Changing Times…for Animals?

Oct 8, 2013

Discussion by: PlasticTitan

I have noticed that thought history (in books and life exp) that what people see as attractive changes.  It could be physical, cultural, and even psychological.  My question is; do these types of changes happen in animals?  It seems that they don't, or if they do, it doesn’t have the frequency that humans do…especially in the last 50 years.

12 comments on “Changing Times…for Animals?

  • 1
    Neodarwinian says:

    ” I have noticed that thought history (in books and life exp) that what people see as attractive changes.”

    Sexually attractive? Fashionably attractive?

    Physically attractive is still underpinned by evolution and natural selection. One does not ever expect to see a reproductively successful organisms, human males for instance, finding very old women more attractive than younger women in any environment. On average. Or females finding very old men without resources attractive. On average.

    Other things can change as to physical attractiveness in the immediate environment. Body shape and levels of fat to lean. Masculine attire and shape.

    Culture? Why not, as culture is often the proximate ” trigger ” for the ultimate, evolutionary, driver as to what people find attractive in their immediate environment.

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  • 2
    Michael Fisher says:

    The rate of change in our manners, fashions & tastes have accelerated in keeping with denser, larger & more interconnected populations aided by instant worldwide communications.

    Animals that have taken advantage of this human landscape [or that we’ve domesticated] have changed in an accelerated way too & no doubt these animals’ tastes have changed. A prime example of that is some urban birds which have adapted to human urban noise by singing louder, higher-pitched & in shorter bursts. Perhaps urban female birdies are now being selected to prefer mating calls of the urban type over the more laid back yokel type 🙂 [yes I’m speculating]

    More mere speculation for the UK where I live which has experienced great urbanisation over the past 60 years [not exactly animal tastes though]:-
    Are domestic city dogs getting more streetwise & amenable to the dog lead/leash?
    Are Brit wild animals smarter around cars & roads than pre-WWII?
    Has urban fox behaviour changed since WWII?

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  • I notice that pictures of race horses in the 1800s look different. They have smaller slimmer heads. Horses might have looked as today. Perhaps it was just the fashion to morph them. The ideal weight of human females changes quite rapidly. Look at the pictures of drinking establishment entertainers in the gold rushes. There was also the fad for tiny waists and big behinds.

    Most female animals go for big males.

    In cuttlefish there are two successful males: big, and transvestite that masquerade as females and hence get past the defences of a large males.

    I read that an older female chimp was considered more attractive than young ones. Based on reproductive success this is an odd thing to do.

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  • 4
    thomas_1969 says:

    It could be physical, cultural, and even psychological. My question is; do these types of changes happen in animals?

    I’m pretty sure the answer to your question is “no”. When aesthetic preferences change within decades, that has to be driven by culture, not biology. “Have to”, because decades are too short a time to change our gene pool much. Nonhuman animals have biologically-inherited instincts, but lack culture. Hence, their patterns of attraction may well change in evolutionary time. But within the span of one human life? I don’t think so.

    (Disclaimer: I’m not an expert in this matter. I’ll happily stand corrected by someone who is.)

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  • I would put forward the argument that the majority of what humans find attractive is based on what is considered “Fashionable”. ie that which is dictated by designers/artists and those with a vested interest.

    I do not believe that animals suffer from this problem.

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  • 7
    steve_hopker says:

    Hereditable changes in animals without artificial selection will take time to develop. In terms of attractiveness however, sexual selection appears to be potent (pun intended!) and widespread. The most exotic examples are perhaps the birds of paradise, peacocks and so on – but the cock robin’s red breasts, lion’s manes, and so on are essentially similar. Obviously if a characteristic becomes a measure of desirability to mate with, there can be strong selection for that trait.

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  • 8
    hemidemisemigod says:

    Sexual attraction is vital to the survival of a species so logically it will be very strong, deep rooted and resistant to change. Any mutation that results in offspring being unusually unattractive will result in its demise.

    You suggest that “what people see as attractive changes” but I don’t think it does really. If you look at mankind’s representation of what is attractive e.g. statues of gods and goddesses from hundreds or thousands of years ago, things haven’t changed. I was looking at the Venus de Milo from about 100BC and she’s quite a looker!

    Human anatomy has not changed significantly for a very long time so it follows that what we find attractive will also be unchanged. So surely the same idea will be true of any other animal species.

    Humans do go through various fashions such as fat/thin, long/short hair, barbed wire tattoo, large wooden plate in bottom lip, etc. but these are transient and not part of evolution.

    If one is brought up in a society where the opposite sex all look or act in the same way, either because of fashion, culture or climate, then when puberty kicks in, one is going to look for a mate from what is available.

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  • 9
    SaganTheCat says:

    it occurs to me that one possible fitness indicator in humans is their ability to find different fitness indicators in others.

    it’s a bit of a lazy assumption to say humans used to find x atrractive, now they find y attractive. unless can go back in time 50 years and see if you find yourself atracted to different body-type. Chances are, the cultural changes recorded throughout history are an indicator of relative attractiveness along with a possible drifting change in frequency of certain attractions.

    Humans may think that what’s attractive can be summerised in photograph but it’s simply not so. intielligence for example has probably always been attractive for the average person, even if some individuals have been conditioned to rate ignorance as attractive.

    there are two problems here. 1. animals (other than me, QK, RD etc) can’t talk. 2. Humans can’t talk honestly.

    social conditioning may influence who humans like but then it may just influence who they claim to like. they could lie, even to themselves which is why fashions cange so much.

    in the case of dumb animals, sexual attraction results in a fairly unidirectional sexual selection trajectory (peacock tails get bigger and shinier). Humans being social will profess attraction in order to meet social norms, thus making themselves more attractive (take as an example, the “trophy wife”) therefore of higher social status.

    If we accept social status as an indicator of fitness, physical attributes are subject to modification. You can assume “real men” like large breasts (suggesting well fed babies..? tricky considering this is not the case in other mammals so why did it take over 100M years to evolve?)) and good child bearing hips yet skinny supermodels do OK for suitors. Youth is “naturally” atrractive as an indicator of fitness to raise a family yet Mrs Thatcher managed to get her male cabinet ministers behaving like lovesick schoolchildren by employing her status.

    The ability to find different things attractive may be why humans are phenotypically quite diverse in skin colour, hair type, facial features etc yet virtually identical genetically.

    for the rest of the animal kingdom, opposite sex and not dead seem to be the most important factors (and the first one isn’t always important). The lack of evolutionary pressure on humans right now gives them freedom to consider their choice.

    Lets not forget that for the most part, females select, males compete. when we look through the history of changing fashions and what’s considered “beautiful”, it’s women who change more than men. In western culture women worry about being fashionable at the party without wearing the same dress as anyone else while men can get away with a 10 year old suit identical to all the others. This may create an illusion of changing tastes in males when in fact it’s all a clever ploy on the part of females to ensure a level playing field when they do their selecting

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  • 10
    Kim Probable says:

    I read about a study a few years ago that discussed variation in female preference for male ornamentation in some species of bird – maybe a canary? I had a look for it, but can’t find it again.

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  • Sagan the cat comment 9 when we look through the history of changing fashions and what’s considered “beautiful”, it’s women who change more than men. In western culture women worry about being fashionable at the party without wearing the same dress as anyone else while men can get away with a 10 year old suit identical to all the others.

    And what is interesting is that a woman is more likely to know whether another woman is wearing Primark or Prada, not a man. Therefore many displays by women are to impress other women – they are the ones for whom fashion changes fastest suggesting the displays are not to attract men at all. It is still men dressing to impress women.

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