Bad science alert! Satoshi Kanazawa and evolutionary psychology


Psychology Today published a blog article yesterday “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?” by Satoshi Kanazawa.

Where race did not significantly alter attractiveness rating for men, Black women rated statistically lower in attractiveness than the average female (when compared to White, Asian, and Native American). While cleverly disguising his comments with scientific language, he first hypothesis that the lower average physical attractiveness is due to BMI index (as Black women are on average heavier than non black women), then in intelligence (as he mentions the positive association between intelligence and physical attractiveness). He does strike both variables as not having any links to physical attractiveness.

Instead he focuses on genetic and biological differences. The only potential difference is that black women have a higher levels of testosterone than other races.

This is bad science in the making. Evolutionary Psychology has been riddled with debate of whether they are using scientifically sound methodology. Evolutionary psychology often uses the method of biological determinism. Biological determinism tries to make links between behaviour and genetics. The truth of the matter is that scientist don’t know what makes the links between behaviour and genetics and you can’t postulate one from another.

What Satoshi Kanazawa doesn’t realise is that attractiveness is a result of socialised behaviour. What he doesn’t realise is that it’s not that Black women are less attractive, it’s that all of his test subjects are inadvertently selecting for characteristics that are socially popular. What is currently socially attractive is a western ideal of attractiveness. You cannot predict the level of attractiveness by society (and people’s behavioural decision) by a group’s genetic dispositions.

Further, there are more genetic differences between two people of the same racial background than of two people of different racial backgrounds. You cannot predict race from genetics alone. Or as Richard Lewontin explains in The Apportionment of Human Diversity, in Evolutionary Biology (1972) (1),

“85 percent of human variation occurs within populations and not among populations, argued that neither “race” nor “subspecies” were appropriate or useful ways to describe populations.”

It is only when we are able to escape the western ideal of beauty will Satoshi Kanazawa’s results change.


(1): Lewontin, Richard C. (1972). “The Apportionment of Human Diversity”. Evolutionary Biology 6: 381-397.

Picture taken from Psychology Today

*Blog update. The site on Psychology Today has been taken down. However someone has kindly taken a digital print of the article. You can find it here.*

*2nd blog update. Google Cache has a better copy of the old Psychology Today article before it was taken down.