140 Search Results for: evolutionary psychology

What Explains the Resistance to Evolutionary Psychology?

A recent study conducted by evolutionary psychologists, David Buss and William von Hippel, has found empirical support for the claim that evolutionary psychology is a controversial field among social psychologists.1 Their study titled, “Psychological Barriers to Evolutionary Psychology: Ideological Bias and Coalitional Adaptations,” posed questions to social psychologists to assess their political orientation and their attitudes towards evolutionary psychology, specifically, the extent to which evolutionary theory applies to humans. The responses of the social psychologists to the question of whether Darwinian evolution applies to human minds were highly variable despite being in near unanimous agreement that Darwinian evolution is not only true, but also applies to physical human traits. Further questions revealed that their discomfort with the notion of evolved minds was neither due to religious beliefs nor to beliefs in human specialness, but were due to their varying opinions on “hot button variables” in evolutionary psychology. These included topics such as genetic tendencies for violence, universal standards of beauty, and psychological sex differences. In other words, evolutionary theory becomes contentious when it veers away …

What Good Is Evolutionary Psychology?

An ability to hold our instincts up to the light, rather than naïvely accepting their products in our consciousness as just the way things are, is the first step in discounting them when they lead to harmful ends. Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature Big ideas often rock the boat, but few have rocked it as thoroughly as the idea of evolution by natural and sexual selection. The notion that humans evolved from non-human ancestors, through the survival of some mutations at the expense of others, offends countless cherished ideologies. Natural selection insults the religious conviction that our existence is divinely sanctioned, disturbs the progressive belief that selfish competition is a modern aberration, and disorients the widespread desire to find purpose and morality in the natural world. Given these transgressions, it’s no wonder that evolution has serious public relations issues. Evolution stirs up its strongest opposition when used to interpret the human mind in the field of evolutionary psychology. Ever since Alfred Russel Wallace (co-discoverer of natural selection) first argued that evolution could …

An Orwelexicon for Bias and Dysfunction in Psychology and Academia

In this essay, I introduce a slew of neologisms—new words—to capture the tone and substance of much discourse, rhetoric, dysfunction, and bias in academia and psychology. It’s partly inspired by an article entitled ‘Lexicon for Gender Bias in Academia and Medicine’ by Drs Choo and May in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), although that one was coming at this from a different perspective. They argued that “mansplaining” was just the “tip of the iceberg” and so coined terms such as “Himpediment,” defined as a “man who stands in the way of progress of women.”  Adminomania: A delusion that increased administrative and bureaucratic intrusions into people’s lives will actually improve something, fueled primarily by a pervasive blindness to unintended negative side effects. See Title IX. Athletic gynocide: The elimination from sports competitions of people identified at birth by doctors or other adults as female because they cannot successfully compete with people identified at birth by doctors or other adults as males but who identify as females. Bias bias: A bias for seeing biases, often manifesting as either claiming bias …

An Evolutionary Explanation for Unscientific Beliefs

“Another theory is that humans were created by God,” announced my tenth-grade biology student as she clicked past PowerPoint slides of Darwin’s finches and on to images of a catastrophic flood. After her presentation, I carefully avoided inane debate and simply reiterated the unique ways in which science helps us make accurate predictions. I then prepared for pushback from parents and administrators. Sure enough, the next day the superintendent of the school district came to my classroom with some creationist literature that he was confident would change my mind on the whole theory of evolution by natural selection thing. It didn’t, but it did lead me to pursue a PhD in educational psychology in my search to explain how such beliefs could be maintained in modern times, particularly in the face of such strong counterevidence. As it turns out, the theory of evolution by natural selection provides a strong explanation for how and why some people don’t believe evolution by natural selection has ever taken place. I initially thought the problem was a matter of …

The Other Crisis in Psychology

In July 2019, Christopher Ferguson published an article in Quillette on the replication crisis in psychology. As an academic psychologist, I appreciated his clear and concise discussion of some of the difficult issues facing psychology’s growth as a science, including publication bias and the sensationalizing of weak effects. I believe a related, but perhaps less-recognized, illness plagues psychology and related disciplines (including the health sciences, family studies, sociology, and education). That illness is the conflation of correlation with causation, and the latest research suggests that scientists, and not lay people and the media, are the underlying culprits. Correlation and Causation We have probably all heard the cliché “Correlation is not causation.” Of the criteria for documenting that one variable causes a change in another variable, correlation is just the first of three. That is, the first criterion for documenting that one variable causes a change in another variable is evidence that the two variables covary together: as one goes up, the other tends to, too (a positive correlation; for example, students who score high on …

Don’t Deny Girls the Evolutionary Wisdom of Fairy-Tales

The view from moral high ground is best enjoyed after the check (for whatever you’re moralizing against) clears. Rather like animal-rights activists who own a string of steakhouses, Disney film stars Kristin Bell and Keira Knightley spoke out recently against the bad examples they feel Disney princesses convey to girls. (Bell voiced the role of Princess Anna in Disney’s 2013 animated film Frozen, and Knightley stars as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Disney’s new live action feature, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.) Knightley even used her Nutcracker promo tour to reveal that she’s banned certain Disney films from her own home. The Little Mermaid is one prohibited flick, and Cinderella is another—because, Knightley explains, Cinderella “waits around for a rich guy to rescue her.” Of course, Knightley and Bell aren’t alone in their disapproval. There’s been a war on “princess culture” for some time. Legions of pink-phobic parents all but go into mourning whenever their daughter begs for some glitter-flecked, rosy-hued item in a store—as if it might cast a spell on her, sending …

A Striking Similarity: The Revolutionary Findings of Twin Studies

“I have looked at the data, and I’m collecting the data, and I’m still absolutely astounded. I still haven’t settled down and absorbed this kind of a finding yet. How long is it going to take me?” These words were uttered by Dr. Thomas J. Bouchard, research director of the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart (MISTRA), during a conversation with the Danish professor of psychiatry, Niels Juel-Nielsen, in May 1981. Bouchard was trying to come to terms with the revolutionary implications of his own research into identical and fraternal twins reared apart. 16 years earlier, Juel-Nielsen had published the book Individual and Environment—a study of 12 Danish identical twin pairs reared apart. Prior to 1981, this was one of only three studies of separated twins: the others were a 1937 American study of 19 twin pairs, and a British study conducted by James Shields in 1962 of 44 twin pairs. An archived recording of their remarkable exchange was rediscovered in 2011 by the twin researcher Dr. Nancy L. Segal. In her 2012 book Born Together—Reared …

Why Is Funny? How America Lost Its Sense of Humor

If you grew up in Detroit in the ’70s, jokes were everywhere. Most of them were Polack jokes, which were so common that it wasn’t until middle school that I realized that not every joke had to involve a guy from Poland. Today, jokes have almost entirely disappeared from public contexts, and have become a discreet affair, reserved for trusted friends. Over my 15 years working at universities in the United States, I have never heard anyone tell a joke—not a corny pun or some stupid meme—but a real joke that actually made me laugh. You know, a funny one. Good jokes can be dangerous and the risk of getting in trouble is just too high. It might not be so bad if the prohibition against telling jokes and policing of humor was limited to scripted jokes but the problem seems to have bled into everyday social interactions. Last week, I was listening to my wife’s co-workers take turns reproaching all the selfish assholes walking around town without masks. I helpfully added that, although I …

At the Intersection of Art and Science: Revisiting EO Wilson’s ‘Consilience’

I first read EO Wilson’s Consilience in the late 1990s when I was a student in a contemporary literary theory class. The class was taught by a poet, Gerald Locklin, who assigned it as a counterpoint to the postmodern theorists we’d be reading that semester. Wilson makes the case for the unification of knowledge—in the convergence of diverse disciplines such as the sciences and the arts, he says, there is an important story to tell, “about where we came from and why we are here: Neither science nor the arts can be complete without combining their separate strengths. Science needs the intuition and metaphorical power of the arts, and the arts need the fresh blood of science.” As someone who writes poetry, novels, and short stories, I have often drawn inspiration from science and its “fresh blood.” When I teach creative writing classes, I tell my students that aspiring writers not only need to read novels if they want to be a novelist, or poems if they want to be a poet, they need to …

The Myth of Harmonious Indigenous Conservationism

It seems like a long time ago. But only six months ago, pundits had convinced themselves that the great morality tale of our time was playing out in an obscure part of British Columbia. Following on an internal political fight within the Wet’suwet’en First Nation over a local pipeline project, one columnist wrote that “the Indigenous people of Earth have become the conscience of humanity. In this dire season, it is time to listen to them.” In fact, the elected leadership of the Wet’suwet’en had chosen to participate in the controverted pipeline project. The nationwide protests against the pipeline that followed were, in fact, sparked by unelected “hereditary” chiefs who long have received government signing bonuses. It’s unclear how this qualifies them for the exalted status of humanity’s conscience. Yet the whole weeks-long saga, which featured urban protestors appearing alongside their Indigenous counterparts at road and rail barricades throughout Canada, tapped into a strongly held noble-savage belief system within progressive circles. Various formulations of this mythology have become encoded in public land acknowledgments, college courses, …