February 19, 2004

Speaker Examines Rules of Attraction

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Alon Ziv was sponsored to speak by Cornell Hapa, a group that explores mixed-race issues, yesterday at 8:00 p.m. in the HEC Auditorium of Goldwin Smith Hall. “Breeding Between the Lines: Why Interracial People are Healthier and More Attractive” was the title of his lecture and of an upcoming book by the main speaker.

Ziv began the lecture with, “Imagine it’s your wedding night and you’re in the honeymoon suite with the person you want to spend the rest of your life with and you’re getting cozy … now imagine that this person is your sibling. How do your feelings change?”

Ziv said that he wanted to know why incest is so repulsive and how it generates such a strong reaction. He came to the conclusion that incest produces inferior children who are much more likely to have health problems. He said his theory was based on findings that the less alike parents are the more genetic variation there will be in their offspring.


“Symmetry is associated with longer life, more fertility and being able to run faster … Is symmetry sexy? The answer is definitely yes!” he said.

Ziv said that in one study where people were asked to choose between faces, the more symmetrical faces were consistently found to be sexier. In another study using pictures of the same person, one untouched and one enhanced by a computer to look more symmetrical, the subjects at first didn’t have a preference, but when pressed to make a choice consistently chose the enhanced face.

He said another interesting findings was that “symmetrical men lose their virginity two to three years earlier.”

In one study, men wore a plain white t-shirt for two days which was then placed in a plastic bag after measurements for symmetry were taken. Women then came and smelled the t-shirts and most rated the symmetrical men as smelling better.

Ziv clarified, “There’s nothing innately good about symmetry itself, it’s one way to get the information about genes.”

Different Conditions

He went into brief detail explaining that genes make proteins and we have two copies of every gene. Ziv said that it’s more advantageous for copies to be different, to be heterozygous and more able to deal with different conditions.

He gave the example of Siamese cats which have similar genes and genetic mutations in which the gene responsible for putting pigment on the fur is temperature dependent. The body of the cat is warmer than the limbs, face and tail and there is enough of a temperature difference that the pigment is only deposited on the limbs, face and tail.

Ziv than asked the audience “Why do people have sex and what is the goal?”

The responses he received were “because it feels good” and “to reproduce” respectively. Ziv said “They’re not unrelated.”

He added that variation is what makes sexual reproduction more advantageous than asexual reproduction and that if the parents are very different there will be more genetic variation.


Toward the end of the lecture, Ziv put some of his previous ideas together, “How do we get symmetry? From being heterozygous; and that comes from … different races.” He then quoted a UCLA study which found interracial children to be more symmetrical than others.

Some students found the talk stimulating, “It brought up interesting questions about race and genetics that people are usually afraid to ask,” said Adam Hymans ’05

“I thought his material would be very controversial and was hoping people would see the title and say, ‘this is totally counter-intuitive to how I’ve been brought up’ and then come to hear him speak,” said Emily Wagner ’06 who is part of Cornell Hapa and helped organize the lecture.

“I’m not telling anybody what to do,” Ziv said. “Talking about race is a scary thing … people should be more open-minded.”

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman