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If a Man Buys a Ferrari or Gives to Charity in a Forest

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According to a new study, buying a Ferrari and giving a giant donation to charity is the same thing, in terms of sexual selection. Both moves represent a “profligate deployment of resources.” They are the equivalent of many of nature’s seemingly unnecessary ostentatious physical features. If an animal can sport ridiculous plumage and still have the resources to elude predators and mate, it must be doing something right.
Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico in collaboration with Vladas Griskevicius (if only the “Yes I am” Bud Light ads were still around) of Arizona State University have a paper in the latest Journal of Personality and Social Psychology to further the “mating mind” hypothesis. The idea is that altruism and conspicuous consumption in humans prove that the human brain is our unnecessary showy organ.
For their experiment, the professors separated volunteers into 2 groups. One group was shown sexy photos and asked to describe ideal romantic encounters while the other was shown hot infrastructure pics and asked to talk about the weather. The thinking was that one group would be primed for mating, the other group, not so much. The two groups were then given a bunch of options in terms of volunteering time or money or going on a spending spree. Questions on whether participants would commit acts of conspicuous heroism were even posed.
The sex-minded males went on spending sprees for items they could wear or drive. They were reluctant to volunteer their time but more than willing to give away money as long as other people knew about it.
Sex-minded females chose to be conspicuously benevolent, picking work in shelters opposed to independent city clean-up efforts. The non-sexed up group (unless you think buildings or nimbostratus clouds look like bosoms) of both sexes did not favor conspicuous consumption or benevolence over inconspicuous types.
Primed guys were willing to be heroes, but only if the actions were life-threatening. Too many superhero movies in the past few summers with fawning starlets definitely reinforce the idea that the hero gets the girl. Girls, ready for love or not, we’re not ready to take the plunge into heroic deeds (for everyone dreaming of being rescued by Jessica Alba instead of that dude who’s made from rock).
Blatant benevolence and conspicuous consumption [The Economist]