Ep. #75 The Role of Intelligence in Mating and Relationships with Glenn Geher
It's a funny topic because if you talk to dating coaches, a lot of them will talk about 'naturals', like guys who are naturally good with women, and most of these guys tend to not be the typical smart guy. They are not the typical guy that is doing studies in PhDs and really furthering his academic education, doesn't take the most cerebral jobs out there. Often you talk about the football jockey or the guy that's more interested in sports and not so interested in academic subjects, and so on and so forth.
So that's the stereotype coming from a lot of the dating coach world. Then you have the stereotype that's coming from a lot of the students in which they feel that they are not smart enough. This is one of the qualities that they think is holding them back. Also, there is the stereotype in society that is like the super smart geek. If you look at the comedies and the talk shows, you'll often see that the guy who is not getting the results with women in those shows – think about Two and Half Men; Allen in that show is supposedly more intelligent, more thoughtful and so on than Charlie, but get no where with women; and if you look at so many other shows, it's similar – the geek doesn't tend to do so well with women; the guy who is a bit nerdy, he's really smart, and he's really into more serious subjects, academic subjects, etc.
So, this is an interesting subject to pull apart and see the actual reality of it, especially if we look at the research and go back to that, instead of just talking to people about their opinions and see what that says.
Today we have Dr. Glenn Geher. He's a professor and chair of psychology at the State University of New York. Specifically, he has been very interested in the topic of intelligence and mating. The book that he has written is Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love. It looks a lot about what intelligence is and how it influences attraction, relationships, outcomes, and so on. Glenn really is the ideal person to talk about this. It's going to be a great show, really pulling apart whether being smart helps or hinders you. Frankly, I feel that this is a topic that we really should have covered before because it's one of those things that guys use as an excuse for not getting out there and making things happen for themselves. So, here it is.
Glenn is also pretty active. He is a founding member of the evolutionary studies consortium, which pushes and spreads ideas about evolutionary psychology. We've had other evolutionary psychologists on the podcast before so you'll understand that. He also blogs at Psychology Today, which of course is a very reputable magazine in the psychology area.
Specifically, in this episode you'll learn about:
- Glenn's perspective on his area of science in comparison to Geoffrey Miller's area of science (evolutionary psychology) (05:23)
- Factors of human relationships and issues of mating in understanding how evolution can help us understand relationships: Is it from a nature as opposed to a nurture perspective that is imbedded in us and cannot be changed? (06:10)
- Does intelligence play a role in attractiveness and mating outcomes or results, or success with dating, relationships, and sex? (11:20)
- Intra-sexual selection: how members of the same sex (according to Darwin) compete with each other for a member of the opposite sex (16:40)
- The realization that there is a lack of mating intelligence based on mating relevant biases (19:30)
- The aspect of uncertainty and if more intelligent women have a tendency to have less negative biases (e.g. commitment, anti-commitment) (24:00)
- Types of intelligence, how they relate to each other, and play into the mating intelligence role (26:24)
- Stereotypes of intelligence and observations in the dating market (30:55)
- Does IQ correlate with behaviors that lead to positive outcomes in terms of health, relationships, satisfaction, and happiness? (36:41)
- The differences in intelligence between men and women and how they affect the mating game (41:20)
- Evidence of interpersonal skills whereby relationships have been improved by also improving those skills (46:25)
- The type of intelligence that is important for a relationship (48:23)
- Does emotional intelligence relate to a person's reactiveness on an emotional level? (49:50)
- Emotional intelligence domination between partners (51:10)
- Recommendations for high quality advice in the area of dating, sex, and relationships (54:28)
- Top three recommendations to help men get a better relationship, dating, or mating life (55:36)
Items Mentioned in this Episode include:
- Scott Barry Kaufman: Glenn mentioned his co-author of the book Mating Intelligence Unleashed in reference to the idea of what is intelligence and how it relates to human mating behaviors.
- Geoffrey Miller: Glenn referred to Geoffrey when discussing mating relevant outcomes of mating intelligence.
- John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey article: Glenn noted John and Peter's article when referring to emotional intelligence and how it kickstarted the idea that there are many routes to success, and that intelligence is more than just verbal and qualitative.
- Emotional Intelligence and It's Relation to Everyday Behaviour: Regarding interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, Glenn mentioned a study by Rebecca Warner and Marc A. Brackett.
- John Gottman: When discussing the benefits of kindness in a relationship, Glenn noted John Gottman for his emotional intelligence research.
- Maryanne Fisher: Glenn recommends Maryanne for her great research on relationships from an evolutionary perspective.
- Justin R. Garcia: He is the Director of Education & Research Training; Assistant Research Scientist at The Kinsey Institute. Glenn recommends Justin for his research into the nature of relationships.
- Daniel J. Kruger, PhD: He is a research professor and faculty member of the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. Glenn recommends Dan for his in-depth research on intelligence in mating and relationships.
Glenn’s recommendations to help men get a better relationship, dating, or mating life
Full Text Transcript of the Interview
[Angel Donovan]: Glenn, so great to have you on the show.
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, thank you, Angel. Glad to be here.
[Angel Donovan]: We’ve had quite a few scientists on the show now, including Geoffrey Miller of course, which is a little bit related to your area. Could you give us a bit of perspective on what your area of science is and your perspective and also in comparison to Geoffrey Miller, which is kind of connected with your area?
[Glenn Geher]: Sure. I am a research psychologist with a focus on social psychology. My PhD is in social psychology, meaning I scientifically study the nature of social behaviors. My particular content area of interest has largely focused on human relationships or intimate relationships and mating, and I have taken a strong interest in evolutionary psychology, which seeks to examine behavioral patterns like the social behavioral patterns from an evolutionary perspective.
In short, I look at factors of human relationships and issues of mating, trying to understand how evolution can help us understand why we do the things we do in relationships.
[Angel Donovan]: Great. So to be clear, is this always from a nature and not a nurture perspective, so it’s embedded in us and it’s not really something we can change?
[Glenn Geher]: I think that’s an excellent question. I think that if it were true that there was nothing people can change, then there’d be no use for scientific psychology. I think there’s a common misconception regarding the evolutionary perspective in psychology, which is the idea that the evolutionary perspective is the same as genes cause everything, which is actually not it at all.
The basic idea of evolutionary psychology is that human behavioral patterns make most sense when we apply evolution. Now, does evolution select for behavioral patterns that are flexible based on environmental conditions? Absolutely.
From an evolutionary perspective, behavioral flexibility as a function of environment is probably as much the core idea as anything else. If you have an organism that doesn’t change its behavior as a function of the ecology or the environment, then if you have a bird that when it gets very cold out and food is scarce and it doesn’t go south, that bird’s going to die a [unclear 07:42] death. It’s not going to survive and reproduce.
Eventually, you have species of birds that end up going south in the winter because it’s adaptive for them, but what you see is that their behaviors are fully dependent on environmental conditions that the rules, the behavioral rules that evolved in them are not just “do x” – it’s do x, but when z happens, do y.
We call this conditional strategism or conditional behavioral strategies, and in humans, we have evolved a host of behavioral patterns that clearly, without question, are conditional based on an environmental context that are relevant from an evolutionary perspective.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, thank you. That’s a very in-depth point. I’m just wondering if this maps a little bit to the recent changes in biology where we started off with this “nature defines us with genes.” Now we have epigenetics, which depends on the environment, so they’ve layered epigenetics and they found these changes in biology, which adapt to the environment and situations, and we can even influence ourselves by going to the gym for ten years or our diets and this.
We’ve seen biology no longer has this “you are defined to the way you are born” perspective anywhere. Is it similar in evolutionary psychology from that?
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting perspective, and this is the kind of stuff that we love to teach about to our students and talk about in detail. When you look at what causes behavior, there are different strong man approaches you can take.
You might say genes make your behavior and only genes matter – and I think that might be a very restricted, highly incorrect approach to the biological conception. But I do think that maybe years ago that was maybe more common, so the “genes cause everything” perspective, then the opposite of that is “the environment causes everything” perspective.
As I see it, instead of academic bickering and trying to defend either of these things, which is obviously not true, there are more and more interactionist perspectives that really speak to the fact that any behavior is a result of one’s inclinations, which you might think of as genetically predisposed inclinations, interacting with their current environmental situation, interacting with their history of environment across their lifetime, interacting with the environmental conditions that their ancestors experienced generations ago.
I think that what we call interactionism has to become a much more dominant form of understanding human behavior. It has two benefits, seeing behavior [unclear 10:40]. What is that – at least as I see it, it reduces bickering. It reduces scholars pointing at each other as having this dogmatic point of view that’s either x or y, and end-results are more accurate. All the research on gene environment interaction shows the answer is absolutely – that’s absolutely how human behavior comes about.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, thank you. Today’s topic is intelligence, and that's where you’ve also done quite a bit of focus. Anyway, I’d like to start off with the big question: Does intelligence play a role in attractiveness and mating outcomes or results or success with dating, relationships and sex?
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah. I mean, I think so. There are a couple of books that publish on this topic, and some other publications as well. The recent book that I published with Scott Barry Kaufman called Mating Intelligence Unleashed gets very much into the idea of, what is intelligence and how does it intelligence relate to human mating behaviors.
What got me particularly interested in this question is, looking at the issue of intelligence – it’s a very big area of psychology; it gets entire chapters dedicated to it in general psychology textbooks, for instance. But then you look at evolutionary psychology, which is another juggernaut or giant area within psychology, evolutionary psych focuses so much on behavioral patterns that ultimately facilitate reproductive success and dating behaviors, among them.
We looked at the literature and we said, “No one really has connected intelligence and evolutionary psychology very effectively. It makes sense if intelligence is a really basic aspect of what it means to be human, then intelligence should relate very importantly to the domain of mating, which is the behavioral domain that ultimately directly leads to reproductive success.
With this idea in mind, we developed this idea Mating Intelligence and there were two basic ways that we thought about it. One I think is more consistent with what Geoffrey Miller has worked on and has studied extensively, which is the mating-relevant outcomes of general intelligence.
In the intelligence literature, there are many schools of thought and there’s a lot of disagreement on a lot of things. But one of the main schools of thought in the intelligence literature is that there’s a general kind of intelligence that overlays all other forms of intelligence. We could think of this as cognitive intelligence or intellectual aptitudes and a whole host of them – verbal skills, mathematical skills, geometrical skills and so forth.
One thing that Geoffrey Miller’s pretty famous for documenting is that general kind of intelligence, the extent that we can measure it, seems to be related to different markers of success in the mating domain – creative intelligence, creative abilities, humor abilities, things that are called [unclear 14:02], strongly related to general intelligence – seem to be predictive of various kinds of mating outcomes.
There’s a study that just came out by Gordon Gallup and Nicole Wedberg and some other researchers from the University of Albany, and what they found was that in relationships, men who score higher on humor, which is considered a proxy for intelligence quite often, those women were more likely to report having orgasms as one way that intelligence might relate to the outcomes that are mating-relevant.
[Angel Donovan]: Did you say, women were more likely to have orgasms with men with higher humor?
[Glenn Geher]: Yes. This just came out in evolutionary psychology about a week ago, and that is the finding. That’s very consistent with the kind of thing that Miller has documented about this relationship between markers of general intelligence and mating-relevant outcomes.
The other side of it though, and when you look at our concept of mating intelligence, the other side of it is there’s a whole bunch of cognitive processes that go on that are highly related to mating directly.
When you think about the cognitive psychology of mating, there’s tons of decisions that you have to make to do it effectively. You need to size yourself up in a mating market, right? There’s all kinds of evidence that people have some implicit understanding of their own mate value, for instance, and if you miscalibrate that, that could go wry [clear 15:36] if you sort of underrate or undervalue yourself in the mating domain. That might not work out well for you in terms of who you might end up with.
If you overvalue yourself, there’s problems too because you might have a hard time finding a mate. That’s one kind of mating-specific cognitive ability that we also think of as mating intelligence – assessing your own mate value, assessing the mate value of potential partners, making assessments about infidelity.
We all know that infidelity is something that exists in relationships at a higher rate for people with [unclear 16:11], so being able to assess whether that’s happening and to sort of make the appropriate decisions on that – decisions that are relevant to mating later in relationships, how do you keep a mate happy after a certain amount or number of years, for instance. These are all the kinds of cognitive abilities that, separate from general intelligence, we think of as also being part of human mating intelligence.
[Angel Donovan]: One of the things I saw that comes up is intrasexual selection.
[Glenn Geher]: Sure. Intra is just a prefix that means “within.” Intrasexual means “within a particular sex.”
When we hear the phrase “intrasexual selection,” which is a phrase from Darwin himself, he was talking about how members of the same sex compete with each other for a member of the opposite sex.
With deer, for instance, you’ll see two bucks, when bucks get their antlers, they go at it, they ram each other, one of them will back down and the one that wins essentially gets access to females. We can think of that as intrasexual selection, or sometimes we’ll call it intrasexual competition.
Does that happen in humans? People who study that have shown it certainly does, and that seems to be effectively navigating intrasexual selection or intrasexual competition. It’s a very important part of human being intelligence.
The way that we do it in humans – first off, males, in a lot of ways, young males in particular, are not that different from deer or from bucks in that you’re much more likely to see physical altercations between males at the young adult, mating-relevant stage. You’re more likely to see injuries in young males that seem to be related to mating-relevant situations.
Intrasexual competition to makes is not always physical, but sometimes takes a physical form. Given that fact, guys have to navigate that and figure out how to avoid certain situations and figure out how to get through that.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah. So the intelligence part comes in when you’re assessing if someone’s competing with you for the girl you’re interested in?
[Glenn Geher]: Sure.
[Angel Donovan]: Or basically looking for these gray areas and seeing what’s going on around you socially, like who’s interested in who, are you interested in the same person, is that guy a threat to your interest in this girl and these kinds of dynamics.
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, I think so. Those are the kind of cognitive skills that I think are really crucial – realizing that competition going on, for someone to have a sense of “Okay, this is all about – we both want the same woman. How can I figure this out in a way that’s going to be beneficial for me without things going very sour?” Those are exactly the kind of skills that make up mating intelligence for young guys.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah. One of the things we stress a lot here on the podcast and on our site and what we do is that we want to get as close to reality as possible, which is why it’s great having guys like you who have done so much research and studying on the area, trying to get close to reality and what the facts are actually of the situation.
We find a lot of guys don’t have a good image of reality. They’re looking at situations differently than what we’d learned over time is actually the real situation, so it’s, in a way, a lack of intelligence in these situations which we’d been, over time, teaching them about it and they start to see it through experience and so on.
I’m just wondering how you would look at that. Why is it that they start off with these biases? For instance, they don’t see things – like we were just talking about competition between males – they don’t see a scenario where some of their friends have actually been competing with them, or where a girl wasn’t interested in them and they thought she was.
Or often, because they lack confidence a lot when they’re working on their dating area, they actually think that women aren’t interested in them when they are interested in them. I’m just wondering where you think these biases come from and what role intelligence might play in this, or is it something that’s being learned? Where does that come from?
[Glenn Geher]: There’s definitely mating-relevant biases that men and women show, and they seem to be different between the genders.
For instance, females, much more likely than males, to think that a potential partner is only interested in short-term relationships – that's a very common kind of perception on the part of females. In fact, it seems to make things hard for guys that really are long-term mating strategists.
So whether a guy really is interested in something long-term or not, there’s a very strong tendency for females to be skeptical and think, “Well you might say that, you might show that, but I don’t really know yet that you’re long-term material. I don’t really know yet that you’re going to be faithful and solid and all that.”
And this is what courtship is all about. The evolutionary reason for this is because females stuck with a partner who deserts, who doesn’t stick around, who doesn’t help out with childcare, with provisioning, providing resources – that female’s going to have a difficult time from an evolutionary perspective raising offspring effectively. Whereas a female who does a good job of finding a guy who’s a great provider, who’s very faithful, who’s great with kids – that woman’s offspring are more likely to do better.
When you look at what courtship is, it’s sort of a result of that dynamic regarding the nature of female choice.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah. So from your perspective, that's a good bias? Although it doesn’t reflect reality, it’s a helpful bias for her because it’s a high-risk situation in terms of future burden.
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, it’s an adaptive bias. I mean, that’s the phrase that evolutionary social psychologists use; that’s an adaptive bias. It might be totally inaccurate. There might be a woman who’s with a guy and this guy might just, for whatever reason, be the most faithful guy out there, and she might press him for six to twelve months on “demonstrate to me that you have money, that you are willing to spend money on things that show you care about me, about potential future offspring, demonstrate that you’ll give me your time” – all the things that we see in courtship.
“Of course, I don’t want to play golf on Saturday with the guys. Are you kidding me? I’m going to be with you!” and all the things that women do during courtship is sort of, “Are you willing to make decisions regarding your time? Are you willing to make decisions regarding emotional investment? Are you willing to make decisions regarding financial investments?”
That’s what courtship is, and it’s to some extent pressing a guy to see – are you showing the signs that suggest that you’re going to be good for a long-term mate. The cost, if a woman makes a bad decision in choosing a long-term mate, the evolutionary costs are dramatic. Because of that, even if she’s wrong, even if there’s no need for bias with this particular guys, it’s such an adaptive bias that in this case, I think what I’d say is that the evolutionary benefits of having that bias override issues of trying to determine accuracy.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah. I’m going to throw some ideas out, then you can tell me if I’m completely shooting in the wrong direction. I was thinking as you were talking about this.
There’s this aspect of uncertainty, right? In terms of our intelligence, we’re trying to use it to anticipate people – what they really want and what they’re going for. The women – in terms of the guy’s interest in a longer-term relationship – I think it’s the uncertainty that means that the bias is useful to her.
If there was more certainty, if she was better, like we could say, if she was more intelligent in terms of being able to assess the guy’s interest – she was very accurately able to predict whether he really is committed and his real interests – then there will be less of this bias. She would focus on reality, because that would give her the best outcome.
I’m wondering if there are any studies out there showing that more intelligent women tend to have less bias, less of these negative biases – the commitment bias, the anti-commitment bias, if you like?
One tendency, one stereotype we have is that we say – and I think that research has kind of supported this – that more intelligent women tend to me more sexual, and tend to be more hypersexual [unclear 25:18] hypersexual women, which are more intelligent.
I’m just wondering, it’s because these women actually have more social intuition, more accuracy, so they’re more free to act as they want and to not have this kind of more fearful bias as to men’s interests?
[Glenn Geher]: Well, I got to tell you – I don’t know specific research on that, but the way you’ve articulated that hypothesis is intriguing to me, and it sounds to me like that would be a great study.
And it wouldn’t be difficult to do, right?
[Angel Donovan]: Oh, really?
[Glenn Geher]: Measure women’s intelligence, then there’s plenty of measures about commitment skepticism in women, and that seems to be a natural study. And I’m not quite sure. I’m not quite sure how it would pan out but I think that's a great idea.
[Angel Donovan]: Excellent, well I hope someone does that study. I’d be interested in the answer to that.
I guess – and I’m just pulling this kind of stuff out of my own experience as well and what I’ve seen – sometimes experience informs new scientific experiments, I guess [chuckles].
Another thing I wanted to talk about is there are types of intelligence we talk about in the popular world. You see them have more books out and people think about them more. We have IQ – intelligent quotient, which is obviously the one that maps and everyone’s focused on in education as we’re growing up and stuff we tend to know better.
Recently, there’s been more focus on social intelligence, emotional intelligence, and now you’re introducing us mating intelligence topically. How do you see these relating to each other and playing into the mating intelligence role, if at all?
[Glenn Geher]: I think it’s a great question. The concept of intelligence, it’s a naturally, lightning rod kind of concept because when people hear the concept of intelligence, they could almost automatically start imagining a hierarchy of people. You have a fixed IQ score, so you’re kind of here; there’s people that are here above you; there are others that are below you, and it has that quality about it that I think is a turnoff or a threat for people in a lot of ways.
It’s been [unclear 27:31] in the last – I don’t know – maybe even 40 years or so has been not only theory about multiple kinds of intelligence is, but additionally, strong research suggests that there's something to back up this theory.
I’d say, from my background, there really are multiple routes to success. This is true in the mating domain; this is true in pretty much any domain. One route to success in the mating domain is high cognitive intelligence, right? So having a strong cognitive intelligence, being known and having a reputation for being very cognitively intelligent – that’s not going to hurt you in the mating domain.
[Angel Donovan]: Does that include humor? Where would you put humor?
[Glenn Geher]: Sure. Is humor the same as cognitive intelligence? I’d say humor’s a marker of general intelligence. From my perspective, things like humor, social intelligence, emotional intelligence, musical abilities, creative abilities – I think you start being separate from general intelligence. At least this is my perspective.
Humor might be [unclear 28:47], meaning that it’s related to general intelligence, but when you look at the actual statistic, if you look at the actual data, people that are very high on humor – they’re slightly more likely to also score high on general intelligence than others but it’s by no means the perfect correlation.
I think, at least the way that I see it, the way that I interpret the literature on this is that there are a whole bunch of factors that seem to be interrelated that we can back up as cognitive intelligence. But then we have a whole bunch of other things that act like intelligence, that look like intelligence, that can be measured as intelligence, that are either somewhat related to general intelligence or cognitive intelligence, or maybe even not related to that, but they still are predictive of success in life, in job, in relationships.
I think that modern psychology is largely the idea of emotional intelligence – it was really the thing that really kickstarted this when Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey came up with that about 20+ years ago now. I think that really kickstarted this idea that there’s lots of routes to success and that intelligence isn’t just verbal and qualitative intelligence; that there’s a whole bunch of other kinds out there.
[Angel Donovan]: It seems like we don’t have a map of intelligence. We have where we came from, where it was only cognitive and we’re kind of working through these other types of intelligence and I guess one day maybe we’ll have a complete map of how we actually assess that rather than having the cognitive bias we do today where a lot of education is based on an IQ test or something similar.
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s right, and I think that the research and social trends and education trends are sort of moving away from that “general intelligence is everything” idea. I see that as a good thing.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, exactly. I want to bring up a couple of stereotypes now in terms of intelligence we have and some observations we’ve had in the dating market for a while to see how you look at these.
Some of the stereotypes I guess we have in society is that really intelligent people aren’t as humorous. They don’t tend to have those social skills, so I guess we’re thinking of the geeky, the nerdy people – people who have really, really high, off-the-charts cognitive abilities – we tend to think of them as stereotyped geeks. We give them these names because in a way, it’s saying they’re not so socially intelligent.
In the dating market, what we’ve seen over time is, also through over a decade of teaching and coaching men, that the guys who think a lot and who may respond better to courses and things which are very intellectual, and learning those, tend to not do so well.
They can be very good at studying these things and the complex methods; there are some very complex dating methods out there versus some very simple ones. Often we see that the guys who aren’t as cognitive-biased, it’s like they’re not as attracted to the cognitive stuff either, they’re more social and they don’t think so much about things; they just tend to do them – they tend to do much better.
So this is stereotyping in our market where the more intelligent guys don’t tend to do so well, maybe because they’re overthinking it. There’s a whole bunch of reasons around that.
Also when we first started looking in this over ten years ago, we used to call some guys naturals because they were naturally good with women, and it tends to be the stereotypical college football jock who isn’t getting great scores in IQ, his cognitive tests are – this is all very stereotypical, of course.
Also, in general, the guys who aren’t getting the highest grades in school tend to date the hotter women and so on. These are a lot of stereotypes we’ve been working through in the dating market, and we’ve actually seen it play out a lot in terms of the naturals don’t tend to be the most intelligent.
Maybe it’s a question of where they invest that time. The cognitive types don’t tend to invest so much time talking to people and so on. I’m just wondering what your thoughts are about all these stereotypes and their validity.
[Glenn Geher]: I think it’s a great question; I think it’s a natural follow-up to what we’ve been talking about regarding different kinds of intelligence. People who study human cognitive processes – there are different words or ways of framing it, but there seems to be two basic kinds of cognitive processes and they seem to be pretty different from each other and unrelated to each other.
I know Scott Barry Kaufman, my co-author from Mating Intelligence Unleashed had a bunch of stuff on the intelligence of the unconscious or unconscious processing versus conscious processing. You can measure unconscious cognitive skills; there’s a whole bunch of ways to measure that and how people perform on those is not perfectly related to how they perform on traditional cognitive skills such as math problems or logic problems.
One way that people talk about it is cold processing versus hot processing, with cold processing meaning more cognitive, more cerebral, intellectual and hot processing meaning more the natural. When you talk about the natural, that’s someone who processes information effectively in a social environment, understands emotional cues, gets that kind of stuff.
They may not have the best SAT score but, like you’re saying, [unclear 34:32] into a social situation and “I got this. I can actively interact with these other folks.” And there seems to be two separate brain systems that oversee these that are related, but they’re not perfectly related.
[Angel Donovan]: So if we are high in cognitive intelligence, does that mean that we’re going to more likely be lower in the other area of intelligence or vice versa? Or is it just kind of a [unclear 34:56] – some people have both, some people have more bias on one and the other.
Maybe it’s like a nurture thing – like when you’re young, if you have a slight strength in the emotional, social side, you tend to focus more on that because it’s easier for you, and it develops. I don’t know what kind of research you’ve done on this, or that exists.
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Like I said, my co-author Scott has studied this more extensively. I know his dissertation in cognitive psychology at Yale that he completed a couple of years ago was an awesome document with great research, and what he found – and you could always talk to Scott and you could correct me if I’m wrong – was that these are kind of what we call in the business “worthwhile dimensions” or orthogonal processes.
It doesn’t mean that they’re negatively-related; it doesn’t mean if it’s high in one necessity it’s low on the other. It means the way you might have put it a second ago – like a crapshoot – that if you’re high in one, you’re just as likely to be high in the other or medium in the other or low in the other.
That would sort of account for why there are some guys that have it all – they’re super smart and they’re so good with people and they’re great at relationships and what does this guy have? He might be in that quadrant of being high in both kinds of processes, whereas you could be high in one and very low in the other or intermediate as well.
[Angel Donovan]: The way we’ve been talking about it, it sounds like the IQ isn’t as beneficial. But actually, I know there are areas where you have seen that it’s beneficial, for instance, in self-control, loyalty. So in relationships, does IQ correlate with behaviors that somehow lead to positive outcomes in terms of health, relationships, satisfaction and happiness?
[Glenn Geher]: That’s a great question. My take on the literature is that there tends to be what we would call small and positive correlations on that. When you look in a very large sample, people who would score higher on intelligence tend to be more likely to report relationship satisfaction, but again, I’d say that’s a relatively small relationship. I’d say there’s a small tendency for that to be the case, but nothing profound.
[Angel Donovan]: Alright, so it may not be such a big deal. Is there anything that you see IQ correlating with in terms of this whole mating intelligence area that you’ve seen?
[Glenn Geher]: Definitely when you conceptualize IQ a bit broader than just scores on an IQ test. An IQ is broadened so as to include in particular markers of creativity; when we think about creative intelligence, then I think the door is opened up quite a bit.
Intelligence tests vary in terms of how much they tap creativity versus not, but separate from IQ tests. If we think about intelligence, general intelligence is including the ability to create – the ability to come up with new ideas, develop new ideas, make connections that other people aren’t making, come up with novel solutions to problems. These things are adaptive and these things are attractive and I think they benefit an individual within a social group, which could lead to status increases. They benefit in terms of courtship, because I think creativity is definitely attractive.
I think when general intelligence is sort of amplified or expanded in a way so as to be reframed in terms of creative intelligence, I think that it does become something that is predictive of relationship success.
[Angel Donovan]: Great. I think we have to come back to that point where we don’t have really a comprehensive map and certainly not like the current scores that most judgments are made on.
I mean, I haven’t back to school for a long time, but I guess people in college still feel assessed by their IQ in terms of the way people look at them in terms of their smartness and intellectual capacity. Would you say that’s true? You said it was evolving. I don’t know what you know about how that’s changing.
[Glenn Geher]: I think, to some extent, people take their IQ Score – it could be their SAT score, these kinds of things, and internalize these things a bit. It kind of depends on this subculture that they’re in. If someone comes from a subculture of testing where testing is everything and testing is intensive and people buy into it, I think the test scores can matter quite a bit.
On the converse, the town I live in New Paltz, New York has had a huge pushback against testing. In fact, a giant percentage of the kids in the school district last year, in collaboration with their parents and a lot of teachers, did not take the state achievement tests as part of it.
I think if you’re in a culture that sort of downplays or even reacts against testing, then that might have benefits to people feeling like it’s a badge that they carry around.
[Angel Donovan]: Right. I just feel this is important to address because in our audience there's going to be guys who have different SAT scores and many of them have – maybe if it’s a lower SAT score, they’ve been feeling like they’re not smart and that impacts their dating life and so on for obvious reasons.
But as we’re talking, there are various different types of intelligence which that doesn’t assess and which are super beneficial as we’ve been talking about. It can actually be the inverse in many cases, whereas obviously IQ is not going to hurt you either, as we’re saying, because there’s not any negative correlation that you’ve seen either.
[Glenn Geher]: Right, yeah. But certainly, mating success can easily follow from someone who’s perfectly average on cognitive intelligence and I think we see that all the time.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah. Anything I would say is just from experience when coaching people. Sometimes the guys who are more intelligent tend to overthink things; they tend to gravitate towards more complex ways of looking at things, which kind of prevents action. It prevents doing things and just moving forward with it more than in other areas. I’m not really sure if that’s anything that you’ve come across at all, but it’s just something that I’ve seen over time.
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah. It makes sense. If you’re a cognitively-oriented kind of person, overthinking things often comes as part of the territory.
[Angel Donovan]: In terms of the differences in intelligence between men and women –. We’ve spoken a little bit about biases, but in terms of their different intelligence – I know there's interpersonal, emotional intelligence and social intelligence; there's different biases there in terms of women being better in some areas than others. How does that affect the mating game and other dynamics?
[Glenn Geher]: It’s an interesting question. I think the general findings of gender differences in markers of intelligence, it’s a very contentious area, but the best summary that I’ve seen kind of not starting that directly but looking from the sidelines is what we might think of as generally small effect sizes.
I’d be a little bit wary of making broad implications based on that literature, but with that said, I will say a very consistent theme in that literature connected with emotional processing is a tendency for women to have stronger skills on that domain. That probably does have implications because, if on average, guys aren’t as good, then you might be missing things in trying to navigate through a social world with members of the opposite sex.
In trying to court a woman when it comes to that kind of process and she’s usually a step ahead, that can make things a little bit difficult.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, we’ve often seen in the dating world that women have better intuition about your intentions than you have potentially about her intentions – at least until you’ve gathered a fair amount of experience.
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, I think that could be that playing out.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah. Just to be clear about what you were saying was contentious, what you’re saying in terms of women having higher social intelligence and their emotional, interpersonal intelligence, that you’ve seen that whole area’s not really resolved yet. Because I think there are some popular books out there which push that idea.
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah. Again, these are average differences. From a statistical perspective, their average differences are pretty consistent. I will say that when it comes to the emotional processing stuff and social processing stuff, there does tend to be a female superiority effect.
Again, these are reasonably small effect sizes, so if you’re a married guy, it doesn’t mean that you’re definitely a social idiot compared with your wife. It just means that you might be.
[Angel Donovan]: Right. And in terms of emotional processing, you mean in terms of assessing the other person’s emotions? Is it mostly about that?
[Glenn Geher]: That’s largely it. If someone says something, there are some people that are like “Oh gosh, I saw that think with the eyebrow. I know what they really meant” and there are some people that are just clueless. They can’t read the nonverbals. They hear someone say “That’s fine,” whether with a negative connotation and they'd say, “Okay, that person said that’s fine” and other people are looking at it like “No, they meant that’s not fine – that was just what they said,”
So yeah, I think [missing audio]
[Angel Donovan]: That’s interesting because guys – I think one other thing they often get caught up with is when they’re relating to guys, they can talk in a dry way, and sometimes when they respond to a woman like that, they feel like she’s overreacting to them.
It’s probably because they’re not used to someone looking into their verbals and understanding that. Even though the guys themselves actually do have their underlying meaning, they’re not really thinking about it so much because they’re used to mostly talking to guys all the time and they’re not thinking about the more subtle implications of what they were saying and the context of what they’re saying, and maybe the emotional value behind that.
And so they’re like, “Why is she overreacting?” I mean, this is a very stereotypical think as well, right? They’re thinking that women are making more – but actually it could be that she’s actually understanding more of what you’re meaning and reacting to that.
[Glenn Geher]: Right, understanding things that you may be feeling and not expressing overtly, it’s interesting. It reminds me of – each year, there’s this group of guys, something called the Man Trip. Once a year, for maybe two or three nights, and it’s just the same group of guys – guys going back to college. And my gosh, after that trip, everyone reports – I don’t know exactly what the word is for it – but there’s this adjustment period. Oh my God, you come home and it takes two or three days before you communicate with your spouse again, because you were just surrounded by guys and the communication between all guys for an extended period is very different. It’s very different. So there really is this adjustment period, which I think speaks to a very different kind of interpersonal style.
[Angel Donovan]: What I like about that story is that it shows that you can adapt. It’s not like you go back home and then your wife doesn’t understand you and you don’t understand her anymore; it takes you a few days and you get back into it.
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
[Angel Donovan]: This is a skill versus something that – we will know that people can learn more communication skills and stuff, but it’s nice to hear that there are direct experiences of this. I don’t know if you have any evidence as to interpersonal skills and stuff like that where people have learned to improve their relationships via learning better interpersonal skills or increasing their social, emotional intelligence with some kind of work on it.
[Glenn Geher]: There are definitely people that have done studies on that. One of my advisers in graduate school, Becky Warner, has shown that emotional intelligence is a huge predictor of success in relationships and when the partners are concordant on emotional intelligence, on a similar level, that seems to be beneficial.
When both partners are reasonably good at it and one is particularly effective at it, that seems to be a recipe for effectiveness as well. Marc Brackett, who has the Emotional Intelligence Research Institute I think it’s called at Yale, he saw a lot of research showing that emotional intelligence can be improved in that educational practices designed to focus on people’s ability to process others’ emotions and process their own emotions better. If that’s something that actually can be improved, then it clearly has beneficial effects for relationships.
[Angel Donovan]: Right. I’m going to jump on a couple of things you said that improving your emotional intelligence to better understand yourself and the other does improve outcomes. Does it tend to improve relationship outcomes?
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, there are several studies now that have documented that.
[Angel Donovan]: Great. So that means it’s actually worth working on. We’re always pushing the idea that the closer you get to reality, your map of the world is actual reality, the better things are going to get because what you’re doing – your mind knows it that if you do this, you’re going to get that rather than you’re doing this and something different happens. It’s just one follows the other and you’ll automatically start doing the things that work rather than don’t work.
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, I think so, and I think that’s part of the fact that we continuously adapt and, in many ways, develop and improve across relationships.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, great. Which type of intelligence do you feel is more important, or do you feel is contextual for, say, someone in a relationship versus not in a relationship? Are there areas of intelligence that you feel that are more important to the outcome – positive outcomes, healthy outcomes, happiness, satisfaction?
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah. When you look at markers of success in relationships, having an intelligent partner or a pair of intelligent partners – that’s a very small part of the story. Having people that can read each other well and deal effectively interpersonally, I think that’s more important.
There’s new research that has come out, a new summary by John Gottman on the benefits of kindness in relationships. There’s research going back years showing that kindness in relationships and patience in relationships are hugely predictive of success.
These things seem so simple and we think about advancing ourselves in all other kinds of areas, but patience and kindness end up mattering more in long-term relationships’ success than intellectual skill or status or income or a lot of these kinds of things. I think that definitely relates more to emotional intelligence or making people feel good about themselves.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah. I study things that I don’t really know where they connect with academia sometimes, but emotional intelligence – does it relate to your reactiveness on an emotional level?
We talk a lot about if someone else has an emotion, you react to it versus being able to just stabilize and it’s a bit like your patience. When you were saying that, I was thinking, “You have patience and then you can respond in an appropriate manner rather than just reacting to it emotionally.”
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, one of my recent grad students, Rachael Carmen, did a really great thesis project that looked at stress reactivity, looked at a bunch of different things, but she looked at stress reactivity and emotional intelligence.
There was a huge negative relationship between these. People that are higher in emotional intelligence – if you could think of a stressful situation in a relationship, they’re much less likely to bug out about it, whereas people that are low in emotional intelligence or emotional processing abilities, if their partner gets stressed out, then they get stressed out. Then you got stress times stress. The way people deal with stress is clearly related to success in a relationship.
[Angel Donovan]: That’s great to hear. This is a bit more of a negative scenario, but in some areas, I have seen this kind of playoff sometimes, where one person in the relationship may have higher social intelligence – more emotional intelligence if you like – just more general social intelligence and the other one, say the woman, has lower social intelligence.
The other one is more dominant in the relationship, able to control it, and in a sense the other one’s a little bit naïve about what’s going on sometimes. I guess from one perspective, one person can take advantage of that situation. Say, the guy is more socially intelligent for instance and the other one, being naïve, is getting more manipulated in that situation.
I mean, this is the kind of stuff that’s going on every day.
[Glenn Geher]: I think that’s a highly plausible scenario. It’s not a very pretty scenario. I think one of the things in the mating domain that people have sort of tried to do to introduce that proactively is finding a partner who’s honest and loyal and kind because if that person has the potential to manipulate for his or her own purposes, or children or other family members, they are less likely to.
It’s like, what I'm hearing you talk about, is intelligence as power that can be exploited and can be exploited in a relationship. Yeah, I think there is potential for that, and I think that’s one of the reasons that we work so hard in trying to find partners that are not exploitive.
[Angel Donovan]: That’s great because we have seen – there’s a bit of this in the news at the moment; I don’t know if you’ve seen this guy called Julien Blanc from Real Social Dynamics. There’s a lot in the news about him right now. He’s a dating coach and he’s kind of on the dark route. If you see his seminars and everything, he’s promoting the use of whatever he’s learned in terms of social dynamics, in terms of manipulating women.
It’s gone pretty extreme and it’s in the press and everything. I bring that up because it’s kind of at the forefront of the mind at the moment in the dating industry, because everyone’s like “Ouch, that’s not very nice.”
[Glenn Geher]: Yeah, it’s unfortunate. I mean, any set of knowledge can be exploited, utilized for various kinds of purposes and I think that like in a relationship, it’s a matter of trust, to be able to trust your partner, that that person’s not going to exploit me even if he or she could. I don’t feel like we have the same in the professional domain as well.
[Angel Donovan]: You have it the same in the professional domain?
[Glenn Geher]: In other words, in the professional domain – let’s say there’s a group of people in a profession that have shared knowledge [missing audio].
[Angel Donovan]: Right, so you’re talking about business, economics – just society in general – and it could be academia or whatever, using knowledge for good versus bad, versus control.
Because there’s been monopolies in the past, et cetera, things that we have laws against. We don’t have these laws in relationships, of course, to protect us.
[Glenn Geher]: Right, that’s a very good point.
[Angel Donovan]: Okay, well thank you very much for today’s talk. I really like that you pushed back against some of the idea that I’m asking you about. Science is on top of this one and it’s really clarified a great number of points.
I just want to round off with a couple of questions we ask everyone, which is, who besides yourself would you recommend for great, quality advice in this area of just better understanding dating, mating, sex and relationships?
[Glenn Geher]: There’s a lot of great scholars in this area. I’ve been fortunate to have pretty good relationships with a lot of these people, so just a quick group of people to think about. Maryanne Fisher, who’s at Saint Mary’s in Halifax – she’s done some great research on relationships from an evolutionary perspective. She’d be great. Justin Garcia of The Kinsey Institute in Indiana – also someone who’s done really great research on the nature of relationships whom I’d recommend as well. Another collaborator of mine, Dan Kruger, who’s at the University of Michigan, has also done a lot of research on this topic. I think he’d have a lot of interesting stuff to say as well.
[Angel Donovan]: Excellent, thank you for those. It’s always interesting to hear about it. I think there are so many people in these topics these days. Whenever we ask this question, I’m amazed that people I’ve never heard of keep coming up and up and up, so it’s great that there’s so many great people out there today. And last – I’ve asked this question of everyone for a very long time now. What would be your top three recommendations based on everything you’ve learned about this that could help men get a better relationship, dating, mating life?
[Glenn Geher]: That’s a great question; it’s an intriguing question. I think you got to have some level of confidence, some level of belief in yourself. There’s research showing that people who ask for a random date from someone actually have some chance of getting it.
I’d say, realize that there are lots of people out there and a certain level of confidence is definitely going to be beneficial. Definitely have that. Don’t be afraid of rejection, because the people who are rejected most in life are also the most successful people in life. These are people who've tried, so I’d say that’s another thing.
And I think that at the end of the day, the thing that really is beneficial in terms of being attractive, getting a mate, having a successful relationship, really is empathy and kindness in a relationship. Fostering those things as opposed to trying to [unclear 56:50] what’s best for you will ultimately be beneficial. So I think that kindness and empathy are things that you really should be cultivating in any relationship strategy.
[Angel Donovan]: Thank you so much for those; some of those were completely new. I really like the third one too, which we don’t think about enough.
Glenn, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been a really interesting and clarifying interview today. Thanks for your time and being available today for us.
[Glenn Geher]: You got it, man! Thanks so much, Angel. Take care!
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DSR Podcast is a weekly podcast where Angel Donovan seeks out and interviews the best experts he can find from bestselling authors, to the most experienced people with extreme dating lifestyles. The interviews were created by Angel Donovan to help you improve yourself as men - by mastering dating, sex and relationships skills and get the dating life you aspire to.
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