Sex Differences in the Delusional Romantic Obsession Toward Famous People.

A Darwinian analysis of sex differences in erotomania.

Posted Jan 09, 2011


Earlier today, I watched an interview with Javier Bardem on the CBS Sunday Morning show. At one point, he was asked whether he appreciated being famous to which he responded that only "assholes" (his word) enjoy fame. One of the downsides of being a famous celebrity is the possibility of having an individual believe (delusionally) that the famous person is in love with him/her. This psychiatric affliction is known as erotomania (or De Clérambault's syndrome), albeit technically speaking the disorder need not involve someone famous (it could simply be a non-famous stranger). Hollywood has seen its fair share of such cases including Margaret Mary Ray's obsession with David Letterman, and more recently Mark McLeod's obsessive focus on Miley Cyrus.

Several years ago, Martin Brüne conducted a study to explore sex differences in erotomania. Specifically, he theorized that sex-specific evolutionary-based mating preferences should be evident in the manifestations of erotomania. In order to test his ideas, he analyzed 246 global cases of erotomania and coded the cases on a wide range of variables including the incidence of male and female sufferers, and the characteristics of the sufferers and their targets (e.g., their age, social status, physical attractiveness, etc.). Here are some of the key statistically significant findings:

1. An overwhelming majority of sufferers were women (69.1%).

2. For female erotomaniacs, their "love" targets were older than them whereas for male erotomaniacs theirs were younger than them.

3. Female erotomaniacs were much more likely to have a "love" target of high social status.

4. Male erotomaniacs were much more likely to have "love" targets who were sexually attractive.

In other words, many of the universal mating preferences that have been uncovered in countless cultures around the world (e.g., the differential import of social status and beauty for men and women when evaluating prospective mates) manifest themselves in exactly the same way when it comes to this psychiatric disorder. This perhaps explains why there aren't too many middle-aged women who have an obsessive love for Justin Bieber and why Betty White need not worry about younger male stalkers!

Incidentally, the approach taken by Brüne is part and parcel of a growing field known as Darwinian psychiatry.

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