The Pick-Up Artists' Alpha-Male Narrative Myth

Yup, another “Geico commercials aren’t historically accurate representations of human evolution” post.

First, a disclaimer: I have no moral qualms with with sex. My current interpretation is that, in humans, sex is a factor we use in deciding with whom to reproduce. If that’s true, the cult of monogamy serves, in some degree, to benefit individuals whose reproductive success is improved under that system. I also have no qualms about the theoretical underpinning of pick-up artists (PUAs) so far as it’s about jettisoning cultural baggage and presenting one’s self in the best light. Translation: I don’t hate the game.

Here’s where I do object: The hackneyed use of evolutionary psychology and pop-paleoanthropology to craft narratives of our evolutionary past, then use them to justify behaviors or strategies. Among PUAs, this is commonly manifested in a narrative that goes something like: “Humans evolved emotional responses that influence attraction in the paleolithic. During this period of human evolution, we lived in tribes. Because of the protective advantages, resource advantages, and social advantages of tribal leaders, women evolved an attraction to tribal leaders, a.k.a. alpha-males. Therefore, men should act like alpha males to attract women.”

Side Note: Lately, John Durant of hunter-gatherer.com has been writing about sorta similar things in the context of masculinity. While John’s recent posts have reminded me of my intent to write about this subject, I haven’t seen him construct this narrative. So… unless I missed something, the timing of this post is mostly a coincidence.

As to not be accused of constructing a straw-man, here are some quotes from “Mystery”, of the TV show The Pick-Up Artist. I can already hear the PUAs interjecting… “Yeah, but brah… he doesn’t represent all PUAs.” I fully agree with that point, but I don’t particularly give a fuck.

Evolutionary psychology and hunter-gatherer anthropology are ridiculously important and useful to a zillion things, and they continue to be held back by the pop-PUA bullshit that gets circulated endlessly. In other words, it makes my life difficult because I have to waste my time dealing with flak from people who object to the bullshit narrative — while I agree with their objections to the narrative. Darwin’s baby gets thrown out with the bathwater because a few people want to sell an image and a bunch of poorly researched ebooks.

The other objection I can hear rattling around in the most vapid of PUAs’ heads is, “Um, dude… So what, it fucking works.” That’s true in many cases, but it’s still a logically flawed argument. I’ll let those using it try to figure out why on their own.

But I digress… the quotes:

“Our emotional circuitry is designed to best suit our [survival and reproduction] based on an ancient environment and tribal social order that once existed tens of thousands of years ago.” – The Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed (2005)

“Our emotions, and the behaviors they cause, are best adapted to a primitive tribal environment that no longer exists.” Revelation (2008)

“A friend that says, ‘He’s dated playboy models.’ Peacocking that screams tribal leader. Demonstrations of leading men in the group…. These are plotlines, and my game is full of them… learning that you are the tribal leader, having a jealousy plot line infuriate her…” The Pickup Artist: The New and Improved Art of Seduction (2010)

Anthropology argument against tribal alpha-male narrative

The main references cited in the PUA books mentioned in these posts are Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976) and The Evolution of Desire by David Buss (2003). I recommend both books, but the citations tend to misrepresent them. In the case of Dawkins’ book, it was written more than three decades ago, and anthropology has progressed radically in that time. Further, Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, not an anthropologist. Using his work as an anthropological reference is bound to be somewhat problematic.

There is no good reason to believe that humans evolved in hierarchical tribes between tens of thousands to two million years ago. To the contrary, there is a mountain of evidence showing that humans evolved in largely egalitarian bands that punished attempts of dominance with social sanctioning, banishment, and death (Boehm 1999). Yes, that’s basically saying that alpha males got offed by their social group — not exactly a benefit to reproduction. It appears that human ancestors likely lived in dominance hierarchies sometime in our distant past, but probably prior to the evolution of the hominin (human) line (Boehm 1999; Debreuil 2010). These works indicate that whatever “alpha” dominance tendencies evolved in our remote ancestors has most likely been evolving in the opposite direction for a couple million years. Among related primate ancestors, we see varying levels of dominance hierarchies, but the most recent common ancestor likely dates to 6 million years ago — a very far cry from merely “tens of thousands of years ago.” It must also be noted that as an evolutionary process, these behavioral traits exist on a continuum, and can’t be precisely mapped on a timeline. However, the “tribal” evolution narrative appears to be simply wrong.

Evolutionary argument against tribal alpha-male narrative

Without going into tedious detail, it’s unlikely that the alpha-male behavioral type (however imprecise that classification may be) is particularly adaptive. Traits that confer significant reproductive advantage tend to spread through a population rapidly. That basically means that traits that consistently vary widely among a species are probably not under significant selection pressures. If being alpha was the ne plus ultra of mate wooing strategies, there would be a whooooooollle lot fewer “betas.”

Evidence of what works better

If evolved human dominance behaviors have been decreasing over time, we would expect to see something else evolve to replace it. Because of the evolution of hominin brain size and cognition across the paleolithic, we might expect that whatever trait evolved via sexual selection related to these developments. Indeed, humor and intelligence appear to be more attractive to women than testosterone-related masculinity when it matters most — during female ovulation (Kaufman, et al. 2007). Greengross & Miller (2011) also found that humor relates to intelligence, and predicts mating success. Further, their data showed that Christopher Hitchens was right, and that males use humor to be selected by women.

Verdict

Masculine or “alpha” behavior is attractive to some women sometimes. It appears to be a retained trait from multiple millions of years ago, that was once advantageous, but has lost its significance with respect to the population as a whole. I’ve personally experimented with gender stereotypes enough to know that the opposite of masculinity can be attractive to women as well. When successful, either approach will lead to massive selection bias.

So, the PUAs are partially right on the attractiveness of masculinity. However, their narrative is a myth, and buying into such myths can limit reproductive success — or whatever term the PUA flavor of the month is using for “fucking” these days.

Then again, if you have intelligence, and the humor related to it, you probably already know that playing one strategy for every game is itself a sub-optimal strategy.

References

Boehm, Christopher (1999). Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior.

Dubreuil, Benoit (2010). Human Evolution and the Origins of Hierarchies: The State of Nature.

Greengross, G., & Miller, G. F. (2011). Humor ability reveals intelligence, predicts mating success, and is higher in males. Intelligence, 39, 188-192. [PDF]

Kaufman, S. B., Kozbelt, A., Bromley, M. L., & Miller, G. F. (2007). The role of creativity and humor in mate selection. In G. Geher & G. Miller (Eds.), Mating intelligence: Sex, relationships, and the mind’s reproductive system (pp. 227-262). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. [PDF]

73 Comments
  1. Melissa 6 years ago

    I think modern people think of dominance = alpha, whereas it seems actual HG women don’t care about social dominance as much as they care about hunting skills. http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hbe-lab/acrobatfiles/mate%20prefs%20of%20hadza.pdf

    I don’t think modern Western women are so different. It’s clear via revealed preference that a man who is the modern equivalent of a bad hunter is quite undesirable http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/01/great_stagnatio_1.html

    But overall, I find that PUA place too much emphasis on reproduction, which is ironic since most of them aren’t even after children. I think the reason humans vary so much in terms of sexual attraction  is that sexual attraction doesn’t always matter in terms of reproducing. In Melanesia you have entire tribes where men seem to prefer other men, but they manage to run a higher fertility rate than most Western European countries because they view mating as a duty/ritual (even if the women sometimes have to dress as men). Interviews with Aka foragers (who are all fairly androgynous looking) show that they also view sex as a duty. 

    • Author
      Andrew 6 years ago

      Yup… I intended to put the thing about hunting and reproductive success in here. Oops. On the hunting component among the Ache, Hadza, !Kung, Lamalera, and Meriam…

      “First, there is robust evidence for a correlation between the hunting success and reproductive success of individual men within the several societies where relevant data are available. Second, the proximate causes of this correlation vary somewhat between societies, with better hunters sometimes (but not always) having more mates, higher-quality mates, earlier reproduction, and higher offspring survival.”

      I remember similar conclusions about the Yanomamo, but I don’t have the reference handy.

      Smith, E. A. (2004). Why do good hunters have higher reproductive success? Human Nature, 15(4), 343-364.

      The misc. Melanesians you allude to still seem to be outliers in the sexual attraction department. Taking these examples from isolation and putting them out in the front of arguments is one of the main criticisms of Sex at Dawn. These things certainly have a cultural/ecological input, and I’d argue it’s just particularly strong among those peoples.

      • Neal matheson 6 years ago

        Chagnon also noted that the Yanomamo’s “success” at violence did not equate to reproductive success.

      • Melissa 6 years ago

        The misc. cultures I mention are demonstrations that the normal distribution for human sexuality seems quite wide, probably because culture plays such a strong role in reproduction. For example, it seems quite odd that there would be humans that are homosexual or asexual if reproduction is all about sexual attractiveness, but the fact that it isn’t means these variants have survived and are part of human nature to an extent that they aren’t normally in other animals (other animal exhibit homosexual behavior, but typically still instinctively engage in reproductive mating with the opposite sex). 

        • Author
          Andrew 6 years ago

          My read on it is mostly the “human culture can amplify underlying instincts” in a way not possible in other animals. I’m not sure why it would be “odd that there would be humans that are homosexual… if reproduction is all about sexual attractiveness”. It might be odd if we assume no biological component to homosexuality. There appear to be several biological inputs, and the models predicting the prevalence of homosexuality even if it’s non-adaptive are stable.

          All of the answers aren’t in this, but it’s a good launching point to get to the relevant research… “The Love that Dares to Constitute an Evolutionary Mystery

      • Melissa 6 years ago

        Ah, here is the Hadza NatGeo article where they talk about a guy who can’t get married because he hasn’t hunted very well:
        http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/print/2009/12/hadza/finkel-text
        “Ngaola is quiet and introspective and a really poor hunter. He’s about 30 years old and still unmarried; bedeviled, perhaps, by the five-­baboon rule. It pains him that his older brother, Giga, is probably the most skilled archer in camp. Maduru is a solid outdoorsman, an espec­ially good honey finder, but something of a Hadza misfit. When a natural snakebite remedy was passed around camp, Maduru was left out of the distribution. This upset him greatly, and Onwas had to spend an hour beside him, an arm slung avuncularly over his shoulder, calming him down.

        • Author
          Andrew 6 years ago

          Hm. Marlowe, in his 2010 book, The Hadza, paints a rather less structured version of “marriage”. Basically, people are “married” when they start sleeping in the same shelter on a regular basis, and marriages dissolve when one stops sleeping there. There don’t seem to be many official can or can’t get married rules. Consider the relatively short time he was there, and that he was acting through an interpreter, I’m hesitant to prioritize Finkel’s article over Marlowe.

          That doesn’t undermine the advantage of good hunting, but I find the distinction interesting… my brain is kind of bleeding over from today’s facebook post on family structures I guess.

          • Melissa 6 years ago

            I don’t think they are mutually exclusive- the idea that there is some standard and than marriage is a very lose concept. 

          • Author
            Andrew 6 years ago

            Agreed that they’re not technically mutually exclusive based on the snippet here. However, Marlowe goes into significant detail on Hadza social/sexual relationships and it came across as much less structured than Finkel’s portrayal. In the full context of Marlowe, I’m skeptical that Finkel got that part right.

            I’m also working from memory so I could be forgetting something.

      • bparsonst 5 years ago

        Who are you calling a Miscellaneous Melanesian?!?

  2. Kevin Holbrook 6 years ago

    Even old models of hierarchy show the ‘alpha’ as one who naturally rises to the ‘position’ among other males — not by force but by respect (hunting skills, risk-taking, etc.). It stands to reason that many of the negative connotations of today’s alpha-bros are simply the evolutionary gap between the man worthy of a beta’s respect and the man who isn’t. 

  3. Neal matheson 6 years ago

     “alpha males” ugh, lazy rationalisations for boorish behaviour.  A lot of women I have seen seem to have picked their men based less on evolutionary drivers than psychological damage from their childhood.

  4. Cate Shanahan 6 years ago

    You might love the book The Ape in the Corner Office. It’s very funny writing and addresses the variable success rates of what we call alpha male behavior by looking at social behaviors of other animals, especially primates.

  5. David Csonka 6 years ago

    “Indeed, humor and intelligence appear to be more attractive to women than testosterone-related masculinity.”

    So, the new and improved beefy Carrot Top is now God’s gift to women-folk?

    • Mountain 6 years ago

      His humor and intelligence is arguable =P

  6. Will Hopper 6 years ago

    “Traits that confer significant reproductive advantage tend to spread through a population rapidly…..If being alpha was the ne plus ultra of mate wooing strategies, there would be a whooooooollle lot fewer “betas.””
     
    this quote reminded me of a news article about the Xavánte tribe of the brazilian amazon who had undergone rapid morphological changes to their head size, and researchers argued it to stemmed from cultural practices that allowed a cheif to take multiple wives, producing up to a quarter of the offspring in the tribe, and effectively flooding the gene pool with their traits
     
    while i’m no expert, perhaps someone else reading or writing here is better versed. this seems to dovetail with melissas comment discussing cultural variance, and perhaps about actual skills being more important . But it also seems to show a seemingly alpha male exerting social dominance and maximizing “reproductive success” though a heirarchy, albeit one that builds a monopoly on opportunity in.
     
    not that i think this conclusively debunks the points made in here, especially about humans “evolving in heirarchical tribes” but it think it shows that  alpha male dominance and success does happen.
     
     as a side note, i could see how this degree of reproductive monopoly could actually be counter productive to spreading adaptive traits, especially with the example of head size/shape, and birthing.

  7. Will Hopper 6 years ago

    “Traits that confer significant reproductive advantage tend to spread through a population rapidly…..If being alpha was the ne plus ultra of mate wooing strategies, there would be a whooooooollle lot fewer “betas.””
     
    this quote reminded me of a news article about the Xavánte tribe of the brazilian amazon who had undergone rapid morphological changes to their head size, and researchers argued it to stemmed from cultural practices that allowed a cheif to take multiple wives, producing up to a quarter of the offspring in the tribe, and effectively flooding the gene pool with their traits
     
    while i’m no expert, perhaps someone else reading or writing here is better versed. this seems to dovetail with melissas comment discussing cultural variance, and perhaps about actual skills being more important . But it also seems to show a seemingly alpha male exerting social dominance and maximizing “reproductive success” though a heirarchy, albeit one that builds a monopoly on opportunity in.
     
    not that i think this conclusively debunks the points made in here, especially about humans “evolving in heirarchical tribes” but it think it shows that  alpha male dominance and success does happen.
     
     as a side note, i could see how this degree of reproductive monopoly could actually be counter productive to spreading adaptive traits, especially with the example of head size/shape, and birthing.

  8. Stabby 6 years ago

    Great post, it got me thinking. What do you think of this explanation? Is it consistent with the facts?

    What seems to be useful in attracting a mate to public perception, amongst other things. Does a man sit in good standing with everyone else, do they view him favorably, and to what degree are they likely to cooperate and be benevolent towards him and therefore his offspring as well? The alpha-male strategy doesn’t seem like it would be the most advantageous here, it would be better than nothing, though. Is the alpha-male strategy a compensation for generally poor social skills and relationship-building? That is, if you can’t make friends who will share with you and assist you because they like you, try to bluff and make people think that they’re hot stuff so they will be more likely to assist you?

    Intelligence is important, humor is important, character is important, but so are connections?

  9. Derek Scruggs 5 years ago

    I’m curious if there’s been any research on “cocky & funny” humor vs. self deprecating humor? Or conveying sexuality? Think Russell Brand compared to Jerry Seinfeld. 

    Also, vulnerability is often said to be attractive, but not neediness.

  10. Adriant 5 years ago


    women evolved an attraction to tribal leaders, a.k.a. alpha-males. Therefore, men should act like alpha males to attract women.” ”
    No, not like that. Men should act more like alpha males to get hotter women. That’s the whole point of acting “alpha” or acting like a leader. It’s not that betas don’t get chicks, it’s just that alpha males get the best girls. So being a leader is not a requirement but it helps.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      No, if you’re going to use an evolutionary explanation, it doesn’t work like this.

  11. j r 5 years ago

    You are right about the PUAs reliance on just-so stories.  Game is largely an empirical exercise and the PUA’s interest in evo-psych is mostly for the purposes of ex post rationalization of the things that worked in the field.  For that reason there is very good reason to distrust PUA-inspired evolutionary stories.
    For that very same reason, though, what does work in the field provides some very important insight into attraction.  Remember, the whole point of game is to de-mystify attraction, to figure out what causes it, and to learn to replicate it on command.  Considering that PUAs like Mystery have been successful in this project, it would be a mistake to dismiss them.  

    I would also say that most practitioners of game don’t have the static conception of game that you impart on them.  Most would simply define alpha behavior as that which women tend to find attractive. Again, the fact that you can define such a thing and impart it to others as a heuristic is the proof of its own existence and efficacy.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      “most practitioners of game don’t have the static conception of attraction that you impart on them”

      If only I’d written something like:
      “Yeah, but brah… he doesn’t represent all PUAs.” I fully agree with that point…

  12. Naveed 5 years ago

    The narrative is not about the dichotomy between meat heads and nerds. It is about achieving the best of both worlds. 

  13. Anonymous 5 years ago

    As Boehm makes clear, the egalitarianism of Boehm’s ” Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior” did not extend to between men and women.  They didn’t have egalitarian marriages or anything.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at here. The narrative, as quoted above, is about social/political hierarchy on the group level. It presumes that women will be attracted to men exercising a hierarchical role over the group. Boehm speaks directly to this.

      As far as “egalitarian marriages”, I’d refer you to “The Hadza”, linked in the conversation with Melissa. In this hunter-gatherer culture, dominance is minimized by both partners’ ability to dissolve a “marriage” unilaterally at their will. I’ve written about this tendency being pervasive among hunter-gatherers before: http://evolvify.com/foundations-for-a-hunter-gatherer-philosophy-if-you-dont-like-it-leave/

      Sincerely,
      Alpha 60

  14. Mat 5 years ago

    “Yeah, but brah…

    Haha! I felt like popping my pink polo’s collar when I read that.

    Still, you write like a woman: illogically. Let me show you why.

    I recommend both books, but the citations tend to misrepresent them. In the case of Dawkins’ book, it was written more than three decades ago, and anthropology has progressed radically in that time.

    Dual nonsequiturs. The fact that Dawkins’s book was written more than three decades ago does nothing to support the assertion that “citations tend to misrepresent [Dawkins’s and Buss’s books]”. Nor does the claim that anthropology has progressed radically in the last three decades; The Selfish Gene was not about anthropology (the word doesn’t appear anywhere in the book).

    There is no good reason to believe that humans evolved in hierarchical tribes between tens of thousands to two million years ago. To the contrary, there is a mountain of evidence showing that humans evolved in largely egalitarian bands that punished attempts of dominance with social sanctioning, banishment, and death (Boehm 1999). Yes, that’s basically saying that alpha males got offed by their social group — not exactly a benefit to reproduction.

    I doubt the mountain of evidence exist (feel free to show me), but let’s leave that aside for a moment. I’m interested in eviscerating your logic, not your evidence.

    Suppose I used the fact that many modern societies punish criminals to support the idea that there are no successful criminals. How long would it take for you to point out that society only catches and punishes the *unsuccessful* criminals?

    Traits that confer significant reproductive advantage tend to spread through a population rapidly. That basically means that traits that consistently vary widely among a species are probably not under significant selection pressures.

    Who says the trait of alpha-capability varies widely? I’m dominant in some contexts and submissive in others, as I’m sure you are. That’s consistent with an algorithm for behaviour that says, “if you find that you are the baddest mofo around, act like it; if you find that there is another, badder mofo around, show a bit of deference or you’ll get your ass whupped.” In other words, the trait to be alpha exists in all of us, but only shows itself in certain, beneficial contexts.

    If being alpha was the ne plus ultra of mate wooing strategies, there would be a whooooooollle lot fewer “betas.”

    Does. Not. Follow.

    Suppose I said that strong antlers were the best mate-winning tool of bucks, and that therefore there couldn’t possibly be many weak-antlered bucks. I’ll bet you’d immediately come back by saying that, at the very least, half of the bucks will always have weaker antlers than the other half. That’s because strength of antlers in the context of winning mates (fighting with other bucks) is relative.

    Or suppose I said that if prettiness was the ne plus ultra of mate wooing for women, I shouldn’t expect to see very many plain or ugly chicks around. How convinced would you be?

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      Your analysis isn’t nearly as penetrating as your ego is telling you. You’ve pretty much misunderstood or misrepresented everything I wrote.

      I’m not even convinced you read the entire post. For instance: “I doubt the mountain of evidence exist (feel free to show me)

      Um… The references are there. I’m not doing the rest of your homework for you.

      • Mat 5 years ago

        Your analysis isn’t nearly as penetrating as your ego is telling you.

        How penetrating is my ego telling me my analysis is? Stick to claims you can support.

        Besides, I’m an anonymous poster on the internet. If anyone’s ego is going to act up here, it probably won’t be mine.

        Um… The references are there

        The refs you’ve given here comprise the mountain? I thought there might be more, but I’m happy to check these two out.

        You’ve pretty much misunderstood or misrepresented everything I wrote.

        I haven’t commented on everything you wrote. I pointed out four specific places where you made an assertion and attempted to support it with a sentence or phrase that simply did not logically follow. Unless you wish to claim that your  A, because B statements really are logically coherent, there’s nothing to understand.

        Care to engage on the substance of what I’ve written?

        • Author
          Andrew 5 years ago

          Not really. The ideas you attributed to me weren’t an accurate assessment of the post. I’m not sure why I’d feel compelled defend myself against mischaracterizations in this case.

          • FragrantDanger 5 years ago

            WTF? He quoted you directly.

          • Author
            Andrew 5 years ago

            I’ll let you ponder whether it’s possible to quote someone while also misinterpreting them.

          • FragrantDanger 5 years ago

            You are completely out of your depth.

            Let’s focus on the possibility of misinterpretation (since, indeed, it is not possible to ‘mischaracterize’ your ideas or provide an inaccurate ‘assessment of the post’ via quoting your own ideas as you wrote them and in full.)

            Mat claims, for example, that when you discussed Dawkins’s book you happened to write the logical equivalent of ‘Cherries are red. rain contains water.’ His argument as I see it is about whether meaning CAN be discovered AT ALL within the construction in question, assuming that the second sentence was meant to support the first. You then bring up the matter of INTERPRETATION, something that could only be relevant once there exists a logical construct containing some component values to interpret. In other words your objection is completely out of touch with what is actually being criticized!

            That brings us to the assumption above. The ONLY room for misinterpretation here is about the purpose of the sentences. Specifically, whether you meant for ‘Rain contains water’ to support ‘Cherries are red’. Perhaps not. Feel free to clarify.

            I suppose it’s also possible that you are criticizing Mat for failing to fill the gaps in order to make your sentences logical constructs that support an argument. Perhaps you hoped that smart readers would see that ‘Cherries are red. rain contains water’ is really short form for something like ‘Cherries can grow and become red in part because they are exposed to rain, which contains water, which is needed for plant growth’). Again, feel free to clarify.

            We could go through the rest, but better to focus on the simplest case first.

          • Author
            Andrew 5 years ago

            More pointless mental masturbation from Mat or his clone… more mind-numbing tedium. The only thing that isn’t boring about your participation in this conversation is the condescension. The only thing worse than being boring is being a boring asshole.

            Don’t confuse me being out of any particular depth with lack of troll engagement due to irrepressible yawns and plenty of better things to do.

    • Anonymous 5 years ago

      Suppose I said that strong antlers were the best mate-winning tool of bucks, and that therefore there couldn’t possibly be many weak-antlered bucks. I’ll bet you’d immediately come back by saying that, at the very least, half of the bucks will always have weaker antlers than the other half.

      If you think that would be a good counter-argument it seems to me you aren’t thinking it through too well. The very fact that antlers haven’t been continually selected to evolve larger and larger in every lineage of mammals with antlers indicates that larger antlers are not universally a selective advantage over smaller ones, so there’s probably some sort of trade-off in fitness as antlers grow larger–perhaps larger antlers give an individual a better chance of winning mating contests, but impair their chances of survival in other contexts (slowing them down when running from predators who aren’t deterred by antlers, for example, or just requiring more nutrition so they’re a disadvantage in lean times). Similarly it’s unlikely to be true that more “alpha” males always have higher fitness than “beta” ones, or else humans would have been evolving continuously in that direction over the last few million years (it’s difficult to know what our distant ancestors were like in behavioral terms although it seems implausible they’d be mostly non-assertive “betas” by modern standards, and in anatomical terms cro-magnons were a bit more “robust” than modern humans, and the Neanderthal offshoot even more so).

      When it comes to humans, there is apparently some recent evidence that females may have different attractions depending on their perceived risk of encountering physical violence in their life–if they perceive a higher risk they’re more likely to be attracted to physically dominant males, if not they’re more likely to find other more psychological traits to be attractive. See the reference to “Synder et al., in press” at the end of “lesson 4” in this article by an evolutionary psychologist: http://www.cognitionandculture.net/home/blog/74-daniel-fesslers-blog/2344-twelve-lessons-most-of-which-i-learned-the-hard-way-for-evolutionary-psychologists

      • Allessa 5 years ago

        I can’t speak for him, but I think Matt was saying something like:

        “Suppose X. Would Y follow?”
        If we’re answering that question, we don’t care whether X is true. We only care about the logic of whether Y follows X if X is, in fact, true. In a way (sort of) I can see his point because the author’s claim that “if alphaness is sexy then there would be no betas” is not really correct as long as alphaness is always relative to betaness. Even if (note that I am not saying it is) sexual selection were always pushing men to be more alpha, there would always be some men who were moreso than others.

        Am I making any sense?

        • Anonymous 5 years ago

          Yeah, that makes sense if we define “alpha” and “beta” purely in relative terms, but it seems to me that isn’t the only way the words are used, and so I think this is a pretty uncharitable reading of Andrew’s original comment If being alpha was the ne plus ultra of mate wooing strategies, there would be a whooooooollle lot fewer “betas.” on Mat’s part (unless it genuinely never occurred to Mat that “alpha” and “beta” could be defined in anything but purely relative terms). I think you can define “alpha-ness” in terms of qualities that could still be present if the individual was in a group where they weren’t in a leadership role–qualities like physical strength, assertiveness, social confidence, and risk-taking. Likewise we can envision a scenario where you have a bunch of spindly non-assertive types (say, that show “The Big Bang Theory”), and even if one may take some sort of leadership role in that context most people wouldn’t therefore say that he was an “alpha male”.

          Of course, complicating things further is that the sort of traits I mentioned aren’t completely inherent to the person and do depend somewhat on the group the person finds themselves in…even things like testosterone levels are known to change depending on whether a primate finds itself in a more or less dominant position in its group.

          • Mat 5 years ago

            “if we define ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ purely in relative terms” sounds like a very restrictive assumption, but it’s not. Can you think of a single physical or mental human trait for which the associated mating value is not always relative?

            (I was going to say that there is only one binary trait where humans can attract mates if they have it and can’t if they don’t: life. But then I thought of necrophiliacs.)

            “I think you can define ‘alpha-ness’ in terms of qualities that could
            still be present if the individual was in a group where they weren’t in a
            leadership role–qualities like physical strength, assertiveness,
            social confidence, and risk-taking.”

            Agree. Hence the sliding scale from the top dog all the way down to the dregs.

            “Likewise we can envision a scenario
            where you have a bunch of spindly non-assertive types (say, that show ‘The Big Bang Theory’), and even if one may take some sort of leadership
            role in that context most people wouldn’t therefore say that he was an ‘alpha male’.”

            PUAs would. Context is king.

            “Of course, complicating things further is that the sort of traits I
            mentioned aren’t completely inherent to the person and do depend
            somewhat on the group the person finds themselves in…even things like
            testosterone levels are known to change depending on whether a primate
            finds itself in a more or less dominant position in its group.”

            Yes.

    • Anonymous 5 years ago


      Still, you write like a woman: illogically. Let me show you why.”

      PAHAhahahahahaha.

      What a relief to find that you are willing to disqualify every argument you’ve ever made, right up front.  Saves lots of time for people who aren’t misogynistic idiots.

      • Mat 5 years ago

        Thank you for your able demonstration.

        Quick lesson in logic: Disliking X does not preclude inability to say true things about X.

        • Mat 5 years ago

          Disliking X does not preclude *ability* to say true things about X.

          Heh. While the first version is still true, this is the more appropriate version.

          • Genie Parsons 5 years ago

            haha there’s a lesson there matty boy… when criticizing others about their ability to think logically, you need to write clearly!! Point taken all the same, it’s true that you can’t discount the views of someone just because they don’t like whatever it is they’re talking about, but i just thought i would say that 🙂

            Also….. u don’t like women? I thought you were a PUA?

          • Anonymous 5 years ago

            Actually, it does.

            Someone with a categorical bias against an entire lumped-together group of people is about as likely to be able to tell what’s “true” about any member of the group or the whole group as a factory full of monkeys is likely to come up with a literary masterpiece.

            So while I’ll give you that you’re technically correct — your misogyny doesn’t prevent you from saying true things about women — your likelihood of coming up with what is fully and completely true about women is statistically insignificant.

          • Mat 5 years ago

            A conversation with naomi:

            Mat: Oranges don’t have purple peels.

            naomi: You must hate oranges to say such a thing. Therefore any argument you’ve ever made is wrong.

            Mat: Disliking oranges doesn’t mean one can’t say true things about Oranges.

            naomi: Actually, it does. But I agree that you are technically correct.

            Mat: Oh boy.

            Triple bonus point round:

            100 points: Can non-orange-haters say that oranges do not have purple peels?

            200 points: Is “statistically insignificant” even a statistical term? Follow up: what does the legitimate term “not statistically significant” refer to as having an unacceptably HIGH probability of?

            9000 points: Is Mat pretty much the handsomest guy in a pink, collar-popped polo?

          • Anonymous 5 years ago

            A conversation with a misogynist:

            All women are incapable of logic.

            Me: Oh look, a sweeping generalization with zero basis in fact. Why should I believe anything else you say?

            Mat: The fact that you don’t believe my baseless and sweeping generalization, and you are part of the group I’m generalizing against, means you’re incapable of logic and you’ve just proved my point.

            Me: TAUTOLOGY MUCH?!

            Mat: I bet tautology isn’t even a word. Boy I sure am good at logic! Being a man and all!

            > Is “statistically insignificant” even a statistical term?

            The fact that you’re asking means you have zero grounding in science or statistics. Why are you on this blog, exactly?

            Being technically correct about the non-impossibility of an occurrence means diddly-squat in the realm of real and probable events in the universe.

          • Genie Parsons 5 years ago

            dhnaomi i hate to say this (because the guy is obviously a bit abrasive), but technically he is right. The phrase is “not statistically significant”…. 🙁 it is one of the first results in google http://oldprof.typepad.com/a_dash_of_insight/2006/10/statistically_i.html

          • Anonymous 5 years ago


             It is sometimes substituted when someone means “not statistically significant.” ”

            Fair enough. I stand corrected.

  15. Clarisse Thorn 5 years ago

    From Mat: Still, you write like a woman: illogically. 
    Hahahaha.  No post about PUAs is complete unless it draws at least one comment like this.

    • Mat 5 years ago

      Ah, the requisite BDSM-loving female commenter on posts by or about PUAs. Welcome.

      Clarisse helps us see that cliches (both of ours!) give us clues about the way the world works.

      • Author
        Andrew 5 years ago

        Or… how those playing stereotyped the role want the world to work.

        Cut the assumptive ad hominem bullshit, Mat.

        • Mat 5 years ago

          Assumptive? Come on, we all know why the pedophile keeps hanging around the primary school. And so on.

        • Mat 5 years ago

          Also, Andrew, that was very non-non-judgmental of you. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you heard me say “BDSM-loving” and interpreted that as an insult. Simple statement of facts. Ask her.

        • Genie Parsons 5 years ago

          Andrew it seems like you are saying that calling someone a BDSM lover is an ad hominem attack…. which i do not  think is very appropriate because being into BDSM is not a bad thing. I’m rather offended by that… and I wonder if Clarisse is as well. And anyway, to be ad hominem doesn’t it have to be something like….. I think you are ugly and therefore your argument is wrong? It’s a debating term and i think it’s not just a fancy synonym for insult.

          • Author
            Andrew 5 years ago

            It roughly means personal attack. In this case, shifting the conversation from the discussion of the post and subsequent discourse to an irrelevant categorical judgement. Love BDSM… hate BDSM… fine with me. Mat’s assessment was based on one sentence and was clearly meant pejoratively.

            Ad hominem isn’t necessarily an insult.

          • Mat 5 years ago

            For someone who likes to infer so much about the mind of others (somehow you know how many clues my assessment was based on; elsewhere you knew how much my ego was overselling my critique to myself), you’re not very good at inference.

            There were so many clues!

            1. She’s female
            2. She commented on a post about PUAs
            3. She responded specifically to a comment I — the jerky, pink polo-wearing, patronizing jerk — made
            4. She has a picture next to her name (most internet commenters don’t, especially not female commenters).
            5. The white rose can be a symbol for submissives.
            6. She wrote her full name as her handle (rare for either gender).

            At this point, I’m around 70% confident in my hunch.

            7. Then a quick Google search of her full name clinches it.

            Step up your game, brah 😉

          • Author
            Andrew 5 years ago

            Who fucking cares if you’re right or wrong about this hunch? Right or wrong, it’s still irrelevant. It’s even worse if you’re stalking people on the internet just to prove how pedantic you can be.

            You continue to be tedious and uninteresting.

      • Clarisse Thorn 5 years ago

        Are we such a cliché?  The only other female BDSMer I can think of who’s interested in PUA stuff is Hitori. I’m genuinely interested in whether you actually have other anecdata to back this one up. With the understanding (or at least, with my understanding) that it’s anecdata, not real data.

        • Mat 5 years ago

          Women in general are a big component of the readership of certain game blogs. The reason is fairly straightforward. Many women know they’re not entirely satisfied with their current and past relationships but can’t say exactly why. Often they’re craving a bit of dominance but don’t know it, or they are aware of it but they think they are freaks. You can imagine what a relief it is to finally come across a bunch of guys who are saying, “We understand you. We know what you like and we know how to hit your buttons.” The hard-core BDSMers don’t really stand out among this group, as they simply lie along a continuum of liking dominance (although in some cases they are the most vocal because their frustration has been the greatest).

  16. Patrik 5 years ago

    Not a bad piece — and I have no dog in this fight, but I probably lean to the opposite of what Andrew is arguing.  

    I did want to note that I think that no one has actually nailed or really elucidated the role of humor in the context of ev psych.  My sense is that humor or rather how funny you find someone is has more to do with crude yet contextual, hard–to-fake signalling/measures of attraction (both in-group &/or sexual), rather than something objective.This may explain the irritation men often feel when another *clearly unfunny* male captures the attention of a romantic partner.  She:  Honey, Joe is sooo funny.  Don’t you love listening to him tell dirty jokes?  He:  Really?  I cannot stand Joe.  That guy is a total d-bag. [She really did find him funny.  He really did think he was an unfunny d-bag.  They’re both right.  She was attracted to him.  His sexual jealousy modules were pinged. And if it matters, I have been on both sides of this scenario.] Or why do people sometime fake laugh at *clearly bad jokes* by their superiors? i.e. the bossSignal:  I like you and don’t wish to earn your dislike given your power above me.  And why are unfunny comedians so scorned and engender such aggressive reactions?Signal:  We don’t like you.  You are trying to get us to like you.  This irritates us.BTW fully aware that there are many counter-arguments to what I have described above + have not gotten into the manifold “us vs. them” aspects of humor either.  FWIW last thing, I would be willing to bet with people, like the Hadza, characterized by  relationships/marriages which are relatively easier to dissolve, one sees more sperm competition.

  17. Daniel Warren DuPre 5 years ago

    Among chimpanzees the classic alpha male drive-away-all-your-rivals-and-have-exclusive-access-to-the-ovulating-female behavior is the norm. But beta male chimps also breed successfully by following a different strategy . If a male pays attention to a female when she is not sexually receptive, she will pay attention to him when she is. Grooming her, bringing gifts of food, and playing with her children enhance the chances of gaining the female’s loyalty for these beta males. Extended courtship often trumps short term dominance displays. One suspects that the same might hold true for slightly more evolved primates.

  18. CuriousXD7979 5 years ago

    I think Andrew’s over-intellectualizing this debate. 

    Women are attracted to powerful men. Anyone who has lived in this world knows it’s true. Non-powerful men also have opportunities to get laid, but not quite as often. True and also obvious.  Does it then follow that when a man persuades a woman he is powerful (an “alpha” male), that he increases his chance of having sex with her? Probably. 

    I don’t think Mystery or anyone else is saying that just because our emotions evolved over hundreds of thousands of years that men would attract women by showing power or dominance in the same way as our ancestors. Nevertheless, power (and thus perceived power) is an aphrodisiac. Deal with it. 

    Women are also attracted to taller men, but shorter men also get laid — and we haven’t evolved to be 100 foot giants. Same dynamic applies. 

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      You’re missing the point. It’s great for coaches of whatever to go around spouting off made up and incorrect explanations for things because they keep getting paid as long as they have an audience that can’t see behind the curtain. Someone cashing in on others’ ignorance might even name themselves after something… what’s the word I’m thinking of… not enigma… not riddle… hmmm…

      By getting the evolutionary theory right, individuals can not only understand why something works, but also possess the tools to surpass the skills of the teacher.

      If the rest of the readers here didn’t care about why questions, this site wouldn’t exist.

  19. Ohwilleke 5 years ago

    The big returns reproductively to being an alpha male weren’t in the hunter-gatherer era, they were in the farming and herding and raiding era, and have gradually ebbed starting sometime between the beginning of the modern era (ca. 500 years ago) and the end of the Bronze Age (ca. 3600 years ago), and the trend towards an alpha male reproductive benefit wasn’t very pronounced until around 6,000 years ago (roughly the start of the copper age and increased urban scale).
     
    There have been societies where men who had political and economic leadership roles had huge harems.  In the Judaic Levant, this peaked around the time of King Solomon.  Islamic law that permits a man to have up to four wives was a reform in the direction of smaller harems, because there were alpha men in pre-Islamic Arab herder societies with more than four wives.  Demands that defeated countries pay tributes in the form of young women for the harems of the men who lead conquering countries were commonplace in Archaic early iron age Aegean Society.  The institution of concubinage provided a reproductive advantage to alpha males in East Asia pretty much continuously from the Zhou Dynasty until sometime around the Boxer Rebellion.  Early Mormons practiced polygamy in a manner that gave advantage to alpha males, and early modern England ca. 1500-1900 CE had developed a variety of culturally accepted ways of treating bastardy and the children of interracial relationships formed with questionable levels of consent into a sociologically real class of individuals of intermediate status and republation in the larger community.  The Byzantines are famour for the harmes available to their elites, and the Ottoman Empire didn’t fully abandon this millieu.  The immense demograpic impact of men in conqueing armies, like the Mongols is lenendary. Half a century ago, it was far easier as a practical matter to have secondarh families than it is today where secrets cant be help sustainably.

    Once you pin down the eras in which polygamy and similar practice were common, and you can make more meaningful inferrences about the phenomena that drive the practice of having multiple intimate comanions. 

  20. Puzzled 5 years ago

    Something seems…unmanly and submissive, to me, about putting on an act, pretending to be something different than you are, entirely because you think it will make women like you.  In fact, is that not the definition of beta?

  21. Puzzled 5 years ago

    Something seems…unmanly and submissive, to me, about putting on an act, pretending to be something different than you are, entirely because you think it will make women like you.  In fact, is that not the definition of beta?

  22. Anonymous 5 years ago

    Humor as an an attraction switch seems oversimplified. What about skillful activity, from making the best stone tools to drawing a great portrait? What about assertiveness and charm? What about physical traits? Intelligence doesn’t always express itself in humor. And if it does, it could be the sort to go undetected. What is so magical about humor that makes it essential? Hitchens talks about average men. Perhaps it works best for those who have nothing else.

  23. Doh! I was domain searching at godaddy.com and
    went to type in the domain name: http://evolvify.
    com/alpha-male-narrative-myth/ and guess who already owns
    it? You did! lmao j/k. I was about to purchase this fine domain name but realized it had
    been taken so I thought I’d come check it out. Good blog!

  24. Jessica Klaus 3 years ago

    Humans were always the same. There are alphas but it works differently. Males and females have separate packs and select leaders of the equivalent gender. Pretty sure there can be multiples. It's a subconscious choice, no violence is needed. I've noticed that females that are not in a relationship and sexually mature are automatically attracted to the alpha male which is interesting because I'm not completely sure why that is since that's not how gene reproduction works. There are no such things as good genes. However, I don't consider alphas attracting the opposite gender an alpha trait. But I do consider being liked by the same gender a trait. Also works online. I'm an alpha female for example.

  25. James Lowrey 3 years ago

    "I can already hear the PUAs interjecting… “Yeah, but brah… he doesn’t represent all PUAs.” I fully agree with that point, but I don’t particularly give a fuck."

    I laughed at this bit xD
    Not the most intellectual argument, but fucking hilarious.

    Whilst I find myself agreeing with pretty much the entirety of this post, there's a conflict in my brain with the information on this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypergamy

    The Townsend survey on here seems to conflict a little… but I've googled and I can't seem to find any mention of his sample size, and the results will likely be affected by the fact that they were all medical students.

    There's a few thoughts that cross my mind though….
    >I can definitely see an argument from PUAs that being funny is an alpha attribute, especially with the fact that humour relates to intelligence (intelligence=survival=alpha)
    >Men did the majority of the hunting and dangerous work throughout history when it needed to be done, you can see it in our sexual dimorphism, it's so obvious
    >I think being a good coordinator/the guy with the plan, is also pretty alpha and I don't think this would get you a death sentence in the egalitarian societies you described… "he knows his shit and he's warning people and giving advice and shit! kill him!"

    So… a funny guy that's able to attain resources and know's what to do when others don't… this sounds like a guy women might find attractive.

    Despite this, is still find myself agreeing with you more than those PUA narratives, I don't think that we've had chimp-like alphas anywhere in our recent history.

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