Saturday, August 16, 2008

Science Vocab: Sexual Selection

Sexual Selection is the umbrella term for all of those natural forces that influence and shape animal sexual and reproductive habits and outcomes. It is a sub-set of natural selection that deals with one and only theme – SEX. Biologically speaking, you’re only a winner if you successfully reproduce and the one who leaves the most number of healthy and viable offspring.

The truth is there is much similarity between human social behavior and that of our other animal kingdom cousins. This seems especially true when I think about mating behaviors (courtship, sex, and relationship habits). I have read several papers on the subject of sexual selections and thought to myself … “Dang, that sounds an awful lot like the relationship games people play.” And what’s more, you probably know (and act out) a lot more about sexual selection than you ever realized.

Related terms: Intra-sexual Selection and Inter-sexual Selection

Intra means within, in this case the competition of members of the same-sex to get the attentions and affections of an opposite sex mate. Typically, males of the species are the focus of scientific studies of intra-sexual selection. Think back to your science lessons or National Geographic Specials…..
Two male rams, broad and large in size, with impressive horns on their heads are stalking and sizing each other up, then they bolt in a run and Clash! Bump heads with one another. It continues until a winner is determined. The prize: the chance to mate with the female goats and sire the offspring of next season. But there is also female-female competition, but it usually less dramatic.

Inter means between, in this case how the sexes choose one another. In the case of our National Geographic rams, the female goats can decide they like the winner or the loser of the battle or some other male altogether.

So what about us…
Imagine the scene… A night club, music is hot the dance floor is crowded, lots of lovely people in the house. A group of guys are hanging out together and they spot a group of girlfriends kicking it too. Assuming everyone is available for dating here’s what’s happening….

Intra-sexual Selection: The guys, though friends, are all trying to figure out which one of them will probably step up first and what type of game he’ll put down. And these guys are competing with every other guy in the club, too – not just their friends. You’ve got to figure out if it’s worth it and when to step up, check your breath, your wallet, and your rap. The Ladies are doing the same thing and in this case comparing themselves (physically) to every woman in club – adjusting herself, checking makeup, etc. The signals she sends matters and the signals other women send matter. It’s not a big push-and-shove, but it’s a jungle out there.
Basically each person is competing, whether directly or indirectly with every other person in the club of the same sex. Basically, everyone is hoping to get noticed or make eye-contact, share a glance and a conversation that might lead to more.

Inter-sexual Selection:
After all of the posing and posturing and adjusting you finally step to that guy or girl. You chose them, but will they choose you…or ask about your friend? That’s inter-sexual selection.

From now on, I’ll routinely share more science info about Sexual Selection and related vocabulary.

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