I f’in hate evolutionary psychology

Sorry, I saw this evo psych study and had to vent.

Here’s the protocol: subjects were primed with powerpoint slides of modern economic devastation with an explicit slide with text saying the 21st century is a “harsh and unpredictable world”. The controls, near as I can tell, saw the same slides without the text. Then they flashed a slide of topless women’s torsos with breasts of varying shapes and sizes, and asked the subjects to rate the women.

Let me just say that if you’re doing any kind of psych study that ends with a request to rate women’s breasts, you’re doing something wrong. I can’t even begin to unpack all the assumptions you’ve pre-loaded into the work.

And then the results are underwhelming: a bunch of bar graphs that show very little variation in the responses, with a few showing statistically significant but totally unimpressive differences. Overall, men rated women with larger breasts as more attractive, fertile, healthier, reproductively successful, and likely to befriend. The n was 144, all drawn from college students at a midwestern American university, so of course we can infer universal principles of human evolution from it.

Here’s the kind of graph you can make as an evo psych goofball.

Dazzling information. If you hate yourself as much as I do, you can read the paper, too. It’s awful. So many statistics to strain to extract something significant from noisy data already compromised by cultural indoctrination.


  1. hemidactylus says

    WEIRD is an epithet used to characterize the typical sort of people sampled in much social science research. This study looks prima facie weird in itself. I might want to glance at some of the pictures used purely in the interest of critiquing the research. Do they appear in the paper?

  2. garnetstar says

    I’m not going to read the paper, I’m not in the mood to waste my life energy. But: even if this showed some correlation, what has that got to do with evolution? I mean, how do you go from correlation to “It’s evolutionary in origin”?

    No, don’t tell me, I think that I already know.

    Also, please define “befriend”. That text needs a lot of interpretation.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    I suppose one of the prerequisites for being a evolutionary psychologist is to have the mental age of a horny 13-year-old?

  4. says

    Is there another study where women from the same area/demographic were asked to rate men’s dicks? Enquiring minds want to know…

  5. birgerjohansson says

    In broadly related idiot news:

    4Chan made a hoax with a claim poorly masked as a CNN news item claiming one of the Kellogs rice Crispies mascots being a trans woman. This spread like wildfire among the christian fascist community and a Newsmax host made a long rant about this non-event.
    A Kellogs spokesman had to go online and debunk the claim.

    It is like discovering the evil aliens fighting humanity in the film War of the Words are unusually stupid voles.

  6. raven says

    Since when are 144 male, midwestern college students representative of all 4 billion human males from hundreds of different cultures? They aren’t.

    This is why evo-psych always fails.
    They can never separate evolutionary programmed behavior from culturally influenced behavior.
    We all know that human behavior is very plastic and diverse, varying in time and space, and rapidly changeable.

  7. whywhywhy says

    How did this get approval from the IRB? There has to be some scientific merit for any human study. I do not see any in this study.

  8. says

    It must be science. It has a p-value.
    Further studies will feature regression analysis showing the correlation between breast size and “do-ability.” This research will have untold real-world applications.

  9. StevoR says

    Depends on their sexual orientation surely – among many other things.

    Heteronormativity for the ..lose.

  10. StevoR says

    @ 11. Artor : Dunno about that.

    Well, nor do I wanna know about that really.

    Unless .. nah.I don’t.

  11. nomadiq says

    This has ‘replication crisis’ written all over it, except… PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t replicate this pointless study.

  12. hemidactylus says

    @15- StevoR

    Bras have cup sizes I think. I didn’t invent the terminology.

    For those with testicles there are protective cups. Not sure if those have size ranges. I haven’t had a need to shield my nads for decades.

  13. revmatty says

    Honestly the university should be looking at who approved this study and consider if they are fit to serve in the position they’re in. Astoundingly bad judgement doesn’t begin to describe this. I realize evo-psych is pretty much all bullshit but the proposal for this study could not possibly have presented any believable hypothesis beyond “boobs. heh.”.

  14. PaulBC says

    Even if there was a statistically significant result, I don’t see what it has to do with evolution. You could probably a find a stronger correlation between worldview and a preference for mandolin vs. banjo. (Damn, now I need funding.) A view like “the 21st century scares me” is tied into a subculture with entirely incidental preferences in other things.

  15. whheydt says

    One summer in the mid-1960s I wound up as a subject in a psych course experiment. The experiment was to show a sequence of 3 letters plus 3 numbers, then just show the letters to see if the subject could remember the correct numbers that went with the letters.

    The student running the experiment ran through all of his friends and family, but didn’t have enough subjects. One of his friends hung out at the college computer center, so using those contacts, he got a bunch of other people that hung out around the computer center to be test subjects.

    When the data were compiled, instead of something that plotted out looking at least approximately like a normal distribution, it had a distinct “double hump” pattern. This is where the instructor had a decided failure…

    Instead a “that’s odd, I wonder why…” reaction, or even a “Wow! Two distinct populations with different characteristics! Gotta look into that..” reaction, the instructor told the student that the results were impossible and to throw them out and start over.

    When word got out about the results, those who hung out around the computer center wondered if it was because 3 letter/3 number associations being easy made working with computers easier, or if working with computers a lot made that sort of association easier, for example by being used to mneumonic to op code associations.

    To this day, I am suspicious about the results of psych tests.

  16. Robbo says

    a bimodal distribution is not a failure. it is a discovery!

    Should have been followed up on. that prof was a failure.

    when i was in grad school, one course i took had undergrad and grad students. our prof graded the first exam, and found the results were bimodal. he checked, and found the grad students were in one bump and the undergrads were in the other. from then on he graded both sets of students separately.

  17. birgerjohansson says

    On the primeval savannah really big boobs might be useful weapons if you swing them around. Maybe that was why Conan hung around ‘well-equipped’ women?
    “The secret of iron” my ass.

  18. PaulBC says


    “The secret of iron” my ass.

    Speaking of which… well, not yours in particular.

    I’m gonna side with Queen and Sir Mix-a-Lot on this one. And the less said about that, the better. Perhaps this reflects my faith in a benign and manageable world. Quick, somebody needs to do a study.

    I’m not here to judge. Whatever makes your “rocking world go round.”

  19. hemidactylus says

    @23- PaulBC
    Sir-Mix-a-Lot et al (1992) revolutionized the field.

    I’m going on memory though I recall something years ago where Brazil or maybe Caribbean Latin countries had preferences for smaller breasts and larger derrieres until Baywatch came along and warped them.

  20. astringer says

    Paul BC@23: reference to May, B. 1978 : Wasn’t a similar version of this hypothesis published previously: Young, Young and Scott, 1977, “WLR”. ? My rocking world rotated by both!

  21. Rich Woods says

    @astringer #25:

    I think we need to know the number of citations for each (LPs count for one-eighth the value of a single).

  22. robert79 says

    “If you hate yourself as much as I do, you can read the paper, too. It’s awful. ” I enjoy poking holes in bad statistics, so here’s my go…

    “Men were primed with an ecological harsh prime (i.e., economy uncertainty) and asked to rate women whose breast size, ptosis, and intermammary distance (i.e., cleavage) had been manipulated. Ecological harshness only influenced men’s perceptions of women’s breasts for reproduc- tive success.”

    Of the 7 figures in the paper, only figure 5 compares the control group (not primed for economic uncertainty) with the treatment group (primed for economic uncertainty), and there there appears to be only a small difference at cup A…

    “Overall, men rated women with larger breasts as more attractive.”

    This appears to be the main theme of the paper, it’s what ALL the other figures are all about.

    Male participants were recruited from a Midwestern Univer- sity in the USA in exchange for course credit. One-hundred and forty-four men (Mage = 20.21, SDage = 2.32) signed up for the study through the university’s SONA system. The sample demographics were African-American (N = 8), Asian (N = 4), Caucasian (N = 106), Hispanic (N = 9), Native American (N = 6), and other (N = 11). There were 91 men who reported being single and 53 men who reported being partnered.”

    How does stuff like this get published?!? The only thing you might conclude from this is that single white American college guys like girls with big boobs… (It’s extreme enough I suspect that this might be an prank/experiment by a bunch of college goons trying to see if they can get a paper about boobs published… But apparently someone fell for it!)

  23. hemidactylus says

    Maybe…being out of the nest away from parents (esp. mommy) and primed by scarcity indicators causes ~20 yo men to revert to a breastfeeding infantilism. Their subjective conscious awareness interprets said maternal oriented reversion as a more palatable sexual desire. The size of the attractor is a matter of supernormal stimulus, similar to a 48oz fountain drink after a hot day. One cannot rule out years of media advertising on such latent preferences (it’s not the EEA). See Durkheim’s social facts.

    Immersion into the logic of lobster hierarchies provided by a surrogate father figure with a squeaky voice may be needed to counter the reversion. Plus lessons in posturing.

  24. ardipithecus says

    50% of a human mating dyad is female. Someone ought to inform these bozos that females also make mating choices.

    There is no aspect of this study which is neither silly nor pathetic, nor demeaning.

  25. birgerjohansson says

    Off-topic again, but in a fun way.

    The brethren of the Republicans in Britain are stumbling over their own feet.

    “Tory clowns paralysed by their own disorganisation”
    You know, here is a demographic that would be a valid topic for study by competent sociologists, psychologists and possibly anthropologists.

  26. lakitha tolbert says

    I don’t know if this is OT, but someone did ask:
    Yeah, breasts have cup sizes. You measure under the breast to get the size in inches, like say 44 inches around, and then you measure from the largest part of the breast all the way around and however many inches in difference that is gives the cup size, so if the difference I’d seven inches you end up as a size D. The sizes go all the way from A, to DD, to H (with this size being rarest). Most women need to know this to know what size tops to buy, and it’s otherwise meaningless to us.

  27. woozy says

    I’m curious as to what “powerpoint slides of modern economic devastation with an explicit slide ” are. The article describes “Powerpoint slides that depicts images of resource scarcity,
    such as images of a difficult economy, foreclosures, limited
    competitive jobs, packed job fairs, and unemployment” but it’d be illuminating if the figures included in the paper showed some of these to make it clearer.

    I’m appreciative that they are concerned one might not know the meaning of A cup or D cup and distance cleavage and felt it was worthy of including figures for clarification. But I wish they’d realize some of us may find “slides of modern economic devastation” to require equal clarification.

  28. llyris says

    @33 woozy
    I suspect “economic devastation with an explicit slide” is billionaires weird fetish porn. Can’t you imagine Musk wanking to ‘boobs and stealing from poor people’?
    And wow, a study to determine whether men like boobs and whether more men will try to chat up, or so called “befriend” women with bigger ones. I mean, nobody has ever noticed that before. Except women, but they don’t count because …. reasons.

  29. says

    @27 – what I was thinking was a couple of people got together and tried to think of an excuse for ogling breasts.

    Does the IRB review a study for valid design? I bet most of them only worry about getting yelled at for unethical research. Wouldn’t know a well designed study if you smacked them with a statistics text book.

  30. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I was convinced somebody else would make this joke, but apparently nobody else is as juvenile as I am, so…


    Wotta buncha tits!