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Darwin hits dating

Web sites attract beautiful people who use "natural selection" to eliminate the imperfect

By | June 22, 2007

If only Charles Darwin could see what his work has come to. In April 2006, Michael Fox, a 26-year old advertising salesman from Sydney, Australia, decided to start a joke dating Web site. People say that it's what's inside that matters, but what they really want is a perfect face, firm butt, and flat stomach, he reasoned. Why not be honest about it? "Sick of dating Web sites filled with ugly, unattractive, desperate fatsos?" asks Fox's online dating site, Darwin Dating. If so, like thousands of other disappointed online love-seekers, you can submit your photo to the Web site, allow your face to be criticized or ogled by potential dates, and hopefully pass the "natural selection" process and get voted in to an elite club of beautiful people. "Darwin Dating has been created to better the lives of attractive people and to encourage them to find other attractive people with whom they can breed," the site reads. At least one other dating Web site is taking the same approach -- weed out the ugly and allow only the handsome to network amongst themselves. Like Darwin Dating, Beautifulpeople also filters out the unattractive by subjecting photos to members' scrutiny. Beautifulpeople claims to have 120,000 people in 14 countries who have made the beauty cut, while Darwin Dating claims 5,000 members. It has nothing to do with eugenics, assures Fox. "It's all sort of tongue and cheek." Banned attributes for Darwin daters include hair in the wrong places, saggy boobs, and crooked teeth. "One interesting aspect is the people who don't get a laugh at it, but think of it as a really good concept and use it as an online dating site that rejects ugly people," Fox says. According to Fox, at least five people have written him to say they've successfully found mates through Darwin Dating. Beautifulpeople takes the concept seriously, says spokesperson Greg Hodge. "The basic premise is that we all want to be with people we are attracted to, at least initially. Chemistry is important," Hodge says. Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan, says Fox and Hodge are right -- regardless of what people say they're looking for in a mate, at least initially, they do tend to focus on appearance, both on- and off-line. "But rather than seeing this person 20 feet away you're seeing their picture on a computer screen." Though exclusive online dating Web sites might merely reflect the realities of mate selection, some find them repulsive. In a blog about Darwin Dating, one commenter wrote: "It is conceited and arrogant. Charles Darwin did not write a book on how attractive people should date." Nowadays, Web users have a plethora of dating sites to choose from. There's even an online dating service for people interested in science and nature, called Science Connection. Along with a head shot, profiles on Beautifulpeople give brief descriptions of the member, with stats like height, weight, and whether or not the person owns a car. There are no other criteria, such as Darwin Dating's list of no-nos, except a minimum age of 18, a 14.95 UK pounds ($30 US) per month fee, and a clean harassment record. (Applying to Darwin Dating is free.) Hodge says on average about one in five applicants are voted into membership. In the United States the scrutiny is a bit higher; about one in six are acceptably beautiful. Hodge says there are many more female members than male, because the women are more critical of men's profiles and allow only a few into membership. Hodge says he doesn't have a profile on the site because employees are prohibited. "But I wouldn't have a problem getting in, let's put it that way," Hodge says. It's slightly easier to break into Darwin Dating, where nearly half of applicants are accepted, much more than the 20% acceptance rate Fox predicted. Still, "I put my photo up and it was rejected," he laughs. Kerry Grens mail@the-scientist.com Links within this article: Darwin Dating http://www.darwindating.com/ Beautifulpeople http://us.beautifulpeople.net/frontpage.asp Daniel Kruger http://www-personal.umich.edu/~kruger/ B. Goldman, "In sickness and in health," The Scientist, September, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/24482/ B. Calandra, "Love in the lab," The Scientist, 15 December, 2003. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/14332 R. Gallagher, "Shouldn't you be online?" The Scientist, June, 2007. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/53218 Science Connection http://www.sciconnect.com/index.htm
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Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 107

April 25, 2008

This is an interesting scenario. Because membership in these sites is determined by voting, users of the site are basically allowing others to screen their potential mates. It's easy to dismiss this as shallow, but there is a non-trivial question here. Over the generations, will this sort of mate selection by consensus lead to greater reproductive success than a reliance on the idiosyncracies of individual judgement?
Avatar of: John Collins

John Collins

Posts: 37

April 28, 2008

I'm surprised this article gets attention in The Scientist. I suggest readers look into the Lek paradox, basically the question of why, for instance in the peacock after millions of years of selection for the most beautiful males, all the males aren't optimally/identically beautiful? Part of the answer at least lies in the fact that population diversity is essential to keep one step ahead of pathogens and parasites(the "Red Queen" hypothesis). You and your mate may not look like the current movie stars but your descendants may be, in a Darwinian sense more successful.

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