Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hearing Aids and Sexual Appeal

Evolution has equipped humans with powerful urges to select mates based on traits linked to genetic fitness. It's amazing how deep these instincts go.

One I always found interesting is how strongly people react to indicators of disability. This makes total evolutionary sense - sickly or disabled offspring are less likely to reproduce on the savanna, and the open-minded ancestors who didn't care were outbred by the picky ones that did.

But what's strange is that this applies to cases where the cosmetic effect of the disability is quite small. Take the case of hearings aids. Their physical appearance is barely different to ordinary headphones. They're also not something that was selected for specifically. That is, we may have instinctive responses to a cleft lip or an asymmetric face because of ancestors who observed the same things and reacted accordingly. But it's not like our forebears reacted to hearing aids directly, or even anything that looked like them. All you have is the gut instinct.

And yet I think the average person has a strangely strong negative reaction to them, for reasons that they'd struggle to articulate.

If you're interested in testing your own reaction, compare this:

(image credit)

The shape is very similar. The photos aren't quite the same - if you want a more representative hearing aid one, there's a more comparable stock photo here.

For the male version, compare this with this.

The difference is the mental associations of the deafness. And we're not talking about you selecting a life mate here - we're just talking about your subconscious reaction to a picture on a computer. I bet you that if you're honest with yourself, you react very differently to the two images, even when just rating their physical attractiveness.

Obviously, I have no specific data to back me up on this, other than a few anecdotal conversations with people over the years. You can take my lack of any specific data here in at least two ways.

The first is that without data, this post is nothing better than a hunch of mine (which is a fair criticism).

The second is that I'm confident enough of this hunch that I'm willing to bet by writing this post that you share the same response. Because if you don't react the way I think, you're going to read this thinking 'What the hell is that guy talking about? What an asshole!'.

Positive not normative, as they say.

No comments:

Post a Comment