Decoding Love with Andrew Trees

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If your Magic 8 Ball is a less-than-reliable dating guide, then author Andrew Trees has a better idea: Why not turn to the latest studies in economics, neurochemistry and game theory instead? We chatted with him about his latest book, Decoding Love: Why It Takes Twelve Frogs to Find a Prince and Other Revelations from the Science of Attraction.

Em & Lo: What’s your favorite scientific tidbit you gleaned from this book, the one you were most likely to break out at cocktail parties?

Andrew Trees: I loved telling people about how testicle size in a species is an indicator of female promiscuity, and how men have relatively big testicles — in other words, women have been getting busy for quite some time.

Can you give us an example of how understanding economic theories can work to your advantage in the dating world?

There are all sorts of ways in which economists can put dollar figures on various aspects of dating. Height is the most obvious example.  Researchers discovered that a 5’6″ man has to earn $175,000 a year more than a six foot tall man if he wants to overcome his height disadvantage in the dating market. That’s a hefty premium. If you are a 5’4″ woman, why not wear flats and try dating a shorter man? And if you are a short guy, buy some lifts.

Seeing as it’s in the title of your book, can you explain the mathematical theory that you’ve got to date 12 people before you find Mr/Ms Right?

It comes from game theory, specifically something called the Dowry Game. Basically, the idea is that you date twelve people and then choose the next person who is better than those first twelve. Statistically, this gives you roughly a 97% chance of ending up with someone in the top 10% of the dating pool. I think this is a liberating finding because it means that you don’t have to date hundreds of people in an endless search for Mr. or Mrs. Right.

What’s the deal with priming — and can you fall prey to it even if you know it exists?

Priming is when a stimulus is used to influence your response. Researchers have discovered that priming can be used fairly effectively to spark or undermine attraction between people. For example, if you hand someone a warm drink, that person will think of you as a warm person (our brains are sometimes crude instruments). Or if you see someone in a nice setting, like a fancy restaurant, you’re more likely to be attracted to him or her. But you can resist it if you know when you are being primed.

So according to your book, the birth control pill is a double-whammy for women…

Absolutely! In the first place, it reverses all of a woman’s smell preferences so that she prefers a man who shares similar genetic immunities, instead of a man with different immunities. Children inherit both a mother and a father’s immunities, so different is better for any offspring. There are also a number of other problems that arise. For instance, a woman will have more difficulty conceiving a child with that man. In addition, being on the pill dampens a woman’s sex appeal so that men will find her less attractive. Based on the existing research, I am not a fan of the pill.

Do you really believe that most men, deep down, don’t want to be with women who are more ambitious than they are? And if so, what’s an ambitious single woman supposed to do?

The longer we live in a post-feminist world with successful women, the more men are going to become comfortable with that. During the 1960s, no one imagined that a black man could become president, so look how far we have come there. Based on the research, though, many men are still threatened when a woman is more ambitious or more successful than he is. For ambitious women, I think the key is to find men who are self-confident enough not to be put off by a woman’s success.

You discuss a study that found people are less happy with a decision they’ve made if they think they can change their mind… so how should that change the way we approach dating and relationships?

It’s perfectly normal for people to change their minds when they are in the early stages of dating someone. But I do think people need to try to strengthen the divide between casual dating and committing to one person. People fall into wishy-washy dating situations that ultimately hurt them. If a person is serious about finding a long-term partner, I would avoid friends-with-benefits  relationships. I also wouldn’t live together. Studies have found that couples who live together are less likely to get married. But the effects of cohabitation don’t stop there. Even if the couples do marry, they have an increased chance of divorce because it appears that living together weakens people’s commitment to marriage.

You discuss evolutionary psychology and how so much of our dating behavior is ingrained…  do you believe people can change those habits by learning more (by, say, reading this book) or do you think some things are permanently ingrained, no matter how much we know?

Some things are permanently ingrained no matter how much we know, but that doesn’t mean we can’t exert greater control over our wayward impulses. Knowledge at least gives us a better chance to strive for that higher self.

Andrew Trees is the author of Decoding Love: Why It Takes Twelve Frogs to Find a Prince and Other Revelations from the Science of Attraction.

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