Prolonged Eye Contact and Attraction: What The Science Tells Us

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Belladonna means “beautiful woman” in Italian, but it’s also the name of a type of plant. The origins of the term belladonna are uncertain, but date back to at least 1554.

It’s been suggested (and this is my favorite theory) that the name might be related to belladonna’s use as a cosmetic. Women would consume the plant in order to dilate their pupils, in an attempt to enhance beauty.

The only problem? Belladonna (sometimes called nightshade) is poisonous.

Richard Pultney’s 1757 paper, “A brief botanical and medical history of the Solanum Lethale, Bella-donna, or Deadly Nightshade,” recounts this tale:

Its relaxing quality is very surprising, as appears by that memorable case… of a lady’s applying a leaf of it to a little ulcer, suspected to be of the cancerous kind, a little below her eye, which rendered the pupil so paralytic, that it lost all its motion for some time afterward: and that this event was really owing to that application, appears from the experiment’s being repeated with the same effect three times.

belladonna-in-eyeBut they were really onto something! This is the craziest part of the whole thing. (Suffering for fashion is passé.) Hess (1965) took two pictures of the same woman and presented it to male subjects and asked them to describe the woman
in the picture. The researchers altered the photos so that one had slightly larger pupils. By and large, the male subjects preferred the woman with the larger pupils.

Try it:


(The one on the bottom is the one that you’re supposed to find more attractive, although I’ve just terrifically biased you by telling you that.)

This has since been replicated at least five times.

Let’s just take a minute and reflect on this. Women in 16th century Italy anticipated the findings of modern scientific research by about 400 years. They not only discovered that belladonna reliably increases pupil size, but they also noticed that men were attracted to that.

I propose a hypothesis similar to the efficient markets hypothesis. We’ll call it the efficient beauty hypothesis: if a beauty-increasing cosmetic intervention exists, some enterprising individual somewhere will discover it.

You might wonder, then: are women interested in men with large pupils? Tombs and Silverman’s 2004 paper, “Pupillometry: A sexual selection approach” tried to answer this question. The paper includes this graph:

The realtionship between prolonged eye contact and attraction.

The relationship between prolonged eye contact and attraction.

You’ll notice that women find average pupil sizes (on men) the most attractive, while men subscribe to the Texan, bigger-is-better philosophy. The authors additionally report that, “Further investigation revealed that females attracted by large pupils also reported preferences for proverbial bad boys as dating partners.”

At this point, you might wonder why men find large pupils attractive. And, of course, evolution has good reason for that, as confirmed by a 2007 study:

We found an increase in mean pupil diameter for sexually significant stimuli during the fertile phase and this pupillary change was also specific to pictures of the participants’ actual sexual partners. Moreover, this effect was only seen for women who did not use oral contraceptives. These findings confirm that women’s attention for sexually significant stimuli is higher during their fertile phase of the menstrual cycle, and that changes in sexual interest are implicitly measurable using pupillometry.

Or, in plain English, fertile women tend to have larger pupils.


In Elana Clift’s Honors thesis, “Picking Up and Acting Out: Politics of Masculinity in the Seduction Community,” she argues that the “pick up artist” movement is the result of the lack of available dating scripts for young men. Back in, say, Victorian England, everyone knew how this whole relationship thing worked. Today, we’re all horribly confused.

I was sorta convinced by that for a while, and I think that explains some of it, but now I’m plagued by doubt. Lots of pick-up strikes me as actively toxic. I mean, yeah, especially to women — there are a disproportionate amount of vocal misogynists associated with the “manosphere” generally, but I mean to men, too: Pick-up is an advertiser’s wet dream. Nothing sells better than insecurity, and what more poignant insecurity than masculine identity and status anxiety about attractiveness? (Whenever you hear the phrase “real” men, ask what they’re selling.)

Of course, my concerns here are hardly limited to men, although I’m more familiar with the struggles of young men everywhere. Cosmopolitan magazine is the female-equivalent of pick-up, telling young women that they need to fit into some sort of mold in order to attract a guy — that they shouldn’t answer the phone on the first ring or whatever — and I’m sure lots more nonsense which isn’t even on my radar, but probably ought to be.

Which brings me to the topic at hand: eye contact. These unsavory actors sell prolonged eye contact as some sort of panacea. An actual example I found with 10 seconds of googling: “Master These Eye Contact Techniques To Create Powerful Attraction,” complete with tips that the author promised “will blow my mind.” (Hint: they didn’t.) Another blog targeted at “Helping men reclaim their masculinity and their relationships,” (gag) includes this gem: “…strong eye contact is difficult to maintain if you do not have the confidence to back it up (thus making it an honest signal).”

Yeah, right. Because if you don’t maintain strong eye contact, it’s because you lack confidence, and definitely not because you haven’t yet mastered the serial killer’s thousand yard stare.

Frankly, this all smacks of the purest bullshit. Evolution has spent billions of years and computational cycles optimizing male-female relations. If maintaining eye contact with your crush is so effective, why don’t people just do it naturally? Could advising people to maintain strong eye contact be harmful? Maybe unnaturally strong eye contact just comes off as creepy.

I decided to find out.

The Evidence on Prolonged Eye Contact

An interlude during which the author does a lot of research.

My (somewhat begrudging) subjective feeling after reading through 5 or 6 relevant papers is that, yes, the pick-up artists are right, the majority of men ought to be making more eye contact. The case for women is less clear. As far as I can tell, too much eye contact is always better than too little, and eye contact combined with a smile is difficult to get wrong.

My neat evolution-has-optimized-eye-contact argument has at least one damning flaw: children learn the association between eye contact and liking. It’s not innate.

The association between gaze and liking appears to be learned. Children do not use eye contact to judge affiliation and friendship until about age 6 (Abramovitch & Daly, 1978; Post & Hetherington, 1974).

Now, is there such thing as too much gaze? Yes. Moderate gaze is better than constant gaze:

Gaze also influences people’s liking for each other, with moderate amounts of gaze generally preferred over constant or no gaze (Argyle, Lefebvre, & Cook, 1974; Exline, 1971).

Bu-u-u-ut constant eye contact is still better than no eye contact:

British college students rated a same-sex peer they met in an experiment as more pleasant and less nervous when the person gazed at them continuously rather than not at all (Cook & Smith. 1975).

Compare that with a mock interview study, which had students either exhibit low, natural, or high gaze. Notably, researchers defined high gaze here as near-constant eye contact. They found no difference in likability between normal and high gaze:

High-levels of gaze do not differ from normative gaze patterns in earning more favorable endorsements for hiring from an interviewer, in conferring greater credibility, in increasing attraction and in receiving favorable relational communication interpretations.

Indeed, there were even some benefits to near-constant gaze. Interviewers labeled near-constant gazers (not to be confused with goats) as more attractive, more intimate, and more dominate than those who displayed normal levels of eye contact. So, again, more evidence that too much eye-contact is way better than too little.

Those who make lots of eye contact are even judged to be more intelligent (!):

Wheeler, Baron, Michell, and Ginsburg (1979) reported a positive correlation between an interviewee’s eye contact with an interviewer and estimates made by observers of the interviewee’s intelligence.

And it’s not even confined to those you look at. If someone sees you making a lot of eye contact with someone, they’ll like you more than if you didn’t:

The positive feelings associated with gaze generalize to observers, who favor people when they gaze at moderate rather than low levels while approaching others (Gary. 1978a) or in social interactions (Abele, 1981; Shrout & Fiske, 1981).

Of course, people like it most of all when you look at them, which a 2005 study, “The look of love: gaze shifts and person perception,” verified.

Ratings of likability were elevated when social attention was directed toward rather than away from the raters.

In the same study, men rated women who paid attention to them not only as more likable, but more attractive, too:

Whereas gaze cues elevated ratings of likability among both male and female participants, only the men displayed gaze-related effects on person evaluation when the physical attractiveness of the targets was assessed.

Here’s another belief I held that turns out to be wrong. I’ve observed that people look at the speaker while listening, and look away while speaking. But this turns out to be totally okay to violate (surprise!) and you can stare all the time if you want (or, at least, high status people do it):

Equivalent amounts of gazing while speaking and listening were found with research participants who were given high status or who were discussing issues on which they had expertise (Ellyson, Dovidio, & Corson, 1981; Ellyson, Dovidio, Corson. & Vinicur. 1980).

And more eye contact makes you more powerful:

Dovidio and Ellyson (1982) reported that high gazing-while-speaking ratios were directly related to ratings of power in an interaction.

Want to make friends? Have you tried staring at people?

College women gazed more at a female confederate when they were trying to make friends (Pellegrini, Hicks, & Gordon, 1970), and college men gazed more at a woman when they wanted to interest her in a social conversation (Lefebvre, 1975).

It even holds for imaginary friends!

Mehrabian (I968a, 1968b) reported that research participants gazed more when they approached an imaginary person they liked rather than disliked.

And real ones, too:

Russo (1975) reported greater amounts of eye contact between elementary school children who were friends rather than nonfriends.

What does eye contact mean, though?

While doing keyword research for this, I noticed that a lot of men and women are confused about what prolonged eye contact means. Does it indicate sexual interest? Well, it definitely can!:

Participants in a study by Griffitt, May, and Veitch (1974) gazed more at opposite-sex peers when they had previously been exposed to sexually arousing slides.

It might even imply that you’re smokin’ hot (and trust me, gentle reader, you totally are):

Coutts and Schneider (1975) reported positive correlations between gaze directed by research participants toward opposite-sex peers and experimenter ratings of the peers’ physical attractiveness.

But not always. People will look at you more even if you’re just plain nice to them:

People gazed more after receiving positive evaluations (Coutts, Schneider, & Montgomery, 1980; Exline & Winters, 1965; Walsh et al., 1977) or warm nonverbal responses (Ho & Mitchell, 1982).

Is eye contact ever bad?

Even if you’re hitchhiking, more eye contact is better:

Drivers were more likely to stop for gazing hitchhikers (M. Snyder, Grether, & Keller. 1974), pedestrians were more likely to help a gazing experimenter pick up dropped coins (Valentine, 1980) and dropped questionnaires (Goldman & Fordyce, 1983), and bystanders were more likely to help an injured gazing jogger (Shetland & Johnson, 1978).

Or when you’re buying cereal, according to the 2014 study, “Why Is Cap’n Crunch Looking Down at My Child?”:

We showed that eye contact with cereal spokes-characters increased feelings of trust and connection to the brand, as well as choice of the brand over competitors

Now, you might wonder: are there ever times where you shouldn’t make so much eye contact? Well, when waiting for a green light:

Ellsworth et al., (1972) and Greenbaum and Rosenfeld (1978) had experimenters stand on street corners and gaze constantly or not at all at pedestrians and motorists who were waiting for a red light. When the light changed to green, pedestrians and drivers crossed the intersection significantly faster when they had received constant gaze from the experimenter.

But just dress nice and you’re okay:

For example, pedestrians did not cross the street as fast to escape a staring experimenter when the experimenter was dressed and made up to be physically attractive (Kmiecik, Mausar, & Banziger, 1979)

Or add a smile:

People were also less likely to avoid a staring experimenter when the experimenter smiled (Elman, Schulte. & Bukoff. 1977).

Sex Differences

It turns out, though, that there are sex differences. Women (on average) respond positively to lots of eye contact, while men prefer less. For instance, if you want a female friend to reveal all her secrets, eye contact is good:

Female speakers disclosed more personal information about themselves to listeners who gazed. Female speakers also liked gazing listeners more than nongazing listeners. (Ellsworth and Ross 1975)

For men, though, the opposite is true:

Male speakers, in contrast, disclosed more and felt greater liking when the listener did not gaze.

A similar phenomenon holds with asking for help when picking up coins:

For example, women gave more help in picking up dropped coins to a female experimenter who gazed at them (Valentine & Ehrlichman, 1979). Men gave more help to a male experimenter who did not gaze at them.

Women even like it when they’re told that a man looked at them an unusually high amount:

Kleinke et al. (1973) introduced college men and women in pairs and left them in a room to get acquainted. After their conversation, an experimenter told participants that one person (whose gaze was supposedly recorded through a one-way mirror) had gazed at the other person an unusually high, an average, or an unusually low amount of the time. Women were most favorable toward men whose gaze had ostensibly been high.

But not men:

Men’s reactions were exactly opposite. Men were most favorable toward women when they were told the woman’s gaze or their own gaze had been low.

I wonder if this is just male insecurity? If I was told some chick had been staring at me, I might wonder, “Is there something wrong with my hair? Has one of my legs grown two legs and walked off of its own volition?”

Does eye contact cause love?

To see is to devour.
—Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Finally, though, what you really want to know: if I maintain eye contact with my crush, will they fall madly and deeply in love with me? Well, sorta. If you convince someone to maintain eye contact with you for ~2 minutes, they’ll (on average) be more attracted to you. The experimenters in this study told their subjects to maintain eye contact in order to “tune their extra-sensory abilities” and, afterwards, they rated their partners as significantly more attractive than controls. Hey, worth a shot, right?

Actually, it turns out, just tricking your crush into thinking they look at you a lot is enough. (“Hey, Maria, why do you keep looking at me? Is it because you’re in lo-o-o-ove with me?”)

In one of these, Kleinke, Bustos, Meeker, and Staneski (1973) did not actually induce their subjects to gaze at their partners. Instead the subjects were told that they had done so. This produced modest increases in attraction for the partner.

Further Reading

  • If you want to settle down with a book on relationships, the best scientific overview I’ve read is the Handbook of Relationship Initiation. For lighter fare, The Moral Animal is pretty entertaining.
  • If you liked this, you’ll love the Social Issues Research Centre’s “Guide to Flirting.”
  • If you want to dive into the original sources for yourself (or look up references), start with “Gaze and eye contact: a research review,” which is where the bulk of this information came from. (Where it didn’t, I’ve indicated in the text.)
  • One of the most useful bits of research to come out of the study of human relationships is the notion of the “mere exposure effect” which suggests that the more you see someone (or something), the more you’ll come to like them.

Who initiates divorce the most? Men or women?

Pop quiz. Who initiates divorces and break-ups? Men or women?

The answer is women. Women are more likely than men to initiate a break-up.

First, men are less likely than women to initiate break-ups (Hegelson, 1994; Hill, Rubin, and Peplau, 1976), and noninitiators of a break-up are more likely than initiators to experience distress (Sprecher, Felmlee, Metts, Fehr, & Vanni, 1998).
Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology, Volume 2 (pg. 297)

But what’s the effect size, I can hear you shout. I don’t know because both papers are paywalled.

Which sex suffers more from a breakup? Men or women?

Exploratory data analyses revealed that women more than men reported experiencing negative emotions after a breakup, particularly feeling sad, confused, and scared.
Breaking up Romantic Relationships: Costs Experienced and Coping Strategies Deployed

But not so fast! From the same paper:

Previous research using various inventories of emotions suggests that women experience more positive valence emotions and less initial distress following a breakup than men (Choo, Levine, and Hatfield, 1996; Hill et al., 1976; Sprecher, 1994; Sprecher et al., 1998).

If I want to abuse the evo-psych habit of fabricating just-so stories, I can reason:

  • Women suffer more because it’s harder for them to find a committed man than vice versa.
  • Men suffer more during a break-up to signal emotional involvement plus commitment which, ideally, halts the process. (“All this pain proves I love you! Don’t leave me.”) Thus their distress is greater and it’s all part of evolution’s depraved plan.

Symmetrical to that second point, I’d expect women to escalate sexual commitment if their long-term partner starts sending I’m-thinking-about-leaving-you vibrations.

Buss anticipates my second point and writes:

Because women value emotional commitment so highly in their mates, men may deploy a counter-strategy to exploit this desire: he may attempt to maintain sexual access to a woman by signaling an increase in his emotional investment to her. In the modern world, men can accomplish this by suggesting they become exclusive to one another, cohabit, obtain a mutual pet, get married, or have children.

How romantic! Thanks evolution.

Right, but as I was going to say — before being distracted by Buss and Perilloux’s paper — this first result makes a lot of sense if you already know that women initiate 70% of all divorces. So it’s nice to see that this trend isn’t some strange artifact of marriage and holds for romantic relationships generally.

Last fun thing. If you dump a woman, yeah, she’s gon’ be mad:

Davis et al. (2003) found that women who did not initiate the break-up reported more anger, hostility, and violence directed at their partner than did men.
Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology, Volume 2 (pg. 297)

The Secretary Problem Explained: Dating Mathematically


I was, to put it mildly, something of a mess after my last relationship imploded. I wrote poems and love letters and responded to all of her text messages with two messages and all sorts of other things that make me cringe now and oh god what was I thinking.

I learned a few things, though, like when you tell strangers that your long-term relationship has just been bulldozed as thoroughly as the Romans salted Carthage, they do this sorta Vulcan mind-meld and become super empathy machines. Even older folk, who usually treat me not exactly as a non-person but something sorta like it. At the time, I had this gruff, Russian psychiatrist I’d see once a month, and he was all like, “Been there, man. Have some Diazepam and relax.” — except, you know, he said it in Russian-accented doctorspeak.

This was surprising to me then but isn’t now. Live long enough and you’ll have your heart thrashed about a fair bit, along with the rest of you. Mention heartbreak and everyone has their own private story — maybe more than one. It’s not Vietnam. They’ve been there and they understand.

I sometimes wonder — if I could go back in time, what could I say to comfort my former self? What can you say to someone that will pull them out of the throes of hormone-induced suffering? Probably nothing. The remarkable thing about words is not that they sometimes move people, but that they so seldom do.

Still, I think I’d say something like, “My boy, evolution is a motherfucker and you need a new woman in your life.” He would probably protest that women were the problem and that he’s pretty sure the last thing he needs is another one. Then, I would let out the most condescending sigh imaginable, the sort of sigh that says I-have-unimaginable-wisdom-born-of-experience-and-am-from-the-future, and say, “Not that sort of woman. You need the Queen. You need mathematics –”

“Let me tell you about the secretary problem.”

The Secretary Problem

Consider the plight of John. John’s 25. He lives in Utah and likes country music, hunting, and four wheelers. You probably see where I’m going with this. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. John is gay.

The recent supreme court decision overturning gay marriage in Utah has him thinking. He’d like to settle down one day — maybe adopt a child with the right man. He has a couple short-term relationships going on right now, but married to Bruce or Sidney? No way.

How can he guarantee that he snags, if not Mr. Right, at least Mr. Close Enough? He figures he ought to date at least a few different men, and then… what?

Imagine he meets this guy, Jim. They make out at a party, hang out a few times, and realize that they’re kinda already dating, and decide to label it by making it Facebook official. Things progress. John asks Jim to move in with him.

Then there’s a snag. Valentine’s Day rolls around, and John finds himself, at the last minute, at Walmart, looking to pick up some chocolate and cheap Champagne, wondering, “Is this really what love feels like?”

What should John do in such a situation? Should he next Jim and take his chances on the dating market? Or should he settle and settle down?

John’s predicament is an example of the secretary problem — so named because we can imagine the same situation, except instead of a man searching for a husband, it’s a man interviewing potential secretaries. When is the candidate good enough? What’s the stopping criteria?

Formalizing the Secretary Problem

We can abstract away the specifics of John’s plight and formalize the problem. Let’s consider each man that John dates as an integer — the integer representing his “husbandness factor.” Thus, a sequence of lovers like \((Sidney, Bruce, Jim, Todd, Keith, Bruno, Terrence, Cecil, Nigel)\) would translate to the integer sequence \((1, 3, 7, 5, 8, 3, 1, 9, 4)\).

This problem would be trivial — just pick the max element — if it weren’t for two properties.

  1. There’s no look-ahead. When I’m dating any one person, I’m unable to look forward into the future and consider who I’ll date in the future. I have no crystal ball.
  2. There’s no undo. If I date a great girl for a while, but leave her in a misguided attempt to find someone better, there’s a good chance she’ll be unavailable in the future, married to some douche named Trevor who played lacrosse in high school.

We can think of it visually as a machine which is fed a tape of integers. It has two actions: it can either stop or it can consider the next integer. The machine’s objective is to stop on the highest integer.


Real World Examples of the Secretary Problem

At the heart of the secretary problem is conflict. Do I reject the current possibility in hopes of landing something better if I keep looking, or do I stick with what I have?

Examples of the secretary problem:

  • This is the case with dating. I could commit to the woman I’m with right now or I could start texting her best friend.
  • It applies to hiring not just secretaries, but anyone. Is the current candidate the right person for the job or should I hold out for someone better? What if no one comes along?
  • When buying a house — should I put an offer on some house, or should I hope that something better comes along in the future? How many houses ought I look at before deciding?
  • The opposite side of the interviewing problem: should I accept this job offer or should I keep looking?
  • Alligator hunting, at least in Louisiana. Each year, you’re allotted a set number of tags based on the size of your property — that’s the amount of alligators you’re allowed to “harvest” under the law. When you stumble across an alligator, you’re forced to decide: should I kill this one or save my tag and hope a bigger one comes along?
  • When selling a house or a car or, well, any big ticket item. When presented with an offer, you’re forced to decide: should I accept this offer or hope something better comes along?
  • Deciding whether or not to buy something at the supermarket. Is this bread cheap enough or should I hope for a sale next week? The same goes for clothing and, well, anything.

Solving the Secretary Problem

The following contains the formal details for solving the secretary problem analytically. It can safely be skimmed.

As a general problem solving strategy, I often find it useful to first come up with a horrible solution to a problem and then iterate from there. I call this the dumbest-thing-that-could-work heuristic.

In the case of the secretary problem, our horrible solution can be the lucky number seven rule: In an integer sequence, always choose the 7th item.

If we follow this rule, we’re essentially picking an integer at random. The probability, then, of picking the best element from an integer sequence of length \(N\) with this rule is \(\frac{1}{N}\).

To beat this, let’s consider how people go about solving secretary problems in the real world. I don’t know anyone who’s dating strategy is, “I’m going to date seven women and pick the seventh one — no matter what.” One would have to be a staunch nihilist to adopt such a strategy.

Instead, the strategy most adults adopt — insofar as they consciously adopt a strategy — is to date around for a while, gain some experience, figure out one’s options, and then choose the next best thing that comes around.

In terms of the secretary problem, such a strategy would be: Scan through the first \( r \) integers and then choose the first option that is greater than any of the integers in \( [1,r] \).


How does this new strategy compare to our old one? The above image is a prop to help understand the discussion that follows. Assume that \(i\), the greatest integer, occurs at \(n + 1\).

In order for this strategy to return the maximum integer, two conditions must hold:

  1. The maximum integer cannot be contained in \([1,r]\). Our strategy is to scan through \([1,r]\), so if the solution is in \([1,r]\), we necessarily
    lose. This can also be stated as \(n \geq r\).
  2. Our strategy is going to select the first integer, \( i \),  in \([r,N]\) that’s greater than \(max([1,r])\). Given this, there cannot be any integers greater than \(i\) that come after \(i\), otherwise the strategy will lose. Alternatively put, the condition \(max([1,r]) == max([1,n])\) must be true.

Thus, to calculate the effectiveness of our strategy, we need to know the
probability that both of these will hold. For some given \(n\), this is:

$$ \frac{r}{n}\frac{1}{N} $$

\(\frac{1}{N}\) is the probability that \(i\) occurs at \(n + 1\) (remember, this is the probability for some n, not the n), while \(\frac{r}{n}\) is a consequence of the second condition — the probability that the condition \(max([1,r]) == max([1,n])\) is true.

To calculate the probability for some \(r\), \(P(r)\), not for arbitrary \(n\), but for everything, we need to sum over \(n \geq r\):

$$ P(r) = \frac{1}{N}(\frac{r}{r}+\frac{r}{r+1}+\frac{r}{r+2}+…+\frac{r}{N-1}) = \frac{r}{N}\sum_{n=r}^{N-1}\frac{1}{n} $$

This is a Riemann approximation of an integral so we can rewrite it. By letting \(\lim_{N \rightarrow \infty}\frac{r}{N} = x\) and \(\lim_{N \rightarrow \infty}\frac{n}{N} = t\), we get:

$$ P(r) = \lim_{N \rightarrow \infty}\frac{r}{N}\sum_{n=r}^{N-1}\frac{N}{n}\frac{1}{N}=x\int_{x}^{1}\frac{1}{t}dt=-x \ln x $$

Now, we can find the optimal \(r\) by solving for \(P'(r) = 0\). By plugging \(r_{optimal}\) back into \(P(r)\), we will find the probability of success.

$$ P'(r) = -\ln x – 1 = 0 \Rightarrow x = \frac{1}{e} $$
$$ P(\frac{1}{e}) = \frac{1}{e} \approx .37 $$

What The Math Says

How can this math help John? Well, the optimal solution is for him to estimate how many people he believes he might reasonably date in the future, say \(20\). We plug this into the equation \(\frac{N}{e}\), where \(N=20\), \(\frac{20}{e} \approx 7\).

This result says that, if John wants to maximize his probability of ending up with the best possible man, he should date 7 men and, then, marry the next man who is better than all of those men.

However, we have sneaked some probably untenable assumptions into our analysis. The typical secretary problem maximizes the chances of landing the best man, and considers all other outcomes equally bad. Most on the dating market are not thinking this way — they want to maximize the probability that they end up with a pretty good spouse. It’s not all or nothing.

Maximizing the Probability of a Good Outcome

Fear not, there’s a modification of the secretary problem that maximizes the probability of finding a high-value husband or wife. I’m not going to cover the derivation for this flavor of the secretary problem in this post. (For technical details, see Bearden 2005), but suffice it to say, the strategy is the same except we use a cutoff of \(\sqrt{N}\) rather than \(\frac{N}{e}\).

Consider dating for the average American. Assuming one wants to settle down by the age of 35, one has the opportunity for somewhere between 7 and 30 sorta serious relationships. Taking the geometric mean, we get about 14. Johannes Kepler famously considered 11 women for his second wife, so this is, at the very least, not absurd.

The square root of 14 is about 4. Thus, according to the math, one should have four kinda serious relationships and then marry the next person that comes along who is better than all of those four.

How Human Behavior Compares to the Mathematics

The median number of premarital sexual partners is unclear, with different sources reporting markedly different numbers. I’m inclined to place the number between 1 and 4. Using this number as a rough proxy for the number of kinda serious relationships before marriage, reality conflicts with the results of the secretary problem.

Most people aren’t dating even four other people before marriage. What gives?

At its core, the conflict implies that either the solution to the secretary problem does not apply or that humans are not gathering enough information before getting married.

A number of experimental studies (here, here, here, and here) support the second view. When undergraduates are asked to participate in a secretary problem in its pure form — that is, like the tape discussed in the beginning — they almost always stop searching too early.

One might argue that evolution ought to know what it’s doing — especially when it comes to human mating — and that we should have a strong prior that dating is, in some sense, optimal. Such a view ignores that we’re no longer in small tribes of 50 to 200. Humans did not evolve to deal with modern society and the horror that is dating today. A preference for sugar was adaptive 50,000 years ago, but we have since invented the Twinkie.

Indeed, probably pre-civilized human life didn’t look a whole lot like a secretary problem. Back then, one might have had to choose from a half dozen possible mates — mates one had already known for many years. This looks more like a game of pick the maximal element from a set than a bona fide secretary problem.

What Sort of Optimal?

If I use the results of the secretary problem to find a wife, I will almost certainly end up worse off than a strictly rational agent who pursues the same goal, but probably better than those who have no strategy at all. At the end of the day, the secretary problem is a mathematical abstraction and fails to take into account much of complexity of, you know, reality.

The secretary problem assumes, for instance, that our only means of finding out about the distribution of potential mates and our preferences for them is via dating. This isn’t remotely true. We can observe the actions of others, introspect, read about human mate preferences, discuss our experiences with friends, and otherwise share information.

It’s also not the case that we’re dating men or women at random. There are a huge number of filters that go into deciding whether or not someone is marriage material. Are we of similar ages and interests? Do we speak the same language? Do I feel any attraction for this person?

A theory of optimal dating would need to take this and much more into account. There are a near unlimited number of paths to strategically choosing who to spend the rest of your life with, and a lot of that strategy consists of things other than choosing. You might try getting fit, earning more money, adopting interesting hobbies, honing social skills, meeting lots of the opposite sex, taking voice acting or improv classes, and so on. An optimal theory of dating would, I have no doubt, emphasize some subset of these skills.

All Together Now


  • The secretary problem is the problem of deciding whether or not one should stick with what they have or take their chances on something new.
  • Examples of secretary problems include finding a husband or wife, hiring a secretary, and alligator hunting.
  • The solution to the secretary problem suggests that the optimal dating strategy is to estimate the maximum number of people you’re willing to date, \(N\), and then date \(\sqrt{N}\) people and marry the next person who is better than all of those.
  • In laboratory experiments, people often stop searching too soon when solving secretary problems. This suggests that the average person doesn’t date enough people prior to marriage.
  • At the end of the day, the secretary problem is a mathematical abstraction and there is more to finding the “right” person than dating a certain number of people.

Further Reading

Love Is Not A Choice And Other Tools For Thinking

I’m not much of a romantic. If I wanted to hack romance I’d start with going through all the literature on the mate preferences of chimpanzees, bonobos, and great apes generally. Only after I’d taken in the unfiltered humans-are-big-monkeys view would I turn to something with a more human emphasis. It’d be a few months before I started, you know, dating.

When I do listen to other people speak about passionate love — mostly internet people — it’s surreal. Things like, “Love is always a choice.” What, I wonder, are these people on about? The emotion I would describe as passionate love is not this tame, controlled thing. If love were a mode of transportation, it’d be more like surfing in a hurricane than a leisurely bike ride.

Some Thinking Machinery

Love-as-drug is a cliche. If I told you, with a serious face, that love is like being on drugs and you responded by vomiting all over me, well, I would deserve it. But hang on. Imagine if love were literally a drug — a pill you could take.

Say Pfizer releases a new product tomorrow, Passionil, shaped like a heart, no less. The drug, when consumed, results in the consumer imprinting on and falling in violent love with the next person that they maintain eye contact with. It lasts three to six months. Would you take such a drug?

We can turn all sorts of knobs on this machinery. Maybe the drug comes in different forms: fast-acting, short release, standard release, and extended release. The fast-acting love might last a night, the short release a couple of weeks, and the extended release for a year. Would you take any of these drugs?

What if these drugs prove so popular that Pfizer creates an ever-increasing variety of them: a light edition which provides a gentle buzz — a weak infatuation — the standard strength, and an extra strength version for those who really want to lose their minds.

But maybe the drug frame is too suggestive. We can exchange drugs for a type of tropical island fruit. Maybe it can be brewed like coffee, some cups stronger than other. That sounds more natural and maybe a little more palatable.

All of these scenarios center around something — a drug — fruit — that can be controlled, but love is often not something we intend. We can liken falling in love to catching a cold, or being bit by a love mosquito. How do those scenarios make you feel about love?

What if you think about love as evolution’s way of screaming, “have children, have children!” — not so much the product of our own free will, and more the demands of an alien god. The other side of that coin: falling out of love is evolution’s way of telling you to try your chances with a different mate. Real romantic.

There are still more knobs — reciprocal and unrequited love. We can imagine that the pills don’t last a set amount of time, but instead have a one percent chance of ending each day. If you take the drug with another person, you’re running the risk that one of you will fall out of love much sooner than the other. This would not matter if you could just take another pill, so we can imagine side-effects. Maybe the pill zonks out for a while after use.

Intuition Pumps

What we’ve just done is built what Daniel Dennet calls an intuition pump — or at least gathered the parts for one. These are thought experiments that aid the intuition in grappling with a problem or phenomena. In Dennet’s case, he builds them to deal with the consciousness problem. We built a few to deal with love.

The fun thing about building intuition pumps is that you definitely can try this at home. It’s not too hard to get started. The easiest knob, and one of the most useful, is the more or less knob. Should we have more love or less love? Stronger love or weaker love? And so on.

Try it out. Build some of your own.

Where are the women in the IT industry?

It has become fashionable as of late for media outlets like Gawker and others to attack Silicon Valley, math, computer science, and the hard sciences generally for being unfriendly to women. This does not strike me as much different than the bullying of math and computer nerds during high school, except now we’ve exchanged jocks for journalists, and it’s covered in a not-very-convincing veneer of social justice-y but-we’re-bullying-nerds-because-oppression.

The most convincing challenge to this narrative was written by Scott Alexander in a comment, which was a response to many other specific concerns not likely to appeal to most readers. I’m reproducing the relevant bits here in an attempt to, well, fight obscurity with a little less obscurity.

I worry you’re swallowing a narrative uncritically here. How do we know that computer science has unfriendly discourse? Because we hear lots of stories about the unfriendly discourse in computer science, and we know that there are few women in computer science.

But consider an alternative narrative. In 1920, women weren’t allowed pretty much anywhere except maybe nursing and teaching. There were stereotypes that women would be terrible doctors, terrible lawyers, terrible business people, terrible politicians, terrible mathematicians, terrible philosophers, and all these fields were at least moderately unfriendly to the first women to enter.

But enter they did, and now women are at, near, or above parity in medicine, law, business, politics, and philosophy. Yet for some reason, they didn’t get near parity in math and its later descendant computer science. And so everyone said “Aha! Computer science must have lots of unfriendly stereotypes about women!” And then every single incident of someone making a joke about the word “dongle” was televised to the world, and it was agreed that obviously computer scientists are unfriendly to women, with ample wringing of the “creepy nerd” stereotype for all it’s worth.

We compare this to a field like medicine, which is super-toxic and abusive to everyone, where seniors have pretty much absolute power over younger doctors and the extent to which they abuse it is famous, and which has an extremely tight-knit and masculine culture of working super-long hours all the time and making fun of anyone who complains. And in which 47% of beginning med students are now women, because women are interested in the field and people will totally ignore the odd joke in a field they are interested in.

(The abuse suffered by Jackie Robinson when he entered baseball is legendary, but fifty years later African-Americans were over-represented in baseball at almost twice their rate in the general population. Yet a climate of subtle unconscious sexism is supposed to make women suddenly rush away from computing in droves?)

If women hadn’t flocked to medicine, every incident of someone in medicine making a slightly sexist comment would have gone viral, and it would now be a known fact that medicine “suffers from unfriendly discourse”. Since women in fact flocked to medicine, it was never necessary to deploy that argument.

If you think that computer science is unfriendly to women, you need an explanation of why much more macho fields that are much more subjective and therefore have much stronger ability to discriminate against people they don’t like – medicine, politics, business, law, etc – didn’t develop cultures unfriendly toward women – yet quiet, soft-spoken, pure-abstract-objective-mathematics computer science did.

I’ve never heard such an explanation and it seems much more likely to me that culture-of-unfriendliness-toward-group driving-group-away narrative looms a lot larger in discourse than in reality. This seems broadly consonant with the new research suggesting stereotype threat doesn’t really happen in the real world to any significant degree.

Further Reading

Polya Urn Model Dissolves The Gender War

Now listen, you queer, you stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.
—William Buckley1

I’m not sure whether the two sexes are about to stage World War III over gender issues or if I’m in some sort of gender bubble but, for whatever reason, I’ve been hearing about gender issues daily for the past six or so weeks and, as part of a gender, I have some thoughts on it. These thoughts revolve around the notion of boys clubs and general irritation at the idea that I’m somehow in the wrong for being a manly guy who likes to do manly things, and those manly things happen to be math and computers.

You see, friend, I’m part of a number of male-dominated communities, of boys clubs, and — to my perpetual dismay — I find myself surrounded by discussions where some naive progressive yells something like, “Hey, look at all these men here. It’s all men. Where are the women? Therefore, sexism.” And I’m thinking something like, “Hey, fuck you. I’m not a fucking sexist. Take your agenda elsewhere and let me read about category theory in peace.”

But then I had idea. What if boys clubs are like Polya’s urn? And, if you don’t know what Polya’s urn is, don’t worry, because I’m about to tell you. There’s this urn, right, a big fucking urn, and it’s got two balls in it, like one of those lottery contraptions, a blue one and a red one. Here’s the thing about this urn, though. When you draw a blue ball from it, you have to put two blue balls back in. When you draw a red ball, you put two red balls back in.

Now, the notable thing about this urn is that small changes in initial conditions lead to big changes in the long run. If your first draw is blue, it’s pretty likely that all the subsequent draws will be blue, too.

What if male-dominated sites like, let’s say Reddit, are like this? The Reddit founders were two men, Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman. Given that men are more likely to have male friends, they’re like the balls in Polya’s urn. They’re in the urn, convincing a friend to sign up is like picking a ball out of the urn and throwing two more back in, and Reddit’s current male-dominance is the long-run outcome of this sort of process. Men invite men, therefore men and not sexism. QED.

Hey, look Ma! My model predicts boys clubs without positing sexism anywhere.

Or, you know, there’s the whole compelling narrative that men and women have different preferences, with men more likely to be interested in things, like computers, and women more interested in people. Oh, and hey, before you go screaming “But that’s sexist. Men and women are the same in every way,” here’s some empirical validation with massive effective sizes.

1. A Google search for both “quotes about men” and “quotes about women” return these pages. Both are filled with quotes about how great women are and what brutes men are.

Bad at math? Have you tried steroids?

Men with lower T performed better than other groups on measures of spatial/mathematical ability, tasks at which men normally excel. Women with high T scored higher than low-T women on these same measures.1

Our findings are the first that present the relationship between testosterone and the broad range of general IQ in childhood. The boys of average intelligence had significantly higher testosterone levels than both mentally challenged and intellectually gifted boys, with the latter two groups showing no significant difference between each other.2

Deliberately reducing testosterone levels in men, however, harms cognition, as evidenced by testosterone suppression in those with prostate cancer.3 If anything, the relationship seems to be reversed, with increasing testosterone improving cognition:

Significant improvements in cognition were observed for spatial memory (recall of a walking route), spatial ability (block construction), and verbal memory (recall of a short story) in older men treated with testosterone compared with baseline and the placebo group, although improvements were not evident for all measures.4

But wait! Another study found that boosting test levels among healthy men reduced spatial ability while improving verbal skills.5 One study speculates that the effects of testosterone on cognition are fixed after puberty, in which case, alas, there is still no royal road to geometry.6


1. Gouchie, Catherine, and Doreen Kimura. “The relationship between testosterone levels and cognitive ability patterns.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 16.4 (1991): 323-334.

2. Ostatníková, Daniela, et al. “Intelligence and salivary testosterone levels in prepubertal children.” Neuropsychologia 45.7 (2007): 1378-1385.

3. Green, Heather J., et al. “Altered cognitive function in men treated for prostate cancer with luteinizing hormone‐releasing hormone analogues and cyproterone acetate: a randomized controlled trial.” BJU international 90.4 (2002): 427-432.

4. Cherrier, M. M., et al. “Testosterone supplementation improves spatial and verbal memory in healthy older men.” Neurology 57.1 (2001): 80-88.

5. O’Connor, Daryl B., et al. “Activational effects of testosterone on cognitive function in men.” Neuropsychologia 39.13 (2001): 1385-1394.

6. Hier, Daniel B., and William F. Crowley Jr. “Spatial ability in androgen-deficient men.” New England Journal of Medicine 306.20 (1982): 1202-1205.

Is veganism for women?

I recently tried my hand at making this bean-based, vegan taco filling (recommended), and noticed something curious while reading the recipe’s comments:

I made this for my vegetarian daughter and it was so good I served it to the whole family for dinner.

This stuff is the bomb. Even my carnivore husband loved it!

My daughter is vegan, while the rest of the family isn’t. My husband usually can’t stand non meat recipes, and loved this one!

See the pattern? Men are carnivores, women herbivores. This is from a sample of seven comments. Half of the reviews show this trend. I also have the vague sense that women, generally, are more interested in veganism and are more open to talking about it.

And since we live in the future, I don’t have to speculate. Are women more likely to be vegans? Yes. There seem to be somewhere between two to three woman-vegans for every man-vegan.1

Wherefore art thou vegan?

Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”
—Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

It’s interesting in and of itself that women are more likely to be vegans, but why are women more likely to adopt a vegan lifestyle? What motivates these strange, alien creatures? Fellow men, let us analyze them. Or something.

By the way, we could reframe this question as, “Why are men not vegans?” instead of asking why women are vegans. I suspect that each frame suggests different answers.

You wouldn’t download a steak

The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.
—Peter Singer

Most vegans adopt a vegan lifestyle out of ethical concerns, or at least that’s what they report. Perhaps women are the fairer sex, then, and are more attuned to ethical issues. Or, perhaps women are more attuned to the suffering of animals and, thus, value reducing it more than men do. This would suggest that women have more empathy for animals or, even, more empathy in general than men.

Is there any data to support this? Wikipedia’s page on sex differences suggests that there may be some difference in reported levels of empathy between men and women. Women also tend to score higher on the Big 5 facet of agreeableness,16 which can be thought of as a measure of empathy.

If it were the case that women are more ethically minded, I would expect them to be more likely to be PETA members, veterinarians, more likely to donate to charity, and more likely to volunteer than men. Is this the case?

The lady doth protest too much

I was not designed to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.
—Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

I can’t find any information specific to PETA demographics, but one survey of animal rights activists reported four women for every man,6 and women nearly always outnumber men at animal rights demonstrations.7 The proportion of female to male members of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is higher than 5 to 1.7 Further, women are more opposed to animal research than men, and this effect is robust across nations.8

The majority of women in animal rights activism is not a recent phenomena, but dates back to at least 1875 with the founding of the Victoria Street Society, an early British animal protection agency, now know as the National Anti-Vivisection Society.9 Indeed, Victorian women were drawn more to animal rights than any other cause, except feminism.10

More, most veterinarian students are women and the proportion of professional women vets is on the rise.2 Women are also more likely to donate to charity in general and are more generous when doing so, and they are especially likely to donate to causes supporting animal welfare.3 According to this report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are also more likely to volunteer in general.

What if we just ask people how they feel about the ethics of meat-eating or animal suffering? At least one survey has done so.5 Men were about 20% more likely to indicate that eating meat is morally justifiable, 72.3% for men versus 54.3% for women. Women were also more likely than men to express agreement with the idea that food should be prepared in a way that minimizes animal suffering, 95.1% versus 84.8%.

Men, however, have the dubious distinction of being more likely to actually have sex with animals.7

Is right or left the feminine side?

To succeed in a domain that violates your intuitions, you need to be able to turn them off the way a pilot does when flying through clouds. You need to do what you know intellectually to be right, even though it feels wrong.
Paul Graham

It’s interesting to note that while female philosophers are more likely to specialize in applied ethics, they are less likely to switch on the trolley problem. The trolley problem goes like this: there is a train coming down the tracks and it’s going to hit and kill five people. You are standing next to a lever which, if you pull it, will divert the train. However, the diverted train will kill one person. Should you pull the lever?

Women failing to switch seems counter-intuitive. If women are more ethical, they ought to switch on the trolley problem. However, the trolley problem is notable because it’s a problem where intuition clashes with ethics. You can save more lives by diverting the trolley, but it feels wrong. Is there evidence to suggest that women are more likely to trust their intuitions?

Yes. The Rational-Experiential Inventory measures individual differences in “faith in intuition,” and women generally score higher than men on this subscale.11 Lay theories of the differences between men and women reflect the same sentiment. Women are thought of as “emotional creatures,” while men are thought of as cold and rational (or testosterone-fueled savages). That is: folk psychology posits that women operate on feelings and intuition. Indeed, the main thrust of the phrase “in touch with your feminine side” is about emotion.

We can go further. The MBTI personality scale measures differences (among other things) in the dimension of thinking versus feeling. Thinking types endorse statements like, “I make decisions with my head,” while feeling types endorse choosing with their heart. The T/F split is 60/40 for men, while the ratio is reversed for women.12

The belief in a god, an enduring human soul, and that prayer affects the world around us, are all intuitively appealing. To identify as an atheist suggests that one has discarded these intuitive beliefs. Are men more likely to be atheists? According to the Wikipedia page on atheism demographics, men are more likely to be atheists in the United States and the United
Kingdom. Canadian men are also more likely to be atheists than Canadian women,13 and, in one sample, women held more positive views of Christianity across age groups.14 Men are also more likely to be autistic and those with high-functioning autism are much more likely to identify as atheist.17 There is also more atheism in the natural sciences than the social sciences, which tend to be male dominated,20 although note that there seem to be a disproportionate amount of theists among mathematicians.19

Further, women are more likely to believe in the devil, heaven and hell, creationism, ghosts, communication with the dead, ESP, and astrology. Men, however, win out when it comes to belief in aliens.18

Brain imaging studies further support the notion that utilitarian judgments are characterized by increased activation of regions associated with deliberative processing and conflict resolution,21, 22 while deontological judgments (e.g. murder is always wrong) are characterized by reliance on emotional heuristics.23 It also seems to be the case that those with weaker empathic responses have an easier time with consequentialist reasoning.24, 25 This suggests that women fail the trolley problem specifically because they experience stronger feelings of empathy. Men might outperform women on contrived ethical dilemmas not because they trust their feelings less, but rather because they experience a weaker, easier-to-override empathic response.

Static, dynamic, and sensitive typing

Are women really more sensitive than men?

I’ve already reviewed a fair amount of evidence that suggests this is the case. Women are more likely to volunteer, donate to charity, eat in ways that minimize animal suffering, and so on. This is certainly suggestive of the idea that women are more empathetic than men.

It’s not decisive, though. There could be other reasons why women do all of these things. Maybe women volunteer more because they don’t work as much as men. Maybe women volunteer more because their friends are already volunteering. It could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or maybe women are more likely to say they care about others not because they actually care more, but because they’re more motivated to look good than men are. All possibilities.

One review of sex differences in empathy found that, when study participants are aware that empathy is being measured, women have an
advantage. When studies are more subtle and people are not aware of what is being measured, the gender differences disappear.26 A more rigorous meta-analysis by Ickes et al. replicated this result.27 The gender differences in empathy seem to result from differences in the amount of work men and women put into appearing empathetic. If you pay participants based on how well they perform at an empathy task, gender differences disappear.28

It would seem, then, that differences in male and female empathy can be wholly attributed to differences in self-concept. If we lived in alternative universe where men were seen as gentle and caring and women brutish and insensitive, men would score higher on measures of empathy, even if each sex’s physiology was exactly the same as it is in this universe. Women are more sensitive than men because they try harder at being more sensitive than men.

Final thoughts

Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.
—Rose, The African Queen (1951)

I was going to go on and consider differences in eating disorders, disgust sensitivity, time spent thinking about food, and maybe more, but the evidence seems overwhelming at this point. I’m convinced, anyways, and it seems especially inappropriate to continue beating a dead horse in a post about veganism. Women are more likely to adopt a vegan lifestyle, at least in part, because the average woman is more likely than the average man to self-identify as a kind person and, as such, is more motivated to adopt lifestyle changes in an attempt to reduce animal suffering.


1. “In US, 5% Consider Themselves Vegetarians.”
Also, see this page.

2. Lofstedt,
Jeanne. “Gender and veterinary medicine.”
The Canadian Veterinary Journal 44.7 (2003): 533.

3. Schnepf, Sylke V., and Greg Piper. “Gender Differences in Charitable Giving.” (2008).

3. Klopp, Sheree A., Cynthia J. Heiss, and Heather
S. Smith. “Self-reported vegetarianism may be a marker for college women at risk for disordered eating.”
Journal of the American Dietetic Association 103.6 (2003): 745-747.

4. Hudson, James I., et
al. “The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.”
Biological psychiatry 61.3 (2007): 348-358.

5. Beardsworth, Alan, et al. “Women, men and food: the significance of gender for nutritional attitudes and choices.” British Food Journal 104.7 (2002): 470-491.

6. Plous, Scott. “An attitude survey of animal rights activists.” Psychological Science 2.3 (1991): 194-196.

7. Herzog, Harold A. “Gender differences in humananimal interactions: A review.” Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals 20.1 (2007): 7-21.

8. Hagelin, Joakim, Hans-Erik Carlsson, and Jann Hau. “An overview of surveys on how people view animal experimentation: some factors that may influence the outcome.” Public Understanding of Science 12.1 (2003): 67-81.

9. Elston, Mary Ann. “Women and anti-vivisection in Victorian England,
1870–1900.” Vivisection in historical perspective (1987): 259-294.

10. French, Richard D., and Richard French. Antivivisection and medical science in Victorian society. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975.

11. Riding, Richard J., and Stephen G. Rayner, eds. Cognitive styles. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000.

12. MBTI manual: a guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs type
indicator instrument.
CPP, 2003. See also this page.

13. Veevers, Jean E., and D. F. Cousineau. “The heathen Canadians: demographic
correlates of nonbelief.” Pacific Sociological Review (1980): 199-216.

14. Francis, Leslie J., and Carolyn Wilcox. “Religiosity and femininity: Do women really hold a more positive attitude toward Christianity?.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (1998): 462-469.

15. Feltey, Kathryn M., and Margaret M. Poloma. “From sex differences to gender role beliefs: Exploring effects on six dimensions of religiosity.” Sex Roles 25.3-4 (1991): 181-193.

16. Costa Jr, Paul, Antonio Terracciano, and Robert R. McCrae. “Gender differences in personality traits across cultures: robust and surprising findings.” Journal of personality and social psychology 81.2 (2001): 322.

17. Caldwell-Harris, Catherine, et al. “Religious belief systems of persons with high functioning autism.” Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Boston, MA. 2011.

18. Rice, Tom W. “Believe it or not: Religious and other paranormal beliefs in the United States.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42.1 (2003): 95-106.

19. Larson, Edward J., and Larry Witham. “Leading scientists still reject God.” Nature 394.6691 (1998): 313-313.

20. Rosser, Sue V., and Mark Zachary Taylor. “Why Are We Still Worried about Women in Science?.” Academe 95.3 (2009): 7-10.

22. Greene, Joshua D. The secret joke of Kant’s soul. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

21. Greene, Joshua D., et al. “The neural bases of cognitive conflict and control in moral judgment.” Neuron 44.2 (2004): 389-400.

23. Greene, Joshua D., et al. “An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment.” Science 293.5537 (2001): 2105-2108.

24. Wiech, Katja, et al. “Cold or calculating? Reduced activity in the subgenual cingulate cortex reflects decreased emotional aversion to harming in counterintuitive utilitarian judgment.” Cognition 126.3 (2013): 364-372.

25. Bartels, Daniel M., and David A. Pizarro. “The mismeasure of morals: Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas.” Cognition 121.1 (2011): 154-161.

26. Graham, Tiffany, and William Ickes. “When women’s intuition isn’t greater
than men’s.” (1997).

27. Ickes, William, Paul R. Gesn, and Tiffany Graham. “Gender differences in
empathic accuracy: Differential ability or differential motivation?.” Personal Relationships 7.1 (2000): 95-109.

28. Klein, Kristi JK, and Sara D. Hodges. “Gender differences, motivation, and empathic accuracy: When it pays to understand.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 27.6 (2001): 720-730.

Women Friends are Better Friends

The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.
Christopher Glazek

Women receive prison sentences on average only about half as long as men, and about half of that advantage is due solely to gender bias.1

Hat tip to Scott Alexander.

Men are more likely than women to say that their best friend is their spouse. Four in five women say their best friend is another woman.2

If men do benefit more from marriage, this may be because women serve as better confidants than do men.6

Don’t disclose anything to men. Gotcha.

Well-being of a sample of patients depended on the percentage of women in their networks, providing social support.3

The best predictor of not being lonely is the frequency of interaction with women; time spent with men made no difference.4

Perhaps Sartre should have written, “Hell is other men.”

In several studies (including a Korean sample), women also have shown higher profiles on personal growth relative to men.5

Women smile more often than men.7

For more, check out this essay.


1. Sarnikar, Supriya, Todd Sorensen, and Ronald Oaxaca. “Do you receive a lighter prison sentence because you are a woman? An economic analysis of federal criminal sentencing guidelines.” An Economic Analysis of Federal Criminal Sentencing Guidelines (June 2007). IZA Discussion Paper 2870 (2007).

2. Myers, David G. Pursuit of Happiness. HarperCollins, 1993.

3. Hall, G. Brent, and Geoffrey Nelson. “Social networks, social support, personal empowerment, and the adaptation of psychiatric consumers/survivors: Path analytic models.” Social Science & Medicine 43.12 (1996): 1743-1754.

4. Wheeler, Ladd, Harry Reis, and John B. Nezlek. “Loneliness, social interaction, and sex roles.” Journal of Personality and social Psychology 45.4 (1983): 943.

5. Ryff, Carol D., and Burton Singer. The role of purpose in life and personal growth in positive human health. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 1998.

6. Argyle, Michael, and Maryanne Martin. “The psychological causes of happiness.” Subjective well-being: An interdisciplinary perspective (1991): 77-100.

7. Fox, Kate. “SIRC guide to flirting: What social science can tell you about flirting and how to do it.”