Tag Archives: Penis size

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)

My penis is bigger than yours ! Quality psychology research ??

7 Oct

As I’ve hopefully demonstrated elsewhere on this blog, newspaper science articles are a great way to get students to hone their rational thinking skills. However the aim of such education is to get those students to employ their newly honed skills when they are reading the academic content of the rest of their undergraduate course. Achieving such ‘transfer of training’ isn’t easy, indeed psychologists have spent the best part of 100 years arguing about the extent to which it happens at all. It is entirely possible that our own teaching methods may actively discourage students from critiquing the content of academic journals. I’m sure many HE teachers spend a long time with new undergraduate students talking about the importance of ‘peer-review’ and how ‘peer-reviewed’ sources are much more reliable than students just ‘googling’ a topic.

One way to try to encourage students to use their rational thinking skills on academic papers is to try to collect ‘peer-reviewed articles’ that contain glaring methodological flaws. In most cases these are flaws that only become obvious years after publication, but htis week I’ve come across current article from a prestigious journal that serves this purpose perfectly.

My interest was piqued by an article in the Daily Mail headlined ‘We knew it all along: British men have bigger penises than the French according to new survey’. These sorts of story are usually obvious nonsense, but I was intrigued by two things, that the story was a report of an article published in the peer-reviewed journal ‘Personality and Individual Differences’, and that even the Daily Mail had highlighted methodological problems with the study

The story is based on the paper ‘An examination of Rushton’s theory of differences in penis length and circumference and r-K life history theory in 113 populations” by Richard Lynn. Ignoring the slightly eccentric theory behind the paper,three very obvious point appear when one reads it. Firstly, the data from the 113 population is presented to a surprising level of accuracy. Mean penis length is quoted for each population, and detailed down to hundredths of centimetres. I was immediately drawn to thinking about what type of measuring equipment would be necessary to achieve this level of accuracy. Secondly, many data points listed from the 113 populations were followed by a small asterisk. Turning to the bottom of the table you find out that the asterisk denotes ‘self-report’. YOu can only speculate how naive you would have to be not to questions the reliability of ‘self-report’ of penis length. Finally, reading through the method section of the paper you find that the data was not collected by the author, but rather culled from a website (http://www.everyoneweb.com/worldpenissize/). A quick skip through the web site leads you to a list of the sources from which they complied their data. WHilst some of them seem to be legitimate sources a number seem quite surprising:

The Elle/MSNBC.com sex and body image survey. Elle, pp. 111–113. Magna-RX. (2005, March). Does size really matter to your lover? More than you can possibly imagine! For Him Magazine, p. 117

The Happy Hook-Up: A Single Girl’s Guide to Casual Sex. Alexa Joy Sherman, Nicole Tocantins. p208. Ten Speed Press, 2004.

Argionic Desire. (2005, March). Argionic desire: Innovative penis enlargement product for men. For Him Magazine

Taken together these three things make me really wonder about the peer-review process. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’d question this sort of stuff it I saw if in a third year student’s thesis and yet it is apparently acceptable is the ‘gold-standard’ for academic writing. Having run through this paper with my 1st year undergraduate class I’d recommend it to anyone trying to encourage students to be active in critiquing ‘peer-reviewed’ material. Not only does the content guarantee you a cheap laugh from the students it gives them an understandingg that they can spot things that journal editors miss (or possible choose to ignore ???)

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