Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How monkeys busted our biases about lust

Among rhesus monkeys, females are the main initiators of sex. Photo by Kim Wallen.

Daniel Bergner writes in the Washington Post about what rhesus monkeys are teaching us about human desire. Below is an excerpt from the article:

"From a platform on a steel tower, Kim Wallen, an Emory University psychologist and neuroendocrinologist who has been working for decades at the university’s Yerkes Primate Research Center outside Atlanta, gazed down at the habitat’s 75 rhesus monkeys. This is the species that was sent into orbit in the ’50s and ’60s as stand-ins for humans to see if we would survive trips to the moon.

"'Females were passive. That was the theory in the middle ’70s. That was the wisdom,' he remembered from the start of his career. ... 'The prevailing model was that female hormones affected female pheromones — affected the female’s smell, her attractivity to the male. The male initiated all sexual behavior.' But what science had managed to miss in the monkeys — and what Wallen and a few others were now studying — was female desire.

"And science had missed more than that. In this breed used as our astronaut doubles, females are the bullies and murderers, the generals in brutal warfare, the governors. This had been noted in journal articles back in the ’30s and ’40s, but thereafter it had gone mainly unrecognized, the articles buried and the behavior oddly unperceived. 'It so flew in the face of prevailing ideas about the dominant role of males,' Wallen said, 'that it was just ignored.'”

Read the whole article in the Washington Post.

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