Evolutionary Explanations for the Attractiveness of Celebrity

Evolutionary Explanations for the Attractiveness of Celebrity and their evaluations

Evolutionary Explanations

Evolutionary explanations aim to explain how human social behaviour has been influenced by evolution. The basis is that particular patterns of social behaviour are adaptive, meaning they increase the probability of survival. They explain why phenomena like the attraction of celebrity occurs and not just how. Evolutionary explanations for the attraction of celebrity include:

  • Ornamental Mind Theory
  • Gossip Theory
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Ornamental Mind Theory

According to Fisher's 'runaway' sexual selection theory females will choose mates to reproduce with based on the characteristics they find most attractive. From this both the selected male trait and the preference of the female will be passed on to the next generation, meaning they both become fixed in the gene pool. 

Miller suggests this kind of sexual selection underlies the evolution of creative intelligence. In effect the male brain is a sexual ornament used to attract females as females are inclined by their biology to select males who are the most entertaining and interesting. Humans possess a love of novelty (neophilia) and mate choice in the environment of evolutionary adaptation could well have favoured creative courtship displays, and this may be why humans developed music, art and humour. As celebrities generally supply these talents in abundance we are inevitably drawn to them. Celebrity is attractive because they possess traits that evolution have singled out as fitness indicators. People admire and want to be celebrities because celebrity brings with it a reproductive advantage.

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Evaluation of Ornamental Mind Theory

  • Two thirds of readers of celebrity gossip magazines are female, and, as the theory suggests it is females who select their mate based on their most attractive characterisitics, then it supports the theory that celebrities hold these attractive traits.
  • Sharaishi discovered an enzyme that correlates with novelty-seeking tendencies. Genetic difference mean that people produce different variations of the enzyme MAOA and researchers found that one form of this enzyme is significantly associated with higher scores of novelty seeking, suggesting a genetic and therefore evolutionary origin of neophilia and our attraction to creative people.
  • Suggesting that the love of novelty arose because early females preferred creative behaviour in potential mates is arbitary (Subjective Judgement) as such explanations argue that traits are preferred simply because they're 'attractive', without explaining why they would have been attractive.
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Gossip Theory

McAndrews and Milenkovic have applied evolutionary principles to explain the popularity of celebrity gossip. They suggest that gossip is an aspect of social behaviour which is adaptive. Our early ancestors lived in much smaller and more isolated social groups than we do now, so that everybody knew everyone. Advantages of gossip include:

  • Being able to keep track of alliances and relationships in the wider social group 
  • Having knowledge about those who pose potential threats
  • Knowing about your social status so understanding how much power you hold
  • Being able to hold information which is potentially useful, and this may allow one to have advantage over another
  • Shared secrets can help with group bonding
  • Gossip gives those without status and power a sense of involvement and influence over events
  • Gossip can be used as a route to become socially acceptable

Ultimately knowledge about others can help to ensure survival and so the best gossipers would have had a survival advantage. Humans still have an innate tendency to gossip and celebrities provide an ideal target for this tendency. This is because they are perceived to have a high status and media provides a lot of information to fuel this gossip. Barkow suggests that our minds are fooled into seeing celebrities as members of our own social network.

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Evaluation of Gossip Theory

  • De Backer surveyed over 800 participants and found that gossip was seen as a useful way of acquiring information about social group members. Media exposure was also found to be a strong predictor of interest in celebrity and De Backer concluded that media exposure leads to the misperception that celebrities are part of our social network, and so explaining the interest in celebrity gossip.
  • Dunbar suggest gossip evolved in humans to serve the same purpose as grooming in primates. Primates groom each other both for health and for social communciation. It helps to bond social groups together. Dunbar estimates that as much as 2/3 of all human communication consists of gossip and celebrity is attractive because it is a source of gossip which is very useful in strengthening social relationships.
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General Evaluation of Both Evolutionary Explanatio

Evolutionary Reductionism:

the evolutionary approach assumes that all behaviour must at some time have been adapted and therefore inherited. This ignores the fact that cultures and societies develop in ways that do not involve evolutionary processes. This might involve cultural transmission of ideas and technology from generation to generation, i.e. attitudes are taught by parents/adults, not inherited

Lack of Falsifiability

Theories lead to predictions and hypotheses that are then tested in experiment and if they are not supported by experimental evidence then the theory is proved wrong. This falsifiability is very important in science. Evolutionary theories however are not falsifiable because it is difficult to see how we can test a hypothesis based on behaviour that happened so long ago. This means that the explanations are completely speculative.

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