5 Things Aladdin Can Teach Us About Mating Psychology

New research on authenticity explains why the Genie gave good advice to Aladdin.

Posted May 26, 2019

cg92/Flickr
Source: cg92/Flickr

The Genie from Aladdin is a brilliant evolutionary psychologist.

Portrayed by Will Smith in the newly released film and voiced by Robin Williams in the Disney version, the Genie thanks Aladdin for rubbing the lamp and releasing him from his 10,000 year-long captivity.

He seems to have spent his confinement reading about mating psychology.

In Aladdin’s grand introduction to the Sultan and Jasmine, the Genie sings “Prince Ali.” Here are five traits the Genie highlights in his lyrics:

1. Social Status

“Genuflect, show some respect, down on one knee!”

Throughout the song, the Genie stresses Aladdin’s status as Prince Ali. He references his immense wealth and “world-class menagerie” of “exotic-type mammals.”

Women, on average, are attracted to high-status men. In a study of 21,973 men in the U.S., researchers found that the higher a man’s socioeconomic status, the higher his chances of getting married.

Furthermore, research has found that women who are themselves financially successful assign even more importance to attracting mates who are financially well-off, educated, and intelligent.

Successful women, compared with less successful women, have a stronger preference to partner with successful men. This explains why the Genie, aware of Jasmine’s royal position, exaggerates Aladdin’s high social standing.

2. Strength

“Strong as 10 regular men, definitely!”

At one point, the Genie shoots his magical finger at Aladdin, allowing Aladdin to lift a group of men above his head. “He faced the galloping hordes, a hundred bad guys with swords,” The Genie croons.

Muscularity is attractive. One study of more than 7,000 men found that muscle mass was associated with more sexual partners in the last year and more sexual partners overall.

More surprisingly, researchers have found that a man’s physical formidability may be a better predictor than his attractiveness for how many partners he has had.

In the study, researchers recorded short videos of 157 different men.

Next, another group of men watched these videos and responded to a question about each of the men in the videos: “How likely is it that this man would win a physical fight with another man?” They used a scale ranging from “extremely likely” to “extremely unlikely.”

A group of women also viewed the videos and responded to a question about each of the men: “How sexually attractive is this man?” They used a scale ranging from “extremely unattractive” to “extremely attractive.”

Eighteen months later, the men in the videos completed a questionnaire asking about their sexual history over the 18 months.

Researchers discovered that how tough a guy looked predicted his reported mating success better than how attractive he looked. The researchers concluded, “Men with higher physical dominance, but not sexual attractiveness, reported higher quantitative mating success.”

3. Generosity

“He’s got ninety-five white Persian monkeys, and to view them he charges no fee (he’s generous, so generous).”

Aladdin unloads armfuls of golden coins to the denizens of Agrabah as the Genie and his entourage belt out these lyrics.

The evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller has written that moral virtues such as kindness, generosity, and heroism may have evolved in part through mate choice.

Plainly, our ancestors sharpened our moral features by selecting kind-hearted mates. Studies have shown, for example, that men are more likely to donate to charity when they are being observed by women.

Goodness serves as a costly fitness indicator. As Miller puts it, “if a signal is so costly that only high health, high status, high condition animals can afford to produce it, the signal can remain evolutionarily reliable.” A wealthy man, confident in his deep pockets, can afford to give vast riches away.

4. Attractiveness

“Prince Ali! Handsome is he, Ali Ababwa”

The Genie stresses Aladdin’s good looks, while Aladdin gives the crowd a twinkling smile.

Appearance is a cue for good health. For early humans, mating with someone who was unhealthy would have posed serious risks, such as being unable to provide food, protection, and help with raising children.

Studies have found that women judge symmetrical faces and masculine faces to be more attractive. Research led by Victor Johnston revealed that when researchers showed women images of male faces and asked them to pick out the “healthiest” looking men, their responses were indistinguishable from their judgments of “the most attractive” men.

Then there’s the sexy son hypothesis. The idea is that females choose males who are attractive to other females because if they have a child, the child is likely to be attractive too. The child will then be an attractive adult and be reproductively successful. Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene, has written, “The result of this is that one of the most desirable qualities a male can have in the eyes of a female is, quite simply, sexual attractiveness itself.”

5. Honesty

“Tell. Her. The truth!”

This isn’t from the song, but from a scene later in the movie. Aladdin doesn’t want Jasmine to learn that he is not actually a prince but a “street rat.” The Genie advises him to be honest with her.

Consider the findings from a new paper titled "Be yourself: Authenticity as a long-term mating strategy," led by psychologist Lawrence Josephs at Adelphi University.

The researchers found that honesty is associated with positive relationships. In fact, honesty was a better predictor of current relationship satisfaction than emotional intelligence. They also found that authentic people tend to mate with other authentic people.

The researchers conclude that authenticity requires taking emotional risks, which is a costly signal of commitment and interest. It as a reliable cue that such a person is worthy as a long-term partner.

In the end, Aladdin comes clean with Princess Jasmine. They fall in love and get married, thus, in an indirect way, fulfilling Aladdin’s original wish of becoming a prince.