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Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction

by Michael Ryan Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 224 pages
AU$59.99 NZ$60.86
Product Status: In Stock Now
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From one of the world's leading authorities on animal behaviour, the astonishing story of how the female brain drives the evolution of beauty in animals and humans


Darwin developed the theory of sexual selection to explain why the animal world abounds in stunning beauty, from the brilliant colours of butterflies and fishes to the songs of birds and frogs. He argued that animals have "a taste for the beautiful" that drives their potential mates to evolve features that make them more sexually attractive and reproductively successful. But if Darwin explained why sexual beauty evolved in animals, he struggled to understand how. In A Taste for the Beautiful, Michael Ryan, one of the world's leading authorities on animal behaviour, tells the remarkable story of how he and other scientists have taken up where Darwin left off and transformed our understanding of sexual selection, shedding new light on human behavior in the process.


Drawing on cutting-edge work in neuroscience and evolutionary biology, as well as his own important studies of the tiny TĂșngara frog deep in the jungles of Panama, Ryan explores the key questions: Why do animals perceive certain traits as beautiful and others not? Do animals have an inherent sexual aesthetic and, if so, where is it rooted? Ryan argues that the answers to these questions lie in the brain--particularly of females, who act as biological puppeteers, spurring the development of beautiful traits in males. This theory of how sexual beauty evolves explains its astonishing diversity and provides new insights about how much our own perception of beauty resembles that of other animals.


Vividly written and filled with fascinating stories, A Taste for the Beautiful will change how you think about beauty and attraction.




Preface ix1 Why All the Fuss about Sex? 1
2 Why All the Whining and Chucking? 13
3 Beauty and the Brain 33
4 Visions of Beauty 53
5 The Sounds of Sex 77
6 The Aroma of Adulation 105
7 Fickle Preferences 126
8 Hidden Preferences and Life in Pornotopia 148
Epilogue 169
Notes 171
Bibliography 177
Index 187

"The author's work with frogs launched a lifetime interest in discovering how beauty is found not just in animals' calls, but in the scents they give off and the colors they show. He argues that certain domains in the brain help determine what is perceived as beautiful. . . . Small, uncaptioned, black-and-white illustrations open each chapter, and what does come through clearly is the diversity of beauty--and the diversity of sexual behavior."--Kirkus Reviews
Michael J. Ryan is the Clark Hubbs Regents Professor in Zoology at the University of Texas and a Senior Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. He is a leading researcher in the fields of sexual selection, mate choice, and animal communication. He lives in Austin, Texas.