Friday, December 19, 2008

Mate Choice

After reading Gigerenzer's Gut Feelings, I've gone back and read the previously published Simple Heuristics that Make Us Smart, also by the same author.

Simple Heuristics isn't meant for a casual audience; it's a collection of technical papers that have been simplified (no pun intended) into essay form more suitable for a research (but non-expert) audience to read.

The book covers a diverse range of topics, but that all share the common theme of what are called 'fast and frugal' heuristics that allegedly model how humans make decisions under "bounded rationality" and in real, ecological environments.

I found the chapter on mate choice particularly interesting. The authors of that chapter basically recast the Secretary problem with substantial tweaking as a model for the problem of selecting a mate (by which I mean lover, partner or spouse). 

They constructed a computer simulation of the model, which was essentially a population of 100 participants each having a mate value of 1 through 100, and devised various decision-making strategies for the participants. These strategies were meant to model the "aspirations" in mate choice among the participants, and aimed to maximize the number of couples successfully paired off and also minimizing the difference in mate value between partners (as a proxy for how 'compatible' participants were with each other).

The results of the simulation were intriguing, and even more so if we take a little creative licence and relate them to the real world as analogies.

I am not backing up the following statements, as they are simply conjectures on my part based on a reading of the paper. And I am also not elaborating on how I came up with these conjectures, as that would involve regurgitating the contents of the paper here. If you're interested, go read Chapter 13 of the book. To get a flavor of the model, go read this by the same authors. 

Assuming that a person eventually chooses to settle down with a person at least as desirable as those that they have dated (for fun only, not auditioning for a mate),

1. If a person hasn't dated much before deciding to start searching for a partner in seriousness, then chances of getting hitched are high, but so are chances of being mismatched (i.e. compatibility issues and maybe divorce).

2. Conversely, someone who has dated a lot is less likely to get hitched, but if and when they do, they are likely to be more compatible with their partner.

3. Managing your expectations helps in getting hitched. And it helps especially if your 'market value' is low.

4. Dating has nothing to do with seeing who's out there; it has everything to do with discovering how your 'market value' stacks up out there. This is related to managing your expectations. If you know what you're worth (really what you're worth!), getting hitched is simply a matter of managing your expectations.

5. How a person determines their market value is by the number of proposals or rejections of interest they get. More importantly, the quality of the people rejecting or proposing matters greatly. High market value types should put less store in the number of proposals received from lower market value types, while low market value types should put less store in the number of rejections from higher market value types.

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