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Why following Gossip and Fashion really is a Matter of Life and Death

  1. Jul 26, 2008 #1
    I wrote something which I believe gets to the origin of fashion and gossip in a simple and logical way. I would be happy with any comment on whether it makes sense to you or not.


    Why do women find it important to be in on the latest fashion trends and gossip? Fashion's use couldn't be just to look nice for the opposite sex, because most men hardly notice the latest handbag or shoes. I believe the reason lies in our evolutionary background of hunting and gathering.

    Compared to the male hunting, female gathering seems a pretty simple task. You walk and walk and every now and then you bump into that tree full of fruits or those vegetables just ripe to be eaten. What I want to show is that the occupation of gathering wild fruits and vegetables is far from simple. It is a highly information intensive occupation.

    A tree full of fruits is a temporary store of valuables you encounter by chance. The female that finds it comes home with enough fruits for her family, and one important bit of information; where others can find more of what she has. This information will not last, many animals are after the sugars in ripe fruits. But it is very valuable information.

    Who should she share that information with? In her best interest, she should share it with someone who will return the favour another day, so she can get fruits and vegetables another time. The best person to share the information with is the one that always seems to be in on the latest finds. She is the most likely to be able to let you in on the next bargain to be had.

    This is why it is important as a woman to always show you are in on the latest finds. It will get others to share the information on their finds with you, which in the end is what gets you that regular stream of fruits and vegetables you and your children need.

    Gossip, especially being the first in delivering certain news, is a good way to show off the quality of your information network. Trendy clothing and accessories is another more recent signal between women, used to sort the ones in the know, from the ones out of it. Of course clothes can also signal attractiveness, group affiliations etc., but there is a separate interest in signalling being up-to-date.

    Fashion may not have been a signal before the mass production of clothes, just like cars could not always have been a signal of status in men. But the instinctive need in women to signal you know about 'the latest' is there, the method will change to the most efficient one available. Women still dedicate a lot of effort to keeping up with the latest finds and showing it off, because once it really was a matter of life and death.

    For a more complete explanation, and some other ideas:
    http://adriaanb.blogspot.com/
     
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  3. Jul 26, 2008 #2

    Math Is Hard

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    I am getting so ******* sick of these generalizations.
     
  4. Jul 26, 2008 #3
    Nothing is black and white. Men follow fashion and women like cars. But when you look at what interests people for example in buying magazines, the lines between the sexes are pretty clear cut. Over many cultures, as you can see in every magazine stand. That deserves an explanation.
     
  5. Jul 26, 2008 #4

    Monique

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    And exactly how long did you have to search to find that little treasure? Two objections: 1) you are generalizing 2) you are sensationalizing.
     
  6. Jul 26, 2008 #5
    Well I am glad you find it obvious, that is a good sign..

    It isn't to everyone if you look here:
    http://www.apa.org/science/psa/apr05gossip.html

    Like I said, fashion trends and gossip isn't exclusive to women. But it is the mainstay of female magazine section for example. And of course women read politics and the rest.. that is not the point. And as far as the sensationalizing is concerned, if in evolution you don't keep up with the rest you go extinct. Well, the specific genes anyway.

    What I am trying to say is that women have an interest in signalling the quality of their information network. Because throughout evolution the success in gathering has depended on it. Gathering is a lot more complicated than it seems.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2008
  7. Jul 26, 2008 #6

    Astronuc

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    Umm - one is still generalizing. Some women, and some men (GQ), like to follow fashion, and some of both genders like to gossip. There are womens and mens fashion magazine for those who like to follow fashion.

    Personally, the majority of women I know have far more important things on their minds than fashion and gossip.

    Umm - no! It is the mainstay of fashion magazine and tabloid journalism.

    What does sensationalism have to do with evolution or extinction? :rolleyes:
     
  8. Jul 26, 2008 #7

    Monique

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    I never said that I found it obvious. I find your generalization quite blatant and it completely misses nuance. Do you have a reference that men gossip less than women?

    Anyway, here is a link to a nice Sciam article.
     
  9. Jul 27, 2008 #8

    marcus

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    Monique, that is an interesting SciAm article! The author Frank T. McAndrew is a social psychologist with an special interest in the evolutionary basis of social behavior. Some of his analysis of gossip is remarkably similar to Adriaan's reasoning about TV watching. The survival basis of the underlying tendencies that support the activity.

    He presents some conjectures and conjectural generalizations about the evolutionary basis for a love of gossip----what functions, what survival value. Of course unlike Adriaan, he avoids mentioning that there might be statistically measurable cultural or genetic differences between the behavior of men and women, and nevertheless he manages to delve into the human tendency to gossip and speculate extensively about the functions etc.

    As you say, it is indeed a NICE article. I recommend it. I am sure it will be of interest to our new member Adriaan if he stays around.
    =======================

    Adriaan welcome to SF! I assume you are a new member. I see that you have looked into the EVOLUTIONARY BASIS FOR WHY PEOPLE WATCH SO MUCH TV, and I think that your ideas are interesting and worth pursuing. Your description of the survival value of instinctively watching social situations played out and registering group reaction is very similar to what the SciAm author said about the evolutionary basis of gossip. It is a way of learning the emotional/ethical norms of the group, at a gut level, internalizing what is required for group membership.

    I don't say you or anybody is RIGHT. What I say is that what you and the SciAm author that Monique likes are doing is valid worthwhile intellection. And actually I find you are thinking along very similar lines.

    I notice that you are not particularly interested in MAN/WOMAN differences in your TV watching essay. I think in your essay on gossip a lot of what you said could have been said without emphasizing gender difference. Anybody can gather, anybody can find a tree, anybody can share the information as part of reciprocal bonding or exchange of favors.

    By bad luck, the people who first read your essay only seemed to notice that you mentioned man/woman differences. so you got an angry reception because you broke some group norm. Perhaps you were testing the PF group to find out what our norms and taboo boundaries are, how good our manners are with strangers, what gets our attention etc etc.
    I have no idea what made you choose to present that essay of yours rather than a gender-neutral one.

    But anyway that is irrelevant, I'm sure you have a lot to say about the evolution of human social behavior, completely avoiding the sensitive issue of genetic-based man/woman behavior differences. so I hope you stay around and contribute to the discussion!

    Your own essay about TV watching could almost be an advice to yourself :biggrin:
    ===quote===
    ... function just fine under all systems, as long as you are in tune with the going morals. So you can't be taken advantage of and you won't make costly social blunders. It is this staying in tune that takes constant calibration of your social sensitivities with those of the others. The brain's best mechanism to achieve this is to have you listen to stories about all kinds of social situations, while at the same time carefully taking into account your environment's reactions. Are people laughing out loud? Are they sounding outrage? Empathy? The kind and the strength of the reactions around you is the valuable information your brain needs to get you to behave in tune with your group.

    So evolution has equipped you with a liking for these social narratives. Not because those stories are so special, but because your brain needs you to calibrate your moral sensitivities to those of your group. The others laugh? You feel like laughing. The others are upset? You start to feel upset. Slowly but surely the brain nudges your position closer to the others and the group's outbursts of approval and disapproval synchronize...
    ==endquote==

    Good luck Adriaan. Have fun here if you stay.
    Marcus
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2008
  10. Jul 27, 2008 #9

    marcus

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    I don't know a lot about behavior evolution and social psychology, so my reactions are only given for whatever they are worth.
    Adriaan's TV essay is much better than his gossip/fashion essay.

    However the gossip/fashion essay has an interesting core idea of information hierarchy in small groups.
    the whole essay can easily be rewritten without mentioning gender or men vs women. Everybody has some style or fashion sense, everybody gossips. we can ignore differences of degree. That way we are more free to talk without evoking punitive wrath.

    so suppose we look at this. Suppose in families and work groups etc there is alway the someone who knows what is happening before you or I do. there are the people who tell you what stores to shop at, what products to buy because they are organic or fairtrade or better or whatever. these people often speak with a kind of thrill in the voice, a kind of authority. they know what's cool. or they don't have to even say, they just wear the right kind of running shoes or have the neatest cellphone. there is an information ranking and they are information leaders, the ones in the know. I don't know if this is true or not. But suppose.

    Now what Adriaan is saying is that by wearing certain clothes (or displaying certain possessions too I guess) you can advertise that you are in the know. you know what the latest fashions are, you know where to shop, whatever.
    He is saying that having a high place in the information hierarchy in your group could have some survival value for you and your children, in the old days. a biological evolution angle.

    My thoughts:
    1. I'm skeptical. It doesnt sound too convincing. There are some missing pieces. But it isn't totally non-science either.
    2. It can be stated in a gender-neutral way
    3. My attitude is with a newcomer you should look for positive intellectual content and show some forbearance about breaking taboos and stuff. But what do I know?
     
  11. Jul 27, 2008 #10

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    No, I read the conjecture, but it seemed nothing more than a flimsy evolutionary psychology just so story.

    I can't speak for the others, but the angry reception from me didn't have anything to do with violation of group norms. It just really pissed me off. When someone makes a sweeping assertion about every member of a group I belong to, he/she makes an assertion about me. I don't like it when people make assertions about me and what things are important to me, especially when they aren't correct. If the statements had been tempered with "many women.." or even "my observation is that women.." I would have been a lot more receptive.

    It chafes me a little that it is acceptable to throw out a sterotype about biological sex for discussion, while racial sterotype discussions are big no-nos. Women seem to be more fair game for this for whatever reason. Am I a little touchy? Yes, probably. But with the winding down of the "why are women not interested in problem solving" and "Inequality: Men vs. Women" threads, I'm a little tired and looking forward to getting off this theme for a while.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2008
  12. Jul 27, 2008 #11

    Math Is Hard

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    On a less grouchy note...
    Have you ever read The Tipping Point, Marcus?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tipping_Point_(book)

    Malcolm Gladwell wrote about how small changes can lead to social "epidemics" (trends, fads, and more or less, the spread of ideas). One idea is that there are certain types of people that facilitate the process. The description you gave reminded me of his description of a "Maven".

    Gladwell doesn't have much of an academic background, but he has some good marketing instincts.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2008
  13. Jul 27, 2008 #12
    There can be real value in knowing someone can't be trusted or is in a close coalition with someone else. That is of value to both sexes and you can expect both sexes to be talking about that. The socialisation through laughter and storytelling in my other post on my blog is a related issue. That is about making us compatible in social morals whatever the morals are. Gossip can give good clues to that as well but it is less efficient.

    But on the female side there is a separate interest in being the first to spread the news. Because that shows you are close to the inner circle where news arrives first. And that makes you the kind of person to let in on your next find, because you look likely to be able to return the favour. Men don't get much credit for that, women do. (sorry, generalising I know, see it as a common denominator. I am not thinking all women think the same.)

    The SciAm article throws a lot on the heap of group 'bonding'. When you are stuck together on the African savannah, how much bonding do you need? They also don't answer why women are much more interested in it (see the totally unscientific indicator of magazine sales). Again, you have to separate the actual value of the information from the value in 'being the first to get it'. That is an important signal among women. What the 'news' is about isn't all that relevant, celebrity relations and style will do just fine.

    --

    The main point is that making a living through gathering fruits and vegetables is far from simple. It is all about getting the information in time.

    You could take the idea a lot further if you want to speculate. When you see the quality of the information network as the basis of social status in women, a logical way to make up for a lack of information is to go out and find it yourself. So women of a lower social status should be seen shopping for much longer in search of bargains. Even if they don't need it for themselves.

    In gossip, you discover finds by constantly watching social interactions in search for novelties. The chewing gum alternative to that is watching soap operas on TV. Every new insight gives you a small buzz as if you have just secured some more credit in the information market. You would expect women of lower social status to spend more time watching soaps. And they would do it because they are clever (only the brain didn't expect to be fooled by electronics).
     
  14. Jul 27, 2008 #13

    marcus

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    Fair enough! I strongly prefer it when people qualify what they say with words like "some" or "many". Blanket statements usually a bit jarring. Except in mathematics where they can be true. Real world is usually too complicated for universal claims. Adriaan I suppose is Dutch, judging by the name. Monique is Dutch? Both seem to write English without any stylistic accent. Interesting.

    You are not being touchy! Stereotyping gender is just as irritating as stereotyping race and I think it may be even more usual. It gets worse---I have been preached sermons about how all the world's problems are due to WHITE MALES and their mentality and everybody else is closer to nature and less toxic to the planet. So they are putting gender and race together, looking me right in the eye and saying it would be better if all organisms like me could be eliminated. I still feel the fear in the pit of my stomach 3 years later.

    I'd say it is fine to be infuriated with Adriaan, as long as we don't drive him away. There are other ideas in his head besides gender stereotypes.
     
  15. Jul 27, 2008 #14

    marcus

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    No, it sounds like an extremely interesting book. My disadvantage in this area (social science in general) is that I am unread and comparatively naive. Embarrassing but true. I'll react to things that come my way but I rarely go out and get a book and read it. So like a kind of sedentary plant I have to get things out of the air.

    Like that SciAm article about gossip that Monique found for us.

    I'm interested in evolution of social behavior but actually at least as much in animals as in people, because with people it is so terribly difficult to separate out learned cultural stuff from genetic based stuff.
     
  16. Jul 27, 2008 #15

    marcus

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    Yes that's true! But there is a special time of year when the fish run in the river. You have to get down there in a hurry on the day it happens. There is a moment when the berries are ripe. But there is also a moment when the birds migrate etc etc

    I am an old retired California guy. You are probably a bright young person very interested in the differences between men and women. Believe me in the long run hunting is not very different from gathering. We all trade in information and recognize its value. And we all make and use stereotypes. For me, it does seem that women are often more skilled in forming coalitions and social networks, and more interested in it. But for me, in my personal stereotype world, it has to do with childbirth and caring for infants. They have to rely on each other in certain life-situations. Probabably this is unscientific BS. so let's ignore it. We all have our mental stereotypes.

    What I want you to do is to write more essays like your TV watching essay that is on your blog. And I want you to read more books. At this point you are getting insights about human society and social behavior and you are getting the insights by yourself (because you are smart and insightful) but they are probably not original enough. Probably somebody already wrote a book about them. You have to work at it, but you could get to be a very interesting thinker.

    Also it is quite risky to focus too much on the behavioral differences between men and women----they are real and admittedly interesting----but the whole area of discussion is a sorepoint. Whenever you have something to say, I advise you to first at least think how you could say it in a gender-neutral fashion. After figuring out how to say it gender-neutral, then if you still want to say it with in-your-face gender-emphasis and get the high-voltage reaction and other consequences then OK, but at least it is then a conscious choice. And God help you.

    How do you say "Peace and good luck" in Dutch?
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2008
  17. Jul 27, 2008 #16
    I am talking about gender differences as they may have influenced evolution. The differences are there, I am not making them up. Pretending they are not there and have never been there is a losing battle. Hunter-gatherer is the generally accepted model. With men mostly hunting and women mostly gathering. But hunting is a lot about showing off, when times are tough no doubt men would switch to gathering, with all the consequences.

    Of course, how they were has nothing to do with how they should be and only little with how they will be in the future. But in today's world there are plenty of gender specific behaviours that are impossible to understand without taking gender roles into account. The stereotyping is mainly for the sake of the argument, can't be specific to 3 billion women around. I may have little consideration for gender sensitivities because I hardly ever come across women that feel there is something to be sensitive about. And I have some ideas about race, why should it be off limits..

    Hunting is information intensive for sure. But the information requirement and the way the information comes to you is different. An animal doesn't sit still and when you kill it, you take it with you. A hunter doesn't come home with a secret, or at least not as often as a gatherer would.

    This is an interesting link on the spatial skills involved in gathering.

    http://notexactlyrocketscience.wordpress.com/2007/08/23/why-are-women-better-at-food-shopping-than-men/
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2008
  18. Jul 27, 2008 #17

    marcus

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    I went there and one of the featured links was to some research that showed that women do not talk more than men (not to a statistically significant degree). The study claimed that they were the first study to actually check the urban legend (I dont know if that is true) and they showed that the folklore idea that women talk more is wrong.

    I have to go, company coming.
     
  19. Jul 27, 2008 #18
    You lived among those primates long enough to know what they talk about.

    It is easy to make a caricature of the evolutionary psychology kind of reasoning. When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. But then again, when all you have is a nail, all you need is a hammer. And all we have is an evolved social primate.
     
  20. Jul 27, 2008 #19

    wolram

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    Some one stuck his part in a hornets nest, best thing to do now is make like a hedgehog.
     
  21. Jul 28, 2008 #20

    marcus

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    :rofl:

    a deep truth
    Wolram, a profoundly wise person with many years experience at Physicsforums, is giving you the kindest and best advice, Adriaan
     
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