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28 July 2005
"Burn Money" To Impress Girls
by George Atkinson

At last! A scientific model that tells us the best strategy for winning a girl's heart. Mathematicians from University College London have developed a mathematical model that shows how expensive but worthless gifts may help facilitate courtship. The study, by Peter Sozou and Robert Seymour, analyzed the function of courtship gifts and what the characteristics of a 'good' gift were. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

The researchers showed that gifts can act as a signal of a man's intention and offering an expensive gift may signal a long-term commitment. But the researchers said that men may get burnt by being exploited by gold-digger types who are only interested in the gift itself.

To solve this potential pitfall, the researchers modeled courtship as a sequential game where they show that an extravagant gift, which is costly to the man but worthless to the woman, may solve the problem. So it turns out that frittering away money wining and dining a girl to win her hand is actually a pretty good strategy. "Our analysis shows that there is evolutionary logic in men 'burning money' to impress the girl," said Seymour.

"Guys are less likely to offer expensive gifts to females they don't have a long-term interest in. And girls won't be impressed by cheap gifts. By offering expensive but worthless gifts, such as dinners and theatre trips, the male pays no cost if the invitation isn't accepted. Girls that don't find a guy attractive are less likely to take up the invitation because it would mean spending time with a person they aren't interested in," said Sozou. "In other species the deciding factors for a female is whether she's in a sexually receptive state and the male is in a good condition. Males offer gifts which may signal their condition. Those in a 'poor condition' can't offer the same quality of gift," he added.

To tackle all scenarios that might occur, the researchers constructed two versions of the game, depending on whether a parental role was involved. Despite the different biological assumptions, the two models used the same mathematical structure, with both yielding solutions in which males predominantly offer costly but worthless gifts as a prelude to mating. "Gift-giving by males is a feature of human courtship and mating systems in a number of species. Females invest more resources than males in offspring and so must take care to pick the best partner possible, something that's not always easy to gauge from general cues such as appearance," said Sozou. "In humans, a girl wants a guy who is attractive to her and will help raise their children. The worst pay-off, reproductively, is if she hooks up with an unattractive male who, literary, leaves her holding the baby."

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