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The mating habits of innovators


I’ve written a few times about the apparent unpopularity of innovators.  The general gist is that people tend to favor the status quo whenever possible, so people who attempt to buck the norm are often seen as a nefarious influence.

The people who stand to gain from the innovation often don’t appreciate just how much they stand to gain, whilst those who stand to lose from it will fight tooth and nail to hang on to their stuff.

This is a basic reality that’s been known for hundreds of years now, certainly since the time of Machiavelli, who described this dichotomy in The Prince.

That’s not to say that creativity is always under-appreciated however.  Indeed, some have suggested that the very nature of creativity is a fundamental part of sexual selection.  A veritable peacock’s tail if you will.

It’s an interesting theory, not least I suspect for those of us who make a living in innovation of one sort or another.  A recent paper has set out to explore this line of thought more deeply, and look specifically at whether there are particular types of creativity that are great for attracting a mate.

Previous studies have broken creativity down into three distinct forms:

  • ornamental/aesthetic (such as art and music)
  • applied/technological (such as science and engineering)
  • every day/domestic (such as cooking or interior design)

Participants were first asked to rank 43 creative activities in order of their sexual attractiveness.  They were then asked to complete the Raven’s Progressive Matrices Test to measure their verbal cognitive skills.  At the end, they were then asked to complete a short personality test and were asked about their own creative accomplishments.

The idea was to try and test for links between intelligence, personality type and the achievements of each participant, and the creative activities those people found sexiest.  For instance, were some folks finding certain creative endeavors sexier than others or is a particular form universally sexy?

Not all creativity is equal

Ok, first things first, the study found that people generally found aesthetic acts most attractive.  This included things like photography, poetry or (surprisingly) playing in a band.

The study suggests that this is primarily because many of those activities are themselves shaped by sex or sexual selection.

That’s not all however.  When people scored highly for intellectual curiosity and had achieved creative things in tech related fields, they tended to regard similarly ‘nerdy’ activities as sexy.  That includes such stereotypically un-sexy activities as making websites or writing computer code.

Interestingly, our openness to new experiences was found to be even more influential in the kind of creativity we found sexy.  For instance, among male participants, it emerged that if they had achieved creative deeds in the every day domain, they’d be most attracted to mates in the aesthetic domain.

Equally interesting was that there was a negative correlation between a love of women with applied/technological creativity and general cognitive ability.

Broadly speaking, the paper supports the notion that creativity was largely formed as part of the sexual selection process, and our willingness to engage in various forms of creativity is a big part of that.

It’s interesting to see however that this attraction towards creative types is far from uniform, and actually has major roots in what we ourselves have achieved.

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