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The Peacock Effect

Updated on June 13, 2012

Note: This article is about the evolutionary effect called the Peacock effect, also known as Sexual Selection. It is not about the attraction technique of the same name (although the two are admittedly related and I have added a small section about the attraction technique at the end of the article)

Ordinarily, natural selection operates purely on things beneficial to survival. Things like strong muscles, healthy immune systems, sharper claws and thick shells. However, there is an interesting offshoot to this called Sexual Selection that operates on things that are only beneficial to reproduction.

The poster boy for Sexual Selection is the peacock, and another name for Sexual Selection even shares his name, the Peacock Effect. But the peacock himself doesn't do the selecting. His rather dull girlfriend, the peahen, does, and effectively her genetically determined preferences in males has led to the peacock of today over evolutionary time.

A peacock doing his display at our local zoo. However, this unfortunate individual seemed to be confused - he was doing his display for a guinea fowl (not pictured), a completely different species
A peacock doing his display at our local zoo. However, this unfortunate individual seemed to be confused - he was doing his display for a guinea fowl (not pictured), a completely different species

The peacock is so resplendent that he even appeals to human aesthetic sensibilities, with his bright colours and long, pearlescent feathers.

You might be wondering why it's the females who do the selecting and not the males. Why are the females so picky while the males are complacent with taking any mate, no matter how drab and boring she may look? The reason is that for a male, the commitment is merely a few moments of mating. For a female, the commitment involves carrying eggs and laying them, and roosting on them until they hatch. This is a big time commitment for her, and she wants the best male to be the father of her babies, so that she knows they will be beautiful and strong like he is.

But why is being beautiful an advantage? One theory is that the more colourful a male is, the more he will stand out to predators. This is of course a huge disadvantage to the male! But if a male manages to be bright and colourful and survive being hunted by predators, then this proves to the female that he must be a very strong and healthy individual, and fit to be the father of her chicks.

Some interesting experiments have been conducted on peacocks. The experimenter cut many feathers off the tail of a peacock, and added extra feathers to the tail of another to see how the females would react. The females went crazy for the male with extended feathers, but rejected the male with the broken feathers. This shows us for certain that evolving to have larger feathers is a big advantage for a peacock, because not being able to attract a female means not passing on his genes! As far as natural selection is concerned, living a long life is the same as dying young if you don't pass on your genes.

Perhaps you're wondering about attraction technique I mentioned earlier. How does the Peacock Effect apply to humans? Human societies have norms of fashion. While those norms can vary wildly between different places and different times, within each culture, the easiest way to fit in is to adhere to the norms. But merely fitting in doesn't allow one to stand out! A person who wears an unusual item of clothing is taking a risk. People may reject him for not fitting in. This is the last thing a person wants, to be a social outcast. However, If the person is still able to show himself to "fit in" then he will have added social proof! He is able to survive "predation" despite his lack of social "camouflage". This can be a very attractive quality!

So that's the Peacock Effect,  in a nutshell. I hope you've enjoyed reading.


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      riya 4 years ago

      i enjoyed reading it.... bt i want to know abt the reaction of the peacock when he look at us.... when he shout what he is trying to say to other... and the way he is standing,looking all the other action what does he want to say us... i want to know it plssss...

      thank u ,


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      Ron 5 years ago

      That's a fantastic hub. Thank you so much.

      Ron from Fitness Tips

    • profile image

      krishna 5 years ago

      this is a very beautiful and colourful

    • alexfantastico profile image

      alexfantastico 6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thank you. If you enjoyed my Hub you can help me out for voting for it here:

    • vrajavala profile image

      vrajavala 6 years ago from Port St. Lucie

      The peacock is Krsna's favorite animal. It's my icon on hubpages!!

      Nice hub.

    • alexfantastico profile image

      alexfantastico 6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thanks Tony and Marie. Thanks for making me feel so welcome!

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Welcome to hubpages alexfantastico and thanks for your first two hubs, both very interesting topics. If you do want any info about hubbing visit the HP learning center or send me any questions and I'll help where I can. Enjoy being a part of this great writing community, cheers Marie, member of hubgreeters team.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Super Hub which I really enjoyed reading. I feel very sorry for that confused peacock!

      Love and peace


    • alexfantastico profile image

      alexfantastico 6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thank you for your compliments munirahmadmughal. I don't agree with your other comments, but you are of course entitled to your opinion my friend.

      And thanks Trish :) That's perfectly fine. I actually linked to your excellent hub on my "Understanding Natural Selection" hub, so I certainly don't mind

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hello Alex

      A very clear and easy-to-understand hub.

      I did enjoy it.

      I'll link it to mine ~ hope that's ok :)

    • munirahmadmughal profile image

      munirahmadmughal 6 years ago from Lahore, Pakistan.

      "The Peacock Effect".

      The hub is rich in content, deep in vision and logical in approach based on awareness and experience about life of a peacock and its comparison with human behaviour. It is also thought provoking.

      Internal and external eyes have been the gift of the Creator to see, judge and gracefully utilize them in the betterment of the whole mankind and the universe. Guidance has been provided for each faculty and purity in thought and action has been kept the goal. Pollution of all kinds has been disliked and ways and means have been provided to fecilitate the discharging of the duty of maintaining order on the earth.

      A peacock with so many feathers and so many colours which shine gracefully and serve many purposes known or not yet known not only serve the purpose mentioned by the huber for the peahen but also for human research in many fields.

      All the creations are signs to remember the Creator and to carry the functions according to the capacity in the best possible manner.

      Any act that is unnatural causes pollution,brings disorder and violates the law divine.

      May God bless all.