that you put into evolutionary psychology and wish you the best with everything else that is to come in your career.
David Buss [01:37:14]:
Well, thank you. It's been a genuine delight to talk to you, and obviously you're very intelligent, and I appreciate your asking such thoughtful and intelligent questions, because that leads to an interesting conversation.
Dan Riley [01:37:29]:
Thank you, Dave.
David Buss [01:37:30]:
I appreciate it and hope we have another in the future. Maybe over a beer.