Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies: Exploring the Surprising Science of Pregnancy
Jena Pincott. Free Press, $15 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-4391-8334-2
Science writer Pincott (Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?) began her research when she was pregnant; her daughter was born during the writing process, and she describes the work as “curiosity -driven,” urging readers to flip to the pages that interest them most. As Pincott negotiates her pregnancy, she explores a wide array of subjects expectant parents will find utterly captivating, drawing from studies in evolutionary psychology, biology, social science, neuroscience, reproductive genetics, endocrinology, and largely from research in the field of epigenetics, the influence of environment on the behavior of genes. She examines each phase of her own pregnancy, addressing odor and taste aversions (the “gag list”), vivid dreams, how diet affects a gene’s behavior, and a wealth of other subjects. She delves into how dads react to pregnancy (many put on weight) and makes the remarkable observation that what grandma ate when pregnant way back when may influence the baby’s future health (“I’m eating for two generations,” she quips). While readers will be entertained and fascinated by this text from start to finish, the concluding chapter, “Lessons from the Lab,” offers expectant mothers a valuable summary of practical research-based tips (moderate stress experienced by mom may actually be good for the fetus; eating a chocolate bar a day may improve baby’s temperament). Pincott writes with humor and vibrancy, bringing science to life.
Warm weather isn’t just good for the flowers. Sunny days have been linked to higher stock returns, and touching a warm object can make people more generous. My article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.
A re-post of my interview with David DiSalvo on his fascinating Neuronarrative column at Psychology Today.
Here’s a link to my essay in today’s Wall Street Journal. To attract attention, the WSJ gave it a lightning-rod title: “Why Women Don’t Go For Macho Men.” Men, please stop sending me hate mail! My article — and the study on which it is based — are more nuanced.
(The print edition has the title “The Masculine Mystique,” which inspires an entirely different response.)
Today I’d like to introduce a guest blogger, Duana Welch, Ph.D., author of Love Science, a fabulous relationship advice column that bases its advice in social science research rather than opinion. Check out Duana’s blog at http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/.
Sorry; no pictures. But you really are here for the articles…right? Right?!?
And in that spirit, Wise Readers, here are two notes your cohorts sent regarding pornography and marital happiness—the first from a man, the second from a woman:
“I think that happiness, including sexual, can be satisfied in many ways both with and without influences outside of the marital relationship. Unfortunately, one answer to what the effects of porn are on marital well-being is, “It depends.” There is such a huge dynamic involved. Full disclosure: I have looked at boobies on the Internet. I love my wife and in no way think that those other boobies have changed the way I feel about her.” –Sam
“I am already pretty insecure about my own sexiness quotient, and I think feeling sexy to your mate is key to being able to open up and fulfill both of your sexual and emotional desires. Knowing that my mate needs to fill his thrill with external stimulants does not make me more inclined to open up more — in fact it has the opposite effect. On the other hand, it is probably all in the approach — light porn shared between secure partners might serve to rev the engine. But porn found stashed on the computer or behind t-shirts in the closet is not the best way to ignite my flame. 🙂 Unless it’s the flame behind my eyes…” –Gina
So who’s right? Is porn a mere pastime, a marital peril, or some combination of the two? Certainly, the question is not an idle one; porn outsells all other forms of media combined every year, and the National Research Council reports that in the USA, porn is a bigger money-maker than all pro sports together. Recently, Utah’s residents were reported to be America’s top Internet-porn “end users” (pun intended), with much hoopla ensuing about What It All Means.
Happily for us, for almost 30 years, well-regarded researchers such as Dr. Neil Malamuth and Dr. Ed Donnerstein have studied porn’s effects. Experiments abound; conclusive, cause-based answers—no wussy mere correlations here!—exist.
And the first conclusion is: Viewing porn *causes* increased male violence against women and increased male acceptance of violence against women—IF and only if the porn viewed is violent. In the typical rape porn script, women who are initially unwilling appear to become enthusiastic participants in their degradation, ultimately screaming out for more. In these experiments, men are randomly assigned to view violent porn or non-violent porn or non-porn, and are then given opportunities to behave so that the researchers can compare the groups’ resulting attitudes and behaviors. It is now well-documented that men who experience violent porn are more accepting of such violence, believe sexual violence is not such a big deal, rate injuries real women have sustained as not being severe, recommend 50% lighter prison sentences for real rapists, and –most compelling—they actually harm women. For example, in one such experiment by Donnerstein, men who viewed a violent porn film gave higher shocks to a woman who made a learning error than did the men who viewed a non-violent porn or non-porn movie (the violent-porn viewers also gave much lower shocks to a man who made a learning mistake). The men were not actually administering shocks; but they fully believed that they were.
Yet most of the porn consumed today is non-violent; everyone in the images is portrayed as ready, willing, able, and of legal age. So what are the effects there? First, the good news: Non-violent porn viewing among non-addicted observers does not cause mates to stop loving one another, nor to actively harm one another. If a spouse is devoting a lot of time and money to porn consumption, that is taking away from the couple’s bond–but that can be said of any activity with an inappropriate focus of time, dollars and energy.
On the other hand, you can forget this rationale: “Honey, I actually want you more if I watch porn!” Although porn can have a very temporary effect of making men want to have sex with the nearest acceptable person—such as their spouse—the longer-term impact is not positive for the marital bond. Simply put, porn makes men less excited by and attracted to their mates. Experiments by Dr. Douglas T. Kenrick , Dr. Dolf Zillman and others show that men who have recently viewed porn rate their own partners as substantially less desirable and attractive than men who watch non-porn material. (To a much lesser degree, this is true of watching gorgeous creatures generally; even men who have recently seen an episode of “Charlie’s [fully-clothed] Angels” rate photos of a normal, unknown woman as plain…plain.)
We’ve paid a lot of attention to men’s perceptions; they buy and watch the vast majority of the porn, and that’s where most of the research has focused. What of women’s post-porno experience? In a nutshell, women are more physically turned on by porn in the moment than they admit; women worry about their mates finding them less appealing after the women have seen porn; women see themselves as less desirable after watching porn; and women flatly reject the idea that they would want to be raped.
So, Sam and Gina: You’re both partly right. Sam, you’re almost certainly not less in love with your wife for having seen a few extra boobies, although unless hers are truly supreme, you may find yourself less attracted to hers than before. And Gina, if your physique compares unfavorably to the perfect pay-per-view bodies, you’re feeling appropriately threatened vis-à-vis your desirableness to your mate. And both of you: In no case is porn actually helping your marriage.
What’s a guy or girl to do? Obviously, avoid the violent stuff. As for non-violent porn, it’s no marital happiness promoter, but it’s not necessarily the home-wrecker it’s been cast as, either.
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of blog Love Science: Research-based relationship advice for everyone (www.LoveScienceMedia.com). Although many relationship advice columns exist, Love Science is the only one that presents not only what to do and how to do it–but the science and research behind the advice. Published free bi-weekly, Love Science is also Amazon.com’s best-selling relationship and behavioral science blog for Kindle. Feel free to Ask Duana *your* question at Duana@LoveScienceMedia.com.
All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2009
Nice mention of BLONDES in The University of Washington’s The Daily .
Too jet-lagged to write more today. Back to regular posts soon.
I tried but could not access/ update this blog anywhere in China this past week. Apparently, the Chinese internet filters find it censor-worthy.
BLONDES just debuted in Italian, illumina il mistero più appassionante: l’amore.
In BLONDES I discuss how tall, super-skinny hipless bodies aren’t as desirable to most men as many women think. The average catwalk strutter has a body mass index of 16.5 — skinny enough to be subfertile. Among other reasons why fashion models are long and wispy is that clothes appear more striking on them than on shorter, curvy women. The industry also happens to be dominated by gay men. Fair enough. But what about porn models? Wouldn’t those gals represent the male ideal of the female form?
The answer is not really, according to Eric Holland in the latest issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior. Responding to an earlier study on the measurements of successful porn actresses, Holland, who has become a public voice for the “red-blooded” straight male, made the following points:
1. Porn stars didn’t achieve success in their profession because they have optimal bodies. Holland points out that it’s wrong to assume that just because a woman represents the feminine “ideal” just because she has made it to the top as a porn actress. Her success is attributed to more than looks alone. It may be that those who make it to the top are willing to partake in more extreme acts with more enthusiasm.
2. Women who have many sex partners, or high sociosexuality, tend to have higher testosterone levels. [*] According to Holland, many porn stars have high-testosterone “masculinized” features, e.g. a higher waist-to-hip ratio (more tubular shape), flatter backside, and stronger and more prominent jawline. Men prefer a more feminine body type, says Holland. Breast implants, airbrushing, posing, and fancy filtered lights confuse the eye because they feminize an otherwise high-testosterone look. Holland claims many top porn stars have body types that, if seen pre-op and without light tricks, would strike us as surprisingly masculine. (Focusing on stars, he fails to address the legions of poorly-paid no-name actors with unambiguously feminine body types.)
3. Playboy centerfolds are more masculine because they’re picked by a man thought to be bisexual. Hugh Hefner, the magazine’s editor-in-chief (who has a strong role in the selection process) tends to choose women with more masculine features, especially stronger jawlines. (Hefner, in his bio, has admitted to having had gay sex.) Holland claims that Hefner’s tastes aren’t necessarily those of most straight men. Holland’s photo gallery of popular “masculinized” centerfold models is here.
4. Porn actress measurements are often unreliable anyway. The stats indicate that the median BMI of popular porn stars is 18.3, which is below the threshold of a healthy body weight, whereas some studies have found that men in western societies actually prefer a BMI more like 19.5-20.5 or higher. That said, Holland claims the measurements that accompany a centerfold’s photo might not always be a true reflection of her weight. Sizing up the centerfolds’ bodies, it appears they are heavier than reported. (I describe women’s WHR and BMI in some depth in the book.)
The interesting questions, some unanswerable: Do straight men agree with Holland? To what degree are men’s tastes influenced by porn? Would a guy subtly shift his sensibilities after seeing an erotization of androgenization? Are preferences context-specific — e.g., in porn, are hard tubular bodies and fake oversized breasts hot, whereas in wives they’re not? To what extent does race matter? What does it take to be a porn star, and is there really an implicit selection process that favors more “masculinized women”? Given the range of men’s erotic tastes, which surely involve more than beauty, is Holland’s hypothesis even testable?
Only one thing is clear here: When it comes to women’s bodies, many have much to say, but there’s no clear arbiter of taste. Nor should there be.
* A reader wrote to ask for a study that supports Holland’s assertion that high testosterone in women is associated with having more sex partners. Here’s one (sorry, full-text version for subscribers only).
Straight guys: Do you agree with Holland’s points?
It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, so I thought I’d post my answers to a few questions about Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes? posed by readers.
Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes? is full of research that really digs deep into people’s dating behaviors. It’s almost impossible for anyone to read this book and not be shocked by at least a few findings. While conducting your research for the book, what is one finding that shocked you?
It’s hard to choose; there’s a lot of shocking science behind sex and attraction! One of my favorite weird findings is that women, when most likely to conceive, have an unconscious bias in favor of socially and/or physically dominant men. Very masculine faces, bodies, behaviors, scents… these qualities are more attractive to women in the five-day window leading up to ovulation. Another study found that a chemical found in the sweat of high-testosterone men may hasten the release of a woman’s egg, thereby increasing the chances of pregnancy. When not fertile, many women prefer kinder, gentler, more cuddly types who are more likely to make good long-term partners. These are just a couple examples of how the “body” hijacks the brain when it comes to mating.
To what extent does biology play a part in our dating behaviors? Is it out of our control who we’re attracted to?
We’ve all met people with whom we’d love to fall in love, but something’s off or something ‘s missing — we call it lack of chemistry. Truth is, genes, hormones, and instincts influence our dating lives in ways we might not even be aware of or fully understand. I think these biological biases vary from person to person. For instance, hormonal effects may be stronger in some people than in others and weaken with age — teens and twenty-somethings are likely the most hormonally motivated. Some men may have genes that are associated with commitment problems, as some recent studies have shown. Other genes have been found to influence body odor smells that in turn influence attraction. Personality is also a factor — for example, studies have found, unsurprisingly, that extroverts generally have more lovers than introverts.
But we’re not slaves to biology. Our love lives are also influenced by culture and personal experience. Nature AND nurture.
In the book you talk about how women often choose different men for long-term relationships than for short-term, and that the emphasis is on sex appeal in short-term relationships. Does that mean we settle for less in marriage ? Could that be a reason why many marriages fail or people cheat? Can we not obtain the best of both worlds–someone who we are very much attracted to and will also make a life partner?
Speaking for myself — and just about everyone I know — yes, we want the best of all worlds in a life partner. (In fact, a study has shown that the more attractive the woman, the more she insists on “having it all.”) That is, we want to strike all three chords: physical, emotional, and mental attraction. But it’s not easy! One reason marriages fail is that there’s no harmonious balance. A year into a marriage, the wife realizes she has no physical chemistry with her brilliant husband, or the husband realizes his gorgeous wife is emotionally unavailable. Many people feel they must make tradeoffs in a long-term relationship — and perhaps that’s realistic — but you’ve got to do some soul-searching first. What do you value most at this phase of your life? Looking ahead, what are the chances you’re going to want to stay together? And if you’re the type who has commitment problems — for some, there may even be a biological basis — should you even get married in the first place?
Your book appeals to women, but men also find it interesting. What’s your advice to single guys on the prowl for Ms. Right ?
Guys should know that many women “mate copy”; that is, we unconsciously prefer guys who have already attracted attractive women. To that end, women may be more attracted to a guy if he has managed to charm other women. But it’s a delicate balance. I, for one, would be attracted to a witty, funny guy who makes other women laugh — but not if he’s a player or comes across as too slick. As I describe in the book, body language is also a crucial part of attraction. Guys, be aware of what you do with your body. Women much prefer men who make eye contact (don’t approach a woman without doing this several times, and don’t stare). Gestures such as throwing your arm around the adjacent chair or clasping a buddy’s shoulder suggest confidence and dominance. Mirroring your date’s body language suggests attraction and may make her more attracted to you in turn.
So, what would you like to say to all those blonde wannabes out there?
Why not experiment with blond hair dye or blond highlights? Brightness, rarity, youthfulness….that constitutes much of the appeal of the blonde. Or wear something bright, youthful, and rare — that also catches the eye.
Before Hope, Technomanifestos.
Many years ago, graphic design artist Shepard Fairey, recipient of much fame and infamy for his Obama “Hope” poster, created the cover for my pseudonymous book, TECHNOMANIFESTOS: Visions of the Information Revolutionaries. We were thrilled that Fairey agreed to do the cover because his vision jibed so well with some of the themes in the book: the transformative nature of technology, the liberation of information and knowledge, the dismantling of the old hierarchies and bureaucracies.
Now, at last, there’s hope that Obama will match the manifesto.