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Evolution and Bad Boyfriends - NYTimes.com


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Whenever a pattern of human behavior is widespread, there is reason to suspect that it might have something to do with our evolutionary history. (Think of the fear of snakes, or the incest taboo.) You think your daughter’s boyfriend isn’t good enough? It may be evolution’s fault.

But how could evolution have led to such an awkward situation as parent-child conflict over mates? In a recent paper in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, we and two colleagues, the biologist Franjo Weissing and the social psychologist Bram Buunk, showed how it could work.

When thinking about mate choice, the natural starting point is the theory of sexual selection. This theory, which focuses not on the struggle for existence but on the competition to attract sexual partners, has been hugely successful in explaining the diverse courtship behaviors and mating patterns in the animal kingdom, from the peacock’s flamboyant tail to the chirping calls of male crickets.

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