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The anthropological perspective

Evolutionary psychologists are quite able to point to a few papers that are credible, interesting, and do the kind of comparative work that puts them in realm of doing real evolutionary science…but they always seem to be not evolutionary psychology, but more firmly grounded in ecological genetics or anthropology. I know! We should listen to some anthropologists! And behold, they’ve already been making anthropological critiques of evo psych.

Comments

  1. pacal says

    Following the link above to0 other links I found a review of Pinker’s The Blank Slate, at Here. In the review I came across the following quote:

    The Blank Slate is, however, more than simply an argument about the importance of human nature. For Pinker, the blank slate view is not so much an incorrect vision of human behaviour as a general-purpose bogeyman responsible for every bad idea in the twentieth century – or, at least, every one that Pinker dislikes. Among the horrors laid at its door are totalitarianism, relativism, progressive education, modernist art, postmodernist literature, atonal music, bad public housing, liberal criminology, unacceptable child rearing practices and hostility to biotechnology. The ideology of the Noble Savage, in the meantime, ‘invites contempt for the principles of democracy’ and, most bizarrely, is held responsible for the rise of celebrity culture. The only things that seem to be missing from the list are Islamic fundamentalism and the events of September 11.

    It has been many, many years since I read The Blank Slate, I had forgotten just how bad parts of it are, and what a philistine Pinker could be.

  2. grouperfish says

    “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant, chief and yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of the talents, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and or his ancestors” (Watson, 1924)

    I don’t understand why all of a sudden non-psychologists think they can re-write psychology history. The blank slate thing was a real, pervasive, and dominant idea for a very long time. It was call behaviorism. It was thought that a couple of conditioning mechanisms were responsible for the entire psychological make-up of a person. Of course there were naysayers, and they won out in the end, but it was ~ 50 years of this stuff.

    Maybe there is no universal psychology – that we all think curvy women are hot or something – but there is a universal cognition. That is, processes like vision, object recognition, sensory integration, neural centers that drive physical movements, memory, short term memory, attention, spatial orientation, quantity estimation, etc… all of these processes have the same circuits in every single human being, and they shape they way we think. For example, there is no culture on the planet that is going to significantly alter the number of items you can maintain in active short term memory. Many of these processes did not evolve de novo in humans, so we can find analogs in non-humans.

    This is important to me, because I increasingly see conflation of the two ideas, or I could go even further to say that any form of psychology is suddenly evolutionary psychology, as it is here: http://io9.com/the-rise-of-the-evolutionary-psychology-douchebag-757550990
    Marc Hauser may have been a bad dude, but he would have been a comparative cognitive scientist, not an evolutionary psychologist. Diederik Stapel was a social psychologist… way off in another branch of psychology. But suddenly, its all the same thing.

    My biggest beef with all of these evo psych rebuttals is that 1) no one defines evo psych and so it seeps into all sorts of other psychology and cognitive science, and 2) they are poorly researched (see blank slate comment above). This makes the critique a moving target and there is no way to respond to it.

    And this is the oddest thing to me:
    Cultural practices are likely to have influenced selection pressures on the human brain, raising the possibility that genetic variation could lead to biases in the human cognitive processing between, as well as within, populations. (3)

    So, we can point to different groups of people and say that they are cognitively different? (Can I also point out the conflation of psychology and cognition in that passage as well?) That sounds like something a bunch of bad people could exploit to say that some people as less worthy as human beings than others. Suddenly it’s very in vogue to actually say that we are different, and that those differences are predictable based on a certain geographic group membership. (Yikes!) Yet, I can remember when human universals were a good thing: they meant that we all the same and that any attempt to show that one group was less than another was not tenable. I suppose the new take will be that there is no better – just different – but… I guess what I’m saying is that whatever the actual situation is, one view gets promoted over others at any particular point in time because it is seen as more socially desirable. This whole… humans continued to evolve after 200,000 years ago where ever they were in the world … I guess, but what’s the sudden motivation for emphasizing it and making it sound like a really important contribution to our psychological make-up?

  3. says

    Hi PZ, Yes like another commenter I think Pinker can be totally infuriating too but I’m leaving a message here for another reason.

    I am wondering what ever happened to Cristina Rad who is no longer listed as a blogger here (column that appears screen-left of blogs in alphabetical order) and who has not updated her Youtube channels or cinema blog for more than a year. I chose to write to you only because Thunderf00t during elevatorgate seemed to think you had some sort of managerial status at FtB. I have no idea what your structure is (I sort of imagine it’s informal) but there is no “contact” button or “info” on this site or “about” page or whatever so I don’t really know what to do.

    I really love Cristina and am worried about her. Is she o.k.? Why the silence? Do you know?

    elizopolis at gmail dot com.

  4. says

    So, because I wrote to ask about Cristina, feel obliged to show my good faith by also commenting on the post.

    The post that you link to PZ is pretty messy, not terribly intelligible unless you’ve been following the blog, reads more like notes to oneself about something to be written-up in the future.

    However, anthro critiques of evo psy would definitely interest me. Though if you take Pinker as primary popular exemplar of said positions, it’s easy to say that for all he actually explains or explicits the hunter-gatherer past he so often conjures, it’s certainly a jock’s-eye view of pre-history, it sounds and feels a lot like The Flinstones (and I know you remember that cartoon because you and I — if I recall correctly –were both born in the late 50s).

    E.

  5. torwolf says

    PZ: All this article (http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001109) is saying is that the module focus of EP needs to be expanded.

    PZ: Your illogical bias against adaptive explanations for human behavior is painfully obvious. You have said the following: “Developmental plasticity is all.” And: “My argument is that most behaviors will NOT be the product of selection, but products of culture, or even when they have a biological basis, will be byproducts or neutral.”

    You have yet to respond to a question I posed in your last EP post. What is more plausible? That neurochemicals and hormones that cause sexual behavior in humans are by-products, or that they are adaptive (selected for over evolutionary time)?

    There are literally hundreds of branches of psychology and anthropology. Those conducting psychological research using the modern evolutionary synthesis as a platform are justified in putting a name to their work. Evolutionary Psychology fits. All pure scientific and social scientific disciplines, from genetics through to economics, have gone through revisions and changes, many more drastic than what is needed for EP.

  6. ChasCPeterson says

    My biggest beef with all of these evo psych rebuttals is that 1) no one defines evo psych and so it seeps into all sorts of other psychology and cognitive science, and 2) they are poorly researched (see blank slate comment above).

    and, as a corollary to 2, 2a) They deal only in generalities and sweeping assertions, never ever giving even a single example.
    It’s very, very tiresome.

    By the way, the linked post (whether PZ actually read it or not is an open question) is from a blog whose subtitle is “Living Anthropologically: Anthropology documents human possibility and creativity to effect change.” Pure science! No suggestion of ideological agenda at all! ffs.

  7. Jeff K says

    A blank state is not the same as a “black box”, which is how strict behaviorists look at the brain. Even though we’ve made tremendous strides in understanding how the brain operates, I still think there’s an analogy to be made between evol psych and most mainstream psychology: lack of verifiable research, and an appalling lack of self-examination for potential bias.

    I wondered what was going on with CFI when they had this joker give a talk in the Detroit area:

    https://www.facebook.com/events/339485009493739/?ref=3

    After reading about the kerfuffle at the Women in Secularism it would seem CFI has been invaded by evol psych-itis.

  8. Angela Freeman says

    Hmmm. Maybe I’m biased because my supervisor wrote this one:
    http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/EP085615722.pdf

    But I find that like many science areas, saying one thing is evolutionary psychology only, and isn’t ethology or a form of neuroscience is very difficult.
    Some stereotypes about humans may hold true, as the sexual-selection type above. However I think that a lot of evo psy is just poppycock parading as science.

  9. says

    Nah, I ignore Kurzban. He’s kind of a twit.

    no one defines evo psych and so it seeps into all sorts of other psychology and cognitive science

    That’s precisely the problem! When an evo psych person does define the specifics of the field (see Hagen’s evo psych faq, for instance), and I point out the fallacies in that, the proponents immediately dance away from it without disavowing it…while claiming people like Hrdy as right in the mainstream of evo psych. You don’t get to criticize me for definitional vagueness, the whole field is this fuzzy mess.

  10. says

    Cristina Rad kind of dropped out of everything — I know she’s fine, and was traveling in the US just a short time ago. I don’t know the details of her absence.

  11. says

    My god, you’re a clueless bore.

    PZ: Your illogical bias against adaptive explanations for human behavior is painfully obvious. You have said the following: “Developmental plasticity is all.” And: “My argument is that most behaviors will NOT be the product of selection, but products of culture, or even when they have a biological basis, will be byproducts or neutral.”
    You have yet to respond to a question I posed in your last EP post. What is more plausible? That neurochemicals and hormones that cause sexual behavior in humans are by-products, or that they are adaptive (selected for over evolutionary time)?

    I’m not at all against adaptive explanations for anything. I’m just demanding that there be more evidence for adaptednes than “it exists, therefore it is the product of selection.”

    The hormones that trigger sexual behavior in humans are phylogenetically ancient. That’s not evolutionary psychology at all, you’re talking about comparative and evolutionary physiology.

  12. torwolf says

    PZ wrote: “The hormones that trigger sexual behavior in humans are phylogenetically ancient. That’s not evolutionary psychology at all, you’re talking about comparative and evolutionary physiology.”

    Way to allude to more of the hundreds of cross-sectional disciplines again PZ. Hey, why not add evolutionary neuroscience to that list.

    The evidence for adaptedness partly lies in psychological studies of human preference and situational behavior that is grounded in modern evolutionary theory and related disciplines (including those investigating hormone-behavior relations). Those who conduct these psychological studies – while potentially ordered under anthropology or another cross-sectioning discipline – commonly group themselves under the discipline of EP.

  13. says

    Torwolf vs. PZ, your exchange doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. How ’bout somebody proposes a specific article in the eco psy vein or passage from a book or wh

  14. alwayscurious says

    I agree Elizabeth! Torwood, could you kindly link some of these grounded, cross-discipline psychological studies from authors who would consider them part of EP?

  15. torwolf says

    Here are some examples of EP:

    Interpreting existing psychological data in with evolutionary framework:
    Sedikides et al. Self-enhancement and self-protection motivation. Journal of Cultural and Evolutionary Psychology 2 (1-2): 61-79

    Tests of EP hypotheses with trials:
    Buss and Dedden. 1990. Derogation of competitors. Journal of Social and Personanl Relationships 7: 395-422.
    Bourrat et al. 2011. Surveillance cues enhance moral condemnation. Evolutionary Psychology 9(2): 193-199

    Tests of EP hypotheses with demographic data (cross-cultural studies):
    Buss 1989. Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12: 1-49
    Madsen et al. 2007. Kinship and altruism: A cross-cultural experimental study. British Journal of Psychology 98: 339-359

    Hypothesis generation:
    Dunbar. 1999. The Social Brain Hypothesis. Evolutionary Anthropology
    Feinberg. 2008. Are human faces and voices ornaments signaling common underlying cues to mate value? Evolutionary Anthropology 17: 112-118
    Van Vugt and Schaller. 2008. Evolutionary approaches to group dynamics: An introduction. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice 12(1): 1-6
    Buss and Duntley. 2008. Adaptations for exploitation. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice 12(1): 53-62

  16. David Marjanović says

    The Flinstones (and I know you remember that cartoon because you and I — if I recall correctly –were both born in the late 50s)

    *eyeroll* The Flintstones have been on ceaseless reruns ever since, in easily half the world!

    What is more plausible? That neurochemicals and hormones that cause sexual behavior in humans are

    Why do you lump all “sexual behavior” together? That’s a very, very broad category.

    Is Psychology a Science?

    One click away is Building Science, which is advertized as an updated short version but is actually very different. It contains this section (links removed):

    Stapel Affair

    That was 1974, decades have passed, but psychology’s airplanes still aren’t landing. In a recent psychology scandal and investigation, a very influential professor named Diederik Stapel was discovered to be engaged in widespread fraud. About the investigation, Stapel said, “I have failed as a scientist and researcher … I feel ashamed for it and have great regret.” But the resulting investigation quickly moved beyond Stapel to examine psychology itself. In a summary of the investigation’s final report, Science Insider says, “three investigative panels today collectively find fault with the field itself. They paint an image of a ‘sloppy’ research culture in which some scientists don’t understand the essentials of statistics, journal-selected article reviewers encourage researchers to leave unwelcome data out of their papers, and even the most prestigious journals print results that are obviously too good to be true.”

    Astute readers, in particular those in the field of psychology, will notice that the Stapel scandal isn’t about psychology per se, but social psychology. But the most astute among those astute readers will realize that, if psychology were a science, there would be no meaningful distinction between “psychology” and “social psychology” with respect to scientific discipline, any more than there is a meaningful distinction between cosmology and particle physics, all appearances to the contrary.

    That’s a fucking catastrophe.

    Reviewers from Bizarro World…

  17. alwayscurious says

    kelecable, the study you link has some weaknesses from my perspective. They declare in the abstract that the “mating” behavior follows from fundamental biology, but little to none of the data they present actually requires a biological explanation at all. Their hypothesis says nothing about biology either. It’s only once you dig into the discussion that they indicate that an observed pattern may be cultural or may match up with biological expectations (according to other psychology texts). What they are investigating may have value in its own right, but I don’t think they’ve done a good job of separating human instinct from cultural conditioning. Beings the researchers didn’t followup on any of the metrics with the “participants”, the researchers have no way to determine the extent to which lying or misrepresentation plays a part. (Who would lie on the Internet when looking for a fling?)

    Point the second, they would also benefit from using stronger randomization methods: the latest 200 posts on a single website aren’t an unbiased sample. This leads to some interesting problems down the road. Despite their interest in pair-bonded relationships, they end up including 18 single males & 38 single females as part of their sample of 200 (of each sex). If their interest is in pair-bonded males & females looking for extramarital affairs, they should limit their study accordingly. If they want to draw legitimate comparisons between single & bonded females within the population, they darn well better get comparable sample sizes and analyze the groups separately. Instead, they do analysis on each sex for everything, but proceed to ungroup the single females and compare them to the rest of the females on one or two metrics. This isn’t appropriate given their study design.

  18. says

    Torwolf, Well, if you can’t provide an immediately accessible link, we can’t really discuss it here right now but would have to do it after library visits and what not. Thanks anyway, I guess. What I meant is that discussing generalities doesn’t get us very far, have to get into the nitty gritty of some specific claim and how it’s supported.

    Marjanovic, ok, maybe everyone knows the Flinstones but I stopped watching television in the early 1970s and so have no idea what’s on and also do not live in the United States or even in an English-speaking country. No reason for an *eyeroll*.

  19. says

    OK, I read the first paper, Sedikides et al. Self-enhancement and self-protection motivation. Journal of Cultural and Evolutionary Psychology 2 (1-2): 61-79.

    All the data in it is derived from purely psychological studies — I think psychology is a fine discipline, and have no complaint about that work. Then there is a long section in which they declare that you have to be really, really careful about jumping to evolutionary conclusions…followed by a discussion in which they jump to evolutionary conclusions. There was nothing in the work to justify such a leap; they just declare that “this motivation was adaptive, because it was crucial to the achievement of personal goals”. Not good enough.

    This happens every time one of you evo psych fans gives me a list of papers to read. I start out in good faith, discover that nothing fits the claims you make of it, and give up…because there are plenty of good papers that don’t exceed the bounds of their evidence to read. I don’t see any point to continuing to read from your list.

  20. eigenperson says

    Okay, since I’m apparently an enormous sucker, I actually read a couple of the papers linked by torwolf.

    Sedikides et al. Self-enhancement and self-protection motivation. Journal of Cultural and Evolutionary Psychology 2 (1-2): 61-79

    It’s a review paper. But there is not ANY evidence presented in this paper about the evolution of self-enhancement. (Nor do the authors of the paper claim to have presented any such evidence — any interpretation of this paper as somehow supporting evo psych is purely by torwolf et al.) They claim that self-enhancement is correlated with subjective well-being, resilience, and positive affect. That’s it. I don’t think I need to explain in detail why this tells us nothing about the evolution of self-enhancement.

    Buss and Dedden. 1990. Derogation of competitors. Journal of Social and Personanl Relationships 7: 395-422.

    The paper describes three studies about derogation of same-sex sexual competitors (they say “four” but their “preliminary study” is just getting people to write down a list of ways people might deride their competitors).

    The first study involved asking “Intro to Psychology” undergrads how likely they believed it was that these tactics would be used by men or women (each undergrad was only asked to evaluate the likelihood of use by one sex). Now, that might be interesting as a study of undergraduates’ perception of intersexual competition, but it is presented as a study of the actual frequencies of the use of these tactics. So I think I’m justified in dismissing the first study.

    The second study involved asking undergrads taking a psychology course how effective they believed the various tactics would be when used by one of the sexes. Again, this could be very interesting as a study of undergraduates’ perception of intersexual competition. Again, it’s presented as a proxy for the actual effectiveness of the tactics.

    The third study involved husband/wife pairs who were concurrently participating in another experiment. They were asked to report their own likelihood of using these tactics, and their spouse’s likelihood of using these tactics. The authors point out that any difference between this and the first study can be explained either by the corruption of the data in the first study by stereotypes (a word which they feel compelled to place in scare quotes), or by the likelihood that husband/wife pairs are not engaged in sexual competition with other men and women, making any such comparison totally meaningless.

    OK, so now the evolution part. According to the authors, they generated some hypotheses about which tactics would be used by men and which by women based on “evolutionary models.” These hypotheses were then confirmed by the studies (especially the first two — the third study “provide[d] only partial confirmation”). But one of the main criticisms of evo psych is that these “evolutionary models” for sex differences are purely post-hoc justifications of gender stereotypes, and this study does nothing to refute this. In fact, it provides support for that view, since if the hypotheses are merely recitations of stereotypes, then it is not at all surprising that when people were asked to recite stereotypes in Study 1, there was excellent correspondence between the hypotheses and the data, but that when people were asked to provide reports of actual behavior in Study 3, the correspondence was much weaker.

    The authors begin and end the paper with a bunch of evo psych foo-foo that I’m not going to analyze here. Most of it is not worth noting, because it is not supported by the studies. If your hypothesis is that evo psych consists of a bunch of Just So stories, you’ll find that hypothesis confirmed by those sections of this paper.

    ***

    I’m too bored to continue at this point, but I’m not optimistic about the remaining papers using “modern evolutionary theory”, as claimed by torwolf, given what I saw here.

  21. eigenperson says

    I see PZ reached similar conclusions to me on the first paper, but I was puzzled that he thought they made evolutionary claims. The mystery was solved when I found out that I apparently read the wrong paper. The same lead author also published a paper by the same title in the Hellenic Journal of Psychology in 2007 that presents (as far as I can tell) the exact same data without the stapled-on evo psych section. So I retract what I said about the authors not making any evolutionary claims. Shame on them (and shame on me for reading the wrong version of the paper). My analysis of the paper’s actual contribution to the study of the evolution to self-enhancement remains the same.

    P.S.: I think it’s lovely that the paper was published in a journal whose name can be legitimately abbreviated “J Cult Evo Psych”.

  22. David Marjanović says

    and also do not live in the United States or even in an English-speaking country

    Oh, neither do I. It really is easily half the world where it’s still on reruns, and it’s so well and widely known that I’m really surprised it has escaped your attention so completely.

    The first study involved asking “Intro to Psychology” undergrads how likely they believed it was that these tactics would be used by men or women (each undergrad was only asked to evaluate the likelihood of use by one sex). Now, that might be interesting as a study of undergraduates’ perception of intersexual competition, but it is presented as a study of the actual frequencies of the use of these tactics.

    *rageflail*

    The second study involved asking undergrads taking a psychology course how effective they believed the various tactics would be when used by one of the sexes. Again, this could be very interesting as a study of undergraduates’ perception of intersexual competition. Again, it’s presented as a proxy for the actual effectiveness of the tactics.

    The stupid! It burns!

    According to the authors, they generated some hypotheses about which tactics would be used by men and which by women based on “evolutionary models.” These hypotheses were then confirmed by the studies (especially the first two — the third study “provide[d] only partial confirmation”).

    The stupid oxide! It stinks!

    Let me guess: the reviewers all work at Bizarro Iversity, Bizarro World?

  23. eigenperson says

    That should be “evolution *of* self-enhancement” in the last sentence of the first paragraph. Sorry for the triple post :/

  24. David Marjanović says

    The same lead author also published a paper by the same title in the Hellenic Journal of Psychology in 2007 that presents (as far as I can tell) the exact same data without the stapled-on evo psych section.

    Buh – WTF?

    That’s self-plagiarism! The author got two publications out of one Least Publishable Unit!!!

    P.S.: I think it’s lovely that the paper was published in a journal whose name can be legitimately abbreviated “J Cult Evo Psych”.

    Day saved.

  25. torwolf says

    PZ: The truth is, you don’t make leaps of reason (using logic based on first principles of the modern evolutionary synthesis). And you are alone among champions of atheism and secularism in that regard. I can’t think of anyone else I respect in the movement who is so fervent in writing off adaptationist arguments for human behavior.

    Proving definitively and empirically that a behavior is partially and completely controlled by genes that were selected for over evolutionary time is close to impossible. That is why we integrate reason into studies of the evolution of human behavior. Logically, based on first principles of modern evolutionary theory, the evolutionarily stable strategy for H. sapiens and other sexual species has been and is to behave in ways that ensures reproduction occurs for the individual (kin selection is the caveat, but does not override the selfish imperative). Behavior is driven by emotions and channeled by situations (which are finite in functional potential). Emotions are driven by neurochemicals and hormones. As you seem to agree based on #13, neurochemicals and hormones that cause organisms to want to have sex are adaptive. Thinking this way is what it means to use “reason”, “logic”, or simply “commonsense”. Culture and developmental contingencies modulate this solid indisputably evolved core. In some cases they override them (see Palmer’s Tradition Hypothesis). That is the most plausible explanation for the behavior of organisms, including humans. The onus is on social constructivists to show that human culture, which developed only over the last 10,000-50,000 years, can make broad sweeping changes to a genetical core that evolved over billions of years and that has been perpetuated over time through iterative male-female copulation. Those genes and behaviors that caused this to happen were passed on and enacted the same behaviors in the next generation. This is adaptive. Duh.

  26. eigenperson says

    Also, apparently I am unable to type the word “intrasexual”. I know the difference between “intrasexual” and “intersexual”, I promise.

  27. Jeff K says

    10 to 50,000 years ago is an arbitrary number. I have only a glancing knowledge of anthropology, but I know they’d be calling you out on that number. I think if evol psych people want to be taken seriously maybe they should start with looking at behavioral differences in other primate species, just as a starting point. They might be surprised at the diversity among our cousins.

  28. says

    Eigenperson and Marjanovic,

    No, not Bizzaro Iversito but the University of Michigan. The “Derogation” paper is from 1990 and all or most of the previous work on “self-enhancement” cited by author Buss is by author Buss in the 70s and 80s, i.e. this was this person’s life’s work (retired now I’m guessing) to blather about this stuff.

    The experimental design and statistics (ANOVAs) used are all par for the course, as are the use of students as subjects… seen it all a thousand times.

  29. ftltachyon says

    Proving definitively and empirically that a behavior is partially and completely controlled by genes that were selected for over evolutionary time is close to impossible.

    It’s difficult for sure. It’s not impossible! But even if it were impossible, that just means we’d have to accept that, rather than pretending that we can take shortcuts.

    Science is hard, but that’s life. Nature isn’t an exam where there is always an easy path to a right answer; if the only way to get a right answer is hard or impossible, that doesn’t mean you get to take an easy way and claim it’s correct just because the right way is hard!

    That is why we integrate reason into studies of the evolution of human behavior. Logically, based on first principles of modern evolutionary theory, the evolutionarily stable strategy for H. sapiens and other sexual species has been and is to behave in ways that ensures reproduction occurs for the individual (kin selection is the caveat, but does not override the selfish imperative).

    And this already is untrue. Logically, based on first principles of modern evolutionary theory, genes that make it more likely for an individual to reproduce are more likely to become fixed in the population. But there’s a big leap from that to your claim! The pathway from “gene” to “behavior” is long and complicated.

    1) For example, a given gene may influence lots and lots of behaviors, and a given behavior may be influenced by lots and lots of genes. Some of them are going to be adaptive; some of them are going to be neutral; some of them are going to be maladaptive! You can’t presume that every single behavior is adaptive, or that every single thing influenced by a gene is adaptive. You can’t even presume that any particular behavior has been selected for – maybe the genes that influence it have other effects that HAVE been selected for, and the behavioral consequences are an unintended side effect.

    2) Human genes don’t even code, directly, for human behaviors. A fetus goes through a long process of development, all the while interacting with its environment, before becoming an adult! The “evolutionary stable strategy” may not be “encoded” in our genes at all – it would have arisen due to the interaction between genes and the environment! It is quite likely (to put it mildly) that humans today aren’t at all behaving the same way that they would have fifteen thousand years ago, even if you accept the premise that all behaviors were selected for.

    As an example – even assuming that genes coded directly for behaviors, “watch what your parents do and then imitate them” could be a very evolutionarily successful strategy! And yet, if brains were wired to do that, it would be true that lots of behaviors would end up entirely cultural.

    Behavior is driven by emotions and channeled by situations (which are finite in functional potential). Emotions are driven by neurochemicals and hormones.

    Behavior is a product of your brain, which has spent a lifetime (literally) being influenced by your environment. It is very, very difficult to separate what “causes” particular behaviors – is it neurochemicals, hormones, and brain configurations that arise directly from genetics? Or did those things just create a very advanced learning system which could do a lot of different things, and learns the specifics based on interactions with the environment?

    As you seem to agree based on #13, neurochemicals and hormones that cause organisms to want to have sex are adaptive. Thinking this way is what it means to use “reason”, 8“logic”, or simply “commonsense”. Culture and developmental contingencies modulate this solid indisputably evolved core.

    But you don’t get to assume what goes into that core without proof. And that is rarely provided – you jump to assuming a behavior is directly caused by genes, and those genes have been selected for due to that exact behavior.

    In some cases they override them (see Palmer’s Tradition Hypothesis). That is the most plausible explanation for the behavior of organisms, including humans. The onus is on social constructivists to show that human culture, which developed only over the last 10,000-50,000 years, can make broad sweeping changes to a genetical core that evolved over billions of years and that has been perpetuated over time through iterative male-female copulation. Those genes and behaviors that caused this to happen were passed on and enacted the same behaviors in the next generation. This is adaptive. Duh.

    What genetical core? That’s the thing. Nobody’s actually shown what that genetical core consists of, and what behaviors go into it, and how those behaviors are linked to the genes in that core. It is true, in the abstract, that genes influence human behavior in some unspecified but likely important way. But in practice, you don’t get to just assume that any particular behavior is due to genetics without proof.

  30. starcatherus says

    Hello, long time lurker, first time poster.

    As a recent anthropology grad, AFAIK, the null hypothesis in anthropology has been that all behaviors are cultural unless proven otherwise. It seems to me that the evo-pysch people tend to go the other way around.

    Also, I get a little annoyed at the emphasis on the Pleistocene by them. There was no Magic Pleistocene Clock where our ancestors waited til the clock struck “Pleistocene”, and then suddenly decided that ” Now, we can’t change”. A good example of this is cheese…well milk products. The gene variations that lead to lactose intolerance/tolerance are very recent. While its true that human were experimenting with pastoralism way before the magical Pleistocene, it took some time after that for these changes to become more apparent.

  31. torwolf says

    ftltachyon:

    Thank you for your comments. Here are my final thoughts I think.

    “But even if it were impossible, that just means we’d have to accept that, rather than pretending that we can take shortcuts.”

    Assembling facts about the world and applying logic to those facts to understand the world as parsimonously as possible is not a shortcut, it is known as reason. It is a necessary step for people interested in contributing to a better world, given that information is incomplete and will always be so.

    This is based on your comments under 1):
    If we are interested in human behavior and how it works, we must be prepared to apply reason rather than get bogged down in gene complexes and their relative adaptive, maladaptative, and benign fractions (this is a job for geneticists that, again, has a very low chance of being solved definitively, if you don’t agree please explain to me how one might go about proving that a given behavior is adaptive in humans).

    Here is a question: Are neurochemicals, hormones, and associated physiological responses that cause humans to feel aroused and have sex adaptive, maladaptive, or benign? If you cannot answer this question with “adaptive” because there is no conclusive controlled scientific study confirming it with statistical significance then … [tilts head towards floor, presses fingers above eyebrows, closes eyes, and applies pressure].

    This is based on your comments under 2): “A fetus goes through a long process of development, all the while interacting with its environment, before becoming an adult! The “evolutionary stable strategy” may not be “encoded” in our genes at all – it would have arisen due to the interaction between genes and the environment!”
    This is a false dichotomy between gene-only behavior and gene-environment behavior. Of course genes are in constant interaction with the environment throughout fetal development. The fact is, the conditions of that gene-environment interaction must be stable over time for the genes to make it on successfully to the next generation. So when one speaks of an evolutionarily stable strategy, this concept of gene-environment interaction is implicit.

    “But you don’t get to assume what goes into that core without proof.”

    Alas, it appears that I cannot meet brain-to-brain with you or PZ or many of the other readers/commenters here. When science cannot be employed to give definitive answers, we have no choice but to turn to reason. Given what we know about the impetus for gene reproduction, all the facts available to us, the centrality of sex to the human lineage, the finite number of functional means by which men and women can attract mates, strong links between hormones and behaviors that result in reproduction, etc. it can be said with certainty that many human behaviors, from status enhancement displays to aggression in the presence of competitors, are adaptive (because these behaviors have the best chance of leading to copulation and reproduction (rather than just loaf around in the corner)). This certainty is provided by hundreds of facts that, in aggregate, support such a view. Not a single definitive experiment that provides absolute “proof”. Much like the theory of human evolution. We cannot directly measure and observe the continuous movement of genes from our most distant ancestor to present day. There are “missing links” in the fossil record. We use reason to fill in those gaps.

    Disclaimer: Culture has a strong effect on the expression of adaptive behaviors, including territorial violence, sex, and our affinity for sugars and fats.

  32. starcatherus says

    Adaption is not a religion, or a dogma when applied to human societies. Human societies, in the past have constantly promoted behaviors that, in the long run, were maladaptive. E.g. Easter Island going through large amount of trees to promote ancestor worship and increased chiefly status.

  33. torwolf says

    starcatherus: Agreed. Many adaptive behaviors, like being greedy and taking as much as you can for as long as you can (an adaptation to the reality of resource scarcity and lethal competition over evolutionary time), become maladaptive when technologies or religious procedures get out of hand.

  34. rhamantus says

    Delurking on FtB to address statements of bad anthropology.

    Proving definitively and empirically that a behavior is partially and completely controlled by genes that were selected for over evolutionary time is close to impossible. That is why we integrate reason into studies of the evolution of human behavior.

    I think you put too much stock on “reason” alone to solve scientific problems. Don’t get me wrong — I am not saying that scientists don’t need rational thought, because they absolutely do.
    However, “reason” means very little if there is no empirical basis behind it. Early Greek philosophers had a lot of ideas about the workings of the universe which appeared to be very reasonable, but absolutely fell apart when higher math and technologies like telescopes were developed which allowed for the collection of empirical data.
    Another thing about the social sciences: read enough ethnographies and cross-cultural studies, and the empirical data which results from this research is often VERY counterintuitive and contrary to what the average layperson would consider “reasonable”. That’s because, even among rationalist minds, cultural bias still exists. And that’s why much of evopsych ends up being labeled “just-so stories” — the conclusions drawn from their tenuous lines of correlation end up confirming our societies’ peculiar and particular worldview, which is a red flag when they claim they are attempting to make hypotheses which are universally applicable.

    The onus is on social constructivists to show that human culture, which developed only over the last 10,000-50,000 years, can make broad sweeping changes to a genetical core that evolved over billions of years and that has been perpetuated over time through iterative male-female copulation. Those genes and behaviors that caused this to happen were passed on and enacted the same behaviors in the next generation. This is adaptive. Duh.

    Several problems with this statement:

    1. As Jeff K mentioned above, 10-50,000 years is an arbitrary number. Worse, it’s likely not even accurate; though we only have undisputed “cultural” artifacts from around 50,000 years ago, due to the intransient nature of many materials used by people to create tools and other artifacts, it is highly probably that such artifacts were being made much earlier, maybe even as long ago as 100,000 years ago. Hell, our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, show patterns of knowledge transmission which seem proto-cultural or even cultural, so the origins of culture may go back even a couple million years to earlier hominid species.
    Further, the cultural changes which occurred in the time frame you cited are vast. 50,000 years ago, 100% of the human population was participating in subsistence foraging. By 10,000 years ago, the first farming cultures were beginning to appear. The cultural changes that had to have occurred as a result are monumentous.

    2. There is no one “human culture”. There are a huge number of human cultures which have existed across time and space. There are a few very broad, very gross similarities across cultures, but to paint them as the same is to misrepresent the vast diversity that exists in human thought, belief, and organization. We all have the same problems of reproduction, food procurement, and easing social tensions and relationships, but human societies have attempted to solve these in a large variety of ways. For a small sample of this, I can recommend two books, but especially the first of these:
    http://www.amazon.com/Kinship-Gender-Introduction-Linda-Stone/dp/0813344026/
    http://www.amazon.com/Gender-Diversity-Crosscultural-Serena-Nanda/dp/1577660749/

    3. No social scientist worth anything is trying to completely “set aside” the biological component of human evolution. Rather, they are trying to understand the interplay between one’s biological inheritance and the cultural milieu in which an individual exists. On the contrary, it appears to be the evopsychs which are underestimating the influence of culture on one’s behavioral choices, because they underestimate the diversity of the human experience. The upper-class, urban, educated psychology undergrad is not an adequate stand-in for the entire world; indeed, nothing useful can be said about human social organization as a whole by looking at any ONE culture, and that is why cross-cultural fields such as anthropology are so important.

  35. eigenperson says

    torwolf: Are you going to address the fact that one of the papers by Buss that you held up as a great example of evo psych is actually pretty pathetic? Or are you going to continue to hold up Buss as a great exemplar of the field?

    I read the paper you linked in #35, by the way. It is not too much better than the first one by Buss that I reviewed.

    I have time to give only a couple of examples:

    According to this theory, the sex that invests more than the other in offspring [women] would be more choosy about mates.

    OK, this is a hypothesis; for particular definitions of “choosy”, it is falsifiable. Buss proceeds to break down “choosiness” into a bevy of components (choice based on wealth, age, attractiveness, etc.). Studies were then introduced to show that on questionnaires, women claimed to care more about financial prospects (in all cultures) than men did. Men claimed to care more about virginity (in some cultures) and physical attractiveness (in all cultures) than women did.

    In addition, men self-reported that they preferred younger partners (than themselves), while women self-reported that they preferred older partners. And men reported that they wanted more partners than women did, and that they would have sex with a partner sooner.

    Although some of these studies support the hypothesis, others do not. Buss does not appear to give a shit that, according to his own data, men claim to be more choosy about virginity or physical attractiveness, thereby calling the hypothesis into question. In fact, when addressing the physical attractiveness study, he says (paraphrased): “Sure, men care more about attractiveness. But that’s completely expected: women have so many other things to worry about! They don’t worry so much about attractiveness because they are busy worrying about financial prospects!” This is a neat attempt to turn a negative into a positive, but I’m not buying it, because if it turned out that women cared more about attractiveness, he would also claim it as a confirmation of his hypothesis. So I am left unconvinced that Buss is actually willing to falsify his own hypothesis.

    Adaptationist thinking provides a guide to hypotheses about the evolution of what women want. Women are predicted to desire characteristics that reliably lead to an increase in women’s reproductive success. These include selecting a mate who (1) is able to invest resources in her and her children, (2) is able to physically protect her and her children, (3) shows promise as a good parent, and (4) will be sufficiently compatible in goals and values to enable strategic alignment without inflicting too many costs on her and her children (Buss, 1994/2003).

    I have three problems with this hypothesis.

    First, two of these qualities (1 and 4) are vacuous. Number 1 says that a good mate is someone who is able to invest resources. But what are resources? This can be almost anything, from time to money. As a result, almost any finding can support this hypothesis, and no finding could refute it (since “resources” is so ill-defined). As for number 4, being “sufficiently” compatible is a good thing? No shit, Sherlock! Being “sufficiently” anything is good, at least as long as you don’t inflict “too many” costs. If you did, that would be a bad thing, because that is the definition of “too many”.

    Second, this prediction isn’t specific to women. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander: All else being equal, a man’s reproductive success should also increase if his wife is able to invest resources in the family, protect the family, parent the family, and be compatible. So instead of talking about “the evolution of what women want”, he should be talking about the evolution of what humans want. But the idea that men are seeking rich, strong women is ludicrous to Buss. He knows or suspects that hypothesis will be falsified by the evidence. Therefore, he doesn’t make that hypothesis, even though it is demanded by following the logical train of thought that allegedly led to the corresponding hypothesis about women.

    Third, the list is cherrypicked. I hinted at this above, but here is a further example. One thing that is beneficial to female reproductive success is a young, healthy father (see, for example, WP). But this is not on Buss’s list. Why not? I claim it is not on his list because according to his data, women don’t care as much as men do about attractiveness, which he claims is a proxy for health, and they actually prefer older men, not younger men.

    Now, I’m sure Buss would protest that he knows this (after all, he did the studies), and that one should not put forth a hypothesis that has been falsified. However, Buss claims that the list of items 1 through 4 was generated solely by considering the factors that “lead to an increase in women’s reproductive success”. But then that is not actually a reliable way to predict qualities of mates preferred by women, since it fails in the case of youth (and, if the list is supposed to be the things that women want more than men do, in the case of attractiveness as well). This should call into question the whole idea that you can predict what women want in a mate by looking at the qualities that increase their reproductive success.

    Of course, Buss would probably say that women do actually want young mates. They just want rich mates (who tend to be older) even more. But if that’s his position, then his hypothesis is unfalsifiable! If the experiment shows that women want older but richer mates, then he puts item (1) as “ability to invest resources”, and youth isn’t mentioned. If the experiment instead shows that women want younger mates even if they are poor, then he puts item (1) as “youth and associated reproductive health” and wealth isn’t mentioned.

    For this and other reasons that I don’t have time to mention, I don’t find this paper convincing at all. The psychology is interesting, although I haven’t read the papers in which those experiments are conducted, and they may be flawed. But, in my opinion, the evolutionary part is speculative and does not reflect the use of the scientific method.

  36. John Phillips, FCD says

    rhamantus, I agree with John Morales and also, you should delurk more often.

  37. torwolf says

    rhamantus, you wrote: “I think you put too much stock on “reason” alone to solve scientific problems.” And ““reason” means very little if there is no empirical basis behind it.”

    I have numerous empirical facts supporting my application of reason (see my entries here and under the “tackling pinker” post).. To write what you have written is to write-off all of the fact-laden arguments I have been making in support of my use of reason to infer that many human behaviors are most plausibly adaptive. I explain again below.

    It is my understanding based on the facts about the world that I have learned over the last 30 years, that many human trait preferences (male size, male voice deepness, female youth and attractiveness) and behaviors (status displays, aggressive displays, gift-giving) that lead to male-female copulation are universal. When I have the time, I will definitely quantify this, but I can’t think of any cultures where these behaviors don’t apply to some degree. Can you? What are alternative behaviors and preferences? How many alternatives do you think are possible when one considers the primacy of reproduction and the harsh, resource scarce conditions under which the vast majority of our lineage, past and present, have existed/exist?

    Evolutionary scientists, biological, psychological, and philosophical, are interested in the functional significance from a genetic standpoint. With regards to the behaviors I just listed, while the details and content of such behaviors will vary with cultures (dowries, tribal dance, sporting events, music variation) the functional importance of those behaviors (to increase likelihood of copulation) hold strong and true across cultures, for the majority of the population. You need only pick up a newspaper or investigate the inner workings of a culture to see this. Can you think of what would happen if a culture did not encourage behavior that ensured male-female copulation?

    While the cultural changes that occurred between our hunter-gatherer stage and our agricultural stage can be described as “monumentous”, there is no good reason to believe that such changes had a monumentous affect on the ways humans behave, in a functional sense. Food intake from hunting was replaced with food intake from hunting/cultivation. Tribal dance, drums, and sun god worship were replaced with another variation of tribal dance, drums + wind instruments, and more elaborate forms of god worship (as an example). EP and other related disciplines posit that all of these activities from food resource procurement through to music-playing and worship perform adaptive functions like status-enhancement, group cohesion, and male-female copulation initialization. Do heterosexual band members, in Asia through to Africa through to Europe through to SA through to NA have a better chance of getting laid through their status display? From my experience in both NA, EU, and Asia, the answer is yes.

    Let me explain the logic behind this in another way, as this may have been too much of a jump…

    Like all other sexual species on the planet, human urges/behaviors that lead to male-female copulation have been selected for over time. How could such behavior have evolved as a by-product or as a product of culture, when the adaptive genetic baseline of the human lineage (and that of all other sexual species) is driven by this urge/behavior?

    I will ask the question I asked ftltachyon again: Are neurochemicals, hormones, and associated physiological responses that cause humans to feel aroused and have sex adaptive, maladaptive, or benign?

    I think the rest of your comments about the plurality of human experience and cultural diversity are explained away by what’s written above. Like any good scientist, we need to look at the nuts and bolts of the phenomenon of interest. The functional significance. And the most parsimonious explanation. I have done that. The problem is enormously complicated by its nature, but the universality of human functional experience, the primacy of gene transmission in evolution, empirical discoveries of relations b/w hormones and mating behavior, and psychological studies of human mating preferences point in one direction.

    It would be great if someone had a meta-analysis or review of cross-cultural psychological studies of mate preference. Again, while it has its shortcomings, Buss’ “Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures” from way back in 1989 provides some evidence for the universality of male and female preferences which arise from basic biology.

  38. alwayscurious says

    torwolf, reason alone is useless without a basis in reality. Science attempts to tie facts together as closely as possible using reason to bridge the smallest gaps. What you’re doing isn’t scientific reasoning, it’s reaching for conclusions in the absence of broad swaths of evidence. That’s fine–people do it all the time–but that isn’t science and that leaves far more room for error than more closely reasoned & evidenced scientific approaches.

    I tried to read Feinberg’s review you linked from Evo Anth. Could hardly get through section one.

    The review claims:

    *Dominant men have higher testosterone.
    –References two papers that never measure testosterone.
    In fact, the papers analyze photos of West Point graduates trying to predict if they will get promoted or killed in action. (25,26)

    *Men signal their testosterone levels through voice pitch
    –Referenced 3 papers:
    One of the papers (31) referenced has a results section 3 sentences long, studying a population of students taking a psych class. Didn’t even produce a graph that linked testosterone to voice pitch, but rambled on for 4 paragraphs about in the discussion. One of the papers (32) studied pitch change during puberty, not really on topic but it was reasonably done. Concluded testosterone and voice pitch were not correlated during puberty. The third paper actually did multiple comparisons to testosterone vs. voice pitch; voice pitch & age; voice pitch & pleasantness to a female audience. They had very weak linear relationships characterized by R^2=0.35 which excited the authors for some reason. And they never actually managed to analyze the real key claim: Testosterone vs. Female likability.

    Aside from the subjective measures on the last paper, they missed a big opportunity here! If hypothetically two papers existed: one showing A caused B and a second showing B caused C, it could be reasoned that A causes C. Conversely it could also be reasoned that noise/error/other variables in both observations prevent A from actually causing C some or most of the time. So the ideal would be for one paper to demonstrate A caused B, B caused C, and the same A that caused B also lead to C. This would define the relationship and show the exact error in that entire process. Ref 30 Bruckert had all the data right there to do it and they failed to take this critical step!! Was it oversight, insignificance, or misdirection? The only way for an outsider to know is to repeat the entire thing they already did just to get to the core of what was already done but not published.

    So in summary, the opening section fails. The supporting papers don’t measure the relationship the review paper claims they measure. Supporting papers which take the indicated measurements fail to make critical links necessary for the review or demonstrate points counter to how they are represented by the review. This means the reasoning in section one is ALL wrong because it’s based on incorrect premises. For whatever shreds of truth exist in the relationship they are drawing, the review and its supporting papers UTTERLY fail to make the case.

  39. Tethys says

    I have numerous empirical facts supporting my application of reason (see my entries here and under the “tackling pinker” post).

    You call that empiric facts, and reason? Bwa-haaa-hhaaaa-haaaaaa.

    If I read one more EP study that uses behavioral gender differences as a proxy for sexual selection my brain is going to seize up in self-defense.

  40. gillt says

    If I read one more EP study that uses behavioral gender differences as a proxy for sexual selection my brain is going to seize up in self-defense.

    I feel partially responsible for that! Though can you tell me at what point sans genes it’s acceptable to tentatively posit behavioral gender differences as evidence for sexual selection? (asking in good faith)

  41. alwayscurious says

    In typical debate style, Pinker’s points are raised without explicit reference. So starting from the same data and following his logic is difficult/impossible to do–hardly a deconstruction. Several of his points are just fluff anyways. For examples:

    His fourth point, regarding monkey toy preference being gender specific, has been thoroughly analyzed and mocked on previous threads.

    His fifth point is an appeal to ridicule.

    Point 8, also being thoroughly analyzed & debunked in the comments section of a different pharyngula evo-psych post.

    And in his 10th & final point, he brings up Turner Syndrome and genetic imprinting as justification for gender differences. The studies I found for genetic imprinting & Turner Syndrome are relatively small (40-80 subjects total) & the data isn’t controlled in such a way as to allow extrapolation from imprinting to normal subjects. Thus, it appears premature to cite differential genetic imprinting in TS as a justification for much of anything, especially gender differences in the wider population (for more, see review here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ddrr.87/pdf). Pinker references Haig’s work, probably a mistake in transcription, Hong appears to be the author in the kinds of studies Pinker mentions.

    I’m not taking an extreme view that there is no biological differences between male & female. My argument is that those differences aren’t as large or as widespread as you, torwolf, appear to think. Boiling them down to one-cause scenarios (testosterone=violence or birthing=caregiving responsibilities) and/or using them to justify/perpetuate the status-quo is ignorance in action.

  42. Myk says

    @torwolf: “When science cannot be employed to give definitive answers, we have no choice but to turn to reason.”
    At which point, you’ve ceased doing science, by your own admission.

  43. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    EP generates hypotheses and tests them using facts like these as a theoretical framework.

    No, it just claims anything and everything confirms its presuppostions are true. It doesn’t seem to take the time and effort to do the real science to find if the theoretical framework is true, like establishing even minor evidence for a genetic linkage of said behavior. Like godbots and babble, circular reasoning going nowhere and not adding anything to knowledge.