Irrational mate choice:
More decades ago than I like to think I was learning in school something about how the body works.  For instance you maintain a fairly constant body temperature; if your core temperature changes it’s generally because your set point changes, not because your body can’t maintain it.  In fact your body is doing so many things for you that you couldn’t possibly keep track of them all at the same time with your mind. So I thought of the body as having two masters.  I didn’t use those words, but one master would be the actor: the one who thinks it is calling the shots, making plans, making choices.  The other is the agent: the one that is keeping track of blood pressure, whether you need to eat or take water or sleep and so forth.  I didn’t think of the agent as having a real personality, a “subconscious mind” and still don’t.  It was just a collection of minor agents each attempting to do its task.

Once I put it together that way I was far more impressed with the agent than with the actor.  In addition to keeping track of more things, the agent obviously did its job quite reliably; there weren’t other children dropping dead of fever or hypothermia in a typical classroom.  The actor on the other hand was constantly making mistakes.  Take a look at my test scores if you doubt it. 

Well SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN has entered the fray.  (John R. Bargh Our Unconscious Mind SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN vol. 310. no. 1 January 2014 page 30) Sure enough the unrecognized agent is busily at work right up to the very edge of consciousness.  And, most critically, this involves social interactions. The agent prefers to mimic those around.  Actually I do this because it seems to me to be good manners.  And of course from a mating standpoint that which resembles you attracts you.

On a practical level (James K. McNulty et al Though They may be Unaware, Newlyweds Implicitly Know Whether Their Marriage Will Be Satisfying SCIENCE vol. 342 no. 6162 November 29, 2013 page 1119) a team used a test called the Motivation and Opportunity as Determinants (MODE).  Briefly and oversimplified, the procedure is to show the subject a picture, ask the subject to indicate something positive about the person and see how long it takes.  This yielded a measure of “automatic” attitude, which could be compared with the conscious attitude as shown by a simple questionnaire.  They gave the tests to newlyweds and found as one would expect that the conscious attitudes were glowing.  But there was no correlation between the scores.  And over years those with strong automatic attraction found their marriages to be satisfying while those with weak attraction found their marriages to be less so.  Over time this increased.  Positive conscious attitude did not correlate with long term satisfaction. 

Of course the burning question is whether high automatic score correlates with kinship, as of course it should from a selective standpoint.  It seems I have a letter to write.

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