The Evolution of Cooperation | Robert Axelrod

Summary of: The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition
By: Robert Axelrod

Introduction

Delve into the intriguing world of mating and human relationships as we explore Robert Axelrod’s ‘The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition’. The book summarizes key biological, psychological, and cultural factors that influence mating choices and strategies. Expect to uncover insights into the preferences of both genders in choosing mates, tactics to attract and retain love, and reasons behind conflict and jealousy. With a blend of evolutionary perspective and practical examples, the summary breaks down complex human behavior into a digestible and engaging form.

The Science of Romance

Evolutionary psychology provides insights into how and why conflict arises in the mating game. In “The Descent of Man,” Charles Darwin identified two mechanisms – competition for a mate and preference for certain traits in a mate – that drive the selection of characteristics passed onto the next generation. Peacocks with beautiful plumage illustrate how a preference for certain traits can result in a reproductive advantage. By understanding these survival strategies, we gain a deeper understanding of why mating can be both fascinating and frustrating.

Women’s Mate Selection Criteria

Women’s limited fertilization capacity has always been a critical factor in mate selection. Throughout history, women have chosen men with the material ability to support their families. Recent studies suggest that women prioritize financial prosperity when seeking a partner. Women prefer men who are educated, dependable, ambitious, intelligent, compatible, strong, healthy, high-spirited, loving, and committed. These attributes signify status, resources, and protectiveness, which enhance their chances of fertility success. Though marrying an older man carries the threat of widowhood, age denotes status and resources, making older men more attractive. In general, social rank, success, and education are critical in communist and socialist countries, among blacks and Orientals, Catholics, Jews, in the tropics, and the northern climates. Women seek partners who share their values, intelligence, and group memberships, as conflicts are costly in relationships. Ultimately, the devotion of men leads to fruitful benefits for women, and so women prefer men who show commitment.

Men’s Evolutionary Preference for Women

Men’s preference for qualities that signify a woman’s reproductive value is driven by evolution. Men have an inclination towards women who exhibit traits such as youthfulness, physical attractiveness, and faithfulness. Cross-culturally, men tend to choose younger women, with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7, which affirms a woman’s fertility. Men prioritize their partner’s beauty more than women do. They prefer premarital chastity and post-marital loyalty to ensure procreation is safeguarded. Ultimately, these preferences are men’s evolutionary adaptation to increase their offspring’s chances of survival.

Sex and the Evolutionary Advantage

According to evolutionary research, men are naturally inclined towards casual sex as it fits their mating strategy, but women are less inclined towards it. However, in certain historical circumstances, women engaged in casual affairs to survive and gain protection. Women also used such occasions to diagnose their competitive value on the mating market and appraise a potential husband’s personality and compatibility. They may have chosen a committed, less desirable partner and turned to a more desirable man if he could provide better genes. Infidelity is a result of this inherited tendency towards mate-switching.

Extramarital affairs can help women find a substitute husband if their partner is infertile or becomes ill, injured, or dies. Women may test a new man before leaving their spouse, and this is a predominant reason for extramarital liaisons today. Such affairs also make women feel better about themselves and encourage them to end their current relationships. Women with “anxious/ambivalent attachment style” who fear intimacy might drive men away, are likeliest to have affairs, according to the author’s findings.

The Psychology of Attraction

In his book, the author highlights the different attraction tactics men and women use. Men mainly focus on showing off their wealth, status, commitment, athleticism, and self-confidence to impress women, while women often modify their physique, play hard to get, use sexual signals, and act submissive. The author explains that these behaviors are the result of biological and evolutionary factors, and criticizing them would be akin to criticizing a preference for meat. The author also notes the importance of context and cultural differences in attraction tactics. For instance, physical prowess is essential for attracting women in the Yanomamö society, but not necessarily in modern Western culture. Overall, the book offers insight into the complex and sometimes mysterious ways in which humans choose their mates.

Relationship Strategies

Long-term relationships can be beneficial for both genders, but competitors may try to steal a mate or disrupt the relationship. Insects have physical mechanisms to prevent their mates from sexual interaction with rivals. Humans, on the other hand, have evolved complex psychological mechanisms, including jealousy, to protect their relationships. Men become jealous over infidelity, while women feel jealous when their partner becomes emotionally distracted. People use several strategies to keep their mates, including emotional manipulation, public marking, vigilance, concealing a mate, and even genital mutilation in some cultures. While some tactics may be positive, others may be harmful and reflect the initial behaviors that drew them to their partner.

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