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#" & Darwin fans!" Astronomy, Evolution, Science, NYC Message Board › Newsweek Article on Evolutionary Psychology

Newsweek Article on Evolutionary Psychology

user 2341848
New York, NY
Post #: 98
This article absolutely HATES evolutionary psychology. It quotes Massimo.

user 2341848
New York, NY
Post #: 101
Sharon Begley's Newsweek article on evo psych (published June 20, 2009) http://www.newsweek.c...­ is misleading in so many ways. She leaves out so much contrary evidence, and she makes it sound like the case is so much more conclusively in her favor than it is.

To begin with, she says evo psych posits that all of human evolution took place during the stone age (more on this later). Clearly, at least much of it did, so evo psychs, in order to know what traits would have been evolved for, need to know what life was like during the stone age. Begley says they "make logical guesses" and leaves it at that, making it sound like evo psych is just shots in the dark. To the contrary, most of the evo psych books I've read constantly talk about studies of modern primitive people, which give us considerable insight into what life during the stone age was like.

Then she gets started on rape, making it sound like evo psychs are justifying rape as inevitable and acceptable. To the contrary, they are as concerned as anybody with preventing rape, but to do that, they have to study its causes, which may be genetic. Feminists argue that "Rape is always a crime of violence and never a crime of sex.". This dogma is a bit like asserting that "Bank robbery is always a crime of violence and never a crime of greed.". Competing work on rape by psychologists is often appalling.

She then discusses a study Kim Hill, an anti-evo psych, did on the subject of rape, for which he studied the Ache indians of Paraguay (and I remind you she made it sound like the evo psychs themselves had never studied modern primitive humans, while I've read in their books about the Ache quite a bit). It calculates the odds of getting away with a blatant rape and concludes that, from a point of view of propagating your genes, it didn't pay off.
For one thing, just blatantly raping anybody in sight is obviously not going to pay off. If you rape the chief's daughter in broad daylight, you are not long for this world. A rapist who will successfully propagate his genes is going to have to take into account the odds of getting away with it. Raping someone in a neighboring village during warfare, for example, is much more optimal behavior, and even in modern times, among modern people, rapes are often committed by soldiers.
For another thing, Kim Hill's analysis was just like the analysis used by evo psychs. He studied primitive people, attempted to calculate the genetics odds, and that drove his conclusion. So he was not challenging the whole method of evo psych, he was challenging an individual opinion, and doing it using the methods of evo psych. Throughout this article, Begley challenges individual opinions of evo psychs as though one wrong opinion by one evo psych invalidates the whole field.

Massimo Pigliucci is quoted as saying the mind must be able to adapt to a varying environment. I have no quarrel with this, and it does not invalidate evo psych as Begley asserts it does. Yes, a large part of our behavior is culturally determined and learned. But couldn't there be a large part of the mind that is instinctive as well? And that is where the core of the debate about evo psych revolves. Do humans have instincts? The answer lies in twin studies. Studying identical twins raised apart, fraternal twins raised apart, genetically unrelated adoptive siblings, and so forth sheds a lot of light on this, and the answer is yes, much of human behavior is inherited. Not surprisingly, Begley never discusses twin studies.

user 2341848
New York, NY
Post #: 102
Begley discusses studies finding that men prefer a 36-25-26 figure. We're really getting silly here, and it is obvious that these tastes can be culturally influenced. In porn over a century ago, they preferred women who were fatter. In the '20's in the western world, flat-chested women were preferred. In China 100 years ago, men were absolutely wild over women with small feet. So tastes in mates can be influenced by fashion. Furthermore, in discussing women with my friends, I find there is tremendous individual variation in tastes. So it's not black and white. But Begley asserts that the slightest variation smashes evo psych to bits.
She then goes on to age preferences in mates and asserts that it is a myth, perpetrated by the evo psychs, that men prefer younger women, and women prefer rich men, and goes on to assert that people in general prefer mates of their own age. To begin with, it is not only the evo psychs who are making the observation that men prefer younger women, I've been hearing it all my life. She quotes a paper in a journal that asserts that as women get richer, their preference for a rich mate gets less, while to the contrary I read in the evo psych book "The Evolution of Desire", by David Buss, that studies he cites show as women get richer, they demand more, not less, wealth on the part of their prospective mates.
On age, a quick study refutes Begley. Go to, you don't have to sign up or give them any money, just browse the people and the age preferences they give for mates. Tell it that you're a man looking for women 45-55, look at the women, then tell it you are a woman looking for men 45-55 and look at the men. Some men are willing to go out with women older than themselves, but the general trend is that men prefer women who are younger, and women prefer men who are a bit older. True, people usually end up with someone of about the same age, but that is what they settle for, not necessarily what they would choose if they had unrestricted choice. Another observation is that if you go to a singles meetup with "over 40" as part of the title, the attendance is 80% women -- most single men over 40 are not that interested in women over 40. Begley says that if it were true that the male mind was adapted to prefer fertile women, AARP-eligible men should marry 23 year olds. This is absurd -- how many AARP-eligible men have the opportunity to marry 23 year olds? Furthermore, when buying porn, men of all ages tend to buy pictures of very young, marginally legal-age women.

Evolutionary Psychologists observe that children living in homes with stepparents are many times more likely to die unnaturally. Begley distorts this into "evolutionary psychologists say that stepparents murder their children". Clearly, many if not most of those deaths could be due to inattentiveness and neglect, rather than outright murder. She goes on to speculate that since single mothers with children need to compromise in the marriage market, they may often wind up with incompetent or mentally ill spouses, which may be true.

Begley questions the claim that cave men are brave warriors to attract mates. It is my own experience from growing up that females are profoundly unsympathetic to a male who cannot physically defend himself and finds himself humiliated. But Begley cites one study that finds that women in a violent primitive tribe in Ecuador prefer more peaceful husbands. She doesn't mention the other studies that find that the main reason for warfare among primitives is men conducting raids to obtain wives. Buss mentions that Yanomano men of Brazil were quite shocked to learn that western men would go to war and risk their lives for abstract ideals such as freedom and democracy, rather than something tangible like wives.

Begley then goes on to echo January's Scientific American article against EP by saying that data does not support the claim that men are more threatened by physical sexual infidelity, while women are less threatened by physical than emotional infidelity. She doesn't give the raw data, but if you look at the data in the Sci Am article (in the "files" section of this meetup, it finds that, particularly in many other countries, men are sometimes more threatened by emotional than physical infidelity (which was a surprise to me). What she doesn't mention, and nor does the narrative of the Sci Am article, was that in the data furnished by the Sci Am article (an anti - evo psych source) men are relatively more threatened by physical than emotional infidelity than women across the board, in all countries surveyed.

Begley ends by saying that evolution may have accelerated recently as the human condition has changed. I think this may be true, but it does not invalidate evo psych. It is politically very dangerous to say that much evolution has happened recently, because different ethnic groups would then have significantly different evolutionary histories, and as a result difference psychologies. Evo psych has a long history of being attacked not for the quality of its science, nor for any lack of evidence, but because many people do not like the political ramifications of its conclusions. Talking about different psychologies for different races would be dangerous territory indeed. Can the evo psychs be blamed for being a bit timid here?
user 2341848
New York, NY
Post #: 103
Both Buller and Begley say that the evidence on jealousy does not support evo psych. I assume that Begley is probably talking about the same data that Buller mentioned in his Sci Am article. Here are the survey results:

Dilemma I
(A) Imagining your partner forming a deep emotional attachment to that person.
(B) Imagining your partner enjoying passionate sexual intercourse with that other person.

Percentage choosing sexual infidelity (B) as more upsetting in dilemma 1

Male: US: 60, US:76, US:61, US:55, US:73, China:21, Holland:51, Germany:28, Korea:59, Japan:38, Average: 51
Female: US:17, US:32, US:18, US: 23, US:4, China:5, Holland:31, Germany:16, Korea:18, Japan:13, Average: 22

Dilemma 2
(A) Imagining your partner trying different sexual positions with that other person.
(B) Imagining your partner falling in love with that other person.

Percentage choosing sexual infidelity (A) as more upsetting in dilemma 2

Male: US:44, US:43, US:44, US:47, Holland:23, Germany:30, Korea:53, Japan:32, Average:38
Female: US:12, US:11, US:12, US:12, Holland: 17, Germany:8, Korea:22, Japan:15, Average:13

While Buller is correct in noting that some of the time, males are more threatened by emotional than sexual infidelity, which does conflict with what I've heard from evo psychs, 2 other facts become apparent: women are in ALL cases MUCH more threatened by emotional infidelity than sexual infidelity, which evo psychs do predict (and Begley chooses to make a snide remark about evo psychs rationalizing cheating on their wives (who's name-calling here?) when all the evo psychs were doing was reporting something overwhelmingly supported by the data). The second fact is that in ALL surveys shown (and I remind you this is a selection of surveys that Buller, an anti evo psych, chose to share with us), women are less relatively threatened by sexual infidelity than men. So of 3 assertions by evo psych, this data casts doubt on one, but supports two.
user 2341848
New York, NY
Post #: 104
Begley accuses the evo psychs of shifting the debate to politics, as though they were changing the subject after the quality of their science was attacked. Here is a letter called "Against Sociobiology" that was written criticizing Sociobiology, the pre-cursor to evo psych. Steven Jay Gould was one of the article's co-signers. What is interesting about the article is that way back in 1975, the attack was almost entirely based on political grounds. Also, some of the accusations, like that Wilson (the author of "Sociobiology" was advocating eugenics, are similar to arguments Creationists make against evolultion. At the bottom of the page is a link to Wilson's rebuttal to this attack.­

Note that Gould was not against evo psych's sort of analysis when it was justifying the conclusion that humans are genetically altruistic, it was just when they were saying things that disagreed with his belief in the nature of human nature.
user 3533065
Brooklyn, NY
Post #: 50
Excellent posts, Bill.

Thank you for the quality, breadth, and depth of your thinking, and the quality of discourse you've brought to this message board and this Meetup.

(I'm impressed.)

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