Gay genes, environment and gin

Psychologist Jesse Bering has written a witty and informative post on the science of homophobia, evolutionary theories of homosexuality and why some hypotheses just don’t work without large quantities of strong gin.

Bering notes he’s both gay and an evolutionary psychologist, and some people find it surprising that a homosexual male works in a field that might suggest he’s a biological anomaly.

Needless to say, his whistle-stop tour through the field is both informative and funny. The final bit summarises evolutionary theories of homosexuality and the last paragraph made me laugh out loud:

‚Ä¢ E.O. Wilson’s kin altruism theory states that homosexuality was a rare but functional alternative to traditional routes of increasing inclusive fitness because gay people in the ancestral past, who weren’t burdened with their own kids, helped to raise, care for, and provide resources to their other genetic relatives, such as nieces and nephews. (This one doesn’t quite gel, especially when you consider that a gay person’s resources are usually funneled to their same-sex partners. Also, for most people, being gay doesn’t exactly endear you to your relatives.)

‚Ä¢ Evolutionary psychologist Frank Muscarella’s alliance formation theory proposes that, in the ancestral past, homoerotic behaviours by young men with high status older men would have been an effective strategy for climbing up the social ladder. (Think Ancient Greece, or maybe Mark Foley?)

‚Ä¢ John Maynard Smith is often credited with what is colloquially called the “sneaky f*cker theory,” which argues that gay men in the ancestral past had unique access to the reproductive niche because females let their guards down around them and other males didn’t view them as sexual competitors. (I rather like this one: remember, we’re not infertile, we’re just gay. Although in my case, it’d take a lot of gin to work.)
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To do it in style, presumably you’d be drinking pink gin.

Bering is one of the most inventive researchers working in evolutionary psychology, and his work on our everyday theories of souls, ghosts and the supernatural is fascinating.

One of my favourites is his study [pdf] finding that simply telling people the lab is haunted improves their honesty in a computer task, whereas another creative study [pdf] investigated which mind and brain functions children think continue after death and how this differs by age and religious schooling.

Link to ‘The Sneaky F*cker Theory (and Other Gay Ideas)’.

2 Comments

  1. tom
    Posted September 15, 2008 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Reader B Hong writes:
    There may be simpler explanations than the Altruistic Kinship, Social Climber or Sneaky Behavior hypotheses. Here is a link from LiveScience entitled, “Why Gays Don’t Go Extinct”:

    http://www.livescience.com/health/080617-hereditary-homosexuality.html

    The basic tenet is that it is associated with a gene that acts in a sexually antagonistic way. It basically makes the bearer of the gene become more attracted to males. This has obvious survival value IN FEMALES. Thus, female bearer of the gene tend to be more fecund; to have more children; AND TO KEEP ON PASSING ON THE GENE. Thus, it explains why homosexuality does not die out; why gay men don’t become extinct. This seems simpler and more rational, more scientifically “elegant” than the other (I think rather clumsy) theories.

  2. Posted September 16, 2008 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    Hmm, no mention of Greg Cochran’s theory. His seems most consistent with evolution to me.


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