Channel Surfers on the Hunt

September 25, 2008

Channel Surfers on the Hunt
My Proposed Explanation for Why Men Channel Surf More Than Women

The human being has always been an explorer, eager to find out what lies beyond distant plains and far-away mountains. A human’s finest trait is their curiosity and it was what encouraged them, many millennia ago, to spread across the globe. The descendants of these first explorers have carried on their legacy; the world has been charted, and the universe is now greater than a starry sky. Each day new discoveries are made and the future holds countless more.

Before man settled down and allowed his perfectionist nature to flourish through the construction of square buildings and never-ending stretches of tarmac, he roamed the vast expanses of a now lost world, as his nature was—and still is—evolved to do. Back during the dawn of the age of man those men with a hunter’s instincts were those most successful and who went on to father the most children. As our forefathers, their innate nature is also ours.

Though most modern men are not hunters, their bodies and psyches have nevertheless evolved to perfectly carry out a hunter’s tasks. To many it is at first glance an alien concept, but contrary to what many women wish to believe, a man with a remote control in his hand is only true to his hunter past.

One question which remains for evolutionary psychologists to answer is the one which asks why men “hog the remote control and typically channel surf more than women”, to quote Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa’s book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. It is an intriguing observation that men and remote controls have such a faithful relationship, and I wish to propose a possible explanation of why this is so.

There is no denying that early men were hunters, and this coupled with man’s curious nature, makes him predisposed to explore. In the ancestral environment—the one in which man evolved—there was no such thing as televisions, or even remote controls. As suggested by the Savannah Principle a man’s (or woman’s) brain can thus not understand that watching TV does not equal exploring, their minds simply cannot grasp that the scenes before their eyes are nothing more but the projections of a back-lit screen. Because a real landscape and one depicted by a TV are the same, as far as a human’s “stone-age” brain can understand, a man derives the same satisfaction from a real adventure as one he saw on TV.

Throughout history man has been an explorer. Though he hardly can be attributed the honour of being the first discoverer of the Americas, Christopher Columbus was no woman. In the human being’s evolutionary past women were the gatherers, the ones who stayed close to home. The most precious of tasks was instead theirs to carry out, that of raising the young, the little creatures that are the point of all human life. Any woman disregarding from the wellbeing of her children, any woman who preferred to roam distant lands in search for prey, was unlikely to leave any genetic legacy behind. The women who cared for their children—and allowed the men to hunt—were those whose genes were the most successful. We are all descended from the men who explored and the women who stayed at home.

I have claimed that men are explorers and women are not, but is that really so? Studies have shown that young men are xenophobic and unlikely to travel abroad, much unlike their female counterparts who desire little else. This was a point raised by a friend, and a point which also appears in Miller and Kanazawa’s book.  What must be kept in mind, when this concern is considered, is that it is not the young single men who slouch in front of a TV. Indeed, those who most commonly are blamed of channel surfing in excess are the men whose fingers are the home of a wedding band.

Young men are believed to be xenophobic because their status, their appeal to women, is closely associated with the culture into which they have been born. Young women, on the other hand, have been gifted with a universal appeal; their beauty and youth will be recognised wherever they go. In traditional societies it is the young women who leave their home for another and the men who remain in the group. This is the most efficient way of avoiding inbreeding and a strategy which has evolved to serve that cause. What is interesting, however, is that once a man has married he is more likely to travel abroad. This explains why the remote control becomes one of his associates and why channel surfing gains such appeal. As young women desire to travel abroad, and find a match with genes vastly different from her own, I believe she derives greater satisfaction from watching TV than does her young male counterpart. Once a woman is married, and has children to care for, channel surfing loses its appeal. The goal of her life has been attained, and nothing is more important than honing that.

Even if the status of a man’s symbols—cars, suits, money etc.—depends upon the cultures of his society, this changes once he marries as a woman’s reassurance of his quality as a mate very well may attract the attention of other women. So, once a man has married he is free to seek mates of a different set of genes in locations far away from where he was born. This, in addition to his hunter past, makes it no surprise that a married man and his TV are good friends. Perhaps they even are best friends as the electronic device allows him to meet more women through the blink of an eye than any other contact in his social network will ever be able to do. For, remember, there were no TVs back in ages past, and any woman a man beholds must thus be real and an opportunity for him to further secure his reproductive success.

Though it brings no relief to the woman whose husband’s mistress is the TV, the men cannot be blamed as it is all part of their hunter past and their genes’ desire to live on for one generation more. As with many aspects of modern life, exploring once filled an important purpose, one which now has become a liability as no difference is made by men (or women) between a real plain and one lit from behind. But as the human brain and its mind evolved in an environment where televisions were scarce, no-one can hardly be blamed for succumbing to the sweet allure of a screen with countless adventures playing before its one eye. In the end, what it all comes down to is the survival of the successful and selfish genes.

However, for this hypothesis of mine—of men’s hunter past and the desire of their genes being the reason for why the TV at times is their best friend—to be true, a man’s nature must also be predisposed to derive satisfaction from other, related tasks. This was a valid point raised by someone who knows their area well, and until it can be shown that men are more curios than women, with a greater desire to explore and experience a change of scenery, as well as a wife being a universal symbol of status, my layman explanation is little more sophisticated than what is the above.

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It is a fact well-known that siblings – despite being closely related – are not copies of one another, neither in appearance nor personality. The reason for this has been the subject of debate and reasonable explainations have been offered. Although the question may be considered answered, I cannot help but supplement such an answer with a theory of my own.

If one is presented to a group of strangers and is told that two of them are siblings, one can rather easily pick them out because they are more similar to each other than they are to the unrelated strangers. Despite their likeness, however, siblings differ; they may share the shape of their nose but not the colour of their eyes – or the other way around.

The reason for why siblings are alike in appearance is because they share 100 % of their genetic heritage – as they have the same parents – but they differ from one because they share only 50 % of their genome. The 50 % unique to each sibling is what accounts or their differences.

Personalities are however not the same as appearances, and if one is presented to the ideas of a group of strangers, it is very hard to decide which two ideas have been developed by a pair of siblings.

The question of why this is so – why the personalities of siblings differ – has been answered by several people, though two may be mentioned in particular for having offered satisfactory solutions to the problem.

One of the two people, whom I am referring to, is Frank J. Sulloway. He argues that differences between siblings are to accredited to their birth order, which offers them different familial niches to occupy: the firstborns face a world of limited competition and thus grow up to relate to authority figures such as their parents, while younger siblings become rebels because their benefits do not come as easily.

As the eldest in a sibling group of five, I see the potential of Sulloway’s theory as many of the traits assigned to firstborns (conscientousness, social dominance and limited agreeableness) also are present in my own personality (though I myself would like to claim that the latter is not the case ;D). However, for the same reason – being one of many – I also realise that his theory is not perfect as not all of my younger siblings are rebels.

So, what about the other explaination offered?

The psychologist Judith Rich Harris advocates a theory presented in her book The Nurture Assumption, claiming that the parental influence matters little when a child’s personality is formed; that the similarities that exist between parents and their children instead are to be attributed to their shared genes. Further, she argues against the influence of birth order, and instead claims that it is a child’s peer group which influences their personality; that children modify their behaviour to fit into the group, something which ultimately has an effect on their character.

As with Sulloway’s theory, I realise that there is truth also to Harris’s, as the environment which is shared between siblings (the family) may be disregarded from as accounting for differences because it is the same for all and thus cannot influence individual differences. Further, I personally am somewhat of a “cultural chameleon”, easily modifying my behaviour to what my current group expects of me.

Because I know myself, I also realise that Harris’s theory is flawed, as I believe little of my own personality has been influenced by what my peer group(s) expect of me. This may of course be attributed to the fact that I am most headstrong and usually disregard from what other people expect of me – though I act according to their expectations I disregard from them in all other ways. Also, as most children’s peer groups change over the course of their lives, it may be interpreted as that their personalities change accordingly. However, this is not the case, as a child’s way of being changes little past their 7th to 10th birthday, depending on the child.

As there is truth to both the theories presented above, they can not be considered as wrong or faulty, but they are indeed flawed, having failed to fully explain the reason to why siblings differ. Thus, I theorise that there is more to the answer of the question, and that the missing aspects are present in the genes.

The ultimate goal of all life is reproduction and such a fact must also be present in the reason for why siblings differ; the differences must in some way increase the survival of the associated genes. I believe this indeed is the case; that siblings differ because their differences ensure the survival of their shared genes.

Allow me to elaborate:

If differences in personality are determined to the majority by genes and to the minority by external influences, then this fact also accounts for why there also are similarities between the characters of siblings, as they share 50 % of their genes.

Differences in personality mean that the siblings will prefer different items and aspects. Not only does this increase the availiable amount of resources – as one child may love beets and the other corn – but it also ensures increased genetic variation because different genes determining a person’s character prefer to mix with different sets of genes present in a mate; crudely, one sibling may prefer mates with brown hair while the other sibling prefers red hair.

The result of this is that the genes shared between siblings may mix with many different sets of genes, increasing the variation. If one person reproduces with many mates, its offspring’s genes will be variated; one version per child. However, imagine if a couple of people with a great number of shared genes – like siblings – reproduce with many mates which differ greatly between one another – because of the different siblings’ differing preferences, – then the resulting offspring will be more variated than a single person’s (or similar sibling-preferences’) ever could be.

As genetic variation is the key to evolutionary success, the genes which make the personalities of siblings different will be more successful in the population than the genes which give siblings similar personalities, and such genes thus spread to eventually become universal.

To conclude and summarise my reasoning:

The personalities of siblings differ because their resulting preferences then will also will differ; allowing the siblings’ shared genes to attain greater variation within the resulting offspring, as each sibling will consider different sets of genes the most attractive. Thus, genetic variation is increased, rendering some of the offspring more resilient than the rest; giving the shared genes a chance of success otherwise impossible had the offspring’s genes been too similar. Subsequently, the genes influencing personality differences between siblings will become more successful and eventually spread over the whole population, as they never are to encounter an evolutionary dead-end.

My previous theory to answer evolutionary psychology’s unanswered question No. 8 has now been supplemented with a new aspect.

During the earliest hours of today I suffered from the usual insomnia, which I have learnt to attribute to perhaps a dozen reasons, ranging from the never-ending spawning of new ideas to the anxienty over approaching events. Neither the warm milk nor the bananas nor the chamomille- nor the lavendar tea seemed to be able to silence my thoughts to a sufficient extent. To relieve myself of the boredom bound to follow a failure of falling asleep, I picked up Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters and finished its last three chapters – which I really should have finished earlier but always found myself as being too busy to actually do. I figured it was best to finish reading my only aviliable source of evolutionary psychology before I jump to conclusions, flawed because I have not accumulated enough information.

In the last chapter of the book I learnt that my theory of why parents in industrialised societies have few children was flawed – it is not because of a lack of resources. I still believe there is some truth to my theory, but it did not explain everything. It was not my most successful meme, in other words. However, as I lay in bed, still unable to fall asleep, I contemplated the matter as I find questions without answers to be highly frustrating. Eventually, I came up with a new, supplementary, theory. (It is truly remarkable how clear one’s mind may be when the hours past midnight are spent in the pursuit of activities more productive than sleep!)

My new theory is as follows:

Although parents have to make sure that their offspring is more qualitative than quantitative, because the resources – money and time – are limited, it does not fully explain why industrialised parents have fewer children than their less industrialised counterparts.  This is because there is another aspect of the equation to take into consideration: the fact that industrialised societies are the most sophisticated, meaning that the life expectancy – and subsequent potential reproductive success – of a child born into one is greater than that of children in less industrialised societies.

Parents of less sophisticated societies need to have more children because the medical resources, for example, are limited and scarce; meaning they are more likely to lose a few children to accidents, diseases and starvation/dehydration. In industrialised societies this is not the case, or at least, children are less at risk as they are more likely to be saved because of the availiable technological advances.

Thus, parents in socities of greater sophistication need not waste their availiable economical resources on producing many children because their reproductive success is sufficiently secured with only two children – or perhaps even one. Subsequently, they can spend their availiable resources more wisely, raising highly qualitative instead of quantitative children.

And that is why parents of industrial socities have few children. – At least according to my latest theory.

According to evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa in both one of his books–Why Beautiful people Have More Daughters–and in a recent entry in his blog The Scientific Fundamentalist, there are still unanswered questions left for the theories of evolutionary psychology to answer, elaborate and explain. It should come as no surprise as the realm of science has been gifted with a never-ending supply of enigmas in need of exploration.

The evolutionary psychology’s unanswered question No. 8–by Kanazawa’s count–is the following:

Why do parents in advanced industrial nations have so few children?

As my mind is too easily intrigued and inspired by unanswered questions within fields I one day would like to be seen as knowledgeable in,–and because I have problems minding my own business,– I of course came up with a small theory, or perhaps more of a statement, to the question (which I of course should have elaborated further before posting on the blog at 2AM this morning):

Though the ultimate goal of a parent is to raise as many children as ever possible, as it is the purpose of the parent’s life and the greatest desire of their genes, there is a limit, for there are few cases to my knowledge where parents have produced children in large quantities without any sense of control.

This “limit” is abstract as there was no such thing as contraception in the ancestral environment. Though the genes desire nothing but reproduction, they can not be allowed to dictate all rules of human reproduction as it would not be very evolutionary sound. Thus, there are genes ensuring that the human (and all other animals, mammals in particular) mindsets see to the quality instead of the quantity.

This concern is the reason for the use of contraception. Though it is a modern invention, it is less tiresome than the act of carrying a child only to abandon it later because of the limited resources all have to keep in mind. Contraception is an effective way of maintaining the quality of the offspring as fewer resources are required by the bearing of a child that can not be raised without its siblings suffering.

In the industrial world there is a cost to everything, and thus it is very expensive to raise even one child. (Figures near $100.000 are often mentioned.) Without near-unlimited economical resources–or in the ancestral environment resources in particular–it is close to impossible to raise a great number of children and the reason for why few do.

For, as the genes desire nothing more than to live on for yet another generation, and the human being only is the means to an end in this matter, it is more evolutionary sound and successful to raise a few children instead of the maximum number one may produce; quality over quantity.

Are few children raised when resources are scarce, then their chances of reaching adulthood and to successfully reproduce are greater than if many children were raised with the limited resources and none of them recieved enough to reach a reproductive age.

To conclude this reasoning I would like to point out once more that the number of children parents in industrialised societies have is closely related to the parents’ financial status.

This can easily be observed if focus is placed upon the lower-, middle- and upper-classes: parents of limited resources are more likely to raise only one child while parents of somewhat greater resources may raise one or two more. However, among the wealthiest it is very common for parents to raise more than three children–it is more a rule than an exception–and in some cases the number of children may be as great at 10.

Notice: I supplemented this theory with considerations unthought of in th post above in a more recent blog entry.