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Of Porsches and Peacocks

A peacock’s tail is beautiful. Magnificent plumage. Irridescent colors. Alas, it is also wasteful. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to develop. It’s heavy - an encumbrance in escaping predators. And it serves no practical function. It does however, get the peacock a lot of action. Peahens often choose their mates by the size of their trains.

So too it is with Porches. They are objects of conspicuous consumption. And reflect similar qualities of the peacock in terms of practicality and functionality. But they do attract the ladies.
Those are the findings of a new study – no, not an internet survey – but a bona fide scientific study carried out by researchers at three respected universities – Rice, University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Minnesota.

They looked into the age-old question of whether a man with a Porsche is more attractive to women than a man with – say – a Honda Civic (in much the same way that a peacock with an extraordinary tail might be more likely to hook up with a peahen).

The clear and unequivocal answer was – yes.

But as with all things, the devil is in the details. The researchers discovered that the Porsche owner was more inclined to pursue short term, non-committal sexual relationships. The Honda Civic owner was the “marrying kind”.

The study’s co-author, Jill Sundie of UT San Antonio told me, “While women who did find a man who drove a Porsche more attractive as a date, she did not find him more desirable as a marriage partner for a long term committed relationship.”

The bottom line? If you’re looking for a good time, buy the Porsche. If you’re looking for a mate, go for the Civic.

So – what is it about Porsches that indicate a lack of commitment in relationships? Conspicuous consumption of this kind, the researchers found, is a “mating-oriented signaling system”. Spending on ‘showy’ products, they write, is “driven specifically by a motive for short-term mating (i.e., uncommitted romantic flings)”. Says Sundie, “We believe there is a link between the things that you buy, how you spend your money, and what kind of relationship you are interested in.”

And – how do women respond? According to Sundie, ” Most women are not looking for a fun fast time, but apparently they do find a man with a Porsche to be more desirable as a date so maybe he appears to be more fun.”

In order to win a mate, you first have to date. So what is the fellow with the Civic supposed to do if the guy with the 911 is scooping up all the available women?

Try to search out the potential mates who are looking for a long-term, committed relationship. Those women, says Sundie, “Are looking for a man who will be faithful, continue to provide for you, be a good companion for you, be intelligent, warm and caring – a good father. Perhaps an expensive car that wastes a lot of money isn’t a good indicator of those characteristics.”

One last issue here – what about the women who drive Porsches? Are they - like men - displaying their peacock feathers in search of a mate? Sorry guys – apparently not. “We don’t find that women spend money that way to attract men”, says Sundie. “So clearly when we do find that when women spend money on expensive items as they tend to do it must be for some reason other than attracting the opposite sex.” You see, gentlemen….we’re just not that important to women. They won’t buy a flashy car just to sleep with us.

But men - according to the researchers – like the peacock, certainly will. Here’s how the researchers wrap it up.

“Just as peacocks have evolved to flaunt their wasteful tails before potential mates, men might similarly woo with wasteful expenditures to charm potential mates.”

John Roberts joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in January 2011 as a senior national correspondent and is based in the Atlanta bureau.