Tag Archives: evolutionary psychology

Human Nature : Evolutionary Psychology :: Dreams : Freud

That is, not much serious research on one is done through the other. But it’s fun to think about.

Zenpundit links to a piece on Whirled View about nuclear disarmament.

Cheryl’s reference to “evolutionary psychology” is a misdirection, but an accidental and understandable one. “Evolutionary Psychology” is a small, marginal, not particularly useful, if incredibly interesting take on the intersection of human evolution and human psychology.

A far more useful field is “behavioral genetics.” The current media-friendly discussion on “human nature” comes from “behavioral economics.” And of course, there is a whole lot of work on cognition that does not necessarily invoke evolution at all.

With respect to nuclear arms, international relations, and human nature is this: people predictably make irrational decisions that can only leave themselves worse off. Here is a Scientific American piece on bubbles and a post over at gnxp about neurotypicals.

Cheryl’s conclusion

Part of human nature is the ability to evaluate our situation and to change our behavior….

So we should be able to consider, and work toward, outlawing nuclear weapons.

Makes almost no sense. Of course we are able to evaluate our situation and change our behavior. Indeed, those systems that allow people to do this most often can lead to catastrophe more often, because of the lack of a governing infrastructure (such as a Military-Industrial Complex) that prohibits bad outcomes.

People rarely understand the consequences of their behavior. Feel-good liberals in the Obama administration, in an attempt to protect science, censor science (Half Sigma, Slashdot). The same thing happened under Bush and Clinton.

Similar politically correct idiocy controls every area of human endeavor that has not been automated into mindlessness.

This is a consequence of our human nature — we are irrational, prejudicial creatures with limited attention and even worse facility for logical thought. Smart people regularly say dumb and stupid things, not because they are bad, or even stupid by human standards, but because they are human.

Smart people regularly do stupid things too, as history has shown.

The real discussion on nuclear weapons should not be conducted in the optimistic tones of Cheryl’s post. Rather, the appropriate question is this: Given that the world’s military forces will be under the control of humans in the near-to-mid term, should those military forces also include nuclear weapons? And in that discussion, breazzy assurances that we can evaluation our surroundings are so can outlaw nuclear weapons have no place.

Evolutionary Psychology and Behavioral Genetics

Dr. Miller’s and Dr. Kanazawa’s Ten politically incorrect truths about human nature is everywhere these days. I discussed it over coffee with Daniel Nexon (of The Duck), Sean Meade (of Interact) emailed it to me, and it has appeared both on Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog and South Dakota Politics. Like evolutionary psychology (of which this article is a manifestation), it is useful in that it helps smash the Standard Social Science Model, but incomplete in that it does not fully embrace social sciences.

The Standard Social Sciences Model (SSSM) is the overall research program of social sciences since World War II. It is most notable for ignoring biological factors, especailly at the group level, as causes of variation in human behavior. So ancient stone axes are described as “ceremonial” (the idea that weapons are for violence being seen as biological reductionism), and racial variations are not even mentioned as possible hypothesis when looking at racial gaps in intelligence or attention span. The SSSM essentially put half of all variables in taboo, hobbling social science to this day. The Evolutionary Psychologists, and the sociobiologists before them, have been tireless opponents of the SSSM, opening the door to real social scientific research for the first time in generations.

However, the exclusion of biological factors from social sciences for half a century did its work in limiting the utility of early biological explanations. The central tools of social science, regression and correlation in explaining variation, are underused by EP and SB because they were relatively new to social science at the time of the taboo began. More scientific approaches to biological factors have now appeared, and these generally go by the name of behavioral genetics. The Evolutionary Psychologists and Biopsychologists ultimately did not prevail, but took the damage that allowed more scientific approachesto flurish.

So back to the original article, Ten politically incorrect truths about human nature. Twenty years ago the authors would have been hounded out of academia, because they dare believe that biology influences behavior. Nowadays there specific claims are dismissed, because of weak operationalize and overbroad generalities.

That’s progress. That’s science. That’s the search for knowledge.

There is now real debate. Men like Edward O. Wilson and John Tooby are to thank for that.


Some links: The twin blogs, Gene Expression and gnxp, are amazing sources for the latest in behavioral genetics. I first learned of the EvolPsych/behavgen split from Steven Pinker. And at Dreaming 5GW, I examined two cases where dangerously presented half-truths are worse than no truth at all.

Update: Per a request from Sean, my uninformed impressions of the specific claims are below the fold:

Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them)

Men should be expected to be attracted, and women should be expected to try to emulate, any hard-to-fake sign of reproductive fitness. As skin color and intelligence are generally correlated with moderate climates, this would imply that the idela female type should be skewed towards signs of moderate climate. (In all populations, women’s skin tends to be lighter than men’s, for perhaps this reason). Blond hair is a particularly European mutation, however, so this specific claim seems unlikely as a human universal.

Humans are naturally polygamous.

Better to say men historically have higher variance in the number of reproductive partners they have than women. The last universal male ancestor was much closer to our time than the last universal female ancestor for just this reason.

Most women benefit form polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy

Indeed. Monogamous societies are male guilds, where competition for females is limited for the bettermen of the average men. In the same way, the professions with the greatest “merit pay” relative to standard wage (academia, hollywood, professional sports) are worst for average workers but best for the best performing. See The Right Nation for more on this.

Most suicide bombers are Muslim

This is an objective fact, so within the claim itself there is no debate.

My own research indicates that genetic variation might have more to do with the particularly Arab (or perhaps more accurately, Semite) form of terrorism we see today. But I don’t know. This is a really open question, and there is a lot of money to be made in implementing an answer.

Having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce.

The claim and explanation both sound reasonable. No argument.

Beautiful people have more daughters.

Something similar is true of deer populations: daughters of highly reproductive males tend to be under-reproductive themselves. My guess is that beauty is an adaption that is particularly useful for females, and so it should skew toward females.

What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals.

They have something else in common two: risk taking behavior and focus on abstract concepts. Many of the differences between males and females may come from two tendencies which emerge almost at birth: the male preference for systems and risk over people and stability.

The midlife crisis is a myth — sort of

Sounds reasonable. The authors present a specific test of their hypothesis, so it’s up to someone to tst it.

It’s natural for politicians to risk everything for an affair (but only if they’re male)

Solid discussion of inclusive fitness v. individual fitness.

Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist

Many behaviors are sex- (or at least gender-) dependent, and misapplication of these behaviors violates social norms. (Try to punch a mouthy woman or embrace a male aquaintence to see this for yourselves). The authors extend this logic to “harrassment.” Still, it goes without saying that many “harrasing” behaviors would be non-normative in a same-sex environment.

Notes on Summer Reading

Today I read the first section of the three books that are (unofficially) on the reading list for Genetic Politics, a class taught by an innovative researcher that I am looking forward too. I tried to take my notes by subject, and I have illuminated them with graphics when possible. The three portions I read were:

Interesting, Adapting Minds was featured on Gene Expression, a genetics blog that I have been frequenting. You can read more here, or over there.

Topic: Press Incompetence and Bias
“The refusal to acknowledge human nature is like the Victorians’ embarrassment about sex, only worse: ti distorts our science and scholarship, our public discourse, and our day-to-day lives.” (Pinker ix)
“‘Revealed: the secret of human behaviour,” read the banner headline in the British Sunday newspaper the Observer on 11 February 2001. ‘Environment, not genes, key to our acts.'” (Ridley 1)
“It [nature v. nurture] had divided fascists from communists as neatly as their politics.” (Ridley 3)
“For invoking nurture and nature, not nurture alone, these authors have been picketed, shouted down, subjected to searing invective in the press, even denounced in Congress.” (Pinker viii)
“During almost every wait in the supermarket checkout line, I would find reference to the evolutionary psychology of human mating on the covers of women’s and men’s magazines.” (Buller 3).
“I found that published criticisms of evolutionary psychology typically contained more vitriol than serious analysis of the reasoning and evidence behind the claims made by evolutionary psychologists… Accordingly, it was too easy to find critics attacking evolutionary psychology for its ‘directly political dimension’ and its ‘culturally pernicious’ political claims.” (Buller 4)

Topic: Identities of the Field
“This book i s about the moral, emotional, and political colorings of the concept of human nature in modern life.” (Pinker viii)
“The two sides of this argument are the nativists, whom I will sometimes call geneticists, hereditarians,, or naturians; and the empiricists, whom I will sometimes call environmentalists or nurturists.” (Ridley 3)
“A year’s research later, it was clear to me that there were distinctly different lines of research being conducted undre the ‘evolutionary psychology’ label…” (Buller 3)
“The term ‘evolutionary psychology’ is sometimes used simply as a shorthand for ‘the evolutionary study of mind and behavior’ or as a shorthand for theories ‘adopting an evolutionary perspective on human behavior and psychology.’ When used in these ways, ‘evolutionary psychology’ designates a field of inquiry… For fields of inquiry are defined not by specific sets of doctrines, but by sets of related questions. Fields of inquiry are
defined not by specific answers to questions, but by the importance they place on particular kinds of questions. Mayn researchers in the field of evolutionary psychology often deliberately resist the ‘evolutionary psychology’ label, however, preferring to calsify their work as, for example, human ethology, human behavioral ecology, or evolutionary anthropology.” (Buller 8)
“When the term ‘evolutionary psychology’ is used to designate only work conducted under the auspices of the above theoretical and methodological doctrines, the term designates what the late historical and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn called a paradigm…. The paradigm is the cluster of fundamental doctrines on which scientists agree, and once a paradigm emerges within a field of inquiry it provides a large number fo working scientists with a common research focus… a paradigm provides scientists with a shared theoretical understanding… a paradigm provides scientists with a shared set of methods… a paradigm involves one or more exemplays, which are specific examples of empirical research that the scientists working within the paradigm accept as significant achievements and as exemplary of how their science is to be done.” (Buller 10-11).

Topic: Nature v. Nurture
“Genes are designed to take their cues from nurture.” (Ridley 4)
“Human nature is indeed a combination of Darwin’s universals, Galton’s heredity, James’ instincts, De Vries’ genes, Pavlov’s reflexes, Watson’s associations, Kraepelin’s history, Freud’s formative experiences, Boas’s culture, Durkheim’s division of labor, Piaget’s development, and Lorenz’s imprinting.” (Ridley 6)
“The idea that nature and nurture interact to shape some part of the mind might turn out to be wrong, but it is not wishy-washy or unexceptionable, even in the twenty-first century, thousand of years after the issue was framed.” (Pinker viii).

Topic: Important Founders
“Charles Darwin: seek the character of man in the behavior of the ape… there are universal features
Francis Galton: fervent champion of heredity
William James: instinct and… human beings have more impulses than other animals, not fewer
Hugo De Vries: discovered the laws of heredity — beaten to them more than 30 years before by a Moravian monk named Gregor Mendel
Ivan Pavlov: empiricism.. the key to the human mind lies in the conditional reflex
Emil Kraepelin, Sigmund Freud: away from “biological” explanations and two very different notions of personal history
Emile Durkheim: reality of social facts as more than the sum of their parts
Franz Boas: culture shapes human nature
John Broadus Watson: “behaviorism” .. claim to be able to alter personality at will merely by training
Jean Piaget: imitation and learning
Konrad Lorenz: revive the study of instinct and describe the vital concept of imprinting
others: David Hume, Immanuel Kant, George Williams, William Hamilton, Noam Chomsky, Jane Goodall (Ridley 4-6)
“Robert Wright introduced many of the ideas of this paradigm to a broad audience with his 1994 book The Moral Animal… Steven Pinker articulated the theoretical underpinnings of the paradigm in two books written for a general audience, How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate… David Buss introduced the public to many of the details of the sexier aspects of the paradigm in his books The Evolution of Desire… and The Dangerous Passion… this group f researches has been so effective in marketing gits paradigm that it has become the single most dominant paradigm within the field of evolutionary psychology… To repeat, this book is a critique of Evolutionary Psychology — the paradigm associated with thte work of Buss, Pinker, Cosmides, and Tooby, and Daly and Wilson.” (Buller 11-12)

Topic: Social Engineering
“The belief that human tastes are reversible cultural preferences has led social planners to write off people’s enjoyment or ornament, natural light, and human scale and force millions of people to live in drab cement boxes.” (Pinker x).

University of Pennsylvania Evolutionary Psychologist Visits UNL

Dr. Robert Kurzban, Professor of , at the University of Pennsylvania, a brilliant vertical and horizontal thinker whose work on evolutionary gaming has been noted in The Economist, speed dating by The Philadelphia Inquirer, stopped by ‘s Political Science Department today.

I was able to spend more than three hours with Dr. Kurzban. He talked informally in the morning with a small group of graduate students, and with a powerpoint in the afternoon with both graduate students and faculty.

Dr. Robert Kurzban, Evolutionary Psychologist, Genius

But first, quick notes of appreciation and warning. One of my TA responsibilities conflicted with the morning sessions. Fortunately, the professor I teach under and my fellow TA were able to arrange things so I was able to talk with Dr. Kurzban. Their professionalism, warmth, and kindness is typical of the vast majority of our department, and I am thankful for that. And last, I pre-emptively apologize if I recalled or reconstructed any of the details of Dr. Kurzban’s talks incorrectly.

He was an amazing speaker, and I was very happy that I had the opportunity to hear him. Listening and talking to Dr. Kurzban made three very, very short hours.

Like Dr. Hibbing at the last “brownbag,” Dr. Kurzban complained about academic silencing. While he did not explicitly name political correctness, he did say

  • Feminist scholars view evolutionary biological from a political perspective. Dr. Kurzban said “I don’t care if you say ‘This theory is stupid. It’s not worth my time.’ But saying ‘This theory is a plot by The Man to keep women down’ is not useful.'”
  • Graduate students at one university petitioned the academic Senate to prohibit evolutionary psychologocial texts from being assigned by any professor. This was instigated when one black collegian said the theory “challenged her identity.”
  • Scientific American was cited as an example of critics confusing Evolutionary Psychology with Social Darwinism. As Dr. Kurzban said, “Social Darwinism was a political philosophy. Evolutionary Psychology is a scientific approach.”

As far as substantive comments, Dr. Kurzban went over many areas

  • While sex recognition is hard-wired, race recognition probably isn’t. For example, there is an experiment where two people, a white man and a black man, are having a conversation while walking down the street. For part of the conversation, the black man is behind a visual obstruction, and when he emerges from the other side, the black man’s role is played by a white man. Many audience members do not realize that anything unusual happened.

    However, if the black man’s role is replaced by a black woman, people immediately pick up on this. Dr Kurzban explained, “While it is important to know if something is prey, a predator, a mate, or a competitor, it’s not important to know if something is “black” or “white.”

  • Men are more cooperative than women. Dr. Kurzban talked about “competitive cooperation” as the basis for social cohesion. If a group of people are playing a game against each other, they will be fractious regardless of their gender make-up. However, if the players learn there is another group, all-male groups quickly settle their internal differences and cooperate with each other, without being told that they will be competing against the other group.
  • Racism exists as long as it is cheap. People can fall into racial roles when a group is playing with itself. However, once the other group is learned about, racial roles go away. The drive to prepare for competition against the out-group with the in-group by cooperating within the group overwhelms pre-existing racial treatment.
  • Women scramble social hierarchies. As part of their rapid cooperation in the face of competition, all-male groups establish a clear and consensual social order. This does not happen in mixed-sex or all-female groups. The situation in integrated or all-female groups is closer to anarchy, with no clear order-of-dominance ever being established.
  • Dancing, like martyrdom, is fun. Dr. Kurzban mentioned one area of research is why people like to dance. It can’t merely because it is physical or a sexual metaphor, because many physical activities and sexual metaphors are not fun. Kurzban’s opinion is that dancing is an evolved trait that encourages sexually integrated socialization.

    On Mark’s behalf, I asked what is an evolutionary psychological reason for martyrdom. Dr. Kurzban first noted that nearly all martyrs are males, so the answer is probably some form of social cooperation. (As an aside, Kurzban didn’t think it was an accident that the Jordanian female terrorist’s belt “malfunctioned.”) He mentioned that there probably was a kinship advantage for recognized martyrs, evolving over time in a world of small tribes. “Religious entrepreneurs” use this drive to further their beliefs.

    Kurzban noted that one theory is that traditionally weapons weren’t violent enough to inflict death, so perhaps the evolutionary root of martyrdom is the same as the evolutionary root of bravery. However, given the wide variety of low-tech ways to kill people, he doubted this as an explanation.

  • People are sensitive to the worst free-riders. Dr. Kurzban described the “public goods” game, in which everyone was given some money, and they could pocket some of it or put it on the table. Money on the table was doubled after a round, but split evenly among all the players.

    In almost all situations, almost all of the money is pocketed.

    But, people become very cooperative when cooperation is nonrecoverable and they see how much the least-cooperative person has put in. So every player begins by putting $1 on the table, and wait until every other player has done the same. Then one brave player will put a second on the table, wait until his contribution is matched, and continue.

    On the second round of this, people could not contribute fast enough. Literally — every player raced against the clock to put as much money on the table as they could. The only hold-up was when a particular player fell behind in the cooperation race – he would then have to throw more money on the table, which could take a second or two.

    The next best approach was when players could take money in or out, but still saw what the lowest-contributing player put in. Unlike where they saw what only the most contributing player put in, where almost everyone was a free rider, where they saw how the worst behaved the group was very cooperative. And the more rounds played, the more cooperative they became.

    This study was replicated in Japan with almost identical results. The graphs of the American game and the Japanese game were almost indistinguishable. Dr. Kurzban said this was a surprise to psychologies focusing on comparative cultural, who thought Japanese players would start out more cooperative than Americans, and after than learn cooperation at a slower rate.

  • People love to punish wrongdoers, especially when others are watching. Dr. Kurzban described a trust game, where Player A could split $20 between himself and Player B, or give it to Player B and have it double. Player B could then keep almost all the $40 for himself, or split it evenly with Player A.

    After Player A and Player B left, Player C was brought in as a “judge.” In places were Player B kept most of the money for himself, ignoring the trusting Player A, Player C could use some of her money to punish Player C at a 3-to-1 ratio.

    This was done under three different conditions. In all three Player C would have to write down his judgement on a sheet of paper.

    1. Player C gave his answer through a complicated system that guaranteed no one would ever know if and how much he punished Player A. Player C’s decision was completely anonymous.
    2. Player C wrote down if and how much he would punish Player A, knowing a researcher would look over the answer “just to make sure the paper was filled out correctly.”
    3. Player C announced his decision in front of the other players

    In all three cases Player C tended to punish Player A. Player C punished the least when it was secret, a lot when just one researcher knew, and a little bit more than that when everyone knew.

    Interestingly, in several cases, when Player C had to publicly announce his decision, Player C lied. Out of thoughtlessness, Dr. Kurzban had left the paper as the “real” way to punish Player A, and the announcement was supposed to be merely reading from the paper. In the cases where Player C lied, Player C claimed to have spent more money punishing Player A than he actually did.

Dr. Kurzban addressed some other issues, as well. But those make a post for another time…