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Richard O. Prum

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - and Us

Interview with Richard O. Prum

February 13, 2018

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About Richard O. Prum

Richard O. Prum is William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology at Yale University, and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. He has conducted field work throughout the world, and has studied fossil theropod dinosaurs in China. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010.

Interview Summary

In his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin laid the foundation of our understanding of biological evolution with the theory of natural selection and the “survival of the fittest” principle. A little over a decade later, Darwin went on to expound his views on sexual selection, which were, however, strongly rejected by his peers at the time.  

Richard O. Prum, an ornithology professor at Yale University and a widely-respected evolutionary biologist, has written The Evolution of Beauty in defense of Darwin’s views of co-evolution from both natural and sexual selection, with a strong emphasis on female choice in mating. Based on his keen observation of birds and animal behavior, Prum elaborates on his anchor theme of the female sexual preference as a major influence on behavior and evolution, and, last but not least, natural beauty. 

Key Topics

  • What are two main theories of evolution?
  • What are Charles Darwin’s natural selection and sexual selection theories?
  • Why does the “survival of the fittest” principle not account for ornaments seen in many birds and animals?
  • Are many mating criteria arbitrary in origin, and what does “beauty happens” mean?
  • How does sexual selection occur in birds and animals?
  • What does the evolution of feathers tell us?
  • What do the male behaviors of the bowerbird and the manakin suggest?
  • What do different traits of female birds and animals respond to?
  • How has female choice been a major factor driving human evolution?
  • How have mating choices in humans evolved and how has the evolution shaped sexual relations and human culture?

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