Neuroscience, Decision-making, and Strippers
Decision making: there are countless books about it because, lets face it, decisions are at the epicenter of what we humans do. Make the wrong choice and it can kill you, or at least cause a lot of sweat and tears.
One major crossroads for many involves mate selection. Some knock it out of the park—we’ve all seen the heartwarming stories of couples still in love after 50 years—and then there are the marriages that crumble after a few months, or even days.
So what can we learn from the long-term lovebirds? What’s their secret? How did they find each other? When you first meet someone, what are the telltale signs to look for and, perhaps more importantly, to avoid?
It’s classic advice column fodder, and people make a tidy living doling out their strategies for selection. But at the crucial moment, how much strategy is really involved?
In his book Incognito: the Secret Lives of the Brain, neuroscientist David Eagleman shares an unlikely experiment done in New Mexico.
Scientists were curious about how someone's attraction response to a woman might be influenced by her fertility. It’s a tricky thing to study: how do you quantify something as ephemeral as human sexual chemistry? For these particular researchers, the answer lay in strip clubs. If the two things were connected, they hypothesized, maybe a lap dancer’s nightly tips would ebb and flow with her menstrual cycle?
The results were surprising. Lap dancers during their peak fertility period earned a cool $68 a night. On evenings they were menstruating, their tips fell to $35, for a monthly average of about $53.
Those who were on the pill saw no such fluctuation. Instead, they averaged about $37 dollars an evening.
What accounts for the difference? Of course, there’s no way to be sure. But Eagleman speculates it has to do with subtle changes in things like body odor, complexion, and waist-to hip ratio. It might also involve the output of pheromones, those neural chemicals linked to attraction, picked up subconsciously through the nose.
In other words, without realizing it, strip club patrons were primed to open their wallets and give more freely. They took their cues from the most primitive parts of their brains, hardwired over the generations to notice potential mates with the greatest likelihood of producing offspring.
No rational decision-making was at work, no reference to a conscious list of preferred attributes. Consciousness wasn’t even invited to the party.
What does all this mean? Well, if you’re a lap dancer relying on those tips, it means doubling up on your shift during peak fertility and maybe looking at alternate forms of birth control.
If you’re a man trying to pick up women, it means you might want to second-guess that gut instinct. Ask yourself, ‘who’s driving?’ It might not be who you think.