Tag Archives: evolutionary biology

Another entry for my ‘Rational Thinking about penis research’ lecture

26 Jan


One of the UK’s great psychology educators, Professor Andy Field of Sussex University, often says that the best way to engage undergraduate students with difficult topics is to use examples based on ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’. In that vein I’ve over the years amasses a whole series of examples from what I call the ‘penis and sperm’ genre. From celebrity sperm banks to cross-cultural penis size research, the literature is full of examples that stick in the mind of students. This week I’ve come across an example that is really useful for communicating one of the most difficult parts of rational thinking, the idea that even if something appears in a reputable peer-reviewed journal students still need to apply their rational thinking skills before accepting it a face value.

In April 2013 the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published ‘Penis size interacts with body shape and height to influence male attractiveness’ by Mautz teal.. The study involved showing female participants life-size computer generated images of naked males varying in height, shoulder-hip ration and penis size and asking them to rate the images for attractiveness. Whilst I’m not entirely convinced by the results of the study, what really interests me is the hypothesis that it’s based on. The authors make an evolutionary biology argument that pre copulatory female mate choice based on male genital traits may have an impact on penis size. Now, I can see that this hypothesis makes perfect sense for animals where genitals are visible, but how would it possibly work in humans ????? Are bars around the world really populated by women attempting to assess the genital size of potential mates through their trousers ?

This paper presents quite a complex idea for students, in that the study itself seems perfectly well conducted, it is the very basis for the study that seems open to question. But just by thinking about that the hypothesis is suggesting I think students ought to be able to see that there is something to be questioned here.

(I’m going to ask a more statistical minded colleague to have a look at the papers stats for me, as it looks to me that the results actually suggest that height and hip-shoulder ratio are hugely better predictors of attractiveness that penis size anyway)

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