July 17, 2010

The evolution of nerdishness

A professor of psychology at the U. of Turin writes to say he found interesting my casual 1998 essay: "Nerdishness: The Unexplored Cornerstone of the Modern World." Here's the abstract of his new paper, which has some similarities to my thinking from a dozen years ago.

Department of Psychology, University of Turin, Italy
In this paper we present a new hypothesis on the evolution of autistic-like and schizotypal personality traits. We argue that autistic-like and schizotypal traits contribute in opposite ways to individual differences in reproductive and mating strategies, and have been maintained – at least in part – by sexual selection through mate choice. Whereas positive schizotypy can be seen as a psychological phenotype oriented to high mating effort and good genes displays in both sexes, autistic-like traits in their non-pathological form contribute to a male-typical strategy geared toward high parental investment, low mating effort, and long-term resource allocation. At the evolutionary-genetic level, this sexual selection hypothesis is consistent with Crespi and Badcock’s “imprinted brain” theory of autism and psychosis; the effect of offspring mating behavior on resource flow within the family connects sexual selection with genomic imprinting in the context of human biparental care. We conclude by presenting the results of an empirical study testing one of the predictions derived from our hypothesis. In a sample of 200 college students, autistic-like traits predicted lower interest in short-term mating, higher partner-specific investment, and stronger commitment to long-term romantic relations, whereas positive schizotypy showed the opposite pattern of effects.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

inb4 whiskey, yo

Anonymous said...

The premise of the article appears to be based on life-history theory. In one of the early papers,if I remember the details correctly, it was found that Harvard males came in two forms (verbal and analytical) and that the verbal group were more likely to come from homes were a father was absent.

It was thought that the absent father played a role in directing males toward a short-term mating strategy where verbal skills in mate competition and seduction would help and a present father directed the sons toward a long-term strategy. However, the mechanism could also be genetic.

This fits with the paper you cite. I, along with others, retested this using a large public data set and found nothing. However, I have a desire to return to it some day. Everyday experience just seems to fit with it. Compare rappers to engineers. It maybe interesting to simply look at the relationship between verbal skills and number of mates.

Someguy

M Pearle said...

Steve, have you seen Greg Clark's paper 'The Domestication of Man':

Modern ethnographies suggest that hunter-gatherers were impulsive, violent, innumerate, illiterate, and lazy. Death rates from violence were much higher than in modern societies. Impatience dominated economic activities. And abstract reasoning abilities were limited. Most of these societies have no other words for number than “one”, “two” or “many”.

There have been at least three major observable changes in very basic human behaviors since the adoption of settled agriculture. People have become more patient, less violent, and harder working...

silver loans were 20-25 per cent.
In forager societies evidence on rates of return is indirect. There is no capital market. Anthropologists, however, can measure time preference rates through the relative rewards of activities with immediate benefits compared to those with future benefits: digging up wild tubers now, compared to clearing ground and planting gardens with a reward months in the future...

Work hours rose between the hunter gatherer era to modern levels by 1800.

The typical male hunter-gatherer worked only 5-6 hours per day, counting all work activities. In England by 1800 paid work alone was nearly 9 hours per day, counting across every day of the year.

As a whole these changes show societies becoming increasingly middle class in their orientation. Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were imbuing themselves into communities that had been spendthrift, violent,
impulsive and leisure loving."

http://campus.usal.es/~revistas/Artefactos/pdfs/5465.pdf

dearieme said...

"Modern ethnographies suggest that hunter-gatherers were ... illiterate": my, isn't modern scholarship a fine thing?

SFG said...

Nobody's posted. I think he needs to mention Jews.

Seriously, I was wondering why nerd genes would even be propagated at all. Except in a few college towns, women do not like nerds, almost by definition.

SFG said...

It also relates to the old argument that nerds tend to be safe husbands. Which women are a lot less interested in these days, and I'm a lot less willing to be with the way divorce and family law works.

What you've really got to look into, if you ever have the time or interest, is the relationship between nerdishness and kinky sex. I Am Not Making This Up.

Anonymous said...

It's seeming more and more like autism is the sickle-cell or Tay-Sachs disease of a modern technological society-- an unwanted side-effect of an otherwise adaptive suite of characteristics. It's why a major risk factor for autism is having one or both parents be scientists or engineers, and why the highest concentrations of the disease are found in places like Silicon Valley.

Simon Baron-Cohen explains the autism and assortative mating connection at length here: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/baron-cohen05/baron-cohen05_index.html

Anonymous said...

My theory is that assortative mating of high IQ produces more and more nerds in the world. Nerds are often very sensitive and therefore, as the article shows, more prone to be romantic.

There's another factor that may be important. It seems like ectomorph-cerebrotonic guys (tall, very slim, long legs, long arms) who are nerds very often are over-sensitive due to their easily overloaded nervous system.

That's why they are often the man of one woman.

You should all take a look a this interesting website which summarizes the ectomorph-cerebrotonic personnality and characteristics about their unique "large brain" an IQ !

http://www.innerexplorations.com/catpsy/t1c4.htm

Anonymous said...

Along the same lines of intellectualizing about Nerdity, what it is and its place within society:

Someone has resurrected the old "Nerd Resource" site:

http://nerds.0catch.com/

And theres this site with interesting links:

http://nerdyfreaky.weebly.com/

Dutch Boy said...

Baron-Cohen's hypothesis is absurd. The rapid increase in the disorder bespeaks an environmental rather than a genetic explanation. The medical/scientific establishment has spent a king's ransom on various genetic studies of autism and has come up with pretty much nothing.

B Lode said...

Seriously, I was wondering why nerd genes would even be propagated at all. Except in a few college towns, women do not like nerds, almost by definition. -SFG

One thing it's important to keep in mind is: nerds are a recent invention. The genes that underly them are not. Earnestness, interest in mechanicals, and adherence to rules never used to add up to "nerdishness". Even if women are unimpressed by a guy who lets bulletheads pound on him because the rules tell him to do so, this isn't going to come up if the rules don't tell him to do so.

Yesteryear's proto-nerd would practice "Queensbury Rules boxing" and punch out people who mocked him. He would learn the rules of etiquette. He would associate with men of his caliber, not be lumped in with proto-janitors, proto-trailer-trash, and proto-pickup-artists at a "comprehensive" (read: anti-intellectual) school. He may not need a platoon of strong men (how many men do?) but a few men would respect him and treat him as an equal.

That's really all a woman needs to see to simply consider a man as a possible mate. And there were no computer games in the past. Basements and recreation rooms were not one and the same.

What you've really got to look into, if you ever have the time or interest, is the relationship between nerdishness and kinky sex. I Am Not Making This Up. -SFG

Sounds interesting, but before I start clicking I'd like a clue as to what sort of "kinky" we're talking about. Recent ideas about "kinkiness" tend to nauseate me. (Oh, for the days when "kinky" meant "conducted partially clothed, in a part of the house outside the bedroom.)

BamaGirl said...

"Seriously, I was wondering why nerd genes would even be propagated at all. Except in a few college towns, women do not like nerds, almost by definition."

Nah, most women like nerds alright as long as they are of the attractive variety.

B Lode said...

Any chance someone is going to post a formal declaration of length limit in these parts? I've had two 3-paragraph posts rejected in as many days.

Whiskey said...

It sounds plausible. After all, in place after place where women don't face possible starvation/annihilation, and have ample resources, the kind of guy THEY prefer, given resources and wealth, is highly verbal, dominant, and socially high status. They'll even willingly share him.

Take for example: the married mother/porn star who urged her boyfriend of the moment to kill a guy because it would turn her on. A very, very extreme outlier, but outliers tell you the "arrow" of how selection preference works, in various conditions. Looking at the extremes tells you stuff about how the middle tilts (which way).

Given the wealth and safety and resources available in modern times, I would assume the selection preference by women would be towards the verbal, dominant, socially prominent type of guy, rather than nerd-provider.

This in turn is likely to produce a "race to the bottom" observed in the Black Ghetto, White British Chavs, Muslim immigrant groups (higher rates of births and thuggishness than in their home nations, by and large) and so on.

Thesis: Wealth and security allows women to indulge their hypergamy, which unchecked produces a nation of single mothers with thug/bad boy babies.

Anonymous said...

Autism is probably caused by an infectious disease. It shows clear signs of clustering among children who share the same daycare centers, and is also more prevalent in communities which have experienced recent immigration from India. Probably it is like polio. It does no harm if one is exposed to it as an infant, but at a somewhat later stage of development it causes retardation.

SFG said...

"One thing it's important to keep in mind is: nerds are a recent invention. The genes that underly them are not. Earnestness, interest in mechanicals, and adherence to rules never used to add up to "nerdishness". Even if women are unimpressed by a guy who lets bulletheads pound on him because the rules tell him to do so, this isn't going to come up if the rules don't tell him to do so.

Yesteryear's proto-nerd would practice "Queensbury Rules boxing" and punch out people who mocked him. He would learn the rules of etiquette. He would associate with men of his caliber, not be lumped in with proto-janitors, proto-trailer-trash, and proto-pickup-artists at a "comprehensive" (read: anti-intellectual) school. He may not need a platoon of strong men (how many men do?) but a few men would respect him and treat him as an equal.

That's really all a woman needs to see to simply consider a man as a possible mate. And there were no computer games in the past. Basements and recreation rooms were not one and the same."

Hm. So nerd culture is a recent development with negative effects on the transmission of engineering-type genes. Haven't heard it described that way but it makes total sense.

Also, as many in the PUA scene have said, the liberation of women means that earnest, rule-following types ('betas', 'white knights') lose out. So it's really a matter of desired personality types shifting over time.

American anti-intellectualism strikes me as being as old as apple pie, but you have a point in that people used to respect playing by the rules.

"Sounds interesting, but before I start clicking I'd like a clue as to what sort of "kinky" we're talking about. Recent ideas about "kinkiness" tend to nauseate me. (Oh, for the days when "kinky" meant "conducted partially clothed, in a part of the house outside the bedroom.)"

Um, every bunch of geeks I run into keeps turning out to be into BDSM. Makes no sense to me, but there it is. But you might want to stop here.

And, yeah, the bar for 'kink' keeps getting higher, which can't end well.

Anonymous said...

At what point did the race to the bottom begin in the US and Europe and how fast is it working? That is, I assume that autistic types were being selected well into the 1800's because the value of the man of a man as a producer was more important than the value of the man as a personality back then. At some point any man could support a family. Thus his value as a provider dropped and the value of his personality went up. Also, at some point the economy became such that more men could make a living on their personality rather than on their productive capacity. When was the tipping point?

B Lode said...

... at some point the economy became such that more men could make a living on their personality rather than on their productive capacity. When was the tipping point?

1964, Meet the Beatles. Rock and roll is an extremely neurotypical phenomenon - very little complexity, introspection, or rules. Lots of big personalities. Lots of musicians being confident because other people like them, and lots of people confident enough to become musicians because so many people have liked them.

Rock and roll is a non-vicious, non-virtuous cycle, because confidence feeds on confidence, and can survive on a diet of itself alone. The rock and roll era encourages you to roll again cheerfully, producing nothing, basking the glow. When the glow is gone, you don't know why, and you just sort of fade away. No one explains it to you. (The Residents explained it all in "The Aging Musician".)

Anonymous said...

Whisky:

Given the wealth and safety and resources available in modern times, I would assume the selection preference by women would be towards the verbal, dominant, socially prominent type of guy, rather than nerd-provider.

Didn't Nietzsche say something like: society gives modern men work and safety, so they want play and danger instead?

That could explain much about modern society, modern men, and especially modern women.

Anonymous said...

Rock and roll is an extremely neurotypical phenomenon - very little complexity, introspection, or rules

Total nonsense. Rock guitarists are mostly introverts, rock music has plenty of "rules", and rock can be very complex.

Roman Parnell said...

There is something fundamentally wrong-headed about the assumption that, because "nerds" are "analytical", they are "rules-following beta males", while "jocks", because they have "situational awareness", are "natural leader alpha males". For one thing, "rules" are generally a social construct, not an intellectual one. Think of the venues where even bright Jocks predominate - sports teams, fraternities, the junior officer corps in the military and the junior executive ranks of corporations. All of these are intensely hierarchical and rule-bound environments. Jocks who don't go to college become policemen, firemen, union labor - and these occupations are no less hierarchical and rule-bound. Even the leaders who emerge from these venues spend most of their formative years and young adulthood taking orders from someone else, constantly practicing conformity under the guise of "team spirit", "esprit de corps" and "manly camaraderie" - and the leaders are in the minority. The average bright Jock does not become a leader so much as a middle manager in a long chain of command in which he is discouraged from thinking for himself, and most of his attempts at "leadership" arise less from natural charisma than from the expression of groupthink. The much-vaunted "situational awareness" of Jocks - to the extent that it actually exists - in most cases merely turns the Jock's attention to what his teammates, his buddies and his neighbors are thinking, and he has been trained from boyhood to follow their lead. As far as their identity as "alpha males" is concerned, most Jocks (or would-be Jocks, who form the bulk of American manhood) become pale imitations of their youthful selves and/or of the bigger, smarter, better looking and/or more charming Jocks among them. They become the true "beta males", because "beta males" allow themselves to become what they are because they believe in hierarchy - and hierarchy is the lifeblood of Jock thinking.

Nerds - and by Nerds I mean the real Nerds - are almost by definition highly intelligent outsiders. Their talent for science, technology and other "symbolic manipulation systems" owes less to a plodding adherence to the rules as to their ability transcend those rules through intuitive leaps. True Nerds learn these "symbolic manipulation systems" as well as they do precisely because they can think outside the box, rather than inside of it. Any non-Nerd who thinks otherwise is merely self-projecting his own intellectual inadequacies. To be sure, as they get older, and their independence and intellectual originality are socialized out of them, many Nerds may become "beta males" - but ex-Nerd "beta males" are no more a reflection of the Nerd type at its peak than ex-Jock "beta males" epitomize the Jock type. Stereotypical Nerd occupations include software development, medicine, scientific research and the academic profession - and mavericks, loners, "cowboys" and "self-centered bastards" are notoriously common in these venues. The Nerd's lack of "situational awareness" actually enhances his disregard for social rules and allows him to focus on what he does best with as few distractions as possible. No one has more contempt for "following the rules" than the Nerd at his purest. To call him a "beta male" is meaningless, because he is by his very nature anti-hierarchical.

B Lode said...

Rock and roll is an extremely neurotypical phenomenon - very little complexity, introspection, or rules

Total nonsense. Rock guitarists are mostly introverts

Name one.

rock music has plenty of "rules"

Name one.

and rock can be very complex.

The more complex it is, the less "rock" it is. People think of "Baba O'Reilly" and "Louis Louis" when they think of rock, not "Unquestionable Presence" or "Excessit". Prog-rockers were never well-accepted, minus a few years around one of the Styx albums, Kansas Point of Know Return, and maybe King Crimson's peak of popularity. When most people hear about the way those bands, or technical metalheads, or Ilana Mercer's husband or whoever, compose music, they say "Rock isn't supposed to be like that."

Your music might be better, but you're outvoted, which is all that matters to neurotypicals.

B Lode said...

Roman Parnell, what you said is very important and worthwhile, but I think you're using "rules" differently than others. I don't think nerds tend to follow unspoken social rules very well, nor do I think they follow traditional methodologies as much as others. They do understand the rules of science better than most, and they act out less as adolescents.

Acting out as an adolescent is important to other boys because most rules are ostensibly enforced by women, which lends a veneer of effeminacy to all rules. The nerds follow spoken/written rules anyway, and are considered effeminate for their trouble. Those with situational awareness are better at figuring out which rules are enforced, and which are "unenforced" (i.e., which rules are lies).