common among your classmates and friends at Duke? A Dukie couple would perhaps
enjoy a stroll down the lanes of Sarah Duke Gardens, followed by a peaceful dinner for two at the Marketplace and even a romantic
movie at the Bryan Center. Although many of you may have already gone on a date
or two while others are hoping to do so in the near future, only few lovers have considered why they feel so attracted to
their dates. In fact, academics are seeking to answer the problem of whether
the feeling of sexual attraction is innate, or is learned instead.
currently a major debate over the question of sexual attraction being innate or learned, and the scientists have split into
two sides; one supports the existence of a set of genes that causes sexual attraction, and the other denies the existence
of such genes. Although neither side has presented any decisive evidence, Dr.
Stefano Ghirlanda at the Zoology Institution of Stockholm University appears to be close to finding an answer in this debate.
research team focused on disproving the popular inheritance theory known as the mate-quality
hypothesis, which supports the existence of genes that arouse feelings of attraction.
There is currently a significant public bias towards the mate-quality hypothesis
due to influence from soap operas, movies, and novels that tie together the themes of love, fate, and destiny. Phrases in these stories such as, “I was born to love you” popularize the mate-quality hypothesis;
this popularity subsequently leads the public to favor the inheritance model. Dr.
Ghirlanda is thus attempting to break the public’s conception by hypothesizing that the feeling of attraction is instead
learned through one’s lifetime experiences, rather than inherited (Ghirlanda, 2003).
In order to support their hypothesis, Ghirlanda’s team trained chickens to distinguish human faces of the opposite
sex, and made the chickens identify human faces that a polled sample of college students also perceived as attractive. Based on their results, Ghirlanda’s team published the report, “Chickens
prefer beautiful humans”, which argues that chickens’ abilities to also identify attractive human faces would
weaken the mate-quality hypothesis. Furthermore,
the team also noted that their experiment can be refined to eventually solve the debated question. From Ghirlanda’s findings, we find a fallacy in the popular belief of associating destiny or fate
team conducted their chicken experiment as follows: they first noted that the
mate-quality genes in humans are unlikely to exist in chickens because chickens
have a significantly different genetic makeup from humans (U.S. Chicken Genome Proj., 2003). If
chickens of both sexes are able to give a similar trend in the preference of human faces of opposite sex, then the result
strengthens the possibility that attractiveness is more likely to be learned than inherited in the genes. Cocks were trained to peck the screen with a digitally averaged
human female face that was created by merging facial traits such as size and shape of eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth of thirty-five
females, and hens were trained to peck a digitally averaged male face composed
in a similar fashion. After training the chickens, the team prepared a sample
of seven faces created by morphing the average male and the female faces in different ratios.
They tested the pecking by each chicken on each face under a controlled and time-limited environment. The same sample was then presented to university students, who were asked to rate each face in a scale
according to how desirable would it be to go on a date with the portrayed person. As
a result, the trend in pecks between the chickens and the scores given by the university students were very similar. Both male and female chickens pecked each photo at the same frequency as the distribution
of points in the student survey. This result suggests a correlation in the chicken
and human’s recognition of facial features to distinguish details of the opposite sex in humans.
From their findings, the team explains that humans would “behave [and develop feelings of attraction] the same
way with or without the [genetic] adaptation suggested in the mate-quality hypothesis.”
This result shows that genetics had little or no impact in explaining chickens being attracted to certain faces; thus
weakens the mate-quality hypothesis. Ghirlanda’s
team also suggests that a further refinement of the experiment can give an answer to the currently debated question. They argue that by using a larger set of face images and more animals, their theory
is strengthened if a “closer approximation of human experience [can be yielded by] animals”.
On the other hand, if “differences between humans and animals will emerge…
…the mate-quality hypothesis will receive support”. An experiment
that uses a greater variety of animals and photographs of human faces would yield a more definitive answer to whether sexual
attraction is innate or learned.
results presented by Ghirlanda’s team strengthens the possibility that feeling sexually attracted to others is not an
innate property, but is instead learned through one’s experiences. Also,
Ghirlanda’s evidence can be used to further explore the historical motivation behind human cultures to develop “facial
attributes such as earring and haircuts” (Enquist, 2003). While this study
is preliminary, it may eventually explain why many Dukies, both male and female, are reputed to invest significant amount
of time and money to improve their looks. (Mokari, 2003)
So the next
time you go out on a date and wonder why you are so attracted to your partner, keep in mind that the feeling is probably not
caused by your genes. Your date’s wooing call of “I was destined
to love you,” may sound pleasing, but is probably just an imitation of a scene from some soap opera. If you believe that your inherited attractiveness would someday
save you from a date gone sour, you may as well be mistaken: such gene might not even exist.
Ghirlanda, S., Jannson, L., & Enquist,
M. 2003. Chickens prefer beautiful humans.
Human nature, 13(3): 383-389.
U.S. Poultry Genome Project. 2003.
Retrieved February 13, 2004, from http://poultry.mph.msu.edu/resources/Conmap/Chromosomesmain.htm
Enquist, M., Ghirlanda, S., Lundqvist,
D., & Wachtmeister, C. 2003. An
ethological theory of
attractiveness. In G. Rhodes & L. Zebrowitz (Ed.), Advances in Visual Cognition, Volume 1:
Facial Attractiveness (pp. 1-20). Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing Ltd.
B., & Kliewer, W. 1998. Dating, parent-adolescent conflict, and behavioral autonomy.
Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 27(4): 473-492.
Mokari, A. 2003.
Youth culture held hostage by superficiality. The Chronicle.
Retrieved March 3, 2004,
from The Chronicle Online Archives.