February 16, 2004

Evolutionary Psychology

Posted by shonk at 10:25 PM in Geek Talk | TrackBack

Having a long-standing interest in evolutionary psychology, I was pleased to come across a link to this interview with Dr. David Buss over at Improved Clinch. Therein, Buss addresses the opposition to evolutionary psychology’s findings. On the topic of political dogmatism:

A second [reaction] comes from political ideologies—people have agendas for making the world a better place, and evolutionary psychology is erroneously believed to be at odds with social change.

People think “if things like violence or infidelity are rooted in evolved adaptations, then we are doomed to have violence and infidelity because they are an unalterable part of human nature. On the other hand, if violence and infidelity are caused by the ills of society, by media, by bad parenting, then we can fix these things and make a better world.”

It’s what I call the “romantic fallacy”: I don’t want people to be like that, therefore they are not like that [interviewer’s emphasis]. The thinking is wrong-headed, of course. Knowledge of our evolved psychological mechanisms gives us more power to change, if change is desired, not less power.

On the “social constructivist” opposition (the first paragraph is attributed to Buss, but I’m assuming that’s a mistake, so I’ve changed the initials to those of the interviewer, Bernard Chapin):

BC: Under the “stranger than fiction” category, in a class I taught last semester to graduate level teachers concerning human development, all but one of them answered negatively to the statement that there is a biological basis behind many of our mating behaviors. They honestly believe that “male” and “female” are socially constructed roles. How does one combat such dogmatic views? What suggestions do you have for refuting the “social constructionist” only bias among many students?

DDB: Unfortunately, students are still being taught long-outmoded ideas that have no empirical or theoretical warrant. Evolutionary psychology has revolutionized our understanding of human mating, and many other domains as well. If you ask “what new insights and empirical discoveries have been produced by those operating in a social constructivist theoretical framework?”, you come up empty-handed. If you ask the same question of those working in evolutionary psychology, you come up with literally hundreds of fascinating empirical discoveries, generated by powerful evolution-based theories.

Eventually, the outmoded social constructivist theories will fade away, since they do not generate novel insights or important empirical discoveries. Evolutionary psychology, in contrast, is here to stay.

So stick that in your pipes and smoke it, Sigmund and Carl!


Nice interview with David Buss.I was not aware of this man. If you are fascinated by this subject and related bioscience advances (neuroscience and genomics) I would recommend the writings of Matt Ridley. The guy writes incredibly lucid books on cutting edge bioscience, relating the genome, evolutionary psychology, linguistics, anthropology etc. He is very intelligent and sensible and I haven’t found any thing in his book “Genome” I with which I didn’t agree. He also has a new book “Nature and Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes us Human” which I am ordering.

Posted by: Dave at February 19, 2004 08:13 PM

Thanks for the suggestion. I've heard of Ridley, but never read anything by him. I'll definitely check him out.

Posted by: shonk at February 19, 2004 08:26 PM