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Evolutionary psychology is the science of attempting to explain complex human behaviour in terms of the evolution of the human brain and its manifest psychological mechanisms. This includes fitness advantages that such behavior gives, i.e., by natural selection. In the broadest sense, behaviors or social constructs are seen as adaptations in the same way as physical adaptations. However, evolutionary psychology also investigates behaviors as a by-product of natural selection (or "spandrels," to use Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin's term) or simple evolutionary noise.
Proponents of evolutionary psychology argue that the long term evolutionary effects of such behaviors go a long way to explaining why some behaviours are universally seen among all humans or some groups of animals, while critics often regard much evolutionary psychology as pseudoscientific, in the sense of generating explanations that cannot be disproven and having extremely low standards of evidence when compared to studies of non-human animal behaviour (for instance, not requiring that any given behavioural trait be established to have a genetic component before evolutionary explanations are sought for it).
 Use of evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology has been quite successful at generating explanations for certain human behaviours. However, whether or not these generated explanations can then be established as scientifically plausible is a separate question. Areas in which an evolutionary approach to psychology are often applied include:
- Sensory perception
- Emotion and motivation
- Psychology of religion and superstition
- Studies of cognitive biases
- Interactions with kin, in-group/out-group effects
In general, the idea of applying natural selection to human behaviour is controversial. The reason is that in order for natural selection to occur, a trait must both be genetically inherited and exposed to sufficient selective pressure.
In studies of animal behaviour, the first requirement can usually be assumed in animals that lack cultural transmission. In humans, it is often not possible to establish whether or not given behavioural traits have a genetic component, as controlled experiments are not available for ethical and historical reasons, and workarounds such as twin studies often suffer from fatal flaws. A further problem exists in that the definition of a discrete 'trait' is difficult to achieve; a behavioural trait exists in a behavioural context, and cannot be separated out the way that 'eye colour' can.
In regards to the presence or absence of selective pressure, critics allege that much of evolutionary psychology's claims about selective regimes are pseudoscientific in nature, as proposals about particular selective pathways often cannot be theoretically disproven.
In a broader sense, critics allege that EP has failed to produce any new insights into human evolution that move beyond a purely speculative character, remaining at the level of generating hypotheses, without having generated evidence to build upon these initial hypotheses. As such, it hasn't matured into a field of study analogous to other areas of biology, remaining merely a novel proposal.
Others argue that in some cases it works, in others it doesn't and it is important to keep this in mind. This is not to say that behaviours can't confer an advantage in the natural selection process, it's just that the law of "I'm sorry, it's a little more complicated than that" applies very well to evolutionary psychology. Most importantly, the evolution of (for example) aggression, would select for all genes correlated with aggression - including those that have far reaching effects on the other traits - but not for aggression itself.
 Specific debates about Evolutionary Psychology
 Straw Men and heated arguments
Proponents and critics alike are prone to making straw man arguments in both popular literature and sometimes scholarly literature, however, in some cases simply the characterisation of an argument as a 'straw man' constitutes a straw man in and of itself, as opposing views are misrepresented and simplified.
More self-righteous promoters of EP and especially its pop incarnations will straw man critics as denying biology, "social constructionists," or "politically correct." However, even prominent EP critic David J. Buller does not deny that the human brain is the product of evolution. He divides EP into what he sees as upper-case "Evolutionary Psychology" (i.e., EP of the Flintstones variety) and lower-case "evolutionary psychology" based on sound research and a broader view of evolutionary theory. Similarly, Stephen Jay Gould argued that evolutionary psychology was only problematic insofar as it was concerned with finding selective, adaptationist explanations to the exclusion of others; he viewed human cognition as a spandrel that, once evolved, became subject to cultural and social factors. This has led some to differentiate between two senses of "evolutionary psychology" in the sense that Buller has. "Capital EP" has also been referred to as "narrow-sense EP" or the "Santa Barbara school" due to its association with certain key assumptions and specific researchers. Many criticisms of "evolutionary psychology" are directed at this narrow-sense of EP.
 Common criticisms of evolutionary psychology
- EP relies on the reification of traits. In order to study behaviour, proponents of EP often assume that a particular trait (e.g. "maths ability") is a discrete, inherited module, susceptible to targeted selection, when in fact many such traits may often be byproducts of other ways in which the brain functions (for example, nobody would claim that "ability to read" was a discrete, inherited trait, as it post-dates the development of writing; it is quite obviously a spandrel related to the functioning of vision and language ability; however, maths ability is considered both discrete and inherited simply because there is no obvious technological requirement for it to be expressed).
- EP as genetic determinism. In some cases this is genuinely a straw-man, as EP does attempt to describe the interaction between genes and environment in certain cases. However, in situations where there is an unambiguous interaction between genes and environment (for example, human height is determined both by genetics and nutrition), both the genetic and environmental component of the given trait can be independantly established to some degree. Critics allege that EP often imposes no requirement that a given behavioural trait be established as having a genetic component. In many cases, EP assumes the genetic component to exist, and assumes that it has a substantive impact on human behaviour, when neither clause has actually been shown to be true.
- EP relies on guesswork about a hypothesised "Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness" (EEA) because little is known about the environment of the late Pleistocene. The EEA does not refer generally to one single evolutionary environment, but specifically the environment in which a specific adaptation developed. Critics charge that this enables proponents of EP to shift the ground in debates and create a situation in which no EP claim can ever be disproven, as a new EEA can be established any time an old one is shown to be unlikely, a hallmark of pseudoscientific thinking.
- EP is selection-centred and adaptationist. While some EP crosses into Lamarckian "hyper-adaptationist" territory and Panglossian thinking, much research in EP explains certain psychological phenomena as by-products (or "spandrels") Stephen Jay Gould regarded evolutionary psychology as a potentially legitimate field of research, and lamented that it was held in thrall by adaptationist, selection-centred approaches to problems, while actual human behaviour may not have been shaped by selective evolutionary processes. EP can and does cross into the territory of hyper-adaptationist, speculative, unfalsifiable "just-so stories." A number of concepts, findings, and methodologies in the field have been criticized for being implausible or false by the standards of neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and anthropology. Application of pop EP ideas, both by pop-science writers such as Steven Pinker and by fields outside of traditional EP has snarkily been referred to as "Flintstones thinking."
- EP ignores proximate explanations of psychological phenomena. EP attempts to explain proximate explanations provided by cognitive, social, etc. psychology with an ultimate evolutionary explanation. These explanations are not mutually exclusive, but complementary. However, the issue is whether or not the "ultimate evolutionary explanation" is ever necessary to explain observed phenomena to begin with. EP proposals often fail to pass the test of Occam's Razor, failing to establish that EP provides an explanation for data that can't be explained with more mundane approaches.
- EP is unfalsifiable. In some cases, EP generates explanations for behaviour that cannot be falsified, opening it up to charges of classical pseudoscience. One example is the changing EP explanations for traits such as altruism, in which multiple EP explanations have been put forward to explain the trait. Ground can be shifted between group selection, reciprocal altruism and kin selection; if one explanation is shown to be inappropriate, the other can be invoked.
- EP relies on the assumption of massive modularity. EP posits domain-specific modules that are shaped by natural selection to perform a specific task as well as claiming that the brain is composed largely of these modules (hence "massive modularity"). Critics contend that neuroscientific data does not support massive modularity.
 Mainstream media discovers evo psych
The mainstream media and pop science love evolutionary psychology. In the specific cases or studies brought to the public's attention in newspaper articles, situations are often over-simplified to the point of being plain silly. Even qualified scientists who should know better can sometimes not risk the temptation to attribute every behavior that is (stereotypically) associated with a particular gender in contemporary society is actually the result of something our remote ancestors did to survive on the savannah. In fact evolutionary psychology, at least in its "popular" incarnation, can be an example of using "science" to imbue just-so stories with an air of credibility that justifies sexism and discriminatory behavior.
An example is a supposed "study" which explains why boys prefer blue and girls prefer pink. In the view of pop-evolutionary psychology, this is because women being gatherers and men being hunters, liking pink was most likely to allow you to find berries so women grew to be attracted to pink. So far, so common sense, however, the idea completely ignores many established facts (and blueberries). Such that colour preferences change from place to place, and even that in the western world (where the concept of gender specific colours is strongest) 100 years ago it was reversed; i.e., the soft colour of blue was associated with the Virgin Mary, and was thus feminine, while men preferred associations with strong, passionate colours such as red and pink. Another colour that's now seen as feminine, purple, was once associated with the Roman Empire, and with it, was seen as masculine back in the day. Indeed, a purple cloak was part of the Roman Emperor's regalia. To "wear the purple" was a euphemism for assuming this position, and the word itself became used for royalty in general.
 The curious case of Kevin MacDonald
Another example of how evolutionary psychology can go in a wrong direction is the work of Kevin B. MacDonald, who uses evolutionary psychology to explain stereotypical Jewish characteristics as being part of a group evolutionary strategy. His trilogy of books on the subject, especially The Culture of Critique (1998), has been called anti-Semitic for its assertion that Jews gravitate toward politics to promote policies in opposition to the dominant culture. In 1995 he was elected to a six year term on the executive council of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. But by 2007 he had increasingly associated on a working level with anti-Semitic and white nationalist groups, causing the California State University at Long Beach, where he is a professor, to publicly distance itself from his views. In 2010 he became the director of the newly-founded American Third Position political party. His "theory" essentially asserts Jewish biological superiority, but turns this around and uses it to argue that anti-Semitism is justified as "self-defense."
 Other evolutionary approaches
Despite the fact that the field explicitly calling itself evolutionary psychology is relatively new, the idea goes back to Charles Darwin. Darwin's works The Descent of Man and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals included applications of evolutionary thought to psychology. Other evolutionary approaches to human psychology and behavior have variously gone under the names of "sociobiology," "human behavioral ecology," "gene-culture co-evolution," and "human behavior and evolution." Some critics contend that evolutionary psychology is a politically motivated rebranding of sociobiology. While a number of former sociobiologists have moved into the field of evolutionary psychology, the focus on psychological mechanisms is what distinguishes the two approaches. As Leda Cosmides and John Tooby write: "...in the rush to apply evolutionary insights to a science of human behavior, many researchers have made a conceptual 'wrong turn', leaving a gap in the evolutionary approach that has limited its effectiveness. This wrong turn has consisted of attempting to apply evolutionary theory directly to the level of manifest behavior, rather than using it as a heuristic guide for the discovery of innate psychological mechanisms."
 See also
- Political neuroscience
- Rape and pseudoscience
- Satoshi Kanazawa, another example of how not to do evolutionary psychology
- Human Behavior and Evolution Society
- New England Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Studies
- Feminist Evolutionary Psychology Society
- Evolutionary Psychology open access journal
- The Evolutionary Psychology blog by Robert Kurzban
- Evolutionary Psychology in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Evolutionary psychology FAQ, Edward Hagen, University of California, Santa Barbara
- Evolutionary psychology: A primer, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, University of California, Los Angeles
- Evolutionary Psychology, David J. Buller, Northern Illinois University
- Scott Atran. Adaptationism for Human Cognition: Strong, Spurious or Weak? Mind & Language, Vol. 20 No. 1 February 2005, pp. 39–67
- Jaime Confer et al. Evolutionary Psychology: Controversies, Questions, Prospects, and Limitations. American Psychologist, Feb-Mar 2010
- Evolutionary Psychology Bingo
- Evolutionary Psychology and the Public Media: Rekindling the Romance, David Sloan Wilson, Huffington Post
- Belief in Evolutionary Psychology May Be Hardwired, Study Says, Coyote Crossing
- Barkow, Jerome H., Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby (eds.) The Adapted Mind
- Buller, David J. Adapting Minds.
- Buss, David M. (ed.) The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology.
- Laland, Kevin N. and Gillian R. Brown. Sense and Nonsense
- Sterelny, Kim, and Julie Fitness (eds.) From Mating to Mentality: Evaluating Evolutionary Psychology
- ↑ Stephen Jay Gould and Richard C. Lewontin. The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme. Proceedings Of The Royal Society of London, Series B, Vol. 205, No. 1161 (1979), pp. 581-598.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Lewontin R., Rose S., & Kamin L. (1984) Not In Our Genes: Biology, Ideology & Human Nature
- ↑ Joseph, Jay (2003) The Gene Illusion
- ↑ Psyching Out Evolutionary Psychology: Interview with David J. Buller, Scientific American
- ↑ Sex, Jealousy, and Violence, Skeptic magazine
- ↑ Gould SJ. (2002) The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Johan J. Bolhuis et al. Darwin in Mind: New Opportunities for Evolutionary Psychology. PLoS Biol 9(7)
- ↑ This is explained in further detail in: Liddle and Shackleford. Why Evolutionary Psychology is "True". Evolutionary Psychology - 2009. 7(2): 288-294
- ↑ Stephen Jay Gould penned a scathing attack entitled Darwinian Fundamentalism, yet he believed religion to be an evolutionary spandrel, which has become a dominant view in EP in agreement with Gould as set forth in works like Scott Atran's In Gods We Trust and Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained. However, there is no irony here, as Gould explicitly described evolutionary psychology as a potentially fruitful field, if only it moved away from a preoccupation with adaptationism.
- ↑ Gould, S.J. (2002) The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 Jaak Panksepp and Jules Panksepp. The Seven Sins of Evolutionary Psychology. Evolution and Cognition. 2000, Vol. 6, No. 2.
- ↑ Robert Lickliter and Hunter Honeycutt. Developmental Dynamics: Toward a Biologically Plausible Evolutionary Psychology. Psychology Bulletin, 2003, Vol. 129, No. 6, 819 – 835
- ↑ Elisabeth A. Lloyd and Marcus Feldman. Evolutionary Psychology: A View from Evolutionary Biology. Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2002), pp. 150-156
- ↑ C.R. Hallpike. Some Anthropological Objections to Evolutionary Psychology. In On Primitive Society: And Other Forbidden Topics, ch. 10, pp. 214-255.
- ↑ Simon Blackburn, "Meet The Flintstones" (available online at: http://www.phil.cam.ac.uk/~swb24/reviews/Pinker.htm )
- ↑ Graham Sewell. Yabba-Dabba-Doo! Evolutionary Psychology and the Rise of Flintstone Psychological Thinking in Organization and Management Studies. Human Relations, August 2004, vol. 57 no. 8 923-955
- ↑ For further detail and more common straw man arguments, see Robert Kurzban. Alas Poor Evolutionary Psychology: Unfairly Accused, Unjustly Condemned. The Human Nature Review 2002 Volume 2: 99-109 (14 March)
- ↑ Peter Carruthers. (2006) The Case for Massively Modular Models of Mind. In The Architecture of the Mind: Massive Modularity and the Flexibility of Thought.
- ↑ David J. Buller and Valerie Gray Hardcastle. Evolutionary Psychology, Meet Developmental Neurobiology: Against Promiscuous Modularity. Brain and Mind 1: 307–325, 2000.
- ↑ See also the Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy on Fodorian modularity and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Modularity of Mind for the theoretical differences between types of modularity and arguments concerning them.
- ↑ Science reveals evolutionary origins of gender stereotypes (parody, but everything except the last two paragraphs is from real news stories)
- ↑ Bad Science - Pink, pink, pink, pink. Pink moan.
- ↑ Kevin MacDonald profile, Southern Poverty Law Center
- ↑ See Kevin N. Laland and Gillian R. Brown's Sense and Nonsense for a detailed overview.
- ↑ Val Dusek. Sociobiology Sanitized: The Evolutionary Psychology and Genic Selectionism Debates. Science as Culture, Volume 8, Issue 2, 1999
- ↑ Cosmides and Tooby. (1987) From Evolution to Behavior: Evolutionary Psychology as the Missing Link. In The Latest on the Best Essays In Evolution and Optimality, ed. John Dupre