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Blue Eyed Men Prefer Blue Eyed Women?

Posted Sep 12 2008 2:17pm
I've got a theoretical question that probably has little to do with any business that anyone is involved with, but it's a question that is bothering me. Can some other armchair Darwinist help me to think about this one? Does anyone know any evolutionary biologists who would know the answer to this?

So I saw this study from Norway. I was linked to the study from this magazine, which was founded by two Duke students. Basically it says that within Western cultures, blue eyed men as a whole prefer blue eyed women, and that no other group (brown eyed men, brown eyed women, blue eyed women) seems to have a preference. The reason for the preference among blue eyed men, according to the thesis, is that eye color is a Mendelian trait, and that blue eyed men unconsciously become more secure in their paternity (i.e. that their wives weren't cheating) by marrying other blue eyed people who give birth to their blue eyed children. Women have no preference because they are assured of their maternity when the baby comes from their bodies, and brown eyed men have no preference because their children could be brown eyed or blue eyed, depending on the alleles of their (and their partners') genes. According to the thesis, this preference of blue eyed men for blue eyed women developed over time through evolution which selected blue eyed men who were assured of their paternity.

I don't doubt the empirical findings of their study. If we limit it to Caucasian men, I would guess that many blue eyed men do in fact have a preference for blue eyed women, and many brown eyed guys don't care one way or another. However, I don't buy the explanation that it's a Darwinian trait based on a desire to assure paternity. The "confidence in paternity" thing just doesn't make sense.

Compare it to something that makes sense. If men prefer mating with young and healthy women, it makes sense from a genetic perspective. Old women don't have children, and unhealthy women are more likely to have genes for bad health thereby making it less likely that the children of such unions would survive. The genes of men who prefer old or sick women eventually die out because their Darwinian strategy ("survival") is inferior to other men.

The paternity thing, on the other hand, makes no sense at all. Let's say you have two blue eyed guys. Albert has blue eyes and has a preference for blue eyed women. He has four kids with his wife, and his wife cheats once, so one of his kids has brown eyes. It's pre-Mendel, and so he doesn't question the paternity (and even today, as the blog points out, it is possible for two blue eyed people to have a brown eyed kid.)

Compare him to Mitch, who is a blue eyed guy who likes all women. He marries a brown eyed girl who also cheats on him and gives him a child who isn't his. The kids have a smattering of eye colors, but of course these colors are irrelevant to whether or not they're his.

By the theory put forward by the thesis, Albert should have a genetic advantage over Mitch. But if you look at it, their situations are exactly the same. Both men are raising three children who are theirs and one who isn't. Both have three kids who carry their genes, and one who doesn't. Three carriers of their genes live on.

Now one might say that the Albert, in his preference for blue, could subtly prefer his blue eyed kids, thereby devoting more of his resources to them. Therefore those kids with blue eyes would be more likely to survive. Mitch, because he loves all his kids equally, spreads his resources out equally. If Albert and Mitch are equally rich, Albert's biological kids would have more resources because he concentrates on them alone, and therefore they would be more likely to survive.

However, this strikes me as a bit farfetched for a number of reasons. First of all, the study isn't talking about men's preference for blue eyes among kids; it is only talking about sexual preference. I would hope that men look at their wives differently than they look at their kids. If the study limits the eye color question to sexual attraction, I would think that it would only be correct to limit the explanation to the interplay with the sexual attractant and not to address the behavior of the male towards kids with blue eyes.

Second of all, there are just too many variables to consider, not inconsequentially the fact that polygamy was not uncommon back in the day. If each had multiple wives, Mitch might actually have a Darwinian advantage over Albert since he wasn't as picky and since he would therefore have a wider range of choices.

Third, what about adoptees? Most adoptee children who I know claim equal love for their parents. Humans, it seems, love whomever becomes their child. And I think children remain tied to father unless their is an explicit proof of cuckoldry.

My fourth and biggest argument with the paternity explanation is that men, throughout history, have biologically followed a low-investment path when it comes to procreation. No pregnancy, no morning sickness, no nursing, nothing. Men have millions on millions of sperm creating millions and millions of possible offspring, while women have 400 eggs in a lifetime and are limited by the factors like pregnancy and childbirth issues. Given the low investment that the men of our species have typically put into child rearing (and of course, this is changing these days), it just seems to me to be a bit...well, say that blue eyed men are any different from the rest of mankind.

Kinship to me seems the much more rational argument to explain the attraction of blue eyed men towards blue eyed women. I'm not sure why it isn't true the other way around, but I would probably guess that it has something to do with the "fairer sex" issue that the paper also raises. Any ideas? (Hope this is all politically correct.)
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