Psychology Study: Why "nerds" get the girl

Samuel B. Cone


"Nerds" have been punching bags in books and movies in recent years. In a standard high school scenario, girls spurn the genius's advances and jocks kick sand in his face. He, in turn, consoles himself with the knowledge that, when he's moved on to college and left behind the morons behind, his brains will be better than brawn when it comes to coaxing an attractive companion into bed.

According to a recent study, the nerds were right. For the first time ever, scientists have established a positive correlation in a species of animals between intelligence and reproductive success.

In 2001, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller wrote a well-reasoned treatise called The Mating Mind that shook up thinking on the topic of evolution, reproductive success, and intelligence. Miller posited that, in fact, brains were more sexy because they connoted a higher chance of survival and prosperity for the man, his mate and his offspring. Unfortunately, actual evolutionary evidence supporting this theory was difficult to tease out in the complicated cacophony of countervailing and complementary forces that dictate who shacks up with whom in the human and animal kingdoms.

Leave it to birds to validate the higher reproductive attractiveness of smart over dumb. Researchers from the University of Maryland, College Park decided to test the intelligence of bowerbirds in New South Wales, Australia and then track their mating success, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Bowerbirds are considered smart birds.

Jason Keagy, the University of Maryland researcher, put the bowerbirds through several tests that required a relative degree of intelligence. In one, he glued red objects in the nesting spaces of the bowerbirds under a clear plastic cover. Bowerbirds hate red. The smart birds figure out how to dislodge the cover and remove the offending objects in 20 seconds.

The dumber birds never figured it out. Keagy then glued the red object down in their cages. The sharpest birds in the cage quickly figured out that the red object was immovable and chose to cover it with leaves. The less intelligent bowerbirds continued to peck at the objects until Keagy ended the experiment.

Keagy then observed the relative success and failure in mating conquests of the smart and not so smart avians. The smarter birds were able to attract 20 or so mates in a single season. The less intelligent birds struggled to attract any mates at all. This is the first experiment to date that has proven a positive correlation between intelligence and copulation success, according to Science Now.