My new favourite movie, Ted, has an awesome sequence where Mila Kunis walks in on Ted the bear, curled up on the couch with four prostitutes.
Kunis is mortified. Ted, not so much. He takes the time to thank the four girls, and four terrible fathers that made the night possible.
So are slutty girls really caused by absent fathers? And if so, why?
Before we start, some basic scientific background. This post relies on evolutionary psychology, specifically, the idea that base emotional responses are not random, but instead are calibrated to achieve evolutionarily useful outcomes.
If there’s an evolutionary explanation for women preferring short-term relationships because of a childhood with a low-investment father (or no father at all), what might that explanation look like?
The question is, what can a child infer, in an instinctive evolutionary sense, from the information that her parents aren’t making much of an investment in her? A couple of things: either the parents are genetically predisposed towards always having lots of low-quality children, or they are doing so in response to local factors, such as resource insecurity, either from low social status, poor food security, joblessness, or anything else that might signal an adverse environment.
So, growing up in a bad environment, not many resources, high likelihood of a short life… What’s a girl to do? Her best bet, again, evolutionarily speaking, is to have a bunch of kids with whoever has the best genes. Don’t worry about resources, ie nice guys who are willing to make an investment – it’s probably bad all round. Instead, pop out a bunch of kids, one after the other, and don’t invest too much in any one of them.
In fact, for our hypothetical, low investment mother, an even better strategy might be to follow the standard investment dictum: diversify. And the best way to accomplish that is to sleep with lots of different guys, preferably without contraception.
If that seems like a reasonable explanation for the sexual habits of women who were poverty stricken and unloved, what would typical strategies be for normal people?
I’d characterize the spectrum of resource security versus instinctual mating/investment strategy into four parts.
At the far end of the spectrum is your average poverty-stricken person with multiple sexual partners. People like this also tend to avoid investing in anything else long-term – education, their finances, risk aversion, you get the idea. I can’t find a specific link either, but battle fatigue (ie PTSD) was more common in WWII amongst men from poor backgrounds. Fighting for you country is a pretty big investment too.
From there, the strategy shifts as resource security becomes less apparent. If I grew up in an environment where I was poor, but had stability and an expectation that investment would pay off, the incentives shift towards investment. Take for example your average Korean store owner in the LA Riots. These guys invested everything in their stores, and when things got dangerous that strategy extended to exchanging gunfire with gang members.
Poverty that isn’t too grinding, combined with a reasonable degree of stability, encourages a strategy of long term investment in relationships, education. Risk-taking is still an option, although only when there’s a good chance of payoff such as joining the military, or the aforementioned store owners.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, behaviour shifts back to looking a whole lot like poverty stricken people. With enough material resources, investment stops being so important. Why divert resources from the present towards the future when you can rely on a steady stream of resources?
Generally speaking, anybody who is sufficiently financially well-off should then be expected to sleep around, refuse to invest in anything long-term unless there’s a huge payoff (usually in terms of social status) ie trust fund babies, and, well, you get the idea.
In short, too comfortable and not comfortable at all results in similar behaviours, not due to a conscious calculation, but because of emotional responses that are mediated by unconscious, evolved instincts. When it comes to prosocial behaviour, the happy medium is right in the middle. As our society moves towards massive inequality with huge gaps between the richest and the poorest, expect to see more behaviour from the ends of the spectrum.