Saturday, 2 January 2016

7a. Confer et al (2010) Evolutionary Psychology Controversies, Questions, Prospects, and Limitations

Confer, Jaime C., Judith A. Easton, Diana S. Fleischman, Cari D. Goetz, David M. G. Lewis, Carin Perilloux, and David M. Buss (2010) Evolutionary Psychology Controversies, Questions, Prospects, and LimitationsAmerican Psychologist 65 (2): 110–126 DOI: 10.1037/a0018413

Evolutionary psychology has emerged over the past 15 years as a major theoretical perspective, generating an increasing volume of empirical studies and assuming a larger presence within psychological science. At the same time, it has generated critiques and remains controversial among some psychologists. Some of the controversy stems from hypotheses that go against traditional psychological theories; some from empirical findings that may have disturbing implications; some from misunderstandings about the logic of evolutionary psychology; and some from reasonable scientific concerns about its underlying framework.  This article identifies some of the most common concerns and attempts to elucidate evolutionary psychology’s stance pertaining to them. These include issues of testability and falsifiability; the domain specificity versus domain generality of psychological mechanisms; the role of novel environments as they interact with evolved psychological circuits; the role of genes in the conceptual structure of evolutionary psychology; the roles of learning, socialization, and culture in evolutionary psychology; and the practical value of applied evolutionary psychology. The article concludes with a discussion of the limitations of current evolutionary psychology.



70 comments:

  1. “Evolutionarily ancient dangers such as snakes, spiders, heights, and strangers consistently appear on lists of common fears and phobias far more often than do evolutionarily modern dangers such as cars and guns, even though cars and guns are more dangerous to survival in the modern environment”


    This immediately makes me think of the case against the genetic argument of mirror neurons that says that mirror neurons respond maximally to things that are unnatural (that our ancestors did not encounter) and therefore the genetic argument for mirror neurons does not hold up (I disagree with this, by the way). Clearly, there are genetic underpinnings to our ability to recognize/categorize and therefore fear certain things and that has been evolutionarily developed…I’m not saying that mirror neurons are implicated here in the pre-programmed fears of specific things, I just think it’s interesting to note the comparisons in trying to understand the brain processes behind our innate ability to categorize and what the neural picture of that could be. If the fear of snakes seems to be able to be traced to a neural circuitry that is innate and automatically activated it seems to be an innate categorical perception, right? Because we have a category for snake that is under “things to fear” (or is the scariness of the snake a feature of the snake?) and we then perceive the category of snake as fearful. I’m interested in the fact that these fears come pre-programmed in us without having to have some process of trial and error… because this seems to be for our own safety/survival. Do innate categorical perceptions then seem to have a purpose that is more important to our immediate safety than learned categories—maybe this is what separates them? Even if you think of innate categories like sound perception and color, these are all related to our immediate safety/survival.

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    1. I also generally think the categorical perception of natural versus unnatural things is interesting because maybe this is some sort of clue to innate versus not innate categories in general but also maybe I'm getting too philosophical here...

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    2. (Also I haven't finished the paper yet I just wanted to post this thought I had)

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    3. Hey Alba,

      This quote also had me do a double take. I think it is similar to the type of controversy made in regard to the genetic predisposition of mirror neurons by claiming that natural selection has some how "time locked" the property of the mirror neuron, or in this case the behavioural response of fear, to the social/cultural/survival needs of that time. I believe the argument made in the Buss et al. paper is a bit foolish - perhaps we do not show fear to cars and guns as commonly as we do to spiders and snakes because they are more commonly associate with positive things (cars = fun roadtrip and music; spiders = fun/loving pets?! Not so much.)

      Ultimately, I felt like the paper was more of an attention-grabbing story of WHY certain behaviours arise, without really touching on HOW they arise. And because of this I had trouble taking the paper so seriously, because it didn't even attempt to propose a way of reverse engineering a story -- a WHY -- into a mechanistic HOW explanation (I mean anyone at the end of the day can propose a story about why a certain behaviour occurs, but the challenge is to understand how...)








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    4. Hey Maya,

      I completely agree with the sentiments in your last paragraph there - the authors spend the majority of the paper trying to dispel the notion that EP is nothing more than "just so" stories, but I really felt like they failed to accomplish that goal (save for a few sparse examples such as taste preferences, and perhaps sexual jealousy, which seem to really be the exceptions in EP, and not the norm).

      I doubt that, beyond successful construction of a T3 robot, there will be any way to really understand the how , as much fun as it may be to hypothesize and investigate the why

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    5. Hey Maya and Alba,

      About the "why we do not show fear to cars and guns as much as we do to spiders and snakes"… I don't think is because they are more commonly associated with positive things. I think it's simply about this idea of evolution and the idea of adaptive behaviors. Let's think way back to the ages of cavemen and hunters/gatherers. The things that they needed to fear each day were poisonous snakes and spiders, dangerous animals that could kill, poisonous plants etc. These were adaptive behaviors. Fearing these made sure they would stay safe in the environment. These have then been engrained in our lineage. Cars and guns were much more recent inventions in the past many centuries.
      This got me think of the evolutionary adaptive behaviour of pain… ie. We pull our hand away from the stove when we touch something hot, or we cry out in pain when we stub out too. This is advantageous and teaches us not to do that behavior again because it just results in discomfort and pain. So, same thing must have happened with the spiders. Someone got bit by a spider and then got an infection and died, teaching the others to avoid spiders.
      Then on the other hand, I am wondering why not everyone is afraid of spiders and snakes and other specific phobias? Is it genetic? Even phobias such as clausterphobia, or trypophobia (the fear of clusters)? This may sound strange, but I actually don't mind spiders and often laugh when a friend screams and sees one and I go "aw that’s not scary".

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    6. Hello,
      I was going to start a new thread about this quotation as well. Fortunately, I scrolled up and saw your ideas, which is similar to mine, so I decided that it may be better to continue and expand the ideas already on this thread.

      Jordana, as to your example about pulling away from the stove when we touch something hot, it seems to be more of an reflex arc that will happen with the spinal nerve rather than in the brain level of processing. As that, if you touch a hot stove, we must remove our hand immediately or the skin will burn quickly. But the passage of a sense impulse to the brain and back again to a motor nerve takes too much time. So we will rely in the reflex arc for to react in such an emergency. However, does fear work in the same way though? It really got me thinking after reading what you posted, because I wasn't sure if it is a reflex to maybe flinch at a sight of snake or to have a higher order processing in logically thinking that snake is dangerous therefore have a derived fear from it. What do you think?

      It seems that different phobias can be derived from both external factors and maybe innate (as you said maybe genetics?) However, it is really hard to decide the fine line between how much can we take from behaviourism and how much is intrinsic and innate, which may be brought up through development. It seems too much of a grey area to definitively characterize them.

      The article answered some really interesting questions and really seems to attempt to correct misunderstandings towards evolutionary psychology. However, this point seemed unclear to me as the article mention our common fear of ancient snakes, spiders, heights, and strangers and how it is “embedded” and “pop out” in an array that automatically captures attentions. Furthermore, apparently this can be traced back to be selectively and automatically activated that can be traced back to “specialized neural circuitry.” This is a curious thing to claim that how is this claim to be made that there is a correlation between the behaviors of fear to the intrinsic psychological underlying neural network’s response to this fear. Trying to side step the grandmother or Jennifer Aniston’s neuron, would this article be making the claim that there is a specialized circuit, as a result of evolution, has specialized in responding to these ancient fears?

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    7. I don't think the innate fear of snakes has anything to do with mirror neurons. There is probably an inborn detector for bug-like and snake-like things, and it makes you scared. That's (innate) category detection, but not categorical perception (which refers to the within-category compression and between-category separation effect).

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  2. “Sloppy and imprecise evolutionary hypotheses that fail to generate precise predictions deserve scientific criticism”

    I agree with this statement but I think it misses the other half of the implication: Just because you can link an evolutionary theory to an empirical outcome doesn’t out rule the possibility that said outcome could have actually been a result of an unrelated factor (evolutionary or not). There are too many third factor possibilities. In addition, it seems impossible using the given paradigms to test the role of evolution separated from learned experience. I think error management theory is a good example: Erring on the side of false positive (because of the consequences of a false negative) may be evolutionary, but perhaps its also based on prior experience of the individual or from vicarious experience from watching others. If it is both, how can we determine the contribution of each? The article claims that falsifiability is possible, but it seems to me that you can only determine whether or not the individual right-here-right-now phenomenon exists (or not) which yes, may give support for or against an evolutionary model, but I wouldn’t say that it is enough for falsifiability.

    I am more inclined to believe that more rudimentary categorization (group membership dynamics, phobias, mate selection) can be attributed to evolutionary pressures. However only the ability to categorize in general, and not the types of categories we possess makes sense as an evolutionary trait. Given an understandable rule, we can categorize a selection of abstract things regardless of whether they exist in our actual world or not. The article did mention they were not trying to take a Fodorian path, and that choice I can agree with.

    However, it is, in general, unwise to generalize evolutionary theories of psychology. This becomes problematic for categorization, as generalizing is probably what we want to do if we endorse a global learned categorization mechanism (the mechanism for categorizing hat is the same one for categorizing mat) and not a system of pre-programmed modules (as per Fodor).

    It seems like evolutionary psychology is gearing up to try to solve the hard problem (at least the “why” part), but I can’t say I think this is possible. As stated before, I’m not buying into the proposed falsifiability of their arguments.

    Lastly, if I was to take the side of evolutionary psychology and claim that our emotional responses and cognitions are a product of years of selection, there is the interesting case of morality and ethics which causes us to override our “primitive” evolutionary traits (murdering rivals, rape, stealing, etc.). Where does that fit into the equation? How does the discussion of evolution change when there are cognitive factors that don’t really fit with our biological mate/kill/eat drives that cancel out other evolutionary impulses? Wouldn't the data for evolutionary psychology get individualized and murky here?

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    1. Hey Riona,
      evolutionary psychology is laying a claim to explaining 'why' we do what we do based on an analysis of general traits that could be common to most or all humans in the context of the environment in which they were selected for (that of our ancestors who survived and reproduced better than their comrades who possessed less beneficial competitive features and died out as a result of this). This is still in the realm of the easy problem and offers, as they mention themselves, a complementary explanation to those seeking to explain 'how' we do what we do.

      "Understanding the evolved function of a psychological mechanism, or why it exists (often referred to as an ultimate explanation) pro- vides a complementary level of analysis to that of under- standing the details of how the mechanism works (often referred to as a proximate explanation). Both types of explanation are required for a complete understanding, and indeed they mutually inform one another." According to this, evolutionary psychologists are playing a role complementary to that of cognitive scientists.

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    2. Hey Riona,
      I really like your last point. It felt like a lot of what the article did was justify and excuse people for behaving in ways we would generally find unacceptable and that any reasonable human being can be expected to opt out of. While they readily find all sorts of explanations to justify antiquated gender roles, sexist practices, violence and abuse they make no particular effort to explain why LARGELY we do not behave in these ways or often even behave in ways that would fly in the face of such theories (e.g. males with strong tendencies for monogamy, or promiscuity among females, etc). What's particularly surprising to me is that even with such ease for creating narrative around almost any behaviour they are suddenly stumped when it comes to things they would clearly rather dismiss as exceptional, deviant, or maladaptive like for example homosexuality. Since they depart from the assumption that there cannot be any adaptive reason for homosexuality they make no attempt to explain it under their theory, and only leave it as an exception to the theory that must somehow be explained; yet it seems to me there could be many ways to explain homosexuality as evolutionarily adaptive. Population control springs to mind; surely we can agree that overpopulating a living environment is undesirable and detrimental to group survival as it could put unresolvable strains on resources and living space.

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    3. Riona --- I really like what you said "just because you can link a theory..."
      It really frustrates me always to read evolutionary psychology that is gendered in any way - to me it just seems really clear that it could be socialization that generates a sex difference in a given case, and not necessarily an evolutionary underpinning...

      In the social realm, Haselton and Buss (2000) confirmed the existence of a commitment skepticism bias in women, such that they underinfer levels of romantic commitment that are based on cues such as declarations of love.
      This immediately made me think of romantic comedy movies that capitalize on women with trust issues because they were taught to think that men are not to be trusted (Trainwreck, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days etc). I think it might be just as easily explained as a stereotype generated by society and not an evolutionary underpinning... in the same way, I thought of parental investment.

      Using the example of parental investment highlighted a lot of the issues I sometimes have with evolutionary psychological testing – sometimes it acts as though the hypothesis it rests upon is solid when it could be just as constructed
      I think to the Buss 1992 article they mention in the reading to the Human Sexuality course taught by Binik, and about how outraged I felt reading one reading when it just seemed to me a retroactive justification at a lot of stereotypes held about women and men, mainly using paternity uncertainty to claim that men are more jealous of physical infidelity because of the fact this reduces the chance the child is their own, while women are more jealous of emotional infidelity because of the fact this indicates a male might provide resources for another mate and their kin instead of hers. Of course you can use the data to tell this story. But this leaves out all of the socialization that happens that could produce the same results- things like the capital on masculinity our culture has, and how threatened masculinity might make men more sensitive to a physical threat. Or, how women are often more objectified and reduced to their physicality during appraisals, so they might see this as less of a threat and instead be worried about emotional infidelities because they threaten a woman's "domain specific" area more than a physical indifenlity would... (also since women are also socialized to be “more emotional” than men are)…

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    4. Yes, evolutionary psychology is simplistic and often just just-so stories. But male sexual jealousy is not only culturally universal (just about) but many other mammals show it too. If it's purely learned, then it looks like one of those things like the mole whose genes leave it up to the width of the burrow to determine how big to grow instead of coding it rigidly: Genes offloading adaptive functions onto the (predictable) environment. (But it's more likely that it's innate.)

      There are just-so stories for the genetic basis of male homosexuality (when it's genetic, which is not always): The maternal avunculate. "In promiscuous times, or when there is an excess of males, males are genetically safer investing their support in their sister's children than trying to mate and risk being beaten in the sperm wars...." (And that's one of the more plausible of the just-so tales!)

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    5. Hi Professor Harnad,

      I don't think I want to argue that male jealousy is culturally learned and I do think that there is a plausible evolutionary explanation for it. This reminds me of what we discussed in class today and what I really wanted to ask at the time was: What about affinities for lifestyles or hobbies that explicitly oppose what evolution has "told" us to do? You mentioned spiders, but there are people that devote their lives to studying and interacting with spiders, and in the case of male jealousy there's men with a sexual interest in cuckoldry and the list continues with more "deviant" behaviours. The running theory is that it's because of the attraction of doing something taboo, but why should that be so if group membership (AKA not being shunned from your social circle because you have 10 pet spiders) is an adaptive function? Is this a case of genes offloading adaptive functions onto the environment and the environment turns out to not be so predictable? Or is this suggesting that we need a more nuanced model for the evolution of psychology? It seems to me that the more meta-cognition and self referential thought a species is thought to have, the harder evolutionary psychology becomes to apply, because we have so many mechanisms of overriding what the evolutionary psychologist says we have evolved to do and there's so much variation within the species.

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    6. Hey Riona,

      I completely agree with the first part of your paragraph: it seems much more plausible to me that sexual jealousy arises from evolution than cultural learning. This may be anecdotal, but most people probably got upset as a kid if a girl they were interested in (since we’re focusing on heterosexual male sexual jealousy) hugged/kissed/held hands with someone else, and surely this wasn’t rooted in experience with sexual infidelity! This is why I find the poverty of the stimulus argument particularly convincing:

      “It is highly improbable, however, that men could learn this statistical regularity during develop- ment. To do so, men would have to observe a large sample of instances of sexual infidelity (which tend to be cloaked in secrecy) and then associate them with potentially detect- able cues to lack of paternity that would be displayed nine months, or even several years, later (e.g., lack of pheno- typic resemblance to the putative father)” (p. 6).

      As for your questions about divergent behavior, I was also thinking about this throughout the reading and wonder what everyone else’s thoughts are on this. I think your conclusion makes a great point and that metacognition could definitely have an impact on certain proposed evolved actions. I wonder, though, would this self-referential thought extend past overcoming fears because we recognize and analyze them? For example, I feel like this could be a good explanation for how someone would overcome a fear of spiders (e.g. via the knowledge that not all spiders are poisonous), but does it really explain a love and fascination for them? What do you think?

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  3. “The functional outputs of evolved fear adaptations, such as freezing, fighting, and fleeing, are specifically designed to solve the adaptive problems posed by these evolutionarily recurrent threats to survival.”
    - Can these fear adaptations be overcome then? Such that these do not get passed on? Since as the paper states, nowadays, snakes and spiders are a lot less of a threat than guns are, but we’re less afraid of guns than we are of snakes and spiders. In these cases, do we have to be trained to overcome the adaptation that has occurred? That is, do we have to be trained to exert an internal influence on our genetics or do those that are afraid of snakes and spiders, but not of guns and other potential threats in our everyday life have to die out in order for the adaptive behavior to be extinct?

    “Environmental input includes (a) the selection pressures that give rise to psychological adaptations; (b) the environments needed for the proper development of these mechanisms in individual humans; and (c) immediate proximate inputs necessary for their activation. Indeed, adaptations exist in their current form precisely because they historically solved adaptive problems posed by various environmental contingencies.”
    “Psychological adaptations are designed to respond to social conditions such as being mated or unmated, being a parent or being childless, being high or low in the status hierarchy, and more generally, confronting one suite of adaptive problems rather than another.”
    “All adaptations, by definition, must have a genetic basis.”
    - Is adaptation dependent on how one decides to interpret/react to the social condition? That is to say, is it possible for an individual to exert an influence on their own adaptation at an ontogenetic level to a social condition? Is it possible for the individual to consciously come up with a vast amount of responses to adapt to the environmental input, even the most implausible ones, and for the individual to carry out whatever response they see fit? Or is there limited responses to an environmental input, only those that get activated by the cues from the environment?

    “Psychological adaptations are not separate “modules” in the Fodorian (Fodor, 1983) sense of informational encapsulation; rather, they often share components and interact with each other to produce adaptive behavior.”
    - Can someone give an example of psychological adaptations interacting with each other to produce adaptive behavior? I see what it’s saying, but I do not understand how it occurs.

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    1. Pt. 2:
      “Evolutionary psychologists fully accept the potential importance of environmental influences, whether coming from parents, siblings within families, or peers, but they suggest that socialization theories will become more powerful if informed by evolutionary psychological analyses”
      “Labeling something as “culture” is simply a description, not a causal explanation.”
      - So culture can describe “how” adaptation occurs, but not “why”? And socialization also only explains the “how” and not “why”?

      “Extremely novel recent environments, of course, have not had enough time to influence the evolution of psychological adaptations.”
      - This makes me question to when do we start considering an innate feature as a result of adaptation? Do we consider a feature as an adaptation once it has been seen in a general population?
      - Although adaptation may tell us causal mechanisms, it doesn’t inform us how long it takes for an adaptation to occur, and because of that, is considered to be a causal mechanism.

      “Psychological adaptations will be activated by the cues, or close approximations of those cues, that those adaptations were designed to detect, regardless of whether the adaptations currently serve the functions for which they originally evolved.”
      - If adaptations evolve to serve functions that differ from its original purposes, then would it still be counted as relevant? If so, then what counts as an irrelevant adaptation then? Or are all adaptations relevant?

      “Although burdensomeness to kin provides a plausible explanation for some suicides among the elderly, it strains credulity to argue that it would be beneficial to a healthy adolescent’s reproductive success to end his or her life permanently, regardless of the current mating prospects. Such suicides are likely to be nonadaptive byproducts of evolved mechanisms that malfunction.”
      - I find it rude that they said healthy teen suicide is a nonadapative byproduct of malfunctioned evolution mechanisms. They talk about how environmental input influences development at the ontogenetic level, but then in the case of suicide, they just consider this as the result of a mistake? So suicide does not count as an adaptive mechanism, thus there should be no reason why this sort of behavior exists and should thus disappear? I do think suicide isn’t a positive thing, but wouldn’t not studying it from an evolutionary perspective thus, not give the causal mechanisms behind suicide then, or at least the individual differences that occur within a population that results in suicide?

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    2. edit:
      - Although adaptation may tell us causal mechanisms, it doesn’t inform us how long it takes for an adaptation to occur, and because of that, when a behavior is considered to be adaptive and thus, a causal mechanism. **

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    3. Overcoming an innate phobia (if it is indeed innate) does not mean that the innate genetic tendency will not be passed on to progeny! There is no (Lamarckian) transmission of acquired traits (including their suppression). (A few seeming exceptions have been reported recently as "soft" Lamarckian effects. Another hard/soft distinction!

      No, adaptive explanations of why a trait may have arisen or selected for do not explain the causal mechanisms at all. They are just post-hoc (after the fact) conjectures -- though they can sometimes be tested by evolutionary modelling.

      Except in special cases (e.g., laying down your life to save two brothers, or four cousins), suicide is not a good strategy for passing on your genes...

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    4. Hi Oliver,

      I agree that the way the authors presented the issue of evolutionary explanations for suicide may have come across as brash, but I’m not sure I understand your last point. I don’t think the authors are saying that suicide cannot or should not be interpreted using evolutionary psychological accounts, I think they’re just saying that the currently available accounts do not explain the phenomena of suicide (which as the authors mentioned is an alarmingly common cause of death in the 21st century). I think that evolutionary psychological theories in general could be extremely useful in studying suicide incidence, prevalence, and changes in human (and maybe animal?) suicide tendencies over the past one thousand years. On one hand, it seems paradoxical that suicide could have any adaptive value. But on the other hand, suicide has been suggested to have a genetic basis according to some recent studies, and I think the fact that suicide is twice as common as homicide suggests there may be some evolutionary facets to suicide that have not yet been discovered (Killing oneself versus others does seem counterintuitive, but in an evolutionary perspective killing someone else may have been in some ways “more dangerous”?)

      If you’re interested on the comparison between suicide and homicide rates, this is an interesting article/podcast: http://freakonomics.com/2011/09/01/suicide-vs-homicide-by-state-per-100000/

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  4. I want to start off by saying what a wonderful article I found this to be. It was successful in covering a broad range of topics and showing how evolutionary psychology not only applies to them but how it can help better understand those topics. It gives a great explanation of what evolutionary psychology is and is not and even details its shortcomings (but only so much as to say that ultimately those shortcomings weren’t so dire). The experiments and applications they described were very interesting and I especially found the page on applications relating to depression a great read. While not too much of the information was new, the idea of finding evolutionary causes for neurological disorders intrigues me.

    Having of course not yet read a rebuttal on everything discussed in this article I now feel strongly that evolutionary psychology should be applied to most experiments and areas of study. This point really emphasized its importance

    “The framework of evolutionary psychology dissolves dichotomies such as “nature versus nurture,” “innate versus learned,” and “biological versus cultural.” Instead it offers a truly interactionist framework: Environmental selection pressures shape evolved mechanisms at the phylogenetic level”

    We can study all these environmental and genetic effects to create numbers and statistics as much as we would like, but I find the idea of searching for evolutionary causes to be much more interesting and effective (while thinking under the after-glow of reading this article). In particular I would be very interested to see research done on personality, behaviours or other mental illnesses done with a focus on how these traits/diseases would have arisen through an evolutionary perspective.

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    1. For me, the end section about "practical values of evolutionary psychology" wasn't intriguing, it lost me. Claiming that depression is on the rise in modern society is a controversial statement, many believe that neuropsychological diagnoses such as depression, autism, etc. are on the rise because of increased awareness/education/diagnostic tools. Although I'm not sure where I stand I think it's important to present both sides of the argument - stating that depression is on the rise point-blank is a bit fishy to me.


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    2. I do believe rates of depression have increased in our modern environment (maybe because I’m just pessimistic). Whether or not it is due to a mismatch between ancestral and modern environment, I would require further evolutionary psychology reading to set my mind. Even if we do have better tools of diagnosis, and also better available food, and hygiene, what I think is the missing point, (and this is my opinion), is that modern society is far too stressful on many level. The strict schedule and highly planned daily routine isn’t focus on meeting primary needs, but are focus on achieving complex life-goal which cannot be solved in a straightforward way. If evolutionary psychology shown to have practical value in treating depression it is because it takes human nature as it is. Or maybe it is because the program their offering is made to counteract our compressive daily life.

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    3. “The framework of evolutionary psychology dissolves dichotomies such as “nature versus nurture,” “innate versus learned,” and “biological versus cultural.” Instead it offers a truly interactionist framework: Environmental selection pressures shape evolved mechanisms at the phylogenetic level”

      I really don’t see how the framework really does dissolve these differences. Evolutionary psychology still needs to maintain the “innate vs learned” dichotomy to be able to claim anything about how they interact. One cannot be taken to be more important than the other, but the dichotomy itself still has to be maintained to explain anything concerning things such as culture (which itself is mentioned in the article) that are clearly learned and can affect later developments (“Transmitted culture, if it is passed down over many generations, can in turn create new selection pressures for novel human adaptations (Cochran & Harpending, 2009)”).

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    4. Hi Jordan / everyone,

      Regarding your last point (about evolutionary explanations for neurological and psychiatric disorders) you may find this interesting:

      http://www.radiolab.org/story/addiction/

      It’s a podcast in which Dr. Nora Volkov (the director for the National Institute on Drug Abuse) is interviewed. She presents an argument that frames drug users as being the most “evolutionarily fit” because they are more reward sensitive than most other people. At a time when rewards were more difficult to come across (this reading used the example or sugar and fat as calorie-dense food sources), it would be beneficial to be more incentivized by them. However, I find her argument point a little incomplete because she doesn't account for the higher impulsivity and lower sensitivity to punishment which also characterize individuals with a susceptibility to drug abuse. That’s just my opinion though and she clearly knows way more about this than I do.

      Also, Hernan:

      I think the authors' point isn't that the framework gets rid of nature and nurture. The framework allows the two sets of factors to be understood in complement rather than in competition or opposition.

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    5. Oliver, Overcoming an innate phobia (if it is indeed innate) does not mean that the innate genetic tendency will not be passed on to progeny! There is no (Lamarckian) transmission of acquired traits (including their suppression). (A few seeming exceptions have been reported recently as "soft" Lamarckian effects. Another hard/soft distinction!

      No, adaptive explanations of why a trait may have arisen or selected for do not explain the causal mechanisms at all. They are just post-hoc (after the fact) conjectures -- though they can sometimes be tested by evolutionary modelling.

      Except in special cases (e.g., laying down your life to save two brothers, or four cousins), suicide is not a good strategy for passing on your genes...

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  5. This article is quite inept in explaining anything regarding how we do what we do and is, in my opinion, not convincing in even grasping why we do what we do. I am not reprimanding the entire field of evolutionary psychology, because this paper does illustrate certain behaviours that do point to robust evidence as having been an adaptive mechanism for survival. This being said, the scope of the word “evolution” in the paper is so broad that at times it can be synonymous with “behaviour.” Rather than approaching the issues with modest scientific query, the authors decide to present controversial phenomenon, such as male sexual jealousy, and force them into the mold of evolution, creating awkward explanations for behaviours that require many exceptions to hold true. Let’s take for example the paternity uncertainty explanation for male sexual jealousy. The modern consequence of birth control was noted, but what about the case of a homosexual relationship. Infidelity in this case does not result in any paternal uncertainty and has not throughout history. As a result of this information and the logic of the evolutionary explanation, infidelity in a homosexual relationship will not result in jealousy, which is a major and highly unlikely consequence of the theory.

    On another note, the authors make subtle generalizations regarding complex human behaviours that I find unconvincing. For example, in the argument for socialization vs evolution, the authors use the concept of prestige to suggest that “learning solves…different adaptive problems,” and in this case one of the adaptive problems is prestige. I find it hard to believe that earning prestige is an adaptive problem that ensures one’s survival. It is rather an accomplishment that provides satisfaction in some peoples lives and does not implicate survival and reproduction.

    Lastly, it is difficult to discern the value of many of these evolutionary mechanisms for complex behaviors even after reviewing the practical use section.

    “Steve Ilardi has developed effective treatment for depression based on what he has hypothesized to be plausible mismatches between ancestral and modern environments. In ancestral times, people spent much of their day outdoors in sunshine, engaging in high-activity tasks such as hunting, gathering, building shelters, making tools, and tending to children. They lived in small tightly knit groups rather than isolated nuclear families. And their diets differed from most modern diets.”

    This explanation of depression treatment using the knowledge of evolution is unconvincing. It implicates the notion that depression was not a problem, or at least prevalent in the past and that it is a result of modern society. As stated in an earlier response, it may be a false perception that depression is on the rise and is rather identified with more accuracy due to new technology and knowledge. The evolutionary explanation of Steve Ilardi’s treatment plan seems to be a convenient description of it’s efficacy that can be confounded by other factors.

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    1. Hi Christian ,

      Re: the 'practical uses' section - I agree. I honestly felt like whatever convincing argument the paper had been trying to construct just fell apart in this section. I scoffed a bit at the prescriptions the doctor had created supposedly based on knowledge gleaned from EP. 'Spend time with your family, get some sunshine, eat healthy, get a hobby' - really? Evolutionary psychology was instrumental in formulating this common-sense advice? Beyond how mundane those prescribed remedies are, the whole argument is tenuous due to the credible possibility you (and Maya) have mentioned: that rising depression and other conditions are simply an artifact of improved knowledge, diagnostics and social awareness.

      The section that explored implications for EP in legality raised similar (if not larger) concerns for me. First, the authors cite the example of the "reasonable person standard", and the significant differences between male/female perspectives on what constitutes sexual harassment. They state that the sexes tend to have different thresholds for what they consider harrassment, and then go on to vaguely suggest that "scholars are beginning to evaluate evolution-based findings such as these for constructing laws...". I guess I just fail to see how evolution has anything to add in this context - couldn't you just as easily conduct a study of sex-differences on this topic without ever having to wonder why they have come to exist on an evolutionary time-scale? How would that additional piece of information benefit lawmakers in finding a way to adjust the standard to accommodate contemporary sex differences, beyond knowing exactly what the differences are, as they exist today?

      Finally - on a broader note - I find it a bit troublesome that anyone would want to use evolution as a source of knowledge and reason for lawmaking, since the two sort of seem inherently at odds. Laws are constructed (ideally) as limitations that benefit the greater good, creating a barrier for some of our most selfish baser urges (e.g. taking what isn't ours, using physical force to subdue a perceived threat); evolution, on the other hand, is perhaps the most selfish force in the world. You could even go so far is to call it sociopathic (if we allow ourselves to anthropomorphize that much), since all evolution 'cares about' is getting the individual's genes into the next generation at any expense to others. Maybe I'm getting way too far out on a limb here, but I just can't help but feel that evolution and law-making go together about as well as oil and water.

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    2. Hi Cristian,

      Just to add to the point you made about homosexual relationships. I just want to extend it to any couple that is unable to reproduce, or whom doesn’t want to (i.e. friendships). I wonder how the authors would explain friendship jealousy and sexual jealousy in couples how are either unable to reproduce or do not want to? Perhaps the root of jealousy doesn’t lie in the desire to reproduce but rather in the desire to obtain a trustworthy relationship?

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    3. Cristian, you're misunderstanding the article. Nowhere does it even attempt to describe "how we do what we do", this article is offering an explanation for why we do what we do and a possible cause of why we do it. This cause they offer is merely genetics and leaving the job to cognitive scientists/biologists/other fields for the question of how these genetic traits cause that behaviour. All the article does is suggest there are traits that are passed down and follow the tracks of evolution to explain behaviours that exists today.

      As for some specific examples, they explain how the behaviours can be explained when thought of through evolutionary psychology, but I do not believe they are saying evolutionary psychology is the ONLY answer and FULLY explains the phenomenon.

      As for prestige, it can absolutely affect survival. Those who are prestigious are generally viewed favourably and of higher status. Those of higher status are more suitable mates, and thus will abide by the standard for survival of the fittest. Simply prestige suggests fitness to mates.

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    4. Hi Christian,

      I don’t think that sexual jealousy in male homosexual relationships poses a real problem for the authors’ thesis.

      “Let’s take for example the paternity uncertainty explanation for male sexual jealousy. The modern consequence of birth control was noted, but what about the case of a homosexual relationship. Infidelity in this case does not result in any paternal uncertainty and has not throughout history. As a result of this information and the logic of the evolutionary explanation, infidelity in a homosexual relationship will not result in jealousy, which is a major and highly unlikely consequence of the theory.”

      The authors take male sexual jealousy as a potential adaptive solution to the problem of paternal uncertainty. This problem applies to most male members of the species, so, more often than not, men would have benefitted in terms of reproductive success from possessing a trait that helps to overcome it. Adaptations solve species-level problems, but there remains variation within species, hence the variation in human sexual orientation. This variation means that that some, like the homosexual males, are not troubled by the species-level problem of paternal uncertainty. Yet they still inherit the ‘solution.” There is no contradiction or problem here. It is simply a discrepancy between the traits that help the survival and propagation of the species as a whole, and those that help the survival and propagation of some subset of individuals. For natural selection, the former is decisive, and it does not matter if a given trait fails to help or even harms certain individuals, as long as has a net benefit for the species as a whole.

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    5. Hey Jordan. I agree with you that the authors are just trying to provide explanations as to why we do some things that we do. My initial line is a little misleading. I just found that their language lacked scientific modesty and they analyzed many complex behaviors in a reductionist manner, without giving enough weight to historical, cultural and social factors.

      As with prestige, I do see how it can increase ones fitness to mates. I guess what I was at odds with was the vagueness of the term as it can mean entirely different things to different people and if you are attempting to describe specific behaviors, the subject of the behavior must possess some specificity.

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  6. Although I agree with the general statement that it is probable one domain-general rationality mechanism is not the best way to explain human behaviour, I find the “poverty of the stimulus problem” argument to be rather weak.
    “The sexual infidelity of a man’s mate has been statistically associated with increased paternity uncertainty over deep evolutionary time. It is highly improbable, however, that men could learn this statistical regularity during development. To do so, men would have to observe a large sample of instances of sexual infidelity (which tend to be cloaked in secrecy) and then associate them with potentially detectable cues to lack of paternity that would be displayed nine months, or even several years, later (e.g., lack of phenotypic resemblance to the putative father). In contrast, selection can favor specialized adaptations that exploit statistical regularities that are not detectable ontogenetically.”
    This, to me, does not hold. One is clearly exposed to a lot of discussions concerning infidelity and its effects. For a topic that is claimed “to be cloaked in secrecy”, I, for one, have hear countless stories, even ignoring its prominence in the media and culture in general. I believe that an individual could very easily use rationality to infer, from a single case of infidelity, concerns about paternity (having even a minimal grasp on the process of reproduction in humans). This could be extended to other issues besides infidelity. The culture that is transmitted to us as well as our personal experience can teach us a lot.

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    1. I completely agree. I think that this part of the article is problematic in that it fails to account for learned responses. Exposure to discussions concerning infidelity, infidelity as it is presented in the media, and anything else pertinent to infidelity (in modern culture, of course) would teach one how to respond in one's own hypothetical situation involving infidelity... The rapidity of a man's angry reaction when he sees his wife in bed with another man does not negate the possibility of domain general thought. His rapid reaction could very well be partly due to socially accepted behaviours, and learning from his in-group. Consider a man who came home to an unfaithful wife and subsequently proceeded as he would any normal day, without acknowledging the other man or his wife's unfaithfulness - it would be extremely abnormal. I wonder if a man's reaction would be different (or, I wonder the magnitude of difference) if we were to socialize someone from a young age and teach him that infidelity is acceptable.

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  7. Not quite sure how I feel about this article.

    This article surely was very informative, but I thought some of their examples were not very convincing.

    For one, why does the commitment skepticism bias have to be the result of adaptive pressures? Couldn’t it be an effect of culture or living in a modern society? On another note, if jealousy in men can be explained by paternal uncertainty, what does this say about jealousy in homosexual relationships? Couldn’t jealousy, both in men and women, be due to other factors like insecurities, past experiences with infidelity and the values installed by our culture regarding monogamous relationships? I mean we don’t necessarily have sex because we want to reproduce or eat in order to have energy to escape predators – these tendencies could be shaped by evolutionary tendencies, but our current tendencies could also be learned. These may be bad examples but I think what I am trying to get at is that we need to sort out the current tendencies that are a result of evolved tendencies from those who are learned – and this is not an easy thing to do. Not knowing how to tease these two apart can lead people to make absurd conclusions – and that’s from both sides.

    I mean there’s no doubt that our cognitive capacities are evolved capacities – language being one of them. So maybe a question we should be asking ourselves is what kinds of adaptive pressures in the environment of our ancestors have shaped our current capacities, such as language. Although out cognitive capacities have evolved, evolutionary psychology doesn’t explain what cognition is and how it works. It can definitely give us insight insofar as the origins of some of our capacities, but it doesn’t answer the bigger question we seek to answer about cognition.

    I often feel like evolution is sort of a “scapegoat” that people often rely on as an “explanation” for things, and they find it appealing because it makes intuitive sense. However when you actually analyze it, it doesn’t explain how things happen. They only touch on the why and it’s not quite clear if we absolutely need the why to know the how.

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    1. Hi Cait,

      I found your point really interesting because I sort of agree and sort of disagree. I shared your skepticism of Evolutionary Psychology for a long time because of a lot of the reasons you mentioned. (It’s also often really sexist, but that’s a different issue.)

      “For one, why does the commitment skepticism bias have to be the result of adaptive pressures? Couldn’t it be an effect of culture or living in a modern society?”

      I see your point. However, he authors are trying to say that there are many instances that don’t fit in with culture or modern society. For example, most people living in Montreal are more afraid of spiders than cars, yet cars have a much higher chance of killing them than spiders do.

      “I mean we don’t necessarily have sex because we want to reproduce or eat in order to have energy to escape predators – these tendencies could be shaped by evolutionary tendencies, but our current tendencies could also be learned. These may be bad examples but I think what I am trying to get at is that we need to sort out the current tendencies that are a result of evolved tendencies from those who are learned.”

      You’re right - we don’t have sex because we want to reproduce (most of the time anyway). However, it’s clear we have a strong biological drive to do so. And all humans across cultures share this drive. So at that point, it’s more likely to be something that defines us as human animals rather than be something culturally specific. The strong biological drive to pursue sexual behaviour could possibly be attributed to making people want to have sex *despite* the fact that it can result in the conception of a child for which they are responsible. So one way to separate what is learned from what is evolutionary is to look at behaviour cross-culturally. If the same behaviour is seen in nearly every human society observed, we have a pretty good indication it is part of human nature. If there is tremendous variation cross-culturally, it is likely that culture is playing a significant role.

      I think Evolutionary Psychology is important for helping us understand what cognition is. If cognition is what’s going on inside our heads that allows us to do what we can do, it would be a good idea to look at what humans needed to do throughout the history of our species, and how those humans did it.

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    2. Hi Joseph,
      I am interested in why you think that Evolutionary Psychology can help us understand what cognition is. I go really back and forth on this issue. I just am confused as to why the leap is easily made to "look at what humans needed to do... and how they did it" to explain what is going on in our heads... I guess I am just not yet convinced that this is really going to help us reverse engineer any cognition, it just seems really speculative to me. Like behavior of course we can see evolutionarily, but I am really not convinced that behavior = cognition
      I think it is really important you bring up cross -cultural variation as an indicator of a behavior being more culturally ingrained rather than innate.

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    3. Yes, evolutionary psychology could become something more than relatively trivial sex and spider stories if it tried to explain the origin of a cognitive capacity not just connected to sex and spiders...

      Yes paternity uncertainty could still explain male sexual jealousy in homosexual relationships: Remember the distal/proximal distinction: We don't eat sugar because we want to raise our blood sugar; we don't have sex because we want to reproduce; we don't get jealous because we are worried about our genes...

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  8. "Although the ambiguous referent “culture” is generally presumed to have a single, coherent meaning, it can actually refer to at least two distinct concepts: (a) evoked culture— differential output elicited by variable between-group circumstances operating as input to a universal human cognitive architec- ture; and (b) transmitted culture—the subset of ideas, values, and representations that initially exist in at least one mind that come into existence in other minds through observation or interaction "

    could anyone help me flesh out the differences between evoked and transmitted culture? I can't seem to effectively wrap my head around the difference but I think the authors make a good point that the concept of culture cannot be "divorced from the content-structuring, evolved organization of the human mind".

    “Psychological adaptations are not separate “modules” in the Fodorian (Fodor, 1983) sense of informational encapsulation; rather, they often share components and interact with each other to produce adaptive behavior.” can the concept of modules be equated to that of (large scale) domain specificity ? It would seem not as the authors offer a rebuttal for why "one domain general rationality mechanisms (would not) be more parsimonious that postulating many domain specific mechanisms", in which case I dont think i properly understand the actual difference between distinguishing a feature as being domain general or domain specific!

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    1. Hi Naima,

      I was a little confused about evoked vs. transmitted culture too. I think the difference is that evoked culture is from parts of our environment affecting the way we think through biological mechanisms whereas transmitted culture would be ideas and beliefs spread to us from other people in our environment.

      For example, there is evidence that the microbes we ingest can affect our brain and put us at risk for depression. If those microbes are found more in foods in one particular environment, the people in that culture will be affected. This would be evoked culture. The beliefs of those people, let’s say the depressed thoughts and different beliefs in mortality, for example, is spread throughout the culture by communication between people. This is transmitted culture.

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    2. Hi Naima,

      When I read the “culture” in the subtitle, I was really interested in what the section was going to contain. To my disappointment, I got confused in the same place as you and over that the section had an argument that did not convince me.

      The paper should have explained evoked and transmitted culture in more detail. Thank you Amanda for the clarification!

      “Transmitted culture, if it is passed down over many generations, can in turn create new selection pressures for novel human adaptations”

      I do not think this is true. I think that human psychology is constant when it comes to culture. And the role of culture is more on the side of sociology. The examples given in this section were weak as they did not explain psychological changes but explained changes in habits. Furthermore, the paper should consider how people react to cultural factors (due to their psychology) instead of making claims of cultural factors changing psychology.

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  9. The part from this article that intrigued me most was evolutionary psychology’s weakness regarding the inability to explain intraspecies variation. I find it interesting that it is listed as a weakness, because to me, it is simply an acknowledgement that 1) not every trait will necessarily go through such significant environmental pressure that only one distinct form of that trait will exist, allowing for overlap between sexes, and 2) that humans have the capacity to function through other mechanisms to compensate for whatever trait they may not have adapted for.
    An example of this could be in women’s superiority in spatial location memory. A women with a lesser ability could easily have relied on a friend or perhaps an older sister or a next-of-kin to navigate spatial location in exchange for some other trait in which they are superior, to still allow them to excel at the gender role of that society. In terms of the points brought up by the example of homo-sexuality being unadaptive, if a person’s instinct is to survive and engaging in homosexual behaviour will threaten this, then even if they are genetically homosexual they may be compelled to reproduce heterosexually. There are countless explanations that incorporate the “system” of evolutionary pressures that are referred to at the beginning of the article that can account for these “weaknesses” to the theory. I don’t see it as a weakness necessarily, but rather an acknowledgement that there can exist individual specific adaptations to compensate for traits that don’t fit perfectly into what has been adapted for, allowing for individual variation, and traits being passed along that seem disadvantageous or counter-productive to procreation.

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  10. In the section Aren’t human behaviors the result of learning and socialization, not evolution?

    “Labeling something as “learned” does not, by itself, provide a satisfactory scientific explanation any more than labeling something as “evolved” does; it is simply the claim that environmental input is one component of the causal process by which change occurs in the organism in some way.”

    Amongst the debate whether attributes, behaviors, traits or anything for that matter about a human is learned or evolves essentially is irrelevant as to which it is labeled as. I agree, I think that one requires the other. They are dependent on each other. Learning requires evolved mechanisms and also once something is learned (ie. the basis of a language) is has the opportunity to evolve. Some things are learned by socialization, although we may have a predisposition for something that has been engrained in humans through evolution.

    The topic of male/female socialization and exposure that this section talks about is really interesting. It reminds me of a case study I learned about many years ago. It is a miraculous story and added a lot to scientific research on the topic of socialization. If I were you I would read the following interesting case: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1332396/Bruce-Reimer-Tragic-twin-boy-brought-girl.html

    To sum it up though, Bruce, a baby boy, had urination problems that surgery could not fix. It ultimately resulted in a sex change. Brenda, the new Bruce, was exposed to girl toys, dolls, prohibited to toys such as cars, trucks, lego, and was dressed in pink and any other girly thing you can think of! Later in life, feeling something was wrong within him/her, Brenda’s parents revealed the truth to her. He got a sex change back to a boy because he felt all his thoughts, like, hobbies, and even sexual urges made him feel as if he was a boy and meant to be a boy.

    Its just a great case showing how socialization is not always the end all be all that some evolutionary psychologists think it may be.

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  11. After reading this paper it was interesting to think about how we are so quick to associate our physical capacities (seeing, hearing) to evolution but we have a much harder time attributing certain behaviours to evolution. All in all, this left me wondering whether we can truly test any theory by means of evolutionary psychology – how do we know for certain whether we engage in a certain behaviour due to evolution rather than just as a result of our cognition capacities? What drives us to do the things we do?

    In particular, the domain-general rationality problem was quite amusing because of how easily dismissible it is in some scenarios..

    “Are men pausing to rationally deliberate over whether this act jeopardizes their paternity in future offspring and ultimate reproductive fitness, and then becoming enraged as a consequence of this rational deliberation? The predictability and rapidity of men’s jealousy in response to cues of threats to paternity points to a specialized psychological circuit rather than a response caused by deliberative domain-general rational thought.”

    If the domain-general rationality mechanism were true, would that mean that a man should stop feeling jealous/enraged/threatened if he [rationally] realized that his female mate and this other man were engaging in protected sex (his paternity of the offspring is preserved)? That’s quite laughable. This would mean we have to act rationally when facing all sorts of events and not by instinct (which is referred to as a “specialized psychological circuit” in the paper). Since normally, a man would react by instinctively feeling enraged at finding his mate cheating on him, this must be a domain-specific module rather than an exercise of domain-general rationality. I also agree with the authors that there is not one specific criterion of this proposed mechanism.







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  12. One important idea I thought the authors were successful at integrating into their entire article is the distinction between how and why something does what it does and simply what it does. Furthermore, they consistently acknowledge that a completely integrated approach that incorporates all the contributing factors (even the seemingly unrelated ones), how these factors interact as a unit, and how they change over time is necessary to even begin solving these problems. To start, the authors highlight the connection between evolution and behavior in their background section:

    evolutionary psychologists suggest that the human mind is a complex integrated assembly of many functionally specialized psychological adaptations that evolved as solutions to numerous and qualitatively distinct adaptive problems … Psychological adaptations often interact with each other to produce adaptive behavior (page 111)

    However, in section 3 they make sure to clarify that evolution is not the only factor contributing to behavior. Environmental input plays a key role as well, and viewing them as functionally distinct is a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. Rather, these factors are deeply intertwined, so much so that one cannot exist without the other:

    All evolved mechanisms require some environmental input for their activation and Learning requires evolved psychological adaptations, housed in the brain, that enable learning to occur (page 116)

    By breaking down the notion of either nature or nurture, the authors emphasize the importance of considering how and why the system, as a whole, produces output instead of just categorizing what that output is based on predefined labels like “evolved” or “learned.” This idea of “interactionism” comes up in section 6 when they refute genetic determinism and the idea that genes directly determine behavioral output:

    Genes do not code directly for particular physiological or behavioral characteristics; rather, they code for specific proteins. (page 120)

    Again, they demonstrate that forcing these contributory factors into existing framework can limit analysis and potential theories. Genes simply code for proteins, no more, no less. They do not directly produce behavioral output. But they do contribute to it. And what's crucial here is how the expression and interactions of these proteins with each other and with all other possible considerations (like environmental input) compound together to produce a particular behavioral output. Only from a completely “interactionist” viewpoint can we begin to tackle the problem of how and why we do the things we do. The authors summarize this stance nicely in section 3:

    The key explanatory challenge is to identify the nature of the underlying learning adaptations that enable humans to change their behavior in functional ways as a consequence of particular forms of environmental input. (page 116)

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  13. “In the domain of visual perception, for example, the descent illusion hypothesis
    (Jackson & Cormack, 2007) was used to predict that people would make asymmetric distance estimations when judging from the top versus the bottom of a tall structure, owing to the dangers associated with falling from heights. Tests of the descent illusion hypothesis show that people perceive distances viewed from the top of tall structures to be 32% greater than precisely the same objective distances
    when viewed from the bottom, confirming the prediction (Jackson & Cormack, 2007).”

    I agree with this article that, like we do with other sciences, we can create hypotheses for evolutionary psychology and empirically test them. However, I have a problem with this example specifically. I think that evolutionary psychology is at a great risk when it comes to the validity of theory-driven experiments. While the results of this experiment are valuable, that we judge distances as greater from the top of a tall structure than from the bottom, this could be due to reasons other than the fear or falling from heights. Maybe this perceptual bias is due to the fact that we have more experience being below tall buildings than on top of them, so our perception gets distorted when looking down. I think that more experiments would need to be done perhaps examining whether this bias is innate at birth, or if it is a result of our experiences being on the ground below buildings.

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    1. Hi Amanda,

      I also thought that some of the examples the authors included suffered from issues regarding, as you put it, “the validity of theory-driven experiments.” It seems like the authors jump to conclusions sometimes, explaining particular trends with phenomena that are already aligned with their theories and simply ignoring other considerations. The perceptual bias experiment you mentioned is a great example of this. There are many possible factors that could contribute to this particular behavior (like the fact that we always look up at buildings rather than down), but the authors simply attribute it to a fear of heights and move on. Another example I thought was interesting is presented in section 4:

      A possible psychological example is the modern rise of sociopathic traits as a consequence of living in large cities, which lowers the reputational costs of pursuing a strategy of deception, cheating, and defection (Buss & Duntley, 2008; Mealey, 1995). (page 118)

      First, they assume that sociopathic traits are on the rise because of large cities, ignoring other possibilities like the rise in global population or an increase in the prevalence of mental illness. They also assume that the reason large cities cause a rise in sociopathic traits is because they reduce the social cost of deception, neglecting the fact that this social cost is determined on a case-by-case basis and is influenced by other factors like economic status and regional traditions.

      While large cities may certainly play a role in this trend, I think any situation that can “create new selection pressures for novel human adaptations” (page 118) will be incredibly complex, integrating multiple inputs across different paradigms instead of responding to a single selection pressure. Accordingly, evolutionary psychologists are going to need to figure out how to control for all these variables while still extracting meaningful data from their experiments; it's not as simple as jotting down some notes and then connecting the dots.

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    2. Hey guys,

      I'm on board with you when it comes to these sort of 'just-so' stories that the authors of the paper use to demonstrate the so called 'rigour' of evolutionary psychology.
      If we look at language, this paper ties in well with the Pinker and Bloom paper in which they defend the evolutionary origins of language. This paper, in a way, reflects that sentiment while demonstrating that we should be conscious when tracing back the evolutionary history of any behaviour.
      As with the examples you pointed out, and as Pinker and Bloom addressed, evolutionary psychology should take care not to look at behaviours in the present day, guess at their adaptive function, and retroactively fit them to selective pressures we imagine forged them (just-so stories). As with the height distortion, and rise in sociopathic behaviours, the origin of language is unclear and we should be careful not to wildly guess.

      Indeed the postulated origins of language (even Harnad's proposal for pantomime to proposition) relies on this sort of 'just-so' storytelling, and makes me wonder how it is possible to precisely test hypotheses such as these when we can only guess at the selective pressures that may have created them. I'm somewhat skeptical that we can look at a behaviour like language, choose a function that seems most suited to its unique characteristics, and conceptualize feasible routes natural selection could have taken to arrive at this behaviour.

      Despite their assurance, this paper leaves me more skeptical than ever about the fundamental falsifiability of evolutionary psychology hypotheses.

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  14. Like a number of people in previous posts, I remain skeptical about the arguments put forward about how evolutionary psychological hypotheses can be empirically tested or falsified.

    For example, the study which looked at ‘’adaptive memory’’, that ‘’human memory should be especially sensitive to content relative to evolutionary fitness such as survival… and reproduction’’. It was claimed the study supported this hypothesis, as it was found that item’s that had been rated in a ‘survival scenario’ were remembered better than item’s rated in other ‘scenarios’ and better than items encoded using other memory techniques.

    However, I would argue there are other explanations for these results. For example, perhaps the survival scenario just seemed more exciting than the other scenarios in the experiment, making it more salient in people’s minds and causing people to pay more attention to the task at hand. Therefore, increasing the likelihood of subsequent recall of items. This result may not indicate a domain sensitive type of memory, but merely be linked to the experimental method used.
    Perhaps humans do have an innate ability to form categories, which leads to perceived 'domain-sensitivity'. But have we really have an evolved ''specialized sensitivity to survival content'', or do we just learn, through a mixture of trial-and-error and feedback, how to weight the relative importance of aspects of our environment?

    Additionally, although it may be possible to empirically show that humans are susceptible to the ‘’descent illusion’’, ‘’auditory looming bias’’ and ‘’commitment skepticism bias’’ using experimental data, the explanations for the underlying evolutionary advantages for these observations can only ever be speculated. We can explain the easy problem of what humans do, but can we ever solve the hard problem of why? Whatever explanation is put forward, that does seem to make sense and fits the evidence, will still never be able to be definitively linked to the results. But perhaps this is problem with scientific practice in general? Can the ‘why’ explanations ever be anything more than a possible hypothesis? Humans seem to be constantly striving to make sense of the world around them, yet there seems to be no possible method of ever getting a definitive answer to the 'why' questions that we postulate about. Is evolutionary psychology attempting to provide answers for impossible questions?

    Lastly, evolutionary psychology suggests that there are 'universal' aspects of human cognition that have evolved over time. Take, for example, ''evolved fear adaptations'', such as fear of snakes. However, there are a number of people who show no fear of snakes, have they 'overcome' their innate feelings? Do they come from a line of ancestry who did not evolve in the same way? Instead, I would argue that these 'evolved fear adaptations' have become a bit of a self-fulfilling hypothesis. The more people read and hear about other people having fears of spiders and snakes, the more likely they are to build up their own fears of these animals. Also, 'modern' items which are statistically more dangerous, such as cars, have beneficial functional uses that 'outweigh' the costs. A phobia of cars would lead to huge problems in the modern world. Whereas, snake avoidance would not mean missing out on anything important.

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  15. "In ancestral times, people spent much of their day outdoors in sunshine, engaging in high-activity tasks such as hunting, gathering, building shelters, making tools, and tending to children. They lived in small tightly knit groups rather than isolated nuclear families. And their diets differed from most modern diets....This evolution-based therapy has produced a 14-week success rate of 75.3%, defined as a greater than 50% reduction in depressive symptoms, compared with a 22% success rate for a wait- list control group" (Confer 121).

    This explanation of depression is unbelievably reductionist when we think of all of the factors that go into depression and demonstrates that EP is just like the “domain general rationality” hypothesis. Here, Confer points to depression as a curable by reconciling differences between the modern and the ancestral environment. However, this is not the only EP explanation out there. For example, when we discuss personality traits, we know that negative affect and positive affect can be dissociable experiences tied differentially to extraversion and neuroticism, both heavily genetically based. So perhaps its not that there is a mismatch between the modern and ancestral environment, but perhaps an increase in the neuroticism levels of individuals relative to extraversion. Though this could be based in the environment of the developing modern world, it is flawed to focus on the mismatch as the main cause when there could be a host of other equally valid possibilities at various macro and microlevels through evolutionary psychology.

    The microlevel vs microlevel distinction is especially important with how the researchers chose those behaviours for their treatment. We know that sleep is heavily implicated with depression, but saying that it’s just a mismatch between the ancestral and modern environments leaves to many possibilities as to which factors are important to the individual at hand. Importantly, he did not discuss why the researchers of this study chose the specific behaviours for the treatment they did; how did they choose of the infinitely many differences between modern North American societies and the ancestral world the behaviours that would work? Even more alarming, evolutionary psychology is, by nature, very generalized and in trying to apply evolutionary forces to the individual. This is to the detriment of individual oriented fields like clinical psychology because it can distract us from the actual problems an individual is facing. How, for example, does evolutionary psychology account for an individual facing depression because the lack of social mobility in todays stratified society?

    I would also like to discuss the daughter guarding hypothesis. Yes, it is possible that the origin of the restraint placed among women in our society, sexually, is based in the evolutionary cost reproduction has for women and the value of their fertility. However, this dismisses the sociocultural history that has occurred on a more specific level than this macro-level selective force that has more powerfully shaped the stigmatization of female sexuality today. I think adding evolutionary psychology to the explanation of socialization would be more detrimental than helpful because it distracts from the main issues we need to solve by superficially adding what we already know. Additionally, it could even be used to evidence prejudicial views on restraining women.

    Overall, I find evolutionary psychology to be okay for discussing some of the important differences arising from intrasexual competition, but I am wary of using it more since it represents a possible distraction from core issues and it seems too much like a post hoc method of analysis.

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    1. I totally agree with your sentiments in this post. The points about depression are not very thoroughly explained and furthermore seem to play to the idea that depression wasn't really a thing for our ancestors (this is something that we can't really state as a fact since there is no concrete evidence and furthermore in our modern day societies the social stigma surrounding diagnosis of mental issues such as depression has changed drastically). I think your final remarks about female sexuality are a perfect demonstration of the dangers of evolutionary psychology as an explanation for our behaviours. Since these explanations point a spotlight on the 'innateness' of these 'traits,' it takes away from the fact that such behaviours may be an artefact of social biases rather than something that we have literally evolved to do. Especially when theories like that are exposed to the public, such social stigmas become further engrained as 'natural' because they now are given scientific legitimacy and are more likely to be viewed as something rigid and unchangeable about human nature (you'll have people arguing factually that "studies show..", "it has been scientifically proven.." without ever critically thinking about how the conclusion was reached).

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  16. I’ve read about theories of evolutionary psychology in many of my classes and I have to say (this reading included) they usually rub me the wrong way. I do think that there must be some aspects of our behaviour and psychology that are innate. For example, the fear of spiders really isn’t a learned thing – they’ve done really interesting studies with infatns that show they pay attention to shapes that are formed like a spider’s body evevn as youn as 5 months. See here: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.130.5767&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

    Just like our “innate” propensity to pay more attention to faces, I think adaptations like this must be in our genes somewhere. We can show pretty reliably that they do exist before learning and we can try to extrapolate as to why some of them might exist (ie spiders are dangerous) but we cannot know for sure. Evolutionary psychology throws guesses at the “why” factor and doesn’t even begin to answer the how factor. Thus, I find it rather useless as a field – although it is certainly entertaining.

    I could get on board with evolutionary explanations (“whys”) for simple behaviours like disliking dangerous animals or preferring certain features in a mate that would increase their reproductive success, but I think the EP extrapolates way too far in giving simple explanations for complex human behaviours. I think a lot of these theories do not take into account the learned and socialized aspects of the behaviour. We are irrevocably tired to our social environment and I don’t think that these factors can be ignored.

    To give an example, Dr. Summers, who was the president of Harvard was let go/resigned for using EP “evidence” as fact in one of his speeches. His statement, on why there are very few female professors high up in areas of math and science, centred around an EP idea that evolution can take more risks with men. According to EP, since women are the “limiting reagent” to reproduction, evolution can’t take as many risks with them and so their intelligence is kept in the middle of the normal distribution. Men on the other hand are not limiting and may benefit sexually from taking risks and so evolution allowed male intelligence to move within the tails of the normal distribution. This would mean there are more males with IQs on the low end as well as the very high end, and females stay in the average range. This view obviously fails to acknowledge the extreme social forces that are at play when it comes to women in the science as well as job promotions for women in science.

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    1. Pt2 Therefore, think EP is a sexy field and it gives explanations that would make the complexities of human behaviour seem nice and simple. Unfortunately, I can’t see it as a legitimate science, and I can’t see it as very relevant to cognitive since it cannot tell us with any sort of concrete evidence how or why things are the way they are.

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    2. I also cannot understand the falsifiability portion of the article. The examples they give seem to give evidence that these innate adaptations do exist but don’t give any evidence for EP’s “explanations” of them. Sure, we do things certain ways without learning them and can show that. But I still don’t think that the EP reasons for them are falsifiable, even though when we hear them we might say ‘well that makes sense’.

      Am I missing something about their falsifiability arguments?

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    3. “evolutionary psychologists hypothesized that men’s jealousy would be especially triggered by cues to sexual infidelity, whereas women’s jealousy would center on emotional infidelity”

      This is taken from the section of the article where the authors are responding to the “domain general rationality argument”. The authors are saying that the domain general rationality mechanism is not a reasonable alternative to evolutionary psychology because it has “failure to predict”. This means that the general rational that people wish to protect what is theirs cannot explain why men and women detect different cues to trigger relationship jealousy. The authors reasonably argue for the male mechanism stating that because of humans’ mating system (internal ovulation etc.) male’s experience paternity uncertainty which is adaptively bad, because they cannot pass along their genes to subsequent generations. This is why males attend to cues to paternity uncertainty. However, the authors breeze past the discussion of the evolutionary background to why females might attend to emotional cues to resource diversion. What is the evolutionary basis for females to attend to emotional cues in the context of relationship jealousy? Why did the authors glaze over this? Is there an evolutionary explanation for this adaptation?

      In addition, I’m not sure I understand what the combinatorial explosion is, and therefore I don’t fully grasp the response that the authors provided to explain how this does not refute evolutionary psychology and its account of various behaviours. Can anyone help me out?

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    4. Hey Ailish , was just reviewing some of the old material pre-final and saw your comment about falsifiability - I also had a big problem with this whole section!

      For kid-sib: falsifiability is the ability of a theory (a framework for explaining/predicting phenomena) to be disproved by an experiment or observation. These authors go into a bit of a rant about how EP gets a wholly unjustified reputation as a non-falsifiable, and therefore a vacuous, field of study. They go on to provide a handful of 'examples of falsifiability' from EP studies, but either I'm completely missing something, or none of the studies they provide actually involve any falsification. It seemed to me that every single example was of a study that had found supporting evidence , followed by the authors adding "but if this had been wrong it would have been falsified!!" Not very satisfactory...

      Even their example about homosexuality/kinship for which the researchers found no support is not an example of falsifiability, just of null results.

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  17. “Solutions to the adaptive problems of food selection (e.g., avoiding substances containing toxins) generally cannot be used as solutions to the adaptive problems of mate selection (e.g., avoiding those who inflict costs) or habitat selection (e.g., choosing a site containing resources and refuge). Consequently, evolutionary psychologists suggest that the human mind is a complex integrated assembly of many functionally specialized psychological adaptations that evolved as solutions to numerous and qualitatively distinct adaptive problems—a premise about adaptations shared widely by evolutionary biologists in understanding nonhuman animals (Alcock, 2005).”

    The conclusion/second sentence is difficult to disagree with. It feels right and makes sense. However I don’t think the premise/first sentence adequately supports this. In fact, I believe that all the adaptive problems, though identifiable and separate, are linked to one another in some way. The solution to the adaptive problem of food selection might not be the best or ideal one for the problem of habitat selection, but they are not indivisible. Wouldn’t it make sense to want to live in a habitat that minimizes exposure to substances containing toxins? Especially before it became common to live in big cities away from nature? For example, in an environment where there is some hypothetical dangerous herb, wouldn’t it be less risky to live away from there? If young children were also involved, I feel like you wouldn’t want them playing outside and accidentally coming into contact with whatever toxin before being old enough to identify it by themselves. All three of the examples are interlinked. A factor for mate selection might the ability to provide a resourceful/ refuge-like habitat. Another factor would be the ability of said mate to participate in avoiding substances containing toxins (or not willingly expose you to them). So a solution to habitat selection (e.g. not living in X toxic environment) might be at least a partial solution to food selection (e.g. not living in X helps avoid toxin Y easily found in area X). Everything is inter-linked and cannot be completely dissociated. The problems might not be as qualitatively distinct as the text lets on.

    Other than that, I found the article to be incredibly interesting! It touches on a lot of topics that might be sensitive, but tries to explain how they make sense from an evolutionary point of view. In the end all of it might not turn out to be correct, but it is a fascinating perspective nonetheless.

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  18. Evolutionary psychology seems to provide convincing explanations for our most primal behaviours, yet fails to encompass the complexity of all our behaviours, specifically individual differences. It rather seems that it is much more applicable to populations as a whole but cannot pinpoint boundaries between individuals. However, I don't doubt any of the cited studies which were proved certain evolutionary hypothesis to be true. In fact, I think it would be entirely impossible for humans not to have any psychological adaptations. We have many physical adaptations throughout the body due to evolution, and it wouldn't make sense not to have any adaptations in the brain.

    I'm going to attempt to link the idea of evolutionary psychology back to cognition. I suppose the question might be: is cognition a psychological adaptation? I see two answers to this. Either cognition is a 'tool' if you will, that we have always had (let's say since the beginning of the human race, not taking into account how exactly cognition (and human beings for that matter) came about in the first place), and throughout history it has been at our disposal, simply taken in different inputs and manipulating them as they came along (i.e. as the physical world itself evolved, and civilizations developed). Or cognition itself has changed, the "tool" has evolved, acquired more layers and specializations, increased ability to manipulate inputs and to acquire them, and enhanced ability to produce outputs. I'm not sure whether this is entirely misdirected thinking, or whether there is actually something to be discussed here.

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    1. just looked at the next paper (7b), turns out that's what its on.... Guess we'll see whether I was on the right track!

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  19. Just has others have previously posted, the field of evolutionary psychology leaves me with feelings of skepticism. I agree that evolutionary accounts of our psychological behaviours are grossly simplistic (sometimes over-deterministic too) and often could be sourced from social biases of the researchers creating the 'why' explanation. One section of the paper I found was well done was the section about the interplay of 'culture' and evolutionary psychology:

    "transmitted culture, if recurrent over generations, can influence the evolution of novel adaptations, which in turn can affect transmitted culture, theoretically producing adaptation–culture coevolutionary processes."

    I thought that this was an interesting, and possibly viable, point in favour of some evolutionary psychology theories because it takes into account the profound influence of social cues in our psychological behaviours. It doesn't place the 'why' of their existence upon either genetic innateness or environmental factors, but rather admits that it is a competitive interaction between the two.

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  20. This article describes the field of evolutionary psychology and highlights the advances this field of psychology can bring to understanding cognition.
    By understanding what cognitive processes human’s ancestors had, it is possible to infer what were the evolutionary changes that happened and that made these species better able to adapt to situations to which more recent ancestors were faced. This field also casts attention on the differences in cognitive characteristics between different species. This comparison of different ancestor lineages and also the comparison with other species allows to infer what changes were necessary and useful to adapt to these new situations. Better understanding the causes of evolution (ex: promote the lineage of a specie) allows to have a better understanding of these mechanisms by knowing for what reason they have evolved.
    Despite the capacity of this field in explaining many human behaviours, there are some behaviours that cannot be explained by this field. The phenomenon of suicide, for example, cannot be explained by this field. Evolutionary psychologists dwell on the fact that killing oneself at a young age does not contribute to the propagation of one’s specie. Another problem with this field is that it lacks definite knowledge about the environments and the behaviours of species that are analyzed. The only information evolutionary psychologists can rely upon when doing their studies are the archeological remains and assume the cognitive evolution of the specie based on the size its brain could have occupied.

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    1. I feel that evolutionary psychology can only provide convincing explanations for a very limited set of observed behaviours. Specifically, the arguments on sexual jealousy and phobias (snakes, heights, etc.) make sense. That being said, in my opinion evolutionary psychology theories do not hold water for all behaviours. A big problem for EP is that most categories are learned through interaction with our environment and language. Therefore, EP does not account for this domain general ability of humans. We may have evolved the capacity to learn, which subsequently allowed us to produce a wide range of behaviours (some behaviours that are distinct for certain individuals and certain cultures). The authors were not able to provide data on the evolutionary mechanisms by which the end behaviour was achieved. In this way, these “just-so stories” are not convincing. Even more, there are many traits that seem to be adaptively neutral.

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  21. Initially it was unclear as to how evolutionary psychology related to consciousness as it was being discussed in this class. I believed evolutionary psychology provided an explanation of why a particular (slightly animalistic) behavior was present among humans. Examples that came to mind were of a nursing mothers’ milk dropping when hearing a crying baby, or tendencies for men to like certain physical characteristics of women for evolutionary purposes and vis versa. Fortunately, in reading this article, I realized my initial viewpoint of what evolutionary psychology entailed was the not how cognition and behavior evolved in response from environmental pressures, but evolutionary physiology that occurred between two or more persons. Before delving into the article, I am grateful for that clarification.

    It is an interesting notion to identify how the evolutionary purpose of a system can help decipher its functionality, especially whether an ability is an adaptation, or simply a by-product or noise. The genetic relatedness is a particularly good example in identifying how certain specialized psychological circuits must be evolutionarily ingrained for adaptive purposes, and how incorporating the ability to learn is a brilliant way to maximize the adaptable behaviors that can be engrained into a human in a tight space ie the genome.
    It is well known that familiarity breeds liking. Often people become closest with those that they are with most often. A good measure of who will become friends in university is whomever are on your floor in first year residence. Additionally, one of the best predictors of who someone will marry is whether they work together. The latter contains other reasons for why those relationships develop such as similar values or education, but the reason that they have a relationship with someone down the hall as opposed to someone in the next building is due to proximity. If proximity breeds familiarity, which breeds liking, it would be reasonable to assume incest would be rampant in a community. However, due to the problems with inbreeding depression, it is protective of a species survival to have co-residence during childhood reduce sexual attraction to that person to the point of repulsion. The paradoxical nature whereby individuals that spend the most time together but are related are repulsed by the idea of a sexual relationship, but individuals who spend a lot of time together but are related are disproportionately more likely to be drawn into sexual relationships shows this evolutionarily engrained behavior.

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  22. I had some comments regarding this article. Firstly, the article mentions the idea of heights and how they are avoided by humans. I found this to be fascinating because I enjoy heights and have even been on several intense hiking trips. Therefore, does evolutionary psychology play a role in explaining why some people enjoy these thrill seeking, adrenaline driven activities? I am aware that article mentions that suicide cannot be thought of as a form of evolutionary psychology, however I am curious about its thoughts on extreme sports such as cliff jumping where death is still a possibility. From an evolutionary perspective, the possibility of death would make someone want to not participate; however I could imagine that there are many people out there who do it for the thrill. Therefore, it seems that evolutionary psychology kind of pertains to the self serving bias where it chooses to explain certain phenomenon that support it and fails to explain the aspects that do not.

    Moreover, the article states "Although dozens of studies had been conducted on romantic jealousy, it was not until evolutionary psychologists hypothesized sex differences in evolved design features that such differences were discovered.”

    The fact that the “discovery” of biological differences of romance had to wait for evolutionary psychologists sounds very obscene and unrealistic. It seems like this article does not specify a clear causal relationship. it seems like the reasoning is very arbitrary and follows a pattern of infinite regression/ circularity.

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  23. I found this reading to be particularly vague and ambiguous in its claims. I will outline a few problems that I’ve had reading through this article.

    “Genetic determinism is the view that genes determine phenotypes, such as morphology, psychology, or behavior, with little or no environmental influence. Evolutionary psychology forcefully rejects a genetic determinism stance and instead is organized around a crisply formulated interactionist framework that invokes the role of the environment at every step of the causal process.”
    Evolution is the passing down of genetic features. So how can evolutionary psychology forcefully reject a genetic determinism stance? At most, it can accept certain features and reject others. The basis of the “crisply formulated interactionist framework” is that there is no need for a genetic explanation because the interactionist perspective explains the important how question about human behavior. However, earlier in the paper, the authors discuss the importance of the ultimate explanation, which answers the “evolved function of a psychological mechanism or why it exists” as a complementary to the proximate explanation, which answers the how the mechanism works. Thus, how can the authors fully reject a stance that provides explanations of why certain human behaviors exist? By their logic, evolutionary psychology offers an incomplete explanation of human behaviors.

    Furthermore, where does this framework fall in the nature vs. nurture spectrum? It rejects nature and leans more towards nurture, but as the title of the field suggests, shouldn’t evolutionary psychology have a focus on genetics?

    The authors equate human behavior to cognition, ranging from certain emotional values to behavioral responses. An important drawback of this paper is that there is no attempt to address the phenomenon of feeling itself, either with the interactionist framework or otherwise.

    Overall, this paper presents the evolutionary psychology as a potential explanation for all human behaviors and simplifies human behaviors to be driven by adaptation and genetics, which have been passed on through evolution. While this is an intuitively reasonable claim, according to this paper, humans are but organisms blindly following evolutionary traits, with the capacity to adapt to certain environments with genetic changes (which aren’t important according to the authors), and we would like to think that we have more control over our behaviors.
    This paper draws conclusion from various studies on human behaviors of certain saliency and attributes them to the evolutionary psychology framework without mention of societo-cultural factors, which de facto contributes to how and why we act in the way we do.

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  24. I find it difficult to believe the ‘daughter guardian hypothesis’ because the supporting evidence that the authors offered is weak. To summarize the hypothesis; parents sexually constraint their daughters more than they do their sons. This is for three reasons, (1) to protect the sexual reputation of their daughters', (2) to protect their daughter’s ‘mate value’ and (3) to protect their daughter’s from sexual exploitation.

    The supporting evidence chosen by the authors confused me. The authors explained that parents are more likely to control their daughter’s mate choice than their son’s mate choice, daughters were taught to be sexually restrained compared to sons as well as parents reported more 'emotional upset’ by daughter’s sexual activity than son’s.

    I agree with the three evolutionary reasons stated in the hypothesis, however I think the supporting evidence should be revisited. I do believe that the supporting evidence is very true, however I don’t think that it should be used to back up the hypothesis. If both woman and men think that female sexuality is taboo while their male sexuality is not, as a result, woman might feel that they are not entitled to their own decisions, while their brother’s are. Even worse, parents might take this paper as instructions on how to ‘normally’ raise their children. Even though this is a natural parents behaviour, it doesn’t mean that it is the correct one. In keeping with this mind set, society would move farther away from equality of the sexes.

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  25. The authors point to how the domain-general claims usually rely upon the information generated from domain-specific research. So the general-people can’t come up with any data, so they pretty much steal data from specific-people, in order to create more claims that won’t come up with any data. I get the sense the authors of this paper kind of have a pet-peeve with arm-chair philosophizing, most likely because of how much time the authors spent their lives obtaining certification, funding, approval, whatever… for their empirical studies.

    The other aspect about this domain-general versus domain-specific debate is how the domain-general people seem to be conflating the cognitive with the conscious. When the domain-general people start bringing up “rationality” I think they’re making quite a jump. To say that evolutionary mechanisms operate at the conscious level is not the best understanding of evolutionary psychology. I don’t think a peacock designs its feather design like a painter designs a canvas. I don’t think a man “rationally” chooses to become swept with anger at the sight of an instance of his partner’s infidelity. The domain-general people seem to take the unconscious evolutionary mechanisms that are studied in the lab to the level of conscious everyday decisions. I think the only reason domain-general evolutionary claims are supported by some psychologists is because the claims can’t be empirically disproven. Domain-general hypotheses operate comfortably in the realm of faith, it seems to me. I think the authors support the claims of a ontogenetically determined domain-specific mechanisms.

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  26. I just had a question I wanted to address. If we are attempting to find a solution for cognition and further understand it, doesn’t it seem like focusing on evolutionary psychology and culture would be deterring from the core roots of cognition? Perhaps then do we have to understand what cognition is not to understand what it is? It kind of seems like studying them is not focusing on the core aspects underlying cognition.

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