How Obvious Can Research Get?

The Journal of Consumer Research has reported that men's cognitive processes are impaired by the sight of a woman in a bikini although the researchers didn't state their conclusions in quite that way.  They said,

Neuroscientific studies demonstrate that erotic stimuli activate the reward circuitry processing monetary and drug rewards. ... We show that exposure to sexy cues leads to more impatience in intertemporal choice between monetary rewards.

In plain English, the researchers noted that sexual stimuli are processed in the same part of a man's brain that handles money and drugs, and that men weren't able to make financial choices as effectively when looking at attractive women.  Neurologically speaking, men think that women are at least as important as money and drugs; the research is silent on how women rank relative to sports.

As news goes, this is somewhat unspectacular, but it's good to know that research dollars at least sometimes get the right answer.  The Journal regularly reaches conclusions such as "smaller packages can lead consumers to eat more, by blunting their wariness about how much they consume" and other such matters of commercial moment.  One wonders if the purpose of putting attractive women in advertisements is to impair men's financial judgment so they'll overpay?

Detection and Counterdetection

In the human species, natural selection has resulted in men being much more interested in finding women than vice versa.  A woman can reach her full reproductive potential having sex a few times only every few months or even years; she needn't worry about finding men.

However, it helps a lot if a woman can attract a man who'll feed her and protect her.  Thus, women are selected for the ability to attract men and many a woman expends significant resources on various measures involving packaging and product placement which are intended to enhance the probability that a man will notice her.

Pundits opine about the "war between the sexes" so we might as well describe this phenomenon in militaristic terms.  In a combat situation, your chances of survival are enhanced significantly if you detect the enemy before he detects you.

In the Air Force and Navy, radar is an important means of detection.  You send out a radar beam which bounces off the enemy.  You pick up the radar reflection and figure out where the enemy is.  This is called "detection."

Unfortunately, not all of the radar signal is reflected and whatever reflects has to travel back to you.  It's far easier for the enemy to read your radar signal than for you to read the much fainter echo.  When the enemy reads your radar, he knows you've detected him.  This is called "counterdetection," and it's a lot easier than detection.

A man doesn't emit a search beam unless he's looking for a woman with a flashlight, so it would seem that a woman has no way of knowing that she's been detected by a man.  Many women aver, however, that they can generally tell when a man is looking at them with the peculiar intensity that men get when erotic stimuli overwhelm their ability to think about money.

Women would gain a significant advantage from natural selection awarding them a counterdetection capability - if she knew she'd been noticed, a woman could take appropriate evasive or encouraging action depending on the situation.  The woman in the cartoon is aware that she's been detected, for example, and apparently has decided against taking evasive action.

Blip Enhance

Now we progress to a subtlety in the battle of detection versus counterdetection.  An aircraft carrier is a very high-value target.  The carrier is surrounded by destroyers whose job is to protect the carrier.  The Soviets developed massive anti-ship missiles which would deposit a ton or so of high explosive on any unfortunate recipient of their largess; "When it absolutely, positively, has to be destroyed overnight..." as the saying goes.

The Soviet missiles found targets by radar.  A missile looked for the biggest blip it could find so that it could take out the carrier.

Each destroyer combat console had a button labeled "Blip Enhance."  The button fired off an electronic gizmo which supposedly made the destroyer's radar blip look bigger than the carrier's blip so that the missile would home in on the destroyer instead of on the carrier.

Nobody had invited the Soviets to test their missiles against the blip enhance device, of course, so nobody was sure it would work.  There was speculation and debate among the officer corps about the effectiveness of blip enhance, assuming that an officer would deliberately commit suicide by hitting the button and calling a ton of high explosive down on his head.  The debate made a significant part of the military-industrial complex very aware of blip enhance.

During the waning years of the Cold War, I knew people in an organization which developed radars and the accompanying counterdetection systems for the Navy.  Their engineers were talking not only about counter-counterdetection, but were funded to examine counter-counter-counterdetection.

One day my friend entered the lobby with a couple of radar engineers he'd detected in the parking lot.  One of them was a young lady whose contours and texture needed no artificial enhancements to ensure her detection, but she'd gone all out anyway: she was rigged out in full-court-press marketing mode.

Another engineer staggered foggily out of the conference room after an all-night session with blueprints and circuitry.  He detected her, of course, and immediately lost all ability to make rational financial calculations.  "Wow," he told her, "that's quite a blip enhance device you've got in your hair.  How do you handle counterdetection?"

As she blushed, her companion said, "That's bad, but the bad thing isn't what he said.  What's really bad is that we both knew exactly what he was talking about."

As for me, it seemed a bit odd to think of a woman's fashion accessories in terms of blip enhance, but once you understand the concept of attracting incoming attention which might otherwise land on another target, there's an element of truth in it.  Blip enhance may or may not work for the Navy, but science has proved it works for women.

If women insist on deploying blip enhance, however, they shouldn't be surprised when men make irrational decisions, financial or otherwise.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
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