Banner
    Romance Really Is A Game - And Game Theory Will Give You Some Answers
    By News Staff | January 16th 2009 12:00 AM | 15 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Scientists say they have developed a mathematical model of the mating game to help explain why courtship is often protracted.   That's right, there may one day be a numerical model to tell you why women under 30 like the Bad Boys but over age 30 they like men that are employed.
     
    The study by researchers at University College London (UCL), University of Warwick and LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science), says that extended courtship enables a male to signal his suitability to a female and enables the female to screen out the male if he is unsuitable as a mate.

    The research in the Journal of Theoretical Biology uses game theory to analyse how males and females behave strategically towards each other in the mating game. The mathematical model considers a male and a female in a courtship encounter of unspecified duration, with the game ending when one or other party quits or the female accepts the male as a mate. The model assumes that the male is either a ''good'' or a ''bad'' type from the female's point of view, according to his condition or willingness to care for the young after mating.

    The female gets a positive payoff from mating if the male is a ''good'' male but a negative payoff if he is ''bad'', so it is in her interest to gain information about the male's type with the aim of avoiding mating with a "bad" male. In contrast, a male gets a positive payoff from mating with any female, though his payoff is higher if he is "good" than if he is "bad". 

    The study looks for evolutionarily stable equilibrium behaviors, in which females are doing as well as they can against male behavior and males are doing as well as they can against female behavior. It shows that extended courtship can take place, with a good male being willing to court for longer than a bad male and the female delaying mating. In this way the duration of a male's courtship effort carries information about his type.

    By delaying mating, the female is able to make some use of this information to achieve a degree of screening. Because bad males have a greater tendency to quit the courtship game early, as time goes on and the male has not quit it becomes increasingly probable that he is a "good" male.

    Professor Robert Seymour, UCL Mathematics, says: "Courtship in a number of animal species occurs over an extended period of time. Human courtship, for example, can involve a sequence of dinners, theatre trips and other outings lasting months or even years. One partner - often the male - may pay the greater part of the financial cost, but to both sexes there is a significant cost of time which could be spent on other productive activities. Why don't people and other animals speed things up to reduce these costs? The answer seems to be that longer courtship is a way for the female to acquire information about the male.

    "By delaying mating, the female is able to reduce the chance that she will mate with a bad male. A male's willingness to court for a long time is a signal that he is likely to be a good male. Long courtship is a price paid for increasing the chance that mating, if it occurs, will be a harmonious match which benefits both sexes. This may help to explain the commonly held belief that a woman is best advised not to sleep with a man on a first date."

    Dr Peter Sozou, Warwick Medical School and LSE Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, says: "From a female's point of view, males are not all equal. A female would like to mate with a good male, but cannot tell a male's type from his appearance alone. The strategic problem the female faces is how to screen out bad males, and this is where long courtship comes into play. A male is assumed to always want to mate with a female, but a good male is more willing to pay the cost of a long courtship in order to claim the prize of mating. This leads to an outcome in which the female is not willing to mate immediately, but instead requires the male to wait for an indeterminate time before she agrees to mate with him. During this time, the male may give up on courting the female. 

    "Bad males give up at some random time if the female has not by then mated with them, but good males are more persistent and do not give up. The female's strategy is a compromise - a trade-off between on the one hand the greater risk of mating with a bad male if she mates too quickly, and on the other hand the time cost of delay. Under this compromise there remains some risk that she will mate with the wrong type of male. She cannot eliminate this risk completely unless she decides never to mate."

    Not very good at math?    Learn how to make relationships a card game instead.

    Comments

    Stellare
    Well, if you have teenagers in your home you might have observed that the mating business is somewhat turned upside down. The females are aggressively courting the males these days. I wonder how they'd put this empirical data into their mathematical models?
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    ...you might have observed that the mating business is somewhat turned upside down. The females are aggressively courting the males these days.
    Further proof that kids today are much smarter than we were (at least the males) - I could never have gotten away with that.  My wife still makes me buy her puppies and flowers and stuff.   Women knew how to train men back then.
    Stellare
    My wife still makes me buy her puppies and flowers and stuff


    That's plain cruelty  (sorry Kimberly :-) )
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Stellare
    I just remembered a personal experience that illustrates how much these theories and models MUST include culture.

    As a teenager I visited my family in Texas for the first time. Since my family is Norwegian I expected the culture to be the same or very similar. And why shouldn't I. Norway and USA are both western countries. I didn't reflect all that much about it at the time, I will not pretend I was all that mature. I never was particularly mature all together. But this was my starting point when I visited US for the first time.

    In Texas a man is supposed to be a gentleman (cowboy style obviously). Among a Texan gentleman's virtues are opening doors for women and paying drinks, cinema, dinners etc when taking a girl out.
    Now, how did I react to this chevalierism? I was furious, that is how I reacted. The reason being that I interpreted their behavior as condescending. Why did he open door? Because he thought I couldn't do it my self? I'm not kidding you, it was my genuine instant reaction. Same with paying for my drinks etc. Did I look poor or something? What an insult!

    My Texan experience changed me for life, and I have been caught standing in front of doors waiting for a man to open it for me....:-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Nicholas Horton
    Bente:
    If we were to model your situation where the females aggressively court the males, we'd end up with a different game, altogether.  Models only model what you ask them to model.  If we change the underlying parameters, we get a different model.  This is why empirical science and mathematical science always have to work closely together (they do a good job at it in the hard sciences, but in the social sciences they're still learning this). 

    The models are good at generating new hypotheses.  In this case, yours: what happens when females turn the tables?  One might wonder if you could simply rename the players and get the same game.  But, I'd doubt it.  There is an underlying biological difference between males and females, and my guess is that the reasons a female would court a male would be different from the reasons a male would court a female (that is, in either the proximate or ultimate reasons).

    interesting.  I might look into how to model that.

    the value in the afformentioned model (males courting females)  is that if the assumptions of the model are correct, then the conclusions follow.  We can then argue over whether the assumptions are correct, or accurately reflect the real world.
    I disagree with the assumption that males would mate with any female. I see how this is true for most species where the female alone necessarily bears the cost of child-rearing, but I think that for humans, as a social species, a male will frequently be discriminatory. And then that's not even accounting for the legal elephant traps there are for a male on this subject.

    But I do appreciate that this is general and mostly focuses on females.

    A theory on why females now aggressively seek men:

    The costs have changed. It used to be that once a man has finished sex, he has no other obligations, where as the woman possibly has 10-15 years of obligations. Now when a man finishes sex, he's actually more liable than the woman in the sense that he actually has no more choices to make and yet legally he is half responsible for any choices the woman may make. Furthermore, in divorces the man usually bears a much higher cost.

    For this reason, men are becoming much more discriminatory and cautious about who they mate with.

    Stellare
    Ed, are you playing hard to get? :-)
    Nicholas, read towards the end. There's a challenge for you there...

    In Scandinavia women are more independent and thus do not have to pay so much attention to whom they play with. On a more equal economic basis, women seem to behave more like men when it comes to courting.

    Biologically, it is still the woman who have to carry the 'burden' one hundred percent. She can however afford a housekeeper and babysitter if she accidentally gets pregnant and the guy couldn't care less. That is why women can in fact afford to play with the more amusing bad boys. I guess. ;-)

    I'm sorry guys, but I think that research stinks of prejudges against females and their biology and roles in society. Thus my commentary reflect the level of seriousness of the so called scientific work.....

    I do however like the idea of applying mathematical modeling of the biological and cultural processes of mating. I dare you to come up with one that is better than the one presented in the above article. How about we try to agree on the variables, some initial conditions and then let our mathematicians retreat to a quiet corner and play for while? That would've been a cool way of using Science 2.0! :-)

    Finally, it is Saturday night. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Nicholas Horton
    That IS a good way to use Science 2.0!  :)

    I can see how you'd have disagreements with the underlying assumptions used in the article, though.  I wouldn't go so far as to call them sexist, but they don't necessarily apply to the modern world in the ways you describe. 
    The model assumes that the male is either a ''good'' or a ''bad'' type from the female's point of view, according to his condition or willingness to care for the young after mating.
    In the modern world, especially in highly developed first world countries, a mans ability or willingness to care for young may not be a major concern for a woman looking for a mate (or a mating opportunity).  If the woman is financially able to care for her children, or for that matter is on birth control, then the issue is largely taken off the table.  (At least if we're assuming complete rationality on the part of both players.)

    Where I think the article gets it right, is that they're illuminating what "may" be some underlying evolutionary behaviors that have become instinctual.  That is NOT to say that these instincts "determine" ones behavior, but they are likely to influence it.  The more educated, financially well off, and the more experienced a woman is in a situation, the less she'll base her behaviors on instinct (also true for men).  But, if she hasn't any of that, instinct is likely to take over. 

    I'm inclined to believe that most of us respond to most situations as one would expect us to, given the evolutionary history of our species--that we aren't very rational at all.  We're rational when we're in situations we're used to (like a good chess player who's played 1000's of games before).  But, otherwise, we're going off what "feels" like the right choice.   Some of this comes to us via culture, no doubt.  But, a lot is, I'm sure, also biological/genetic. 

    For example:  America is full of a lot of overweight people.  It is not "natural" for humans to diet.  Starvation-fear is "wired" into us.  We can overcome this instinct to eat all the sugar that is put in front of us, but it isn't easy. 

    As for differences in males and females:  Males of all species share a lot in common behaviorally that is not "statistically" shared by females of most species.  There are outliers, of course.  Culture can make huge headway in causing males and females to act more like one another.  But, there are differences in the sexes.  And I'm interested in understanding the evolutionary basis of those differences (and weeding out what is cultural and what is genetic), as much as I am in the similarities.  It's all interesting.  (I worry that in the pop-cultural sense, people are always worried about "better" and "worse" traits.  But, I think that's just dumb.  Being different isn't bad.  It just adds to the excitement.  Nor is everyone stuck in any category.  Some men are more "fem" than others, some women less so.  But, statistical means and modes are important.)

    So ... as for a NEW model.   We could ask ourselves under what conditions would females aggressively court males, where the males are the "selectors"?  There are not a lot of species in which this is the norm.  I'm personally not convinced that it in our own "nature" either, in the deepest genetic sense. 

    That said, it isn't totally off the wall either.  Humans aren't like Walrus's!!  I've had plenty of women ask me out, and I've been a rather big pansy about asking out women!  So, what are the cultural conditions underwhich men would become selectors of suitors, and women the pursuers?  And in what ways do these cultural pressures interact with our genetic blueprints to alter the our behavioral phenotypes? Hmmm ...



    Stellare
    Biological forces are very strong though perhaps almost hidden in todays western culture. Instincts come into play more often than we are aware of. I agree with you Nicholas entirely. And that has to be included in the model. What I've read thus far about reproduction instincts are however too much colored by cultural factors and misrepresent reality.

    I cannot see how males have stronger reproduction instincts than females. I also believe that our biological features are more important in the mating or selection process than we appreciate. We seek 'good genes', not only say a rich male or a beautiful female (the vulgar way of talking about a perfect match for reproduction). We are, after all, just another animal.

    Where we go wrong in these kind of discussions is where culture is mixed in to explain pure biological phenomena. For instance that females seek security. From a scientific method perspective I have yet to see research who respect that and thus the results may or may not be correct. In fact, it seems that the so-called security factor evaporates when the sexes are more equal. I think we have to live with the fact that our physical and mental health and other natural resources like physical and mental strength, intelligence and looks in general are the major selection criteria when it comes down to it. :-)

    Like they say: It is better to be healthy, pretty and rich than sick, ugly and poor!

    But, the sexes are different.


    Nicholas said:
    And I'm interested in
    understanding the evolutionary basis of those differences (and weeding
    out what is cultural and what is genetic)

    I agree that from a scientific point of view understanding the evolutionary basis for differences in sexes is interesting. And 'equal' does not mean 'same.' When I was younger I got furious when I heard someone say that men and women were different beyond the obvious visible biological characteristics :-) Now I'm confident there are differences, in fact I find it logical since the sexes have different biological functions (read: females give births). Back in the 70ties claiming that was considered almost like betrayal by the feminist movement. Not so much now.

    And now I just committed a way too long commentary; totally against my instincts! :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Yes there was a view in the 60s and 70s that gender specific behaviour was by nuture, not nature. That has been thoroughly and tragically (in many cases, for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer) disproved now.

    A lot of gender specific stuff comes about because of the cost of reproduction. I like to think of men as God's crap-shot and women as God's insurance policy, while being an atheist :p For example, the reason why men fight the wars and expose themselves to greater physical risk than women is that if you killed half the male population in a society you could rebound the population in just one generation. It only takes one male to impregnate many females. On the other hand, if the female population were to so suffer, the society would not recover for centuries, and never reach its previous potential.

    Nicholas Horton
    Bente said:

    Where we go wrong in these kind of discussions is where culture is
    mixed in to explain pure biological phenomena. For instance that
    females seek security. From a scientific method perspective I have yet
    to see research who respect that and thus the results may or may not be
    correct. In fact, it seems that the so-called security factor
    evaporates when the sexes are more equal. I think we have to live with
    the fact that our physical and mental health and other natural
    resources like physical and mental strength, intelligence and looks in
    general are the major selection criteria when it comes down to it. :-)
    I agree with that completely.  And I think that the best of the empirical work on this (and surrounding) subjects is yet to come.  Though, I'm confident it will.  For a long time, like you said, it was heresy to even bring up the possibility of differences between the sexes.  For that matter, it was considered borderline eugenic to discuss pro-"nature" arguments in a civil manner.  In a climate like that, real science is hard.

    I grew up in an "old gaurd" feminist family.  My mother and all of her sisters were about as classic as one could imagine.  I think that was good in a lot of ways.  But, I too was hesitant for a long time to acknowledge that gender differences were anything but pubis-specific. :) 

    Now that I've been coaching weightlifting for 10 years, I have no problem with it.  There are examples in the weight-room that I'd like to see studies on.  (Not just the obvious "men are physically stronger" or "females are more flexible" ones). 

    What I have found interesting, and what I wouldn't have predicted going into it 10 years ago, is that female athletes are WAY nicer to coach on the whole.  They're (generally) more open, less stuck in their ways, and they really do come to me already more flexible than men.  So long as you don't yell at them (I've never understood those yelling coaches) they respond better to constructive criticism.  This goes a long way in improving their performance.  On the down side, they discouraged far easier, and I have learned to adjust my tone, be ultra positive, and always say 2 or 3 things that I think they're doing right before I get into what they are doing wrong.

    The men have their strengths, too, not least of which is ... strength.  They are also more willing to take the harsher kinds of criticism.  While they can be pig-headed, they don't get easily discouraged.  I have yet to have a male athlete cry because they missed a lift, or performed badly.  I can't count how often this happens with female athletes. 

    I've got a "mother hen" style of coaching, and I think because of that, I've got a much larger group of female athletes than most coaches who coach in the sports I do.  Many coaches are really shocked by how many in fact.  They will even apologize to me!  "I'm sorry, man.  I don't know how you deal with that.  Crying!" etc.

    But, I think they just haven't dealt seriously with the fact that men and women are different.  They try and coach the females the way they would the males.  They scream at them, call them names, berate them, and then wonder why they drop out or start crying.  Those tactics work surprisingly well for young male athletes--amazingly well (guys love getting yelled at).  But, it's a tiny crop of women who will put up with them.

    OK, now I've written too long a commentary! :)



    Fossil Huntress
    I very much appreciate your finally filling me in on the rationale for my dating history - many thanks!
    " And I'm interested in
    understanding the evolutionary basis of those differences (and weeding
    out what is cultural and what is genetic)"

    What is genetic and what constitutes the "evolutionary basis" are inherently indistinguishable. Evolution can ultimately act only on the genetic combination that exists in the genome. Although there may be a "lot" of "neutral mutations" floating along for the ride and these may be "selectively non-neutral" in altered environmental circumstances, it is selection for or against specific combinations that determine evolutionary "course". The "evolutionary basis" you seek may be only historical accidents of our evolutionary past that remain partially frozen in the machinery that organizes us to be who we are and do what we do. To study these kinds of events you need to look far more broadly than just human behavior. You also need to know just what specific genetic combinations are relevant to a particular behavior to establish relevant cause and effect. That this is true can be seen in how our morphology and physiology constrains our behavior. At least in this age of limited genetic engineering, our morphology and physiology are not infinitely plastic and hence limits the range of potential behaviors we can engage in.

    I really enjoyed all your posts :)

    "I dare you to come up with one that is better than the one presented in the above article. How about we try to agree on the variables, some initial conditions and then let our mathematicians retreat to a quiet corner and play for while? That would've been a cool way of using Science 2.0! :-)"

    The males and the females have a hidden initial rating between 1 and 10.
    *Higher ratings give a player a higher chance of making an accurate determination of a potential mate's rating.
    Picking a bad mate (with lower rating than yours) has a 50% chance to lower your mating rating by 1. Choosing a second bad mate makes the loss permanent.
    Choosing a good mate (one with higher or equal rating) creates a 75% chance to increase the rating by 0.5. Choosing a second good mate makes the gain permanent.
    Picking a mate with a rating 3 or more points above or below you causes you both to share a 50/50 chance of winning or losing one point.
    Each sex is separated into two kinds of players: advantage takers and givers. ATs gain 2 points every time they mate with someone 3 or more points above them, at the expense of their higher rated mate. G's mates have a (100-(G's rating*10)) % chance of gaining one point, regardless of the point difference between them.
    Higher ratings have a higher chance to discern between G's and AT's.
    A player can vary how many of their rating discern points to spend on picking G's or on picking high rating. For example, a player with a rating of 6 can spend a total of 120% accuracy between the two discernment criteria.
    So, parameters for one player are: sex, rating, status as G or AT, spending of discernment accuracy. A player has control of whether they are G's or AT's, and over how they spend their discernment points.
    Each mating has a separate 50% chance of causing both players to lose 1 point.
    Every time that two equal rating players mate, they both gain 3 points.
    Each mating has a 5% chance of producing offspring. Offspring have a rating between their parents, with a 50/50 chance of plus/minus one point. Offspring have their discernment practices correlated with their parents with a percentage chance of deviation given by (100-(individual parent's rating*10))%.
    Each offspring carries a 50% chance of making the couple permanent, meaning that they only mate with each other from that point on.

    Lovin this site, and all you writers are grand