Is it natural for humans to be monogamous?
Perhaps this is one of the world’s oldest questions, especially considering that prostitution is considered to be the world’s oldest profession.
For decades researchers have been exploring if humans, by nature, are meant to be monogamous. No one questions that some individuals can successfully practice monogamy. Just as humans are omnivores by design, some people faithfully lead a vegetarian lifestyle.
The real question for scholars is not what people can practice, but what are our natural inclinations. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that individuals desire multiple sexual partners. Even a casual observation of human behavior suggests that people like entertaining the idea of having sex with someone outside of a committed relationship. If people were naturally inclined to only want to have sex with one person, how do you explain that at least 70 million copies of Fifty Shades of Grey have been purchased and pornography is a multibillion-dollar industry? Certainly, a monogamous mind would not create such a large market for such erotically based works.
The evidence against monogamy does not only involve what happens in our minds, but our bodies reveal cues to our sexual desires as well. Sexual dimorphism – physical size differences between men and women – are a reliable indicator of sexual behavior. In related species where males and females are similar in size, pair-bonding is more common. Larger physical differences between males and females often correspond to less monogamous sexual behavior. A new article in theWall Street Journal does a good job of highlighting the findings of sexual dimorphism as it relates to humans:
“So by these various biological measures, are humans a pair-bonding or a tournament species? Neither. Across populations, men are roughly 10% taller and 20% heavier than women, need 20% more calories and live 6% shorter—more sexually dimorphic than monogamous species, less than polygamous species. Moreover, compared with, say, monogamous gibbons, human males have bigger testes and higher sperm counts…but pale in comparison to polygamous chimps. Measure after measure, it’s the same.
It turns out that we aren’t monogamous or polygamous by nature. As everyone from poets to divorce attorneys can attest, we are by nature a profoundly confused species—somewhere in between.”
It is well known that people have a truth-bias. That is, people tend to believe what they hear, especially when dealing with an intimate partner (see, truth-bias).
New research reveals that when it comes to lying, a small percentage of people tell an outsized proportion of lies. The top 5% of liars are responsible for roughly 40% of the lies that are told.1
And the individuals who are more likely to lie are also more likely to cheat for personal gain and they are more likely to possess psychopathic traits (e.g., be manipulative, lack empathy, be impulsive, etc.).
The takeaway message?
In the real world, giving most people the benefit of the doubt is usually the right thing to do.
However, if you are dealing with an individual who lies a lot, the truth-bias may cost you dearly.
Ideally, it would be great if we could spot psychopathic individuals early on, but we usually come to know who we are dealing with, after the fact, when the damage as already been done.
1Halevy, R., Shalvi, S., & Verschuere, B. (2014). Being honest about dishonesty: Correlating self‐reports and actual lying. Human Communication Research, 40,54-72. Link to article.
Not all lies are the same. And trust comes in different flavors too.
New research reveals that being lied to can increase trust, some of the time.
When someone tells a lie with good intent, trust increases. That is, if someone tells a prosocial lie, we tend to trust him or her more. We make ourselves more open and vulnerable to prosocial liars – this is called “affective trust.”1 We judge people based on their intentions.
While affective trust increases when prosocial lies are told; integrity-based trust tells a different story. Integrity-based trust, the belief that others are honest, actually requires telling the truth.1
If you are a prosocial liar, people may feel more safe and close to you. But, that doesn’t mean that others will necessarily believe what you say.
Just as there are different types of lies, there are different types of trust.
1Levine, E., & Schweitzer, J. (2013). Prosocial lies: When deception breeds trust. Available at SSRN 2266091
Holiday gatherings can bring out the best and worst in us.
It can be fun to catch-up with relatives and friends that you haven’t seen in a while. Sharing old stories, meeting new guests, and enjoying food – it’s all fun until old grudges lead to snide comments, intrusive questions are met with half-truths, and fake compliments abound.
The holidays reveal just how complex our social lives can be. Both truth and lies are needed to manage the complexities of the day.