Chapter 12. Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
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Dan Hurley Forget mindfulness meditation, computerized working-memory training, and learning a musical instrument; all methods recently shown by scientists to increase intelligence. There could be an easier answer. It turns out that sex might actually make you smarter. Researchers in Maryland and South Korea recently found that sexual activity in mice and rats improves mental performance and increases neurogenesis (the production of new neurons) in the hippocampus, where long-term memories are formed. In April, a team from the University of Maryland reported that middle-aged rats permitted to engage in sex showed signs of improved cognitive function and hippocampal function. In November, a group from Konkuk University in Seoul concluded that sexual activity counteracts the memory-robbing effects of chronic stress in mice. “Sexual interaction could be helpful,” they wrote, “for buffering adult hippocampal neurogenesis and recognition memory function against the suppressive actions of chronic stress.” So growing brain cells through sex does appear to have some basis in scientific fact. But there’s some debate over whether fake sex—pornography—could be harmful. Neuroscientists from the University of Texas recently argued that excessive porn viewing, like other addictions, can result in permanent “anatomical and pathological” changes to the brain. That view, however, was quickly challenged in a rebuttal from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, who said that the Texans "offered little, if any, convincing evidence to support their perspectives. Instead, excessive liberties and misleading interpretations of neuroscience research are used to assert that excessive pornography consumption causes brain damage." © 2014 by The Atlantic Monthly Group
By Felicity Muth Whether there exist differences between boys and girls is passionately debated (for example, see this debate about gender disparity between Stephen Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke). Some studies have found that girls are more sociable than boys, but prefer to play with just one other person, while boys prefer a larger group to play with. However, it is very difficult to say whether differences that we see in boys’ and girls’ behaviour has a biological basis, as boys and girls are also treated differently. Even before a baby is born, parents have often painted its room pink or blue, and bought gender-differentiated toys. A mother is more likely to under-estimate her female baby’s crawling abilities, and over-estimate her male baby’s (he’s a boy, of course he’s going to be stronger and better at crawling?!). Perceptions on the personality and abilities of a baby also differ depending on whether the adult is told that the child is male or female. Given these differences in how people treat male and female children, it can be difficult to say whether the behaviours we see are have a biological basis or not. However, we can look for certain clues to biological differences in child behaviour from our ‘cousins’ the chimpanzees. Chimpanzees live in communities of 20 to 180 individuals, with sub-groups within this. One recent study looked at the behaviour of eight female and twelve male chimpanzee infants to see if their behaviour differed from each other. They found that the young males were more sociable than the young females. © 2014 Scientific American
Brittany Fallon In today’s focal party, the main characters are Nambi, the Alpha female who engages in regular sexual relations with young males; Nick, the former Alpha male, replaced by Nambi’s son Musa; and Zefa, Nick’s former Beta male, who is forming new alliances to overthrow Musa. It’s hard not to pretend I’m witnessing the real world version of Game of Thrones – except it’s not humans I’m observing, but chimpanzees. There’s no Iron Throne involved in this power struggle – just the race for reproductive success. Dominant individuals enjoy a number of benefits that improve their chance of passing on genes, including richer access to sexual partners. But how does this influence their tactics for attracting mates? Perhaps no effort is needed, the chimpanzee equivalent to the philandering Robert, with potential sex partners who line up in hopes of birthing the next possible heir. Or is it that, like promiscuous Cersei, they’ve learned a number of coy and successful pick up lines (“Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon.”)? Elaborate metaphors aside, this is exactly the sort of question that I attempt to answer for my PhD on sexual displays in the Sonso chimpanzee community of the Budongo Forest Reserve in Uganda. Chimpanzees, like a variety of animals, produce ‘courtship displays’ to attract mates. Displays are largely comprised of gestures, which can be broadly defined as distinct bodily movements that do not physically manipulate the receiver toward the goal of the signaller. Both males and females, ranging in age from 2 to 52 years old in my community, can produce these solicitations. Displays can be elaborate, many signals strung together, or they can be simple, a single shaking of a branch followed immediately by copulation. What’s particularly amazing about chimpanzee solicitations is that they seem to be intentionally communicative: following a display, signallers will visibly wait for a response from their target by gaze-checking, and, if met with failure, will persist in gesturing. © 2014 Scientific American
By Alexandra Sifferlin It’s always been conventional wisdom that girls reach maturity more quickly than boys, but now scientists have provided some proof. In new research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, an international group of researchers led by a team from Newcastle University in England found that girls’ brains march through the reorganization and pruning typical of normal brain development earlier than boys’ brains. In the study, in which 121 people between ages 4 to 40 were scanned using MRIs, the scientists documented the ebb and flow of new neural connections, and found that some brain fibers that bridged far-flung regions of the brain tended to remain stable, while shorter connections, many of which were redundant, were edited away. And the entire reorganization seemed to occur sooner in girls’ brains than in boys’ brains. Females also tended to have more connections across the two hemispheres of the brain. The researchers believe that the earlier reorganization in girls makes the brain work more efficiently, and therefore reach a more mature state for processing the environment. What drives the gender-based difference in timing isn’t clear from the current study, but the results suggest that may be a question worth investigating. © 2013 Time Inc.
// by Megan Gannon, Live Science News Editor Bonobos have a reputation among the great apes as "hippie chimps," and new research hints that high levels of a key thyroid hormone may play a role in keeping the animals' aggression in check. Found in the lowland forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bonobos (Pan troglodytes) are closely related to chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) but the two diverge in behavior. Bonobos seem to diffuse social tension with an impressive repertoire of sex acts rather than physical fights. Males in particular show low levels of aggression — they even maintain platonic friendships with females and stick by their mothers into adulthood. The life of male chimpanzees, meanwhile, revolves around climbing the social ladder (or at least hanging onto their current rung), and navigating cooperative and aggressive relationships with other males. [8 Humanlike Behaviors of Primates] Scientists recently found another big difference between the two Pan species: A key thyroid hormone decreases at a much later age in bonobos compared with chimps. For their study, scientists took urine samples from about 100 chimpanzees and 96 bonobos living in zoos. The researchers specifically looked at the apes' levels of triiodothyronine (T3), a hormone in the thyroid gland that is crucial for development in all vertebrates (animals with backbones). © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC
by Chelsea Whyte For chameleons, war paint isn't just an accessory, it is a battle flag. The brightness of the colours these lizards display and how rapidly they change are good indicators of which animal will win in a fight. Chameleons are famous for changing colour to hide from predators by blending into their surroundings, but they also use colour for social communication. One of the most diversely coloured species is the veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus), which lives in parts of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. "At their brightest, they have vertical yellow stripes, blue-green bellies, black speckles that provide contrast and make their stripes stand out, and orange around the corner of their mouths," says Russell Ligon, a behavioural ecologist at Arizona State University in Tempe. To see if individual variations in these colours and patterns influenced the outcome of a fight, Ligon and his colleague Kevin McGraw staged a round-robin tournament in which 10 male veiled chameleons were pitted against each other. Using a high-speed camera, they were able to capture the brightness and colour changes from 28 points on each animal, taking into account how the colours would look to a chameleon's eye – which sees both visible and ultraviolet light. They found that males with the brightest side stripes were more likely to instigate a fight, whereas those with brighter heads that changed colour most rapidly were more likely to win. This suggests that different colours and patterns may signal different aspects of competitive behaviour – how motivated the chameleon is versus its strength. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By JAMES GORMAN Sometimes the scientists who study animal behavior solve puzzles and other times they uncover new ones. The war between mockingbirds and cowbirds is a case in point. Cowbirds are brood parasites, meaning they lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species, thus unloading the messy and demanding business of chick-rearing. They also peck holes in the eggs of the host birds, destroying as many as they can. Mockingbirds are a favorite target of this plan, and it seems to make perfect sense for them to viciously attack cowbirds when they catch them in the nest. But when Ros Gloag, then a doctoral student at Oxford, and her colleagues in Argentina looked closely at the war between chalk-browed mockingbirds and shiny cowbirds, they found something unexpected, as they reported in the November issue of Animal Behaviour. They stationed small video cameras near the nests of 40 pairs of chalk-browed mockingbirds. Over two breeding seasons they recorded more than 200 attacks on intruding cowbirds. They were surprised to find that these attacks, which their videos show to be quite vicious, did not stop the cowbirds from laying eggs. The cowbirds would hunker down and let the much large mockingbirds deliver hammer blows to the head, but in matter of seconds they would lay an egg and flee. How could such a failed strategy persist in evolution? © 2013 The New York Times Company
By Julia Calderone As we sat in my car outside a silent movie theater in Los Angeles, my friend anxiously opened a plastic bag containing a white T-shirt she’d slept in for the past three nights. “Does it smell like me?” she asked nervously, gesturing the open end toward my face. I stuck my nose into the bag and inhaled. We were about to attend a pheromone-based speed dating party with the following rules: 1. Find a clean white T-shirt. 2. Sleep in only that shirt for three consecutive nights. 3. Bring the shirt to the party sealed in a bag. As we walked into the theater, coordinators assigned each of our bags a unique color-coded sticker (pink for female, blue for male), and tossed them into a pile. A pack of hipsters nursing PBRs sat in the wooden theater seats, slightly amused by the bizarre 70s Egyptian-themed silent porn projected onto the screen. In the courtyard, 20-somethings mingled by the outdoor bar. Did they think alcohol would make us okay with sniffing strangers’ dirty laundry? Mounds of bags sat on two long tables – beckoning our nostrils. We were instructed to sniff as many T-shirts of the sex we were attracted to, and select shirts that innately smelled the sexiest. I came across bag number 166, which shockingly smelled exactly like my grandmother’s house – a delightful mix of Christmas and chicken parmesan. The point was to trust our instincts, right? I went with it. © 2013 Scientific American
By Neuroskeptic This morning, the world woke up to the news that Scientists discover the difference between male and female brains Britain’s Independent today actually made that their front page. They went on to discuss “the hardwired difference that could explain why men are ‘better at map reading’”. The rest of the world’s media were no less excited. Well. I don’t have time to get into criticizing the media or decrying gender stereotypes, so let’s just stick to the science. The study in question, published in PNAS, is called Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain. The authors used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to estimate the integrity of the white matter tracts going in various directions at each point in the brain. In a large sample of 428 males and 521 females aged from 8 to 22, they report sex differences in the pattern of white matter connectivity. In general, the female brains were ‘more connected’ than the male, except in the cerebellum: here’s the plot for a summary measure, the Participation Coefficient. I have two issues with this: Head Motion. A perennial Neuroskeptic favorite, this one. A paper just last week showed convincingly that even modest amounts of head movement during the MRI scan causes changes in DTI. Various commentators on Twitter and elsewhere swiftly pointed out that it’s not implausible that men and women might move different amounts on average, so that might account for at least some of these results.
Ian Sample, science correspondent Scientists have drawn on nearly 1,000 brain scans to confirm what many had surely concluded long ago: that stark differences exist in the wiring of male and female brains. Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women's brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men's brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions. Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes, with men's brains apparently wired more for perception and co-ordinated actions, and women's for social skills and memory, making them better equipped for multitasking. "If you look at functional studies, the left of the brain is more for logical thinking, the right of the brain is for more intuitive thinking. So if there's a task that involves doing both of those things, it would seem that women are hardwired to do those better," Verma said. "Women are better at intuitive thinking. Women are better at remembering things. When you talk, women are more emotionally involved – they will listen more." She added: "I was surprised that it matched a lot of the stereotypes that we think we have in our heads. If I wanted to go to a chef or a hairstylist, they are mainly men." The findings come from one of the largest studies to look at how brains are wired in healthy males and females. The maps give scientists a more complete picture of what counts as normal for each sex at various ages. Armed with the maps, they hope to learn more about whether abnormalities in brain connectivity affect brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited
By PAUL BLOOM In 1780, Immanuel Kant wrote that “sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite.” And after that appetite is sated? The loved one, Kant explained, “is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry.” Many contemporary feminists agree that sexual desire, particularly when elicited by pornographic images, can lead to “objectification.” The objectifier (typically a man) thinks of the target of his desire (typically a woman) as a mere thing, lacking autonomy, individuality and subjective experience. This idea has some laboratory support. Studies have found that viewing people’s bodies, as opposed to their faces, makes us judge those people as less intelligent, less ambitious, less competent and less likable. One neuroimaging experiment found that, for men, viewing pictures of sexualized women induced lowered activity in brain regions associated with thinking about other people’s minds. The objectification thesis also sits well with another idea that many psychologists, including myself, have defended, which is that we are all common-sense dualists. Even if you are a staunch science-minded atheist, in everyday life you still think of people as immaterial conscious beings — we inhabit fleshy bodies, but we are not ourselves physical. To see someone as a body is in opposition to thinking of her as a mind, then, and hence a heightened focus on someone’s body tends to strip away her personhood. But this analysis is too simple. It’s not literally true that women in pornography are thought of as inanimate and unfeeling objects; if they were, then they would just as effectively be depicted as unconscious or unresponsive, as opposed to (as is more often the case) aroused and compliant. Also, as the philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Leslie Green have pointed out, being treated as an object isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagine that you are sitting outside on a sunny day, and you move behind someone so that she blocks the sun from your eyes. You have used her as an object, but it’s hard to see that you’ve done something wrong. © 2013 The New York Times Company
In the 1970s pop hit “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” famed rocker Meat Loaf wails to his tired old lover: “[I]f I gotta spend another minute with you I don't think that I can really survive.” Turns out that interactions with the opposite sex really do control life span, at least if you’re an insect or a worm. Sexually frustrated fruit flies perish prematurely, a study has just found. And another experiment reveals that in nematodes—nearly microscopic roundworms—males kill members of the opposite sex by spurring what resembles premature aging. An animal’s environment shapes its longevity, sometimes in surprising ways. For example, placing lab animals on a meager diet that replicates food scarcity in the wild extends survival in many species. And, oddly enough, dulling nematodes’ and flies’ sense of smell or taste stretches their life span. An animal’s environment also includes the other members of its species that it interacts with, such as potential mates and rivals. Researchers have identified some impacts of these interactions on life span. For example, because a male fruit fly’s seminal fluid contains toxins, mating can be fatal for females. Now, Scott Pletcher, a geneticist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues have shown that sexually unsatisfied fruit flies give up the ghost faster that usual. The researchers played a dirty trick on some male fruit flies, housing them with other males that had been genetically altered to exude female pheromones, or scent molecules. Normal males woo these she-males but can’t mate with them. Pletcher and colleagues report online today in Science that the sexually thwarted males pined away. Their stored fat dwindled, their ability to endure stress declined, and their life span shrank by more than 10%. The researchers also measured a reduction in female flies’ longevity if they hobnobbed with macho females that released male pheromones. © 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Regina Nuzzo The gut may know better than the head whether a marriage will be smooth sailing or will hit the rocks after the honeymoon fades, according to research published today in Science1. Researchers have long known that new love can be blind, and that those in the midst of it can harbour positive illusions about their sweetheart and their future. Studies show that new couples rate their partner particularly generously, forgetting his or her bad qualities, and generally view their relationship as more likely to succeed than average2. But newlyweds are also under a lot of conscious pressure to be happy — or, at least, to think they are. Now a four-year study of 135 young couples has found that split-second, 'visceral' reactions about their partner are important, too. The results show that these automatic attitudes, which aren’t nearly as rosy as the more deliberate ones, can predict eventual changes in people’s marital happiness, perhaps even more so than the details that people consciously admit. The researchers, led by psychologist James McNulty of Florida State University in Tallahassee, tapped into these implicit attitudes by seeing how fast newlyweds could correctly classify positively and negatively themed words after being primed by a photo of their spouse for a fraction of a second. If seeing a blink-of-the-eye flash of a partner’s face conjures up immediate, positive gut-level associations, for example, the participant will be quicker to report that 'awesome' is a positive word and slower to report that 'awful' is a negative one. Researchers used the difference between these two reaction times as a measurement of a participant’s automatic reaction. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group
By RONI CARYN RABIN Women are more likely than men to die after a heart attack, and some researchers have suggested a reason: Doctors may be misdiagnosing women more often because their symptoms differ from those experienced by men. But a study published Monday indicates that too much has been made of gender differences in chest pain, the hallmark symptom of heart disease. Although the researchers found some distinctions, no pattern was clearly more characteristic of women or could be used to improve heart attack diagnosis in women, the authors concluded. “We should stop treating women differently at the emergency room when they present with chest pain and discomfort,” said Dr. Maria Rubini Gimenez, a cardiologist at University Hospital Basel and lead author of the new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Instead, she said, all patients with acute chest pain must be evaluated for heart attack with appropriate diagnostics, including an electrocardiogram and blood tests. Roughly 80 percent of people who have chest pain and discomfort are suffering from indigestion, acid reflux or another relatively benign condition, said Dr. John G. Canto, director of the chest pain center at Lakeland Regional Medical Center in Lakeland, Fla., who has researched heart attack diagnosis. “The trick is, how do you figure out the 15 to 20 percent actually having a heart attack?” he said. The new research confirms “that there is a lot of overlap in symptoms between patients who are having a heart attack and those who aren’t, and there is a lot of overlap in symptoms between men and women.” The new study examined 2,475 patients, including 796 women, who reported to emergency rooms at nine hospitals in Switzerland, Spain and Italy complaining of acute chest pain between April 21, 2006, and Aug. 12, 2012. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company
A whiff of oxytocin may help love not fade away. Researchers asked 20 unmarried men in multiyear relationships to rank the attractiveness of pictures of their partner, acquaintances, and strangers. When the men received a nasal spray of oxytocin—which is released by the body during sexual arousal—they rated their partners more highly but not the other women. MRI scans show that after an oxytocin dose, areas of the brain associated with rewards, which also drive drug addiction, were more active when the men saw pictures of their partner, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The finding could help explain the biological roots of monogamy in humans: Being in a long-term relationship raises a person's oxytocin levels, which in turn increase the psychological reward of spending more time with that person. The cycle, the team concluded, could literally lead to an addiction to one’s lover. © 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By NATASHA SINGER One afternoon a few months ago, a 45-year-old sales representative named Mike called “The Dr. Harry Fisch Show,” a weekly men’s health program on the Howard Stern channel on Sirius XM Radio, where no male medical or sexual issue goes unexplored. “I feel like a 70-year-old man in a 45-year-old body,” Mike, from Vancouver, British Columbia, told Dr. Fisch on the live broadcast. “I want to feel good. I don’t want to feel tired all day.” A regular listener, Mike had heard Dr. Fisch, a Park Avenue urologist and fertility specialist, talk about a phenomenon called “low testosterone” or “low T.” Dr. Fisch likes to say that a man’s testosterone level is “the dipstick” of his health; he regularly appears on programs like “CBS This Morning” to talk about the malaise that may coincide with low testosterone. He is also the medical expert featured on IsItLowT.com, an informational website sponsored by AbbVie, the drug maker behind AndroGel, the best-selling prescription testosterone gel. Like many men who have seen that site or commercials or online quizzes about “low T,” Mike suspected that diminished testosterone was the cause of his lethargy. And he hoped, as the marketing campaigns seem to suggest, that taking a prescription testosterone drug would make him feel more energetic. “I took your advice and I went and got my testosterone checked,” Mike told Dr. Fisch. Mike’s own physician, he related, told him that his testosterone “was a little low” and prescribed a testosterone medication. Mike also said he had diabetes and high blood pressure and was 40 pounds overweight. Dr. Fisch explained that conditions like obesity might be accompanied by decreased testosterone and energy, and he urged Mike to exercise more and to lose weight. But if Mike had trouble overhauling his diet and exercise habits, Dr. Fisch said, taking testosterone might give him the boost he needed to do so. “If it gives you more energy to exercise,” Dr. Fisch said of the testosterone drug, “I’m all for it.” © 2013 The New York Times Company
Erika Check Hayden Researchers have shown that just two genes from the Y chromosome — that genetic emblem of masculinity in most mammals — are all that is needed for a male mouse to conceive healthy offspring using assisted reproduction. The same team had previously reported1 that male mice missing only seven genes from their Y chromosomes could father healthy babies. The study brings researchers one step closer to creating mice that can be fathers without any contribution from the Y chromosome at all. The findings also have implications for human infertility, because the work suggests that the assisted-reproduction technique used in the mice might be safer for human use than is currently thought. “To me it is a further demonstration that there isn't much left on the poor old Y chromosome that is essential. Who needs a Y?” says Jennifer Marshall Graves, a geneticist at the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science in Melbourne, Australia, who was not involved in the research. An embryo without a Y chromosome normally develops into a female, but biologists have long questioned whether the entire chromosome is necessary to produce a healthy male. A single gene from the Y chromosome, called Sry, is known to be sufficient to create an anatomically male mouse — albeit one that will be infertile because it will lack some of the genes involved in producing sperm — as researchers have shown by removing the Y chromosome and inserting Sry into other chromosomes. Why it takes two © 2013 Nature Publishing Group
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 18956 - Posted: 11.23.2013
By Rahul K. Parikh, The message showed up on my desk one day while I was seeing a patient. Its choppy shorthand read: “Admits to injecting testosterone. Now decreased libido. Call back to discuss.” The caller was a 15-year-old lacrosse player who hadn’t been part of my practice long. Like many boys in his age group, he rarely came to the office. When I responded to his message later that afternoon, the young man carried his end of the conversation with the typical terseness of a teenager. “Where did you get the steroids?” I asked. “On the Internet.” “How long did you use them?” “A few months.” “And what are you experiencing now?” He told me his nipples were sore and swollen. “I’ve been more tired and moody as well.” My patient was experiencing classic side effects of steroid use. About 6 percent of teenagers admit to using performance-enhancing drugs, according to a recent survey, though it’s easy to assume that that number is low. How many teens would admit to using such drugs, even anonymously to a researcher? And yet here was one teen, forced by the drug’s side effect, having to make an embarrassing confession to me and his family. (Details of this case have been altered to protect patient privacy.) Despite my patient’s fear, I was confident that a young, healthy teenager who briefly used steroids would bounce back, though it might take some time — and patience — for his symptoms to dissipate. When I explained this to my patient, he told me that he wanted his testosterone level tested, to make sure there wasn’t something more seriously wrong. I got the sense that he thought there was some way I could magically undo the harm he had caused himself. I paused and considered his request, which came across more like an order. © 1996-2013 The Washington Post
Female mice that compete in promiscuous environments have sexier smelling sons, research has found. Scientists in Utah, US, studied the pheromones produced in the urine of male mice. They found that those whose mothers competed for mates were more sexually attractive to females. But this success was short-lived: their life spans were shorter than mice with monogamous parents. Adam Nelson from the University of Utah completed the study alongside senior author Prof Wayne Potts. It is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Only recently have we started to understand that environmental conditions experienced by parents can influence the characteristics of their offspring. This study is one of the first to show this kind of 'epigenetic' process working in a way that increases the mating success of sons," said Prof Potts. Epigenetics is the study of how differences in a parent's environment can influence how its offspring's genes are expressed. The researchers studied domestic mice which are usually paired in a cage and therefore breed with only one partner. To reintroduce the social competition wild mice experience, lab mice were kept in "mouse barns" which were large enclosures divided by mesh to create territories. The mice were able to climb over the mesh to access nest boxes, feeding stations and drinking water. BBC © 2013
By JOHN TIERNEY How aggressive is the human female? When the anthropologist Sarah B. Hrdy surveyed the research literature three decades ago, she concluded that “the competitive component in the nature of women remains anecdotal, intuitively sensed, but not confirmed by science.” Science has come a long way since then, as Dr. Hrdy notes in her introduction to a recent issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society devoted entirely to the topic of female aggression. She credits the “stunning” amount of new evidence partly to better research techniques and partly to the entry of so many women into scientific fields once dominated by men. The existence of female competition may seem obvious to anyone who has been in a high-school cafeteria or a singles bar, but analyzing it has been difficult because it tends be more subtle and indirect (and a lot less violent) than the male variety. Now that researchers have been looking more closely, they say that this “intrasexual competition” is the most important factor explaining the pressures that young women feel to meet standards of sexual conduct and physical appearance. The old doubts about female competitiveness derived partly from an evolutionary analysis of the reproductive odds in ancient polygynous societies in which some men were left single because dominant males had multiple wives. So men had to compete to have a chance of reproducing, whereas virtually all women were assured of it. But even in those societies, women were not passive trophies for victorious males. They had their own incentives to compete with one another for more desirable partners and more resources for their children. And now that most people live in monogamous societies, most women face the same odds as men. In fact, they face tougher odds in some places, like the many college campuses with more women than men. © 2013 The New York Times Company