|The asshole in question.|
Recently, Dr. Furtună has published an article on his website entitled "The ethology of attraction to bad boys" (opening the link isn't imperative to understanding this post, but if you find yourself lost, you may want to consider it). It seeks to, of course, give an evolutionary explanation for why women like men who are more aggressive (or as he calls it, warlike) in nature. The arguments Dr. Furtună makes in his article are (perhaps unwittingly) bad, and normally I wouldn't give this kind of ridiculousness the time of day. However, upon visiting his feed, I realized that he spams his articles all over Google+, even when the discussion page he sends them to has nothing to do with what he's talking about, or is only relevant at a very superficial level. This includes the anthropology community I'm a part of, where my last discussion took place, as well as in the psychology community, which I am also a part of. The fact that he is so eager to share his article with as many people as possible shows that his primary concern is getting views, which outshines his ability to appropriately and honestly examine evidence.
Even with this alone, I still wouldn't care much about Dr. Furtună's work if it weren't for one key element that seals the deal -- never have I seen him even consider other potential explanations for the behavioural traits he discusses. In the article I'm responding to, he does not give any time to examine the evidence for hypotheses which are contradictory to his own position. This is just bad science writing, first of all. Second of all, it gives readers the impression that the debate over this material is definitively settled in favour of Dr. Furtună's position. It's not. Furthermore, much of the "evidence" he draws upon to support his position is so disgusting in nature, it's beyond comprehension.
Thus, I see it as much needed for someone to respond to his sophistry, and so I am about to take him to task. I also won't treat him with the same grace I may typically treat people I critique; he deserves no such respect. This will be good for both of us as well -- while I'll be giving a few individuals a lesson on how to respond to bad arguments in the field of anthropology and psychology, I'll also be consequently giving Dr. Furtună more traffic. It will also satisfy my readers, as the poll suggests that most prefer when I write about anthropology and psychology; as such, I am now writing about both.
This post will not only serve to provide rebuttals to Dr. Furtună's claims, but also give readers an overview of what to look for in scientific literature when taking a skeptical approach. You'll find that there are many such examples to look at in this particular case.
(For the record, it's going to be a pain in the ass to do this article by quoting him so many times. Go ahead, try copy/pasting something from his article. See what happens every time. Also for the record, I am not interested whatsoever in a prolonged discussion with Dr. Furtună over this topic. If he says something which warrants another rebuttal post, it will be my last, if I even write it.)
Without further ado, let us begin.
"It was not only the natural selection that favored warlike men, but also the sexual selection. In archaic times, the combative behavior implied not only chances of survival, but also a more significant reproductive success. Women’s preferences for combative individuals have evolved in parallel with men’s aggressiveness. Numerous studies have shown that women manifest a higher sexual attraction towards men with a warlike reputation, towards leaders and military men. In some societies, military men who are dressed up in their uniforms are being perceived as having a sex-appeal that is superior to those who wear simple clothes [Schreiber, Van Vugt, 2008]."Dr. Furtună cites an unpublished manuscript as evidence for his claims. Unfortunately, it seems very few people actually have access to this manuscript. This is automatically suspect to me, but nonetheless I can't dismiss a claim exclusively for the source that is cited (in most cases, although I will have to do this frequently later on in the article). In scenarios where I cannot examine the source, I simply assume that the citation provides some evidence to what they say -- in this case, that women find a man in uniform more sexually appealing. In some societies. Some being the operative word here. There are numerous explanations other than an evolutionary one for why this might be the case, especially since (as Dr. Furtună concedes) this is a not a universal phenomenon. Socialization plays a remarkable role in societal standards of appeal and beauty. It is no different for men's sexual appeal.
Beyond this, he only cites his source for the latter-most claim. He does refer to an article of his on the natural selection of male aggressiveness, but rigorous peer-reviewed evidence is far from met in that article. The funny thing in this paragraph is that Dr. Furtună already offers a counter-hypothesis to his own: women will favour men of higher status (who were, historically, often warlords or men of military status) so as to better themselves. This is also completely consistent with the selfish gene hypothesis by Dawkins, which he cites in his other article; but it has nothing to do with aggression. Less aggressive men who were born into wealth or royalty would find equal reproductive benefits, particularly in chiefdoms. Do I necessarily agree with this stance? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it does show how quickly an alternative hypothesis can slip under Dr. Furtună's nose, even when he cites it himself. I will make reference to this hypothesis later on in the article.
"The women’s predilection for warriors and the military uniform’s sex-appeal represent a reminiscence of women’s ancestral preferences for men with high social status (resource owners); from times when the hierarchical position was directly associated with warlike abilities and aggressive behavior. From then, the symbol of the warlike man, who is in control and who has a combative and imposing behavior, is part of a strategy that favors men in their relationships with the opposite sex [Hardy, Van Vugt, 2006]. There are other consequences of the admiration of the masculine force, which marks the psychology of the sexual relationships of our times."
|The Hadzabe -- most hunter-gatherer societies are egalitarian.|
In addition to all of this, social hierarchy isn't even a necessity. Most hunter-gatherer societies, with the exception of settled ones, are egalitarian in nature, where power is distributed mostly equally among men and women, and there are no hierarchical positions of power -- any that exist are mostly superficial in nature, such as the status of "headmen" in examples like the !Kung.
And even ignoring all of that, sometimes sexual selection has nothing to do with the man himself. Among the Nuer, sexual selection is based on the prestige and appeal of their cattle, not the man. These explanations are all entirely inconsistent with the evolutionary hypothesis; and yet, despite these being very well known examples in anthropology, Dr. Furtună neglects to consider any of these.
"It is well known that young men who behave modestly and seem agreeable, selfless and shy are disadvantaged as regarding sexual relationships. On the contrary, those who are manipulative, arrogant, cunning, overconfident, who play hypermasculine roles, enjoy a higher number of sexual experiences with more partners . These effects are due not only to the gumption with which these men act, but also to the fact that women prefer this kind of men, with a more imposing behavior. Different studies have shown that the skillful men who have a dominant status and an assertive character are more attractive for women that those who are submissive and shy [Sadalla et al., 1987; Burger, Cosby, 1999]."His first citation is far from credible, and by no means does it go over a comprehensive review of the literature, but let's assume for a moment that the conclusions drawn are true: that women prefer dominant men for sex, but "nice guys" for relationships. Once again, this still shows that sexual selection would not exclusively favour "bad boys" -- there are different, but comparable pressures for men of both personality types. Men can be promiscuous and not settle down, or they can settle down and have many children. One can interpret this type of data in any way they want, but it doesn't solidly prove, as Dr. Furtună might suggest, that male dominance evolved via the processes of natural and sexual selection. As for having more sexual partners, did he ever once consider that this effect might be mitigated if the male in question considers the risk of pregnancy? Does he not realize that this is a risk many men consider? This completely destroys the idea that the actions which promote more sexual partners in men during modern times have evolved through sexual selection.
For his second claim, we can see that he cites two sources: Sadalla et al. (1987) and Burger & Crosby (1999). He suggests that these sources provide evidence to the hypothesis that dominant men of assertive character are more attractive to women than shy men. This is where Dr. Furtună's neglect starts to become most readily available.
[Short disclaimer: there is nothing terribly wrong with the sample sizes in the studies mentioned throughout these articles. Their weight, however, should not be overestimated, as Dr. Furtună has done. They can be used as evidence for further research, but not for the aggressive claims Dr. Furtună is making.]
His first citation, Sadalla et al., was limited in many respects. Firstly, their largest sample size (Experiment 4) was 218 individuals; 114 women and 104 men. Their smallest sample size (Experiment 1) was 88; 46 women and 42 men. All samples were taken from students in an introductory psychology course at "a western state university." These are by far not representative samples of all populations; something which (unless I missed something) the study authors fail to even admit. Likewise, they commit the same fallacious insinuation about the evolution of male dominance that Dr. Furtună makes. The other shortcoming of this particular study is that it offers no predictions according to the sociocultural model they tacitly summarize -- it simply asserts at the end, in the General Discussion section, that the data does not support the sociocultural model. This is quite a leap in reasoning. This study is, also, limited by how old it is, and so cannot account for recent revisions of the sociocultural model, nor can it examine the data and predictions of post-2000 research.
|But she's totally into him.|
The other study is a bit more recent, having been conducted in 1999. It's still limited by sample size; in fact, it's smaller than the first study: Study 1 had 118 female undergraduate students, Study 2 had 50, and Study 3 had 50 as well. The funny thing about this study, however, is that it explicitly suggests that a dominance vs non-dominance model is not supported by their data, and that it may be reliant on the presence of other traits as well. When they provided the students with personality types of different men -- men with dominant personalities, and men without these traits -- they usually chose the latter. They also, when asked what traits they like in a potential partner, very rarely listed "dominant" as a characteristic. Instead, they said things like assertive, or confident. This study is definitely much better than the former, however, as it does not rule out either hypothesis: they still give time to the parental investment hypothesis, and say it may be supported by the data. The point being, however, is that a straightforward interpretation of the data does not support Dr. Furtună. He had to conflate assertiveness with dominance in a cleverly written sentence invoking the two to make it appear as though the data supports him, while leaving out the actual findings of the research he cited. Dishonest? I think so, but we'll see better evidence of that as we go on.
"At the same time, men get a higher prestige and are more attractive for women when they manifest their dominant character and their hostility towards the rivals (for example, towards the members of an opposing sport team) and not towards their colleagues or the persons who are nearby. As regarding a lasting romantic relationship or marriage, the interpersonal aggressiveness, unleashed by a man, could diminish the women’s interest (they being afraid of getting aggressively dominated) [Snyder et al., 2008]. Therefore, the assertive domination is favorable for conquests and courtship strategies for short periods of time, while the prestige (usually associated with social status and richness, but which can also include a prosocial behavior, empathy, intelligence, generosity) is going to have a long-lasting impact ."Again, Dr. Furtună doesn't seem to understand that what he just wrote doesn't make sense given the context of his argument. Success in the short-term and success in the long-term can both lead to very high reproductive success depending on the socially normative number of children a family unit is accepted to have. Besides this, Dr. Furtună's citations are quite hilarious.
The first one he cites is Snyder et al. (2008) as supporting his statement that men get higher prestige and are more attractive to women when they are competitive in sports; yet, they don't get that some appreciation in the light of a long-term relationship. Before we examine that, however, I want to read the first paragraph of Snyder et al. Quote:
"Sadalla, Kenrick, and Vershure (1987) published evidence indicating that women prefer men who are in high dominance over men who are low in dominance as potential dates (i.e. potential short-term relationship partners) and rate them as more attractive. Since then, despite numerous studies pointing to limitations of this result, it seems that a simplistic version of their conclusion - that "women prefer dominant mates" - has become conventional wisdom in psychology and related fields."Do you see what I see? Snyder et al. (2008) just criticized the conclusions drawn from Sadalla et al. 1987) -- the exact same conclusions that Dr. Furtună is drawing here. I'm sorry, but I find this to be beyond hysterical. The dishonesty doesn't end here, however. Continuing with Snyder et al., Dr. Furtună suggests that their findings state that men "get a higher prestige and are more attractive for women when they manifest their dominant character and their hostility towards other rivals."
But does the research actually say that? The answer is a flat out no. In Study 1, Synder et al. found that women preferred men of higher prestige than higher dominance. In Study 2, they examined the variables independently: higher prestige was favoured over lower prestige, while lower dominance was favoured over higher dominance. In Study 3, while higher dominance was preferred in the context of an athletic competition, lower dominance was preferred in any interpersonal situation, even in short-term desirability. They mention nothing about higher dominance conferring higher prestige; they examined these factors independently. Again, Dr. Furtună uses language to conflate everything in the study to support his views, reflecting that he has likely not read the study itself. That, or he has read it, and still included it as supporting the data, despite all of the evidence it brings contrary to his view. Notice, however, that the findings of Snyder et al. are actually consistent with my hypothesis earlier.
For the second part of that paragraph, Dr. Furtună uses The Art of Manliness website as evidence for his claim, but it's a continuity from his prior claim. The website actually reviews quite critically some of the sources Dr. Furtună cited, but the point being, he misrepresented the findings of the research. Dominance was not preferred even in short-term desirability. Prestige was more desirable than dominance, and dominance was undesirable in both short- and long-term relationships.
"However, overall, in the course of humans’ evolution, the dominant individuals have been favored within the reproductive competition, one being able to find even today large categories of women who prefer “alpha males”, with an assertive and sexist approach  [Hall, Canterberry, 2011]. Thus, many women who consider themselves attractive prefer men with a deeper, more masculine and dominant voice [Vukovic et al., 2008, 2010]. Also, the guys with more masculine faces are preferred, them being associated with a greater physical strength therefore, with better genes [Little et al., 2011]. And, the more difficult and unstable the living conditions are, the more emphasized are these preferences [DeBruine et al., 2011]; in regions were the epidemic situation is more dangerous, where the population is more vulnerable to diseases, men with masculine facial traits are more attractive to women than those with womanish faces, due to the fact that masculinity correlates with testosterone and with high resistance to infections ."
|-has nothing to do with this.|
I've reviewed facial, "masculine" facial traits before in the article I cited earlier; but very quickly, "masculine" traits vary culture to culture, as do definitions of what it means to be masculine. "Masculine" just means "how a man should behave," and thus we can understand that the proposition being made is not meaningful. The thing about visually masculine traits, however, is that it has nothing to do with dominant behaviour. At the same time, it's important to note the following:
- Male-on-male aggression with men with masculine faces increases preference.
- This same effect emerges in neutral situations.
- Male-on-female aggression quashes this preference, due to women fearing this aggression will be directed at them.
This becomes important later on. For now, let's move to the next paragraph.
"The staggering case from a prison in Baltimore, where four female guards fell pregnant to same inmate, a gang leader named Tavon White, illustrated, even in anecdotal form, the phenomenon of woman attraction for dominant men . But let’s remember how many convicted killers (like Charles Manson) capture the hearts of law-abiding women, being assaulted with love letters and other signs of adoration while sitting in prison "
|It's because he was just such a freaking bad boy.|
He then goes on to talk about how women were sexually attracted to Osama Bin Laden, in some scenarios more than they were to their own husbands. Notice how the article he cites for this, a report from Sabotage Times, doesn't cite its own sources. Notice how a Google search of "Osamour syndrome" yields no results other than Sabotage Times and Dr. Furtună's own article. Notice how their poll has no mentioning of sample size either. Do you know why all of this is?
Because it's freaking satire.
"From an evolutionary point of view, we are dealing with an instinctive inclination that comes from archaic times when males inherited and, in turn, transmitted genes connected with aggressive and dominant behaviour, who provide a sexual success, and women properly, had inherited preference for such type of males. Masculine aggressive character has evolved in parallel with feminine attraction for such a character. Effects of that archaic sexual selection are still strong today."No, from a logical point of view, we're dealing with a guy with a PhD who doesn't know how to interpret comedy in a fake news article with fake poll data. Just look at the comments. I have Asperger Syndrome and even I could tell the whole thing was a joke.
"In psychology, the term of Dark Triad is used to characterize the traits of a certain category of men who have the tendency to act violently and dominantly. The Dark Triad includes three sub-clinical traits: narcissism, machiavellianism and psychopathy. These men are complacent, selfish and overconfident; they manipulate and exploit others without any scruples; they are impulsive and lacking empathy; they are impudent and possessive in their sexual relationship; they have sadistic inclinations. In an apparently paradoxically way, many women adore such types of men  [Carter et al., 2014]. In fact, some women have fantasies about brutal sexual relationships, including rapes; these fantasies represent an unconscious expression of women to be sexually desirable, their wish to be possessed by men , ."This is where Dr. Furtună becomes particularly disgusting. First of all, the article he cites by Psychology Today explicitly says not to call them rape fantasies, which Dr. Furtună does anyway. Second of all, there's too much here to look at, so I'm going to go to the best source, which is almost always the peer-reviewed one; in this case, Carter et al. (2014). Again, it's limited by sample size; but there is one fundamental flaw in Carter et al.'s study, and that is that it doesn't examine the behavioural traits in action. It simply takes shortened summaries of different traits these individuals exhibit and gave them to the respondents piecemeal for evaluation. Seeing these behaviours in action, however, might yield completely different results.
I want to withhold myself from completely attacking Dr. Furtună's comments until the end, so let's skip ahead and past the 50 Shades of Grey part, since it's hardly relevant.
"If we analyze the things through the prisms of human ethology and evolutionary psychology, we understand that the attraction to bad boys, who have the traits from the Dark Triad, is explained by the fact that they are being associated with warrior qualities. Those who have such personal traits are also favored in hierarchical struggles and they usually reach the top of the pyramid of power."Yes, Dr. Furtună. All "bad boys" are narcissists, Machiavellians and psychopaths. All of them could be given psychological examinations and come back with these results. All of them. That's why Carter et al. drew a dichotomy between the typical "bad boy" (low DT character) and the actual Dark Triad (high DT character). You're absolutely correct. Spot on. Bravo.
"Therefore we understand that the natural selection has favored the formation of some masculine warlike traits that favored, in each generation, the ones who were more combative and who had an assertive character, because those were able to acquire more women, but it also has favored the women who preferred the warlike men, because they were able to gain access to more resources. A mutual strengthening of the respective strategies took place on a genetic level and they became typical for the human ethology. Maybe it is the instinctual predilection for tough and combative men that makes women not to leave their violent husbands and that explains their fantasies with forced sex ."Ignoring all of the claims we've already debunked, really? Did he really just suggest that women don't leave their violent husbands because they're sexually attracted to their domineering behaviour? How about fear, you nitwit? How about low self-esteem? How about self-victimization? There are infinitely better explanations for that type of behaviour than "they like their man being assertive."
"There are testimonies of rape’s victims in which the victims affirm that they had orgasm during the imposed sexual acts (different sources indicate a different rate that varies between 5%-10% and 50% of women who admitted having had orgasmic states) . A study of 611 hospitalized women, which was made in Toronto, Canada, showed that almost 43% of them have been abused both physically and especially verbally at home in the last year, but more than half of them (54%) have declared that they would stay with their abusing husbands. The invoked motive is the feeling of safety that these women have when they are near their husbands [Panchanadeswaran et al., 2010]. All these considerations should make us look more profound at phenomenon of violence in general."I want to throw up. I'm going to take the most time addressing this paragraph because, if nothing else, I want the good doctor to see how disgustingly wrong this final segment is. If he ignores everything else, I want him to fully understand how much of an idiot he is here.
Let's start with the first statement. In the very source he cites for his statistics on how many women have reported orgasms during rape, the author rejects the idea that the women liked it. She explains that this is a result of fear, not arousal. This is an example of excitation-transfer theory, where the residual excitation of one stimulus can amplify the excitatory response to another stimulus. She gives the example of tickling, where it can either be a pleasureful experience or a very bad one, but both produce the same response: laughing. Just because the person is laughing, though, does not mean they unconsciously enjoy being tickled. This is a stupid position to take. So is the position that women having orgasms speaks to their unconscious desire to have violent, dominant sexual intercourse. Again, it's the fear. This is yet another example of Dr. Furtună cherry picking his data.
|"Enjoy" -- said only the biggest idiots ever.|
He, again, cites a study about women who would stay with their abusive husband; but this time, he cites a study giving the alleged motive for why they stay with their partners. What Dr. Furtună failed to mention was that Panchanadeswaran et al. (2010) used a sample of urban low-income minority women -- in other words, women who are most likely to be in need of financial assistance; which, I don't know, could be a massive confounding variable in the results.
The thing is, the study doesn't even say that the women only stayed with their husbands because they felt safe. More than half of the respondents said that their husbands were highly dependable, which would serve to mitigate their decision to leave an abusive husband. They aren't inclusive factors. Their abusive, dominant nature isn't what caused them to stay with their husbands. It was their dependability.
Furthermore, this isn't even the worst part about this. Recall something Dr. Furtună said earlier in his article:
"As regarding a lasting romantic relationship or marriage, the interpersonal aggressiveness, unleashed by a man, could diminish the women’s interest (they being afraid of getting aggressively dominated) [Snyder et al., 2008]."And again, given the context of the data I warned would be important: how does any of this make any sense? These women would be significantly opposed to staying with their abusive husbands. So again, do you see what I see? Dr. Furtună makes a completely ridiculous claim which is (1) not true; (2) at odds with the data; (3) not evidenced by the source he cited; and, (4) contradictory to his own statements earlier in the article. All of Dr. Furtună's speculations about why women don't leave their violent, abusive husbands is completely inconsistent with his own sources; and not only that, it's inconsistent with his own damn claims.
I don't need much of a closer for this one, but let me say this: to any science enthusiast who also happens to be a skeptic, do not falter just because you see a statement being made by someone who is supposedly qualified in their field. One person alone is not enough to settle the science; and, as we can see, individuals are capable of some particularly egregious errors and lies. I would speculate on my own that perhaps the reason Dr. Furtună paid so much attention to this alleged ethological approach to women liking "bad boys" is because he perceives himself as having many of the traits that he believes attract women. Maybe it's justification for his own sexist views.
Whatever the case may be, I'm tired of seeing Dr. Furtună spam his articles all over Google+ and in communities that I am a participant in. I'm calling him out here. I dare him to respond.
Thank you all very much for reading.
EDIT (12/21/14): It seems Dr. Furtună has seen this article and edited his own to remove his embarrassing use of a satire as evidence for his claims. I'll continue reading through it to see if he changes more, but you can download the original article in .txt here. The dishonesty never ends!
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