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Sexual Selection

Updated on June 8, 2011

Is the male brain designed mainly for sex? FG says it is and thanks to FG... I got some insights on this from a few professional psychologists and a coupla of my friends.

It is said that the relatively giant size of the human brain, compared with that of most other animals, has evolved to help us acquire mates. So says one theory of human evolution which argues that big brains allow men to demonstrate how clever they are, and allow women to ensure that men are not bluffing!! So much for having big brains huh guys?

Much has been written about the possible role of art in providing a sexually alluring persona. I recall reading a Geoffrey Miller's book, "The Mating Mind", where he suggests that whether we are conscious of it or not, art is motivated by sex and that human creative achievements are the equivalent of a peacock's tail, or more precisely, the bower birds' bower.

In the animal kingdom, too, of course, colour and adornment play an important part in mating rituals.

A couple of weeks ago on Nat Geo, I remember seeing a documentary about a small town of Gaudix, east of Granada, an unlikely contest takes place each weekend during the spring and summer. The contest involves half a dozen men each bearing a male pigeon. At an isolated spot on the outskirts of town the male pigeons are presented to a single female. The males are painted with bright colours to facilitate recognition by the judges and the female is specially marked for the competition by the addition of three long extra feathers to her tail.

As soon as their owners let them go, the males court the female with ferocious intensity, using all the strutting, tail-sweeping, bowing and coo-ing we see so commonly in street pigeons. Eventually the female accepts one of the males, signalling her choice by flying back to his loft with him, at which point the male's owner collects his winnings from the other men, possibly to spend on his female friends.

The paradox is this. If certain males [across all species] are irresistibly attractive to females and thus enjoy greater than average reproductive success, why, over time, don't the genes for irresistibility spread through the entire population? If male attractiveness is heritable, then the male offspring of super-sexy males will also tend to be attractive, and the genes for irrestibility will spread, so that eventually all males will be irresistible. But they are not, and that raises the key question in sexual selection: what is it that keeps male attractiveness so variable?

However, there is sexual selection: males which produced bigger or better extended phenotypes obtained more mating and father more offspring. There are no free lunches, however. For sexual selection to work, the displays that males use to enhance their attractiveness or status, whether they are gaudy plumes, antlers or violin concertos, must genuinely reflect their owner's quality. If males could fake displays, all males would look great and be equally attractive. In evolutionary terminology, sexual displays must be "costly" - they must be energetically demanding or they must render their owners more vulnerable to a risk or danger, whether it is charging bulls for young men in parts of Spain or a goshawk for pigeons.


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    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 10 years ago from North Carolina

      I agree it plays a vital role.