Saturday, December 16, 2006

Macking on Models

I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around Julian’s model of macking behavior (“macking” being Julian’s preferred term for flirting or hitting on people). Julian is reacting to Heather’s observation that men in D.C. are “vanilla pansies that are scared to approach a woman in a bar,” despite D.C. women being (in her opinion) relatively attractive on average. Julian suggests that greater hotness of women could lead to a reduced level of overall macking. Here’s his model:
Assume there are diminishing returns to hotness. Which is to say, there's some threshold of physical attraction below which things probably aren't going to get off the ground whatever other good traits someone has. And there's a range within which improvements along this dimension will get significant weight. But between potential partners sufficiently high on that dimension – say ranging from "very attractive" to "stunning" – those other traits (smart, witty, kind, fun, whatever) become relatively more important.

Now, someone considering a cold approach in a bar really only has one dimension to go on: Hotness, which differs from the others in being pretty readily apparent in a noisy, crowded room. Even for someone unfazed by the risk of rejection, the cold approach carries some probability of ending up in a tedious conversation with an otherwise unappealing person. So other things equal, the expected value of a cold approach will depend on the relative salience, given your prospective partner pool, of the hotness dimension. If, to put it bluntly, you live among trolls, that will tend to be a high-salience dimension, making a cold approach to one of the rare attractive people you encounter more appealing. But if median attractiveness is high, then hotness is cheap: The expected returns to striking up a conversation with someone about whom you know only that they're hot are far lower. Ergo: More hotness, less macking.
I think Julian might be onto something, but I keep foundering on uncertainty about the parameters of the model. What is the relevant alternative to hitting on an attractive woman? Is it not talking to anyone at all, talking only to your wingman, talking to some woman you already know, ditching the place in favor of a reliable booty call, or making a cold approach on a different woman in the bar?

Let’s take the last option. If it’s simply a choice about whom to mack upon, then Julian’s conclusion (more hotness, less macking) does not follow. If you don’t hit on one woman, you hit another, so the total amount of macking is unaffected by the median hotness of the crowd.

But if your outside option is any of the others I listed, then the outcome depends crucially on the quality of that option. For now, take the utility of your outside option as fixed. A hotter potential target automatically means a greater expected gain relative to the quality of your outside option. (Unless hotness is negatively correlated with the other qualities you want. Let’s assume that’s not the case, although that could be the subject of a future post...). A higher return compared to a fixed cost – the risk of getting trapped in a tedious conversation – should result in more macking, not less. So again, Julian’s conclusion does not follow.

To justify Julian’s conclusion, I think we have to say something about how the quality of outside options is affected by the overall hotness of the population. Say there’s a woman you already know that you could chat with. If she’s relatively low quality, it will seem more worth your while to do a cold approach on someone else. But as her quality rises, diminishing returns to hotness – again weighed against the fixed risk of an annoying conversation – mean that it will seem less and less worthwhile to bother macking on anyone else. Thus, if a hotter female population means that guys typically have higher-quality outside options, then greater hotness could indeed lead to less macking.

Some alternative assumptions might justify the same conclusion. For instance, the likelihood of success could have an effect. If success (defined as initiating contact with a desirable person and getting a positive reaction) becomes more likely, more guys will be willing to take a chance. However, they will also remain out of the macking pool for longer, given that success presumably means either longer conversations or shorter ones followed by a hasty exit. So there could be offsetting effects here. But this post is already too long, so I will leave that question for another time.


Julian said...

Yeah, I suppose I left this implicit, but the background thought was: Given high average hotness for an area, you'll already be acquainted with a sufficient number of attractive women through professional or social ties that *also* guarantee some basic level of quality on the other dimensions that cold-approaches in bars are inefficient.

David Gillies said...

This needs a game-theoretic approach to see if there is a Nash equilibrium in macking strategy.