The Mating Mind: Summary & Review

the mating mind book cover

The Mating Mind (2000) is an evolutionary psychology text in which Geoffrey Miller, the author, lays out a novel theory for human mind evolution.
Miller, with intelligent analysis and convincing argumentation, makes the case that the human mind is a fitness indicator that evolved through sexual selection.

Bullet Summary

  • Our minds didn’t develop as survival machines—or only as survival machines—but as courtship machines
  • The mind’s most expressive qualities are like a peacock tail: evolved to entertain and attract mates while parading high-fitness 
  • Our minds evolved through sexual selection.


About The Author:
Geoffrey Miller is an American evolutionary psychologist and psychology professor at the University of New Mexico.
Miller is one of my favorite authors and can be seen as a bit of a maverick in the world of academia, but one should take into account the “stuffiness” of the academic world. There have been some controversies, but when I dug deeper, he had not really said anything controversial. The way I see it, some people get roiled too easily when they seek what’s true rather than what’s convenient. 

Why Our Brains Evolved With Sexual Selection

The author states that our brains are simply too complex and costly to have evolved randomly or for survival.

There are only two ways a trait can develop: sexual selection or survival selection.
Survival selection is not very apt at explaining our brains.

Direct sexual selection for mental faculties offers a superior explanation for the emergence and maintenance of our large brains.

Once we started developing language, humans had a direct way of assessing mental abilities, and thought itself became subject to sexual selection.

Miller even says:

During human evolution, sexual selection seems to have shifted its primary target from body to mind.

Our Brains Didn’t Originally Offer Great Survival Advantages

A hundred thousand years ago, our ancestors were already anatomically just like us.

Yet they didn’t invent agriculture, civilization, or any advanced weaponry. 
Obviously, our mind was not such a huge instant game changer when it came to survival. 

And what our mind is uniquely good at just doesn’t help us survive.
What use is humor, art, storytelling, or flowery language?

Furthermore, many traits that offer a clear survival advantage repeat over and over across species -eyes, claws, sharp teeth, etc.-. This is called “convergent evolution”, and yet we don’t see any sign of convergence towards a human brain. 

Our human mind is unique, and sexual selection, fickle and unpredictable, perfectly explains its emergence.

Language Is Our Dancing Rituals

Many species’ courtship is based on singing or choreographical dances. 

Humans also dance or sing, but far more common is speaking.
Language is humans’ ritual courtship dance.

Instead of selecting mates based on the display of dance moves, tails, or songs, we started selecting each other based on ideas, stories, humor, and conversational skills. 
Which, in turn, were just another indicator of mental faculties and overall fitness. 

If you think about it, what do men and women mostly do when they first meet?
They talk.
And they assess each largely based on what each says and how they say it.

Sexual Selection: Female Pick Or Male Fighting?

Darwin saw two different processes for sexual selection:

  1. Male competition for female “possession” 
  2. Selection by choosy females

In either case, sexual competition sometimes does not benefit the species as a whole.
Says Miller:

Nature shaped animals for exhausting sexual competition that may be of little benefit to the species as a whole.

Runaway Sexual Selection: An Imperfect Explanation For Our Brain

Runaway sexual selection happens when females start selecting for a specific trait and the male population quickly undergoes significant changes to adapt to female sexual choice.

With runaway selection, traits that become maladaptive from a survival point of view can occur (think of antlers’ horns or peacock’s tails).

Sexual selection can start randomly, and it’s the fuel that drives the species to change and diverge.

Says Miller:

Suppose you take a dozen species of ape that lived in social groups in Africa about ten million years ago and apply runaway sexual selection.
One species might develop a runaway preference for large muscles, and turn into gorillas.
Another species might develop a runaway preference for constant sex, and turn into bonobos. A third species might develop a runaway preference for creative intelligence, and turn into us.

When we accept the theory of runaway selection questions like “why are we the only intelligent species” make no sense anymore.
It’s like asking the lottery winner why he won. 

Problems With Runaway Selection

We do not have enough fossil evidence to support the runaway process VS a slower process like ordinary survival selection, and Miller goes on to raise a few questions that the runaway process still leaves open.

For example, runaway sexual selection usually produces differences between males and females, and IQ is the same for men and women.

However, one might argue that propensities differ, with men far more likely to produce and amass works of art, literature, music, or status symbols.
Says Miller:

A strong version of this theory might suggest that human culture has been dominated by males because human culture is mostly courtship effort, and all male mammals invest more energy in courtship. Male humans paint more pictures, record more jazz albums, write more books (…)

Miller also takes into account that culture has also contributed to inhibiting females’ expressions of art. 

Overall, Miller says, the current evidence does not support a strong version of the runaway brain theory.
But, at the same time, it also does not support any theory of male sexual competition through toolmaking, or group warfare as the driving force behind the mind’s evolution.

Why Sexual Selection Explains Our Mind Despite Lack of Dimorphism

When female sexual selection starts selecting for a certain trait, there usually begins a divergence between males and females.

Think of the lion’s mane, the peacock’s tail, or the singing of some birds and frogs.

But there are three possible explanations for the mind having stayed similar in both men and women:

  1. Genetic correlation: in the long run sex differences would evolve, but in the short run both sexes can see an increase in ornamentation
  2. Sexual choosiness for high intelligence requires high intelligence: there is probably lots of genetic overlap between the ability to produce attractive sexual displays and the ability to appreciate them. This overlap can explain why the intellectual differences between men and women are much smaller than, say, long tails in birds (more research is needed here, for example, to shame that the same genes are involved for cultural production and assessment)
  3. Mutual choice: most of human evolution happens in long-term relationships because short-term ones do not often lead to pregnancies. And when it comes to the long term, men are equally choosy. Thus, the selection for intelligence might have been a mutual one

However, if it was a question of mutual choice, then the runaway brain theory is not the right one to explain human intelligence.

The Human Mind As Fitness Indicator

Fitness is the propensity to survive and reproduce successfully and it’s determined in large part by an individual’s genetic quality. 

High genetic quality usually means low mutations, because mutations are shots in the dark and most shots in the dark miss.

How can a female -or a male, for that matter-, assess the genetic fitness of an individual?
Well, some traits reveal more genetic information than others, and often these traits are the sexual ornaments that evolve as fitness indicators.

The human mind, with its incredibly high complexity, makes for a wonderful fitness indicator. 
It’s a simple idea: the more complex it is, the easier it is to mess it up. And if functions well, that’s a big vote of trust for the brain’s owner fitness.

And once sexual selection puts the brain in its crosshairs, the brain is helpless to resist: it has to play the game, take risks, and invest in more and more complexity (i.e., smarter and smarter). Those who weren’t able to prove mental fitness died out, together with their small, efficient, risk-averse, and mutation-proof brains (mutation-proof because the smaller and simpler it is, the less likely it is to develop dangerous mutations).

It’s just like the chimp’s testes or human female boobs: bigger testes and boobs are not good for natural selection.
But they are the tools of the mating game, and those who want to play must play along with the game’s rules.

The Handicap Principle

The handicap principle states that for a fitness indicator to be reliable, it must tax the organism.

If it’s not costly and resource-demanding for the organism, then it can easily be faked, and it wouldn’t be a reliable indicator. 

The human mind is very costly to maintain.
Writes Miller:

The brain’s costs are what make it a good fitness indicator. Sexual selection made our brains wasteful, if not wasted: it transformed a small, efficient ape-style brain into a huge, energy- hungry handicap spewing out luxury behaviors like conversation, music, and art.

The Ornament Theory of The Human Mind

Miller goes on to describe how sexual ornaments help win mates by leveraging sensory bias.

The human mind can also touch pleasure centers in other humans.
In an era when television and movies had not yet been invented, more entertaining men were more attractive to women. 
Women wanted to spend more time with men who could tell elaborate stories or make them laugh.

Men who created better art and paintings, weaved, and wore better clothes and body paintings were more successful than women.
We can still see it today.

However, by itself, the ornament theory is not enough to explain the evolution of our brains.

Miller says we must put all three theories together to come up with a solid theory and understanding of the human mind’s evolution.

Towards An Integrated Theory for Human Mind’s Evolution

Here are the three theories Miller introduced:

  • Runaway selection (women started selecting for high intelligence)
  • Indicator of overall health (fitness indicator)
  • Sensory bias (brain-related functions such as speech and art also happen to be entertaining and/or exciting)

The three of them are not separated anyway.

Fitness indicators also tend to become more ornamental because the sensory bias of the female shapes the ornaments to a certain aesthetic, while traits that started off as runaway ornaments tend to acquire value as fitness indicators because beautiful ornaments tend to be costly to produce.

Sexual Selection: The VC of Evolution

One of the big questions of evolutionary psychology is how complex organs can come to exist.

For example, how can you develop an eye when an eye is composed of so many interdependent pieces?
What use is a retina without a cornea or a pupil?

Why would individuals start developing a retina without all the other components already in place?

Miller says that sexual innovation might favor early development simply because it looks sexy and works like a good fitness indicator.

So, for example, the first prototype wings were useless, but they looked cool. And so sexual selection pushed towards longer and longer wings.
Until they finally also served for survival purposes.

Sure, most of those evolutions will bring no benefit, and some of them will revert back and disappear.
But some will turn out to be useful and will push evolution forward.

The human mind might have evolved the same way.
Started out with sexual selection and then proved to be a huge boon for survival as well, bringing us to the apex species on earth.

How We Evolved: Female Choice, Natural Pair-Bonds, & Little Male Help

To estimate what dating and mating were like in our Pleistocene past, we need to gather data from three different sources:

  • Sexual behavior of other primates
  • Sexual behavior of modern humans still living as hunter-gatherers
  • Sexual selection evidence in modern humans, both in body shape and human psychology

Since to conceive it takes more or less 3 months of regular sex, very short-term partnerships have been less significant in our evolution.
Longer-term partnerships have been more important from an evolutionary point of view.

Lifelong monogamy was probably very rare; polygyny was probably the exception, and serial monogamy dotted with more or less rare flings and affairs was probably the norm.

Powerful Female Mate Choice

Females exercised strong power in mate choice. 
Harassment was probably relatively common, but females could curb it and retaliate through family, friends (including female friends), male partners, and relatives.

There was no jail time for killing an abusive partner, a stalker, or a psychopath.

Hidden ovulation also increased female power and power of choice (see: the sexual arms race and the tools of warfare).
And once language evolved, it also served as a tool for policing against harassment, rape, or illicit affairs.

But men also chose their partners; the fact that both men and women evolved distinctive sexual ornaments proves that both genders exercise choice.

Fathers’ Help Was Spotty, But Helpful

Male hominids probably did little fathering.

However, that fathering might have increased as human children started taking longer and longer to fully develop.
With children’s long-lasting vulnerability, it made more sense for men to assist their offspring rather than seek new mates.

Women likely had boyfriends, but the boyfriends might not have been the fathers of any of her children, or only of her last child.

But that might have also helped increase male parental investment.
Paternal effort may have evolved through sexual choice as a courtship effort, such as: when men attracted women by pleasing their kids.
Because if a woman’s child didn’t like the pursuer, chances are she would have stayed with the children.

However, Miller ends up saying that the role of men as fathers and household contributors is still spotty.
There are some signs that men have also been selected for being good fathers, but more research is needed.

The Myth of Male Protection

Women likely didn’t need that much protection from men.

Against predators, men have virtually no advantage over women. A mere 10% more physical size and 20% more weight make little difference.
They may be more accurate at throwing things, but the odds are still heavily stacked against any human individual when facing a saber-toothed tiger or a charging rhino.

When it comes to defending against other humans, a woman would have been safer among dozens of other women than in mixed groups or married to a man without any social support group.

Men might have actually been a burden at times.
Says Miller:

Interviews with contemporary hunter-gatherer women by anthropologists such as Marjorie Shostak reveal that these women view many men as more trouble than they’re worth.

However, exceptions are made for high-fit men:

If they have very high fitness, then their good genes, good sex, and good conversation might compensate for their messiness and lethargy. But if they are only average, their potential for sexual jealousy and violent irritability may render them a net cost

However, I found one source describing Shostak as a feminist, which makes her opinion here possibly biased.

Youth Matters Less When There Is No Socially Sanctioned Monogamy

Miller says that age matters less when there is no strict monogamy, like in our evolutionary past.

If the relationship was likely to end within a few years, it mattered little whether she was 30 or 10 years away from menopause.
Sure, age still correlated with fertility, but the simple fact that she was still alive, and possibly with children, boded well for her fitness level and parenting skills.

Sexual & Social Discrimination Systems Are Sensitive to Stimulation Yet Resistant: Orgasms and Humor

Whenever we see a human perceptual or cognitive ability that is sensitive to the stimulation but not to all stimulation, we can infer that it’s a tool for sexual or social discrimination.

Orgasms, for example, are not always easy for women, which might make them a tool for selecting certain types of men who have enough energy and are kind enough to take their time.

Humor is the same: a good sense of humor discriminates and is designed to find partners of a similar or higher level of intelligence.

Human morality has been sexually selected

Both men and women love kind partners.

Many authors explained human morality as either a side effect of nepotism (W. D. Hamilton, 1964) or as reciprocity (see “The Origins of Virtue“).

Both are very valid theories and probably both nepotism and reciprocity shaped our morals and ethics.
But they still leave out plenty of unexplained behavior. Charity donations, for example, moral leadership, sexual fidelity, or sportsmanship.
Miller goes more in-depth on charity donations and why they don’t fit the kinship and nepotistic models, and I couldn’t agree more with him.

For too long these tendencies have been swept under the carpet, and now the evidence has become too strong to deny.
As Miller says:

Human kindness is becoming accepted as an adaptation to be explained rather than a myth to be ridiculed.

So, how to explain it?

Miller instead says that morality, kindness, and altruism possibly evolved thanks to sexual selection. 

Natural selection might at times favor selfishness, but natural selection is impotent if sexual selection starts selecting for kindness and altruism. 
Miller says that courtship behaviors that displayed kindness and altruism -hunting- won out over courtship behavior that was neutral -showing off- or aggressive -fighting and hurting other contenders- because the altruistic courtship tribes won against the selfish ones.

It sounds like group selection, but it’s not: every single individual is still acting selfishly. But the selfish act just happens to benefit others instead of either adding no value or hurting them.

My Note:
I was surprised that Miller didn’t mention that kindness also signaled the potential for higher male parental investment. 

The fact that kindness is a trait used for sexual positioning is also the reason why it’s difficult to go against political correctness. 
If a researcher were to say for example that intelligence is important, different among people, and heritable, that could be misconstrued as the researcher being unkind and asocial. 

Moral Leadership

Frans de Waal‘s research among chimpanzees showed that the alpha male ape Yeroen remained in power thanks to his social intelligence and his ability to foster peace and harmony.

That means that we have common ancestors for which status based on leadership became a viable alternative. 

Again, this makes sense when we look at evolution from a wider angle and not because women preferred good leadership “because it’s good”.
Females might have developed a preference for psychopathic leaders who rule out pure violence. 
But they would have likely lost against groups where virtuous and cooperative leadership increased group effectiveness.

Humans took it one step further.
Says Miller:

Where chimpanzees evolved moral leadership, humans evolved the more advanced capacity of moral vision, including the passionate articulation of social ideals concerning justice, freedom, and equality. Moral vision is sexually attractive, and may have been generated by sexual selection.

Also read:

Why Psychopaths Get Laid More

Morals: Another Tool to Fight The Sexual Conflict?

I particularly loved Miller’s take on morals.

Miller notes first that any overt display of fitness indicators breaks all of our moral values.

He says:

Loudly advertising one’s fitness violates our values of humility, decorum, and tact.

Why is it so?

Well, Miller says that it’s because morals were purposefully invented to discourage the too-obvious parading of fitness indicators.

He says:

Human norms and values developed as reactions to patterns of natural human behavior that we decided should be discouraged.
If a great deal of human behavior consists of advertising one’s fitness, and if many ways of doing that impose social costs on others, and if moral norms develop to minimize social costs, then a lot of moral norms should be aimed directly against the irresponsible use of fitness indicators.
They emerged as moral instincts and cultural inventions to combat the excesses of sexual self-advertisement and sexual competition.

Personally, I think that morals can function as a civilizing force.
Check out this forum entry for the discussion.

Art & The New Sexual Game That is Modern Art

An artistic vein likely helped our artistic ancestors mate more than plain men with no artistic taste.

However, looking at art today would be misleading because modern art has changed the game.

The art that made our ancestors successful was folk aesthetics, not modern art.
Modern art has been usurped by the elites to play their own social and sexual mating games.
Write Miller:

With folk aesthetics, the focus is on the art-object as a display of the creator’s craft.
With elite aesthetics, the focus is on the viewer’s response as a social display.
(…) as a verbal display in its own right. Elite aesthetics follow the same signaling principles as sexual selection, but follow them in cultural direction specifically designed to contrast against folk aesthetics.
Elites, free to enjoy all manner of costly and wasteful display, often try to distinguish themselves from the common run of humanity by replacing natural human tastes with artfully contrived preferences.
But to an evolutionary psychologist, the beauty that ordinary people find in ordinary ornamental and representational art says far more about art’s origins.

When an average visitor to a modern art museum says “even a child could do that”, he is actually saying that he cannot discern the ability of the artist from the painting he is seeing.
Modern art does not work nearly as well as a fitness indicator.

Yes, modern art is all a big game, and Trump said the same in “The Art of The Deal“).

More Wisdom

  • Evolutionary psychology must look at differences, not just similarities

Some authors, like Steven Pinker and John Tooby, said that evolutionary psychology should focus on human universals.
It’s a good rule of thumb for survival adaptations, but it overlooks sexually selected adaptations that evolved specifically to advertise individual differences in fitness, health, and intelligence. 

  • Sexual VS Natural selection: survival of the fittest is misleading

Surviving is evolutionary useless without reproduction.
Heritable differences in reproductive ability are as important in evolution as heritable differences in survival ability.

And that’s why sexual selection is stronger -if not stronger- than natural selection.
Of course, though, the two are often not opposite to each other but overlap. Sexually selected traits are most frequently also fitness indicators ((Fisher’s intuition) and often, but not always, also provide a survival advantage.

  • Sexual selection in between natural and artificial selection

Some biology students are taught sexual selection as a subset of natural selection.
But that’s wrong, and that’s not even how Darwin thought of sexual selection. Darwin saw sexual selection as an autonomous process that was midway between natural and artificial selection.

  • Sexual selection happens in Long Term Relationships

Much of the focus of dating is on shorter-term sexual relationships.
Yet, true evolution is more likely to happen in longer-term bonding because short-term sex rarely leads to pregnancies.

  • Psychology missed the train on sexual selection

Not only have 20th-century social sciences missed the boat on human nature and psychology, but evolutionary psychology is still missing the boat of sexual selection in humans.

Major evolutionary psychology works such as Pinker’s “How The Mind Works” and David Buss’s textbook “Evolutionary Psychology” both explain most of the mind’s adaptation through natural selection.

  • Physical strength is not synonymous with fitness

Physical strength is not synonymous with fitness, because the energy and investment of muscles can easily produce fewer offspring than an investment in the brain, larger testicles, or even fat reserves.

  • Our ancestors’ life was boring more than dangerous

Contrary to the popular belief that our ancestors lived a highly dangerous, busy life, Miller says that our ancestors probably had more leisure time than we had.
Men went out hunting, often unsuccessfully, while women successfully gathered food. 

Sure, predators were around, but they weren’t a constant and endless danger and our ancestors got used to it like we are used to the traffic and city life. 
Our ancestors lived some of the longest lives in the animal kingdom, suggesting that the daily risk of death was minuscule. 

Like most other apes, our ancestors didn’t worry about daily survival, but about social and sexual problems.

  • Sexual selection does not require polygyny

Females do all the choosing and a few males monopolizing reproduction makes sexual selection move faster.
But polygyny is not a necessity because even in perfect monogamy higher fitness individuals pick each other, and their offspring survive at a higher rate. 

  • Female want heritable fitness, and resources are an indicator

Miller says that Buss has amassed plenty of evidence that women prefer high status, high income, and high resources men.

But while Buss interpreted his data as women evolving to prefer good providers to support their families, Miller believes that, albeit those traits correlated with male material benefits, they also correlate with heritable fitness.
And women more likely evolved looking for heritable fitness more than material benefits.
If the same traits can then work both as fitness indicators and wealth indicators, all the better.

  • Freud got it wrong: it’s not children wanting sex with parents, it’s about fitness indicators

Miller notes that social relationships are similar to dating: we still put our best foot forward and seek the best friends we can get.

The same happens between children and parents: children want to advertise fitness so that the parents keep investing in them. 
That’s what Freud got wrong: he noticed flirtatious behavior between children and parents and thought it was and inferred it was because of the child’s secret desire to have sex with relatives.
But that would make no evolutionary sense: it’s most likely because children are seeking parental investment.

  • Winner takes all and male risks

Men developed according to a higher-risk strategy than females. 

Men all have higher birth defects, higher infant death, higher mortality and any age, earlier senescence, and greater variation in health, strength, size, and intelligence. 
The risky strategy suggests that male competition is a higher-risk, higher-reward game.
Men at the top of the hierarchy reproduced a lot more than average men, while men at the bottom reproduced very little or not at all. 

  • Runaway sexual selection produces differences among humans

Even within the same species, runaway sexual selection can produce differences between groups, ethnicities, or races. 

This should be obvious to anyone who has traveled and can recognize different faces among different ethnicities.

  • The evolution of the penis

Male genitals evolved equally for effectively carrying sperm and under female sexual selection pressure.

Penises likely did not evolve for carrying sperm though, because sperm competition correlates much more strongly with testicles’ sizes.

Length or thickness is not crucial in sperm’s war. A thick penis might “trap” a competitor’s sperm during copulation while a long one might overshoot the cervical opening rather than meet it accurately (Also see: Sperm Wars review).

Some authors espoused the belief that penis size was a tool for males against male competition, but I agree with Miller when he says that makes little sense.

the mating mind book cover


On sexual selection trumping survival selection:

Those proto-humans that did not attract sexual interest did not become our ancestors, no matter how good they were at surviving.

On evolution making us hungry, not happy:

Evolution’s job is to motivate us, not to satisfy us.

On entertainment, often provided by our mind, being more important than war and competition in the history of our evolution:

I am making a different pitch, for romantic comedy as the genre least likely to mislead us, if we think of h u m a n evolution as a narrative. My rationale is that in action, war, and intrigue, people mostly just die. But in romantic comedy, people sometimes get pregnant.

Fitness like a secret Swiss bank account:

Fitness is like money in a secret Swiss bank account. You may know how much you have, but nobody else can find out directly. If they ask the bank, the bank will not tell them. If they ask you, you might lie. If they are willing to mate with you if your capital exceeds a certain figure, you may be especially tempted to lie.

On the idiocy of thinking about the brain as a “computational machine” for survivability:

As long as you ignore most of human life, the computer metaphor is terrific.

I was surprised to see Miller using the term “patriarchy”, but he makes a great point on the myth of male protection:

Female hominids seem unlikely to have displayed the exaggerated physical vulnerability expected of women under patriarchy.
When you picture ancestral females facing predators, do not imagine Marilyn Monroe whimpering and cowering. Imagine Steffi Graf brandishing a torch in place of a tennis racket.

Some authors speculated that sexual differences work as a “species recognition marker”, such as tools to help animals recognize they belong to the same species. 
Miller obviously doesn’t believe that’s the case, and he ironizes:

This viewpoint implies that the hours of mutual conversation during human courtship are likewise nothing more than a way for us to tell that the other individual is a human rather than a chimpanzee.

On the same techniques of sexual selection used for socialization and family relationships:

We should not expect to see fitness indicators used exclusively after puberty and before menopause, only that they are then directed at different targets.

On sperm competition not being a very important aspect in the penis’ evolution:

If sperm competition were the driving force behind penis evolution, males might have evolved scary-looking flagellated genitals. Men would copulate by inserting their equipment, instantly flooding the cervix with half a pint of semen, and then lying on top of the woman for the next three days to make sure no rivals have the chance to introduce competing sperm. I understand that such behavior is quite rare.

On orgasm as a tool for sexual selection:

Surely, sexual selection theory offers insight into this ancient h u m a n mystery. Female orgasm seems poorly designed as a pair-bonding mechanism, but it is perfectly designed as a discriminatory system that separates the men from the boys.

On art as just another tool for sexual selection. This part was hilarious, I hope Geoffrey Miller allows me to quote it (and shorten it a bit) because it truly deserves some more publicity:

If you could interview a male Satin Bowerbird for Artforum magazine, he might say something like this:

“I cannot remember when I first developed this raging thirst to present richly saturated color fields within a monumental yet minimalist stage-set, but I feel connected to something beyond myself when I indulge these passions. When I see a beautiful orchid high in a tree, I simply must have it for my own. When I see a single shell out of place in my creation, I must put it right.
Birds-of-paradise may grow lovely feathers, but there is no aesthetic mind at work there, just a body’s brute instinct.
It is a happy coincidence that females sometimes come to my gallery openings and appreciate my work, but it would be an insult to suggest that I create in order to procreate. We live in a post-Freudian, post-modernist era in which crude sexual meta-narratives are no longer credible as explanations of our artistic impulses.”

Fortunately, bowebirds cannot talk, so we are free to use sexual selection to explain their work, without them begging to differ.

On morality:

Any good evolutionary theory of h u m a n morality must convert the apparent costs of helping others into a realistic benefit to one’s genes.
Saints are literally one in a million. They may be instructive as moral ideals, but they are statistically irrelevant.

On the phenomenon of “anonymous donors”:

I suspect that few male millionaires keep their charitable donations secret from their wives and mistresses.

On altruism:

Human altruism is not an evolutionary paradox. It is a sexual ornament.


The Mating Mind is one of my favorite books.
There are no real cons, just a few notes:

  • Runaway sexual selection can go both ways with our brains?

Miller says that if our brain evolved with runaway selection, then it was too slow.
It’s possible we had “bursts” of runaway selection, but that would beg the question of why they all went towards increased brain size since runaway sexual selection is not biased in any direction.

However, I don’t see why once a species is moving towards more intelligent not “randomly” women would start selecting for stupidity. 
It doesn’t add up.
I don’t think “up” or “down”, “increase” or “decrease” is as random as Miller presents them to be.

  • Randomness doesn’t have to look random

When discussing the runaway selection of the human mind, the author seems to expect randomness to “look” random.
But randomness can equally look neatly organized, especially when we’re talking about a few bursts only (on “random bias” see more with Taleb, Kahnemann, and Thaler).

  • Men not helping each other?

The author seems to see no reason for the “patriarchy” to exist because that would mean helping out other male competitors, and that makes no evolutionary sense.
He says:

Men often bully women into silence, but this is usually to make room for their own verbal display. If men were dominating public language just to maintain patriarchy, that would qualify as a puzzling example of evolutionary altruism

I disagree here.
Keeping women away from power helps average men because independent women are -or, at least, feel- like a threat to average men since those said women wouldn’t need those men.
And since most people cluster around the average, a concerted effort to keep women down is -or, at least, feels- like a win for most men.

The patriarchy is not a concerted, conscious effort, but it can be the net result of countless individuals acting on their own accord, for their own interest (see Ghodsee, 2018)


Oh my, this came out as a long review.
I even Tweeted it to the author, who hopefully will not be too bothered by it.

But the reason it came out so long is that “The Mating Mind” is a seminal text of psychology and evolutionary psychology.
And it’s one of the best that I have read so far.

I would go as far as to say that it’s a must-read for anyone who truly wants to understand evolutionary psychology.

Not only the book is a 10/10 in content, but Miller’s approach is also a 10/10.
Because he approaches science like a true scientist: invites the readers to think with their own minds, clearly preface what’s data-driven and what’s speculation, and he is the first one to challenge his own hypothesis instead of trying to “sell them” to the readers. 

This is what we need more of.

Highly recommended!

Also, check out:

Best Evolutionary Psychology Books

Or get the book on Amazon

Scroll to Top