Study: Phone records show women run human society, evolution

And it turns out that women make the rules in society and direct course of human evolution

Over the course of 20 years cell phones have evolved from status symbols for the very few to the primary means of communication for the very many.

In the process they've helped change our memories (why remember a friend's number if it's in your speed dial), our sense of direction (GPS is easier than maps, even for places we go frequently) and the way we communicate (ith phones in our pockets we can chat with anyone, anytime, but increasingly prefer to text or email because it's more convenient for us and more polite to those who share our physical space, rather than our digital networks.)

As cell phones have become ubiquitous they've also become the go-to method of tracing social and behavioral patterns we may have suspected but were never able to confirm.

Studying data showing who phones whom within an organization, how quickly those calls were returned and what secondary calls they set off identifies the paths of real influence, not just titular authority, even in large companies, for example.

Now those records may change the way we understand the nature of male-female relationships and changes in what each gender wants from the other at different times in individual lives.

In the most unlikely but by far most interesting possibility, they may also explain more about how natural selection works in humans today than all the evolution studies ever published on the sex life of fruit flies.

Following up on earlier studies that show most people tend to pick friends who are similar to themselves, University of Oxford anthropologist Robin Dunbar and colleagues talked an unnamed telco in an unnamed European country into turning over seven months worth of call records for about 3.2 million subscribers.

Looking only at calls for which the age and gender of the caller was known, researchers analyzed analyzed patterns of contact in 1.95 billion cell phone calls and 489 million text messages, sifting for patterns that indicate who those callers had chosen for one-on-one friendships and how those relationships were maintained.

Previous studies showed that, in established organizations, women's communication styles tended to be overlooked in favor of men. Those studies involved communication networks and norms created largely by men, for men without consideration for the development of romantic relationships, even though romance is a high priority for men as well as women.

Studying patterns of contact through mobile-phone use identifies actually behavior patterns formed according to the abilities and priorities of each gender, researchers said, giving a more accurate pattern of whose voice has the most impact and which gender holds real power in a technological society.

Scientific evidence overturns same-gender-friendship rule 'Bros before 'hos.

The most surprising finding was that, during their 20s and 30s both men and women spent a lot of energy maintaining at least one extremely close, friendship with a member of the opposite sex but similar age, usually a romantic partner, but not inevitably.

Both sexes peak young-ish in romantic activity as reflected in their phone traffic. For men , 32 was the peak of phone activity with a woman of the same age; for women it was 27.

After than, women's relationships remain far more dynamic than men, who tend to make and keep about the same number of friends of both sexes as earlier in their lives, and to keep the same people in the positions of best, second-best and third-best friend, as judged by volume of calls.

For men a spouse most often remains in the No. 1 spot during the 30s, 40s and even into the 50s, while women exhibit a far greater preference for female friends and to shift the positions of their top three friends, or even replace them.

After age 50 both men and women shift toward companionship as the main criterion for friendship, rather than romance or reproduction.

Men's existing relationships remain relatively stable; their relationships with younger people shows a lack of gender bias that, if the younger-generation friends are offspring, "reflect a strong lack of discrimination" in the choice of whom to contact.

Men tend not to play favorites among their children, in other words.

After age 50 women tend strongly toward same-sex friendships, especially toward a strong relationship with at least one woman a generation younger, which Dunbar interpreted as a real or ersatz mother-daughter relationship.

Women's networks define social norms, requirements and conventions

Those relationships are a continuation of what the researchers describe as a matrilineal social order – priorities, behavioral norms and requirements of romantic partners determined by women and acceded to by men – the reverse of the patrilineal order they expected to find.

The mechanism for all that tends to reinforce gender stereotypes.

Men in their 20s and 30s, researchers found spend far less time talking to one another about their relationships and far more talking to a woman defined as a best friend.

Women of the same age spend a lot more time and effort talking to each other one-on-one using voice, text and email than men, who used the phone far less and tended to bond in groups during activities rather than conversations.

Women's phone records showed "intense, one-on-one friendships maintained and shaped through frequent communication."

Their conclusion was that women's networks weren't only about friendship and mutual emotional support. They were focused on choosing, developing and maintaining the women's romantic relationships.

'Hen party' or Committee on Evolution of the Species?

Those focused discussions amount to a cooperative analysis of the prospective mates for each woman and the best way to go about choosing a mate.

That complex analysis plays much the same role in humans that mating displays or battles for dominance among males do among other animals, the paper concludes.

Rather than judging males on the redness of a baboon butt or size of the rock nest built by a hopeful penguin, human females judge prospective mates using a complex analysis of their physical appearance, social skills, potential for growth in social and financial circumstances, emotional aptitude and compatibility and other factors.

Hence, women in their 20s and 30s define the social requirements for both sexes of the same age, largely through decisions reached through long discussions and consensus among a network of female friends, often advised or guided by women over 50 providing advice.

Men, whose volume of phone conversation doesn't peak until 32, rather than 27 in women, appear to be separate from this process during their 20s, but gradually accede to it in order to form long-term pair bonds of their own.

"We have been able to demonstrate striking patterns in mobile phone usage data that reflects shifts in relationship preferences as a function of the way the reproductive strategies of the two sexes change across the lifespan," researchers concluded. "We have been able to demonstrate a marked sex difference in investment in relationships during the period of parbond formation, suggesting that women invest much more heavily in pairbonds than do men. Though previously suspected, this suggestion has been difficult to test."

So, if you're one of those people others hound about talking too much on your cell or texting while they'd prefer you pay attention to them, now you have an answer: you're not gossiping or wasting time. You're guiding the path of human evolution and developing the rules that govern how members of a society should conduct themselves and specifically why, given the application of the right criteria, men can be demonstrated scientifically to be complete jerks.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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