How WEIRD Is Evolutionary Psychology?


For some reason, over the weekend, Jerry Coyne asked Steven Pinker to discuss some brief blog comments for publication and Pinker did. The blog comments in question were dropped by a busy and sleep-deprived PZ in response to someone jumping on an even more brief description of the evolutionary psychology panel that I moderated at CONvergence/SkepchickCon.

Rather than listen to the audio of the panel–which is difficult, yes–Coyne decided it was best to take PZ’s informal summary to Pinker. The results…well, the results make me very happy both that we structured the panel the way we did and that it was recorded for posterity.

There’s really not much point in discussing most of what Coyne and Pinker have to say before the video for the panel comes out–probably not until it’s been transcribed. What we had to say already addresses many of their objections. So those can wait rather than us doing additional work.

There is one statement of Pinker’s I wanted to touch on now, however.

M [continuation of previous sentence]:. . . and never actually look at genes and for that matter, ignore most human diversity to focus on a naive typological simplicity that allows them to use undergraduate psych majors at Western universities as proxies for all of humanity”

P: It’s psychologists, not evolutionary psychologists, who focus on Western undergrads –field research and citations of anthropology are vastly more common in ev psych than in non-ev-psych. PZ is engaging in prosecution here, not analysis – he’s clearly ignorant of the sociology of the fields.

As for diversity – is he arguing for genetic differences among human groups, a la Herrnstein & Murray?

No, he’s not, which is one of the reasons it might have been better to wait to comment until after viewing the panel.

As for Pinker’s argument here, I’m underwhelmed at best. First of all, even before critiques of cultural insularity were a big thing in the general population, I was taking classes in college on developmental psychology from conception to death in old age, as well as classes in non-normative psychology. I won’t tell you that the educated American white guy wasn’t the standard against which everything else was measured, but psychology was looking well beyond college students. Additionally, the critiques about how well results could generalize were already coming from within psychology, as my methods class demonstrated well. My senior research project involved replicating a study that had been done on a university population (not just students) in the general public.

Secondly, even if psychology in general were worse than evolutionary psychology in this measure (it probably is on citing anthropology; I wouldn’t know where to start for meaningful comparative data on field research, but there is quite a lot of it in psychology), that is not a scientific defense. It could be a tu quoque, except that none of us criticized evolutionary psychology by suggesting we like vanilla psychology better. In fact, PZ was comparing evolutionary psychology to evolutionary biology.

In any case, problems in psychology research do nothing to excuse problems in evolutionary psychology research. If you want to make a scientific defense of evolutionary psychology along those lines, you need to explain why these practices don’t prevent us from relying on research outcomes. A scientific defense of heavy use of Western college students would be that these studies are essentially pilot studies, that they inexpensively weed out negative results, and positive results prompt more expensive field work in other, very different populations. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be true.

No, I’m not just relying on my personal impressions for this. After seeing Pinker’s response here. I decided to look at the evolutionary psychology literature as represented by its eponymous journal Evolutionary Psychology. I chose it because it is open access. I was able to read beyond the abstracts for every article to determine how samples were drawn. This is also the one journal I know of that limits itself to evolutionary psychology instead of including things like behavioral ecology or more general anthropology. That meant I didn’t have to code for type of research being presented in each study.

I started with the 2013 issue. Then, concerned that publication cycles might make me miss an issue in their favor, rich with studies done in non-WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) populations, I kept going through all of 2012. I ended up with 105 articles. Of those, 61 were studies. The remainder were mostly book reviews and literature reviews. I excluded one study, as it involved computer modeling, leaving me with 60 studies.

How many of these studies were done only using college students? More than half. In 33 studies, the population whose preferences were used as a proxy for human universals was a population of college students. Another six studies used a combination of college students and other populations. One of these additional study populations was young, educated Israeli adults. Two were populations from around the university attended by the student populations.

Other university town populations were used on their own, without student populations, but many of the studies that did not use college students could not. Studies of blind dates, cyclists, criminals, pregnant women, sleep deprivation, parents of premature babies, younger children, soccer referees, musicians, and severely disabled people all drew from specialized populations.

More striking than the use of college students, however, was the geographic restriction on the populations used. Out of 60 studies, 51 drew their samples entirely from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The exceptions were (mostly students) from Japan, Singapore, China, Israel, World Cup countries, St. Kitts, Mexico, historical records from around the world, and an international sample drawn from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. While not all the samples were “Western” (in the odd, non-directional meaning that word has accrued), only those last four–7% of the total–were distinctly non-WEIRD.

Maybe Evolutionary Psychology has a particular bias in this respect and the evolutionary psychology research that’s published in journals with broader missions fills in the gaps. I don’t know. If someone wants to fund a study for me, I’ll be happy to look into it.

In the meantime, however, I’m still quite comfortable saying that the use of college students and WEIRD study populations is a major problem for evolutionary psychology. I’m even comfortable saying that–to the extent that evolutionary psychology concerns itself with human universals–it’s more of a problem for evolutionary psychology than it is for everyday psychology. Psychology of the standard variety is often quite happy to present its results as belonging to a particular milieu.

Evolutionary psychology is not. This means that evolutionary psychology has additional tests to do to support or falsify its fundamentals. As long as the vast majority of research in evolutionary psychology is done in these groups, evolutionary psychology is failing to put those fundamentals to the test.

And all the cries of “prosecution” in the world won’t change that fact.

Comments

  1. says

    Helpful, indeed. Thanks! Was that last sentence meant to say: “And all the cries of ‘persecution’ in the world won’t change that fact.”? I don’t think “prosecution” is the right word there.

    The people I’m dealing with–and many commenters in the thread over at Whyevolutionistrue.com–are assuming that feminists are avoiding sound scientific evolutionary psychology because of the fear it is or could be overturning pet feminist ideas. That’s some allegation… They seem to think this is the position of Jerry Coyne and Steven Pinker. I have no reason to think it is.

  2. says

    The prosecution claim was Pinker’s. He seems to think, without having seen the panel, that all we did was mount a case against evo psych.

    As for evo psych, it can’t overturn anything unless it manages to give it a decent test.

  3. ChasCPeterson says

    Myers posted comments that ostensibly summarized what he said in the panel discussion. Why should those be ignored until a full panel transcript is available? Because Laden said some shit too?

    In fact, PZ was comparing evolutionary psychology to evolutionary biology.

    Bullshit. He was prosecuting. People who study the behavioral ecology of non-humans are almost always studying a single population of lizards, fish, or insects or whatever. Dr. Evo-Devo himself studies a single “model” laboratory fish species. My point: samples of convenience are unavoidable in science generally. Including evolutionary biology. It’s an issue of logistics more than anything else. Maybe you think you could do better?

    things like behavioral ecology or more general anthropology

    What do you think “behavioral ecology” is? It’s basically the evolutionary psychology of non-humans.

  4. says

    Myers posted comments that ostensibly summarized what he said in the panel discussion. Why should those be ignored until a full panel transcript is available? Because Laden said some shit too?

    Maybe because people who don’t persist in reflexively defending evo psych like to have their facts on hand? Just a thought.

  5. ChasCPeterson says

    He seems to think, without having seen the panel, that all we did was mount a case against evo psych.

    The fuck? He wasn’t asked to comment on the entire panel. Myers mounted a case against EP, according to Myers.

  6. says

    Maybe you think you could do better?

    Here’s the thing, asshole, before you go away because you haven’t been welcome at this blog from day one: I don’t have to do better. I’m not making those claims about how the world works. The people who are making those claims have to do better.

    And you know that. You argue that.

    Except when it comes to evo psych. Then you get all hand-wavy and irrelevant. (No, it doesn’t matter how like evo psych behavioral ecology is if my point is that I’m limiting my study to evo psych.) Then you ignore all the relevant criticism that you’ve seen. Then you–not I–relax your scientific criteria.

    In other words, then you get more useless than usual. You might want to spend some time thinking about why that is.

  7. joda says

    People who study the behavioral ecology of non-humans are almost always studying a single population of lizards, fish, or insects or whatever. Dr. Evo-Devo himself studies a single “model” laboratory fish species. My point: samples of convenience are unavoidable in science generally. Including evolutionary biology.

    Delurking, because that is just too obtuse. Good grief.

    Yes, a single evo biology researcher will typically limit themselves to a single model species. The entire field of evo biology doesn’t limit itself to a single species.

    For example, here is phylogeny of a single protein family that uses thirty-three species from across the eukaryote domain: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0e/MyosinUnrootedTree.jpg

    Do you still want to defend evo devo’s sampling methods compared to overall evolutionary biology?

  8. says

    It’s not a single model species, it’s a single *population*. Which could be like studying canine behaviour by examining only the poodles of Cannes.

    Granted, ecologists do that too, but usually they’re studying species that are rather less variable in breed than dogs. And the range is explicitly noted as a parameter of the study.

    (Whether humans are more or less varied in behaviour than dogs is left as an exercise for the reader.)

  9. joda says

    Do you still want to defend evo devo’s sampling methods compared to overall evolutionary biology?

    Ugh, I just realized that I said evo devo when I meant evo psych. *self-imposed facepalm*

  10. thetarr says

    Stephanie, I’m assuming you have banned ChasCPeterson for disagreeing with you. Why are you so thin skinned when it comes to disagreement about Myers, Laden, Watson etc?

  11. says

    Well, that’s what you get for making assumptions. No, I banned him because he’s been a tedious, tendentious asshole for years, formerly as Sven Di Milo. I thought I did it the first time he showed up under this new ‘nym, but I was apparently wrong.

    Now, did you have anything to say that’s on topic?

  12. great1american1satan says

    Anyone remember who did that weird pornographic evo psych webpage that was image after image of monkey butts juxtaposed with female human T&A? That was more self-revelatory than a flasher in the park.

  13. daniellavine says

    Chas Peterson is apparently incapable of critical thinking when it comes to evo psych. Just check out the tone on his initial comment on the thread — he gets furious when anyone dares to criticize not just the field of evo psych but even particular studies that are rather clearly flawed. This despite being the first to point out that skepticism is necessary for progress in any scientific field.

    One might almost take that for an admission that evo psych isn’t actually a scientific field.

  14. says

    Chas Peterson is apparently incapable of critical thinking when it comes to evo psych

    The most important test of critical thinking is whether one can still do it when it’s our own ox getting gored. (what a bizzare expression!)

  15. says

    The problem with criticism of reliance of WEIRD in relation with Evolutionary Psychology, is that if you pretend to be logically consistent, you must throw out many of the conclusions of Psychology and its sub-disciplines including behavioral psychology which have yielded conclusions that a reproducible when the studies are performed outside WEIRD populations and highly predictable.
    Checking the Evolutionary Psychology journal for a whole year is commendable but it proves nothing, in fact in may hurt your case. If this is one of the prime journals on the field, it will only have the most recent and novel research exploratory research, therefore, most of the population will be WEIRD and no cross cultural studies done in the near horizon. One more thing, sometimes the use of WEIRD is not as important as the controls used in the experiments to prevent bias. You did not have time to check >100 papers published in a year in EvPsy since that rebuttal came out, I don’t think this response and the parameters you focused on, helps your case against the field at all.

  16. says

    probably not until it’s been transcribed

    is this already set up to happen, or are volunteers needed to transcribe the CONvergence videos?

  17. says

    People who study the behavioral ecology of non-humans are almost always studying a single population of lizards, fish, or insects or whatever

    and if people studying evo psych each focused on their own model population, instead of all insisting on studying the same one, that particular problem would in fact not be a problem.
    and that’s entirely aside from the part where human behavioral variation between populations is greater than in many other species (and the more we learn about non-WEIRD people, the more this appears to be true even for shit we thought was universal); animals with culture are qualitatively different than animals without; and quantitatively different from those with little culture. How is that not rather obvious?

  18. daniellavine says

    axelblaster@16:

    The problem with criticism of reliance of WEIRD in relation with Evolutionary Psychology, is that if you pretend to be logically consistent, you must throw out many of the conclusions of Psychology and its sub-disciplines including behavioral psychology which have yielded conclusions that a reproducible when the studies are performed outside WEIRD populations and highly predictable.

    1. This doesn’t actually follow. One need not throw out findings which have been confirmed in cross-cultural studies. One should still be skeptical of findings which have not been confirmed in cross-cultural studies.
    2. Presumably psychological studies that use samples from WEIRD populations are still relevant with respect to the psychology of WEIRD populations; as long as one includes that caveat in referencing the studies in question I’m not seeing the problem.
    3. The WEIRD criticism was introduced in (non-evo) psych so I’m not sure why you’re assuming people aren’t already applying the criticism to the field in which it was introduced in the first place.
    4. Please provide examples of the results that predicted results in non-WEIRD population and were “highly predictable”, preferably with citations of the relevant studies.

    Checking the Evolutionary Psychology journal for a whole year is commendable but it proves nothing, in fact in may hurt your case. If this is one of the prime journals on the field, it will only have the most recent and novel research exploratory research, therefore, most of the population will be WEIRD and no cross cultural studies done in the near horizon.

    1.There is no possible way this observation would “hurt [Zvan’s] case”. The only thing to do that would be evidence to the contrary, such as say a metanalysis that demonstrated that evo psych research routinely studies behavior in non-WEIRD populations.
    2. I think your premise here is incorrect. For example, a cross-cultural study that falsifies previous work in evo psych that was found only within WEIRD populations would, I think, be the sort of exciting result that would end up in a journal like “Evolutionary Psychology.”

    You did not have time to check >100 papers published in a year in EvPsy since that rebuttal came out, I don’t think this response and the parameters you focused on, helps your case against the field at all.

    Unless you have found the time to check all those papers I don’t see how what you think does anything to help your case for evo psych. Why do you think what you think? Is there an evidential basis for it? If so, share that and I’m much more likely to be convinced.

  19. ibbica says

    You did not have time to check >100 papers published in a year in EvPsy since that rebuttal came out, I don’t think this response and the parameters you focused on, helps your case against the field at all.

    Um… the OP actually includes this statement which you seem to have missed:

    Maybe Evolutionary Psychology has a particular bias in this respect and the evolutionary psychology research that’s published in journals with broader missions fills in the gaps. I don’t know. If someone wants to fund a study for me, I’ll be happy to look into it.

    Sigh. No-one reads caveats anymore…

    So (echoing daniellavine): Any counterevidence of your own to offer?

  20. says

    if you pretend to be logically consistent, you must throw out many of the conclusions of Psychology and its sub-disciplines including behavioral psychology which have yielded conclusions that a reproducible when the studies are performed outside WEIRD populations and highly predictable.

    No, it means you express skepticism about those findings until they’re replicated with larger and more generally representative populations, and limit the scope of the claims made on the basis of such findings.

  21. ibbica says

    One more thing, sometimes the use of WEIRD is not as important as the controls used in the experiments to prevent bias.

    Hold on a tic. If you don’t mind me asking: to what controls and biases are you referring here, specifically?
    Using WEIRD subjects would in no way ensure unbiased results along any axis along which the subject pool is not explicitly balanced, because it does not consider non-WEIRD people. Evo Psych as a field of study is an attempt to explain present human behaviour in terms of the reproductive success of (alleles of) humans from the distant past – i.e. entirely non-WEIRD people (“proto-people”? depending on how far into the past you’re trying to go, I suppose). So exactly which biases are so important that they negate the problems with using a nearly-exclusively WEIRD population of subjects to determine the non-WEIRD origins of human behaviour across our entire (sub*)species?

    (*Depending on your classification preference of “modern human” as “Homo sapiens sapiens” or “Homo sapiens”. Phylogenetics is hard, yo.)

  22. says

    Ok, brief this time. Evolutionary Psychology has concepts that have been replicated outside WEIRD and demonstrated false when compared to other non-WEIRD populations, sometimes compared across different species. As robust as other less controversial sub-disciplines in Psychology.
    A better approach would have been for Stephanie to pick on a sub-set of concepts in Evolutionary Psychology a assets how they panned out. Useful in this approach: a review article or text book, not a year’s worth of a single Journals publications.
    Why? Apples-Oranges, Forest-Trees, Sturgeon’s Law.

  23. Al Dente says

    My layperson’s understanding is that evo-psych claims humanids evolved certain traits which enabled them to survive in the savannah. So shouldn’t the evo-psych people be studying present day savannah inhabitants and then compare them to other groups, including WIERD, to see which traits appear universal among humans? Or is that too simplistic?

  24. says

    Silentbob, thank you. I was sure I’d put that in.

    axelblaster, in what way would doing something completely different than responding to Pinker’s complaint be a better way to respond to Pinker’s complaint? Also, people have asked you questions and responded to your assertions. Interact with those.

  25. Ichthyic says

    Bullshit. He was prosecuting. People who study the behavioral ecology of non-humans are almost always studying a single population of lizards, fish, or insects or whatever

    this is a point that has been raised many times, when sample size issues within standard psychology research is raised.

    It’s exactly why we strive in behavioral ecology to replicate experiments across different populations. My knowledge of the pych literature is dated at this point, but I had pychologists on my advisory committee, even when I was a grad student at Berkeley, who most certainly did not limit their populations to the students on the UCB campus.

    Chas is right on target here, in that the attacks on BOTH psychology and evo pysch tend more to resemble the old attacks on sociobiology. More political than scientific.

    The basic premise of evolutionary biology is the same, regardless of what field you decide to look at it in, and the very concept that behavior is heritable is hardly debatable.

    So, I would appreciate it myself, and I’m sure Coyne and Pinker would too, if the attacks on evo psych would focus on simply encouraging better designed studies, than rejecting the entire premise of it, which I have seen all too much of.

    Stressing here, that I am not saying there is nothing worth criticizing, but a the critiques of evo psych that so resemble the critiques of sociobiology in the 70s, the common ones that attempt to entirely discredit the very concept of the field simply because of the political implications of it, or because someone specifically has played “Spandrels” too much, is not productive.

  26. Ichthyic says

    unless, of course, as Chas implies… you want to discard the entire premise of the evolution of behavior itself.

  27. says

    Hey, Ichthyic, it’s not like this hasn’t come up before, and that question hasn’t been asked before, and that question hasn’t been answered before. Asking it over again as though you hadn’t been answered last time is not exactly an honest move.

    As for the rest, simply talking about better practices in behavioral ecology than I’ve documented here in evo psych and then saying that somehow that means we should all be nicer to evo psych is pointless and absurd. These criticisms and others have been made of evo psych (and sociobiology before that) for decades. Evo psych has had the example of behavior ecology to pattern itself after for ages. When the field of evo psych as a whole does not make a push to reform, that is worthy of observation and of criticism.

  28. gemcutter says

    There is one overarching problem with the vast majority of evolutionary psychology, as a field. It’s simply that there’s no way to reasonably conclude that the vast majority of behavior that they study is adaptive or influenced by evolution at all. A lot of pop evo-psych claims don’t even seem to include the possibility of cultural influence as a cause of behavior, when it needs to be their default null-hypothesis.

    There’s so much evo-psych stuff out there that just doesn’t pass the bar of proving that the behavior they are studying isn’t produced by culture and socialization. They just study a behavior, assert that it’s adaptive, and make up some kind of plausible-sounding story for how it might have been adaptive.

    There may be some good evo-psych out there, but it certainly isn’t the type that makes headlines.

    So studying WEIRD populations and noticing behavior patterns among them may bring interesting psychological observations, but you can’t say ANYTHING about ‘evolutionary psychology’ from these sorts of studies. How do you reject the null hypothesis of culturally-induced behavioral differences in studies like this? Hell, you couldn’t even strictly claim that these sorts of studies apply to the general population of humans in the country they apply in, due to weirdness of the selection, MUCH LESS all humans as an adaptive trait.

    It’s stuff like this that makes Evo-psych so suspect.

  29. Ichthyic says

    simply talking about better practices in behavioral ecology than I’ve documented here in evo psych and then saying that somehow that means we should all be nicer to evo psych is pointless and absurd.

    so are the continual strawman arguments I keep seeing put forward here, by people who aren’t in the fields, do not do research, and apparently have no concept of the history of what happened to those “criticisms” of sociobiology of old.

  30. says

    Ichthyic:

    So, I would appreciate it myself, and I’m sure Coyne and Pinker would too, if the attacks on evo psych would focus on simply encouraging better designed studies, than rejecting the entire premise of it, which I have seen all too much of.

    Really? Where? All I see are people pointing out that the field of evo-psych is systematically flawed; i.e. they keep making the same mistakes over and over to the point where it almost looks like the mistakes are by design. What this means is that we think that regardless of the premise the research is being done wrong, and worse yet it’s being done wrong in ways that have been identified, and that have already been corrected when encountered in similar fields.

    We’re also noting that evo-psych appears to be disproportionately used in the same tobacco-science directions as shit like The Bell Curve, i.e. that it’s being used to “scientifically” justify systems of oppression, which may contribute to the systematic flaws in evo-psych research.

    so are the continual strawman arguments I keep seeing put forward here,

    You mean yours?

  31. Dan L. says

    axelblaster@24:

    Your assertions are meaningless. If you could cite some of the literature you would be more convincing as I already said. As it is I’ll feel free to ignore you.

  32. Dan L. says

    Icthyic@28:

    The basic premise of evolutionary biology is the same, regardless of what field you decide to look at it in, and the very concept that behavior is heritable is hardly debatable.

    Simply not true. For example, I’ve heard evolutionary biologists concede that some features of organisms are not adaptive but rather follow on, e.g. the concept of a “spandrel.”

    Can you cite for me some evo psych research admitting that a particular “trait” being studied might in fact be a spandrel rather than an adaptation?

  33. smhll says

    There may be some good evo-psych out there, but it certainly isn’t the type that makes headlines.

    This may be due to a problem of biases among journalists. This could be a bigger deal than the problem of biases among scientists. (But, based only on reading shoddy journalism and some good blogging, it does appear that some evo psych researchers may be in love with their own story narrative to an unfortunate degree.)

  34. Anthony K says

    This may be due to a problem of biases among journalists.

    Biases, or inherited behaviours that evolved on the African Savannah?

  35. R Johnston says

    @28 Ichthyic

    The basic premise of evolutionary biology is the same, regardless of what field you decide to look at it in, and the very concept that behavior is heritable is hardly debatable.

    No. The fundamental problem with evo psych is precisely that humans have evolved to be intelligent, adaptable creatures. Humans with the power to do so routinely willfully create and enforce cultural norms, and humans are capable of conforming their behaviors and thought patterns to an extremely wide variety of cultural norms. There is simply no substantial heritability when it comes to the vast majority–if not all–of complex social interactive behavior, nor is there any legitimate dispute on this point.

    Evo psych rejects the notion that humans are intelligent, sentient, willful beings capable of an extremely broad range of behaviors and desires. It is a faith based rejection of reality, an effort to grossly oversimplify a complex world in a way that can be understood by simpletons regardless of whether there is any truth to it. Evo psych is religion, pure and simple, no less so than islam or christianity.

  36. Dan L. says

    R Johnston@39:

    I wouldn’t go nearly that far. Evo psych is based on a pretty well-supported premise: that the mind is evolved.

    I’d say the problem with evo psych really has more to do with insufficient skepticism of claims that are based on a view of human nature that can’t help but be partially based in cultural biases and a tendency to dismiss all criticism of evo psych as ideologically motivated when a fair amount of it is principled and justified.

    The evolutionary foundations of human behavior are worth studying but such research demands a degree of skepticism inversely proportional to the evidence at hand for evo psych hypotheses — which is usually not very much evidence at all.

  37. R Johnston says

    @40

    Well, there’s evo psych in theory and evo psych in actual practice. In theory you could have an evo psych that makes and tests claims about how evolution affects behavior. The claims would be highly limited, precisely because humans have evolved in a way that allows them to exhibit and choose among a fantastically broad range of behavior so that specific non-reflexive behaviors of any degree of complexity can pretty much never be shown to have been selected for. So, for example, a legit evo psych might give rise to a claim that human evolution has selected for a moderately strong to strong sex drive with a tendency in the general population towards some degree of heterosexual behavior, but wouldn’t give rise to any claims at all about whether monogamy is selected for, whether exclusive heterosexuality is selected for, whether men and women have had different degrees of heterosexuality/monogamy selected for, etc. A legit evo psych would note that we’ve evolved to be able to consider sex a social activity separate from procreative function and exercise of the libido, and would make no claims about the specifics of how sex is used as a social activity.

    A legit evo psych would have very few interesting claims to make. Humans as a matter of course adapt both their behavior to their social environment and their social environments to their preferred behaviors. When you get beyond evolutionarily selected physical necessity (i.e. breathing, eating) and physically limitations (the inability to run faster than a speeding bullet, etc) there simply aren’t going to be many complex or interesting behaviors left that are selected for or against.

  38. says

    . A legit evo psych would note that we’ve evolved to be able to consider sex a social activity separate from procreative function and exercise of the libido, and would make no claims about the specifics of how sex is used as a social activity.

    Something I’d really like to know about our pasts is how and when different populations came to realize that sex and pregnancy/babies are connected. But that’s a tangent and probably in the realm of “we’ll never know”.

    And yes, something that’s complicated is controls: How do you show that the null hypothesis “it’s culture” isn’t the case unless you do large, cross cultural studies. Does one culture weher it isn’t the case set everything back?

  39. L says

    So you picked a sample of convenience to support the notion that evolutionary psychology uses samples of convenience?

    Less snarky, the journal Evolutionary Psychology is a relatively low impact journal of recent vintage which is not considered the premier journal in the discipline, which is Evolution & Human Behavior which was even called Ethology and Sociobiology until 1996. Moreover, top papers from evolutionary psychologists are typically not published in niche journals and are instead published by premier psychology and general science journals like Nature, Brain and Behavioral Sciences, and Psychological Science. As far as evidence goes for that claim, scan through the publication lists of top evolutionary psychologists like Martin Daly, Tooby and Cosmides and David Buss.

    If you’d like to do a serious look at the WEIRDness of psychology in general and evolutionary psychology specifically, I’d be willing to collaborate. You can contact me via email if you’re interested. IMO the right comparison would be matched pairs of EP vs. Non-EP journals by their impact factor combined with a within journal comparison of the premier psychology journals of EP article vs. Non-EP article. The later one will be more difficult to gain sufficient power but most certainly required since top EP articles will not be ‘wasted’ on low prestige journals.

  40. shari says

    @42 – Gilliel – maybe about the time that more progeny = asset, as opposed to more progeny = ‘oh crap. another mouth to feed’

    ……….

    ;-)

    Or, when the first woman stood up and said “This (pointing to belly) never happened to Me until YOU did THAT!!”

    just a guess, mind…..

  41. says

    Oh, hey, L, PZ just reminded me that I had an unanswered comment on here from when I was sleeping all the time.

    As I noted in the post, a convenience sample is a good place to start looking. It’s not the best place to stop. Looking at the top names is a good idea. Have you done it?

    As I also noted in the post, comparisons to other types of psychology studies aren’t the best idea for a field like evo psych. I’d be much more interested in comparisons to anthropology. Bio anth would probably make the most sense. I would still need a grant or someone’s educational access to journals. That isn’t something I have.

  42. Lucian1748 says

    “Maybe Evolutionary Psychology has a particular bias in this respect and the evolutionary psychology research that’s published in journals with broader missions fills in the gaps. I don’t know. If someone wants to fund a study for me, I’ll be happy to look into it.”

    You’re on to something with that last line. The reason why more evolutionary psychology studies don’t extend beyond WEIRD samples is a lack of funding. I’m sure most evolutionary psychologists would love to take off on a private jet to the Amazon whenever they formulate a new hypothesis, but this just isn’t realistic. You’re also looking at the wrong journal. Evolutionary Psychology is (with all due respect) a lower-tier, open-access journal (IF: 1.7). Top evolutionary psychologists, that is, those who are able to secure funding for cross-cultural studies, will have their work published in Evolution and Human Behavior (IF: 4.0) or in psychology or biology journals with a wider purview. For instance, David Buss, whose name you might have heard, wrote an article for Behavioral and Brain Sciences (IF: 25, as of 2011) in 1989 entitled “Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures.” You can read it here:

    http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/group/busslab/pdffiles/SexDifferencesinHuman.PDF

    Another scholar often associated with evolutionary psychology, the anthropologist Donald Brown, wrote a magisterial book in 1991 called “Human Universals” ($119 on Amazon! Yikes!– but a good read if you can find it), which scoured the ethnographical literature for features which have been present in every or virtually every society throughout human history. Evolutionary psychologists have in fact been leaders in cross-cultural research, which Pinker well knows and which would-be critics of evolutionary psychology ought to know, too.

    “that feminists are avoiding sound scientific evolutionary psychology because of the fear it is or could be overturning pet feminist ideas. That’s some allegation… They seem to think this is the position of Jerry Coyne and Steven Pinker. I have no reason to think it is.”

    I suggest you read Pinker’s The Blank Slate, then. Evolutionary psychology is not incompatible with feminism, but it is incompatible with certain varieties of feminism, including all those which hold that there are no innate psychological differences between men and women. There are. But right and wrong do not depend in any way on the assumption that every human being was born exactly identical. The philosopher Peter Singer, whose liberal bona fides, I hope, are beyond question, has written very eloquently on this subject, in his Practical Ethics and The Darwinian Left.

    “They just study a behavior, assert that it’s adaptive, and make up some kind of plausible-sounding story for how it might have been adaptive.”

    Here is a more realistic picture of how research is conducted in the field. We start with an observation or question– why is it that so many humans are afraid of snakes, even when snakes are a trivial threat to modern humans in developed societies, especially compared to guns or nuclear warfare [1]? We posit a biological hypothesis to explain it– humans have an innate, adaptive predisposition to avoid snakes because of the selection pressures they exerted on our ancestors throughout our phylogenetic history [2]. We search through ethnographies to see whether snake-aversion has been a constant in every known culture [3]. We study the ecological conditions in Africa which could give rise to these selection pressures [4]. We conduct experiments with other primates to see if they are also predisposed to fear snakes [5], and with infants to see whether snake aversion can be acquired more quickly than fear of neutral stimuli [6]. If all of this points towards an adaptive predisposition to avoid snakes, we accept the science as it stands. Skepticism is wonderful and healthy, but an unreasonable degree of skepticism selectively directed at science we might, for whatever reason, already be inclined to disfavor can quickly turn into dogmatism.

    [1] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005789471800643
    [2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11488376
    [3] http://condor.depaul.edu/mfiddler/hyphen/humunivers.htm
    [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_mamba
    [5] http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=1991-03463-001
    [6] http://childstudycenter.rutgers.edu/Publications_files/DeLoache%20%26%20LoBue,%202009.pdf

    “Can you cite for me some evo psych research admitting that a particular “trait” being studied might in fact be a spandrel rather than an adaptation?”

    Yes. The research conducted by Daly and Wilson on the Cinderella Effect, for starters. Briefly, step-parents are far more likely to kill or otherwise abuse their step-children than genetic parents. Daly and Wilson hypothesize that this is a byproduct (“spandrel”) of adaptations that make humans invest in their offspring. Step-parents lack this bond of kin selection to their wards, and, if they are otherwise aggressive and violent, will not be as hesitant to harm them.

    http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/buller/cinderella%20effect%20facts.pdf

    “There is simply no substantial heritability when it comes to the vast majority–if not all–of complex social interactive behavior, nor is there any legitimate dispute on this point.”

    I’m not quite sure what what you mean by “complex social interactive behavior”, but the overwhelming majority of psychologists today accept that all personality traits (including e.g. a tendency to favor more liberal or more conservative ideologies), all psychopathologies, and intelligence are heritable to a significant degree.

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