There he goes again: You're walking down the street with your new guy, and his eyes slide over to check out a blonde in a low-cut top. And let's not even get started on his Salma Hayek obsession. But don't give him too hard a time: A new study suggests that we're biologically compelled to stare at the sexy and powerful.
Researchers at Duke monitored the eye movements of male rhesus monkeys as they looked at photographs of their fellow primates. When a monkey fixed his gaze on an image, he was rewarded with a squirt of fruit juice. What they found: The monkeys were drawn to power and sex, choosing to look at the faces of alpha monkeys of both sexes and the hindquarters of potential female mates. (The sight of a female monkey's rear signals they're sexually available.) They showed this preference even though they were given more juice to entice them to look at lower-ranking, less attractive monkeys.
According to Robert Deaner, Ph.D., a co-author of the study, humans, like our simian cousins, are probably hard-wired to act this way. "In both human and rhesus monkey societies, individuals vary in their influence and reproductive potential," he says. "So for both humans and rhesus monkeys, natural selection would have favored individuals that valued information accordingly." In other words, evolutionarily speaking, it pays to pay attention to who's most powerful and who's most eager to mate.
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As for that date with the wandering eye, should you write off his rude manners as an unfortunate evolutionary byproduct? It depends, says Deaner. "Both men and women have a strong tendency to monitor attractive or powerful people," he says. "The visual monitoring usually takes place very rapidly and the offending person may not even realize it's occurring. But if he turns his head and stares for an extended period of time, it's probably a cause for concern." In that case, perhaps a banana upside the head would be an appropriate response.
Todd Katz writes for
Maxim; he keeps his alpha-monkey tendencies in check by working as a New York City paramedic.