In an article soon to be published in Evolution and Human Behavior, University of Texas–Austin graduate student Cari Goetz and her colleagues explored what they called the sexual exploitability hypothesis. This is an inflammatory hypothesis, of course, and the language employed in the field doesn’t help matters. Next, Goetz and her colleagues searched the Internet for publicly available images of women displaying each of these 88 cues.
In a follow-up study (that ended up being published first), the authors tried to add some nuance to their sexual exploitability hypothesis. For example, given that the photos of women were collected online, confounds are inevitable.
It also seems to me that although men may lower their standards when it comes to judging women for casual sex, even the creepiest, horniest, coldest man has his aesthetic limits.
The hypothesis is based on the differences between male and female reproductive strategies as humans evolved. Goetz and her colleagues planned to call a bunch of undergraduate males into the lab and ask them to rate a set of women in terms of attractiveness based on their photographs.
Graduate student David Lewis led a project to narrow in on the specific type of man who would be most alert to the sort of "exploitability" cues outlined above. Take those kinds of complaints up with natural selection, not the theorists untangling its sometimes-wicked ways.


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For ancestral women, casual intercourse with an emotionally unattached man who had no clear intention of sticking around to raise any resulting offspring constituted a massive genetic gamble. Yet knowing evolutionary psychologists, the equally obvious countercriticism is that modern women’s inebriation is just an exaggerated version of altered states of consciousness that human beings have indeed experienced for hundreds of thousands of years.
According to a strict interpretation of the authors’ model, after all, a woman with even profound mental handicaps (such as being comatose while on life support or having an IQ commensurate with that of a sickly possum) would make her pretty damn hot. Perhaps the effects reported by Goetz and her team can be interpreted just as well from a non-evolutionary perspective. So he and his colleagues asked 72 straight men to evaluate the same photos as before, and in the same way.
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These women were not necessarily seen as easy lays, nor were they judged as especially appealing partners for either a casual fling or a lifelong marriage.
But this time, the researchers also measured some key personality traits in the male raters, as well as the extent to which they desired and pursued uncommitted sex. According to their model, given that the unconscious goal for these males is to spread their genes without being tethered to paternal responsibilities, even the most incapacitated of women should, at the very least, have enough brain cells firing to raise a healthy child to the age of maturity.


All else being equal, would you really have thought that the average man would subjectively perceive such women to be physically more alluring than their sober, bright-minded peers? But more importantly, they were also perceived as being more physically attractive than female peers who seemed more lucid or quick-witted.
This perceived attractiveness effect flipped completely when the participants were asked to judge these women as potential long-term partners. In other words, the woozy ladies were seen as sexy and desirable—but only for fleeting venereal meetings. They lost their luster entirely when the men were asked to rate these same women’s attractiveness as prospective girlfriends or wives.
The possible evolutionary logic behind this interaction is fairly straightforward: In the latter case, the man would risk becoming the cuckoldee, not the cuckolder.




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