From one of the world's leading authorities on animal behavior, 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 colors 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 behavior, 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 Túngara 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 the degree to which 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.
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.
"In this engaging book, Michael Ryan explores why all animals look for beauty in the opposite sex. Using his studies of Central American frogs as a jumping-off point, he expertly guides us through new discoveries and ideas about how brains have evolved to yearn for the beautiful. Surprisingly, what female frogs admire in their male suitors illuminates our own desires and attractions."--Virginia Morell, author of the New York Times bestseller Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel
"We say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder.' Turns out, beauty is in the brain. The brain decides what strikes us as beautiful. This book raises and answers an astonishing set of questions: What is the perception called beauty? How did our brains acquire it? On what basis do our brains inform us about what is beautiful? And why does a peacock's tail seem beautiful to both a peahen and a person? This is a profound, often amazing, book. It's, well, beautiful."--Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
"Written by a distinguished scientist and filled with fascinating stories, this book presents the revelation that, for very good evolutionary reasons, beauty is in the mind, as well as the eye, of the beholder."--Peter R. Grant, coauthor of 40 Years of Evolution: Darwin’s Finches on Daphne Major Island
"This lovely book delves into the origins and perception of beauty--sensations that generate specific reward responses in the brain. Ranging from neurobiology to behavior and psychology, Mike Ryan seamlessly integrates animal and human data. He also describes how science works, which is more important now than ever."--John Endler, Deakin University, Australia