Phenotypic quality and human social behavior

Bryant (
14 Aug 1996 21:07:27 -0600

Newsweek recently did a cover story on the "Biology of Beauty,"
reviewing the recent work of evolutionary psychologists and behavioral
biologists, suggesting that the principles of evolution by sexual
selection apply not just to other animals' minds and behavior, but to
human ones as well, especially in our mating preferences.

This, no doubt, will be very unpopular in some crowds before the data
is even evaluated by them. However, it brings up some interesting questions.
The first and foremost of which, I think, is the question of whether the
zoological/behavioral ecological concept of "phenotypic quality" can be
applied to humans. (Please: I do not wish for this to go political... I
am *not* talking about guaranteed political equality when I suggest
individual differences in physical quality.)

It's been suggested to me before that like differences in
immunogenetics between the races or between cultures in different
ecological settings, it is illegitimate to "judge" differences between
individuals on an objective basis. Yet, biologists do just this all the
time, when (for instance) they study the different degrees of
developmental integrity of organisms by measuring their bilateral

With humans, in our lab, we have noted that symmetry in the face
correlates significantly with: higher attractiveness ratings (which have
recently been shown to be cross-culturally consistent, counter
anthropological dogma), higher spatial IQ, and higher aggressiveness levels
by males. It would appear, then, that subtle developmental differences
between individuals play a role in varied parts of our lives. If these
findings were of baboons or field crickets (similar findings have
actually been found in many other taxa), we'd be discussing "phenotypic
quality" without hesitation. Yet, I find a lot of wincing when I discuss
human phenotypic quality with others.

Although sometimes painful, or annoying, I've found that throwing ideas
out on the internet is a great way to get diverse ideas, other
perspectives, etc.