February 8, 2004

The Lameness of BBC Science. So Tonya took the Disgust Questionnaire and says she cheated. (That's disgusting!) I think she means she put herself down as less disgusted than she was, on the theory that it's bad to be too squeamish. I had trouble taking that test because I was only looking at a photograph, and I've trained myself to look boldly at any photograph. Also, the test proceeded on the theory that disgust ought to be tied to the potential for actually catching a disease. In that view, one ought to be disgusted by other people constantly! They thought a rational person ought to be disgusted by a crowded subway car. But rational persons also need to live in society, and thinking about crowds in terms of disease is pretty maladaptive I'd say. So I fault the BBC's disgust test for being completely unidimensional.

Tonya also links to another of the BBC's tests. Not the one that's ranking number 1 on Blogdex at the moment ("Spot the Fake Smile," which is quite good), but the Interactive Lonely Hearts Ad. She writes:
[A]lthough I didn't cheat on this one, I strategically selected words that I (mistakenly) thought would be important qualities to a man reading a personals ad. As for what men want -- apparently I am clueless.
I fault this test too, because it is based on the sort of sociobiology that speculates about evolution, and posits that men seek to reproduce their genes, so they want fertile young women to have quick sexual encounters with. There are two problems (at least!) with that as a basis for the BBC's test. The first is that they are relying, unidimensionally again, on this (speculative) field of science. The second is that they are assuming that what men instinctively do will also run through their minds as they process reading material. The test assumes that the personals ad that says "I'm young and eager for quick sex" will win the interest of the man that wants a young woman for quick sex.

Is there no complexity to the mental processes of the BBC's man? Might he not think, I want a kind, loyal friend, only later to be overcome by his instinctive feelings? It seems obvious that people consciously analyze things in advance, such as when reading an ad written by an unseen stranger, and make choices that do not match their real desires (even assuming the sociobiologists got the real desires right). Obviously, many women say "I want a considerate man with a good sense of humor," but when it comes time to pick someone, they actually want someone in good physical condition with solid career prospects.

In fact, this disjunct is inherent in the sociobiologists' theory itself, because they assume a man still wants what was naturally selected for in human evolution, even though that same man consciously wants very much to avoid procreation, especially in uncommitted relationships.

UPDATE: Tonya tells me that the "cheating" in question was figuring out what the testmakers were driving at and letting that influence the reported level of disgust. That reminds me of a career choice test I took in school in eighth grade. I already knew what I wanted to do, so I answered the questions that would make me the sort of person who would do that (in my case, picking every answer that was about caring for other people as opposed to anything else that might be interesting or compelling or fun to do).

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