[It’s been a while since I’ve revived an old Pharyngula-safe post from my old blog, and it seemed like we have the appropriate theme going here today.]
Biologists have long assumed that evolutionary psychology, a controversial branch of psychology that ascribes many common social behaviors to genetics, is a muddled blend of half-understood evolutionary biology, selective data mining and resentment of women’s changing roles in society.
A new study, published in today’s issue of the German publication Unwirklichen Genetikjournal, does not challenge that assessment. But it does suggest that some men may be genetically predisposed to believe in evolutionary psychology, a finding that may well suggest future methods of treatment of the psychological malady.
Believers in evolutionary psychology maintain that feminism sets itself in opposition to millions of years of anthropoid evolution, and is thus futile and inhumane to men. Allegations made by believers include references to putative differences in math skills between men and women, a supposedly irresistible but entirely non-visually stimulated female attraction toward powerful and/or arrogant males, and the existence of a genetically preordained male right to multiple female sexual partners.
Many such men hold to these beliefs despite an absolute lack of supporting scientific evidence, says Dr. Ulrike Mann-Esser, chair of the sexual anthropology department at Universität Ulm and the study’s lead researcher. “But we had no way to determine why this was so until last year’s discovery of the locus taedius.”
The locus taedius, discovered accidentally last year by a graduate student working with David Gelernter, is a section of the human hindbrain that shows significant electrical activity when a person retrieves long-term memories that he or she does not find interesting.
In Mann-Esser’s study, 200 male subjects, who had small electrodes implanted in their locus taedius and glued to various places on the skin, were asked to stand outside the door of a glass cubicle and open the door for anyone trying to enter. Inside the cubicle was a male Pilates instructor posing as a researcher. A handful of highly attractive female graduate students were instructed to approach the cubicle, ignore the subjects while the door was opened, then proceed into the cubicle and place a hand on the chest of the “researcher.” Levels of locus taedius activity were recorded for each subject.
“By setting up a stimulus that often spurs EvPsych statements in the susceptible,” says Mann-Esser, “we hoped to be able to detect increased locus taedius activity among those men who had half-remembered bits of evolutionary biology come to mind from high school. The skin electrodes measured galvanic response and thus sexual arousal, which allowed us to determine which subjects were merely trying to recall female sexual anatomy from textbook figures so that we could exclude them from consideration.”
At first, approximately fifteen percent of male subjects showed significant locus taedius activity without sexual arousal. “We thought that seemed rather high,” says Mann-Esser, “until the Pilates instructor’s boyfriend showed up and two-thirds of that fifteen percent showed dramatic galvanic response changes.”
Further study by Mann-Esser’s team found a surprising commonality among the five percent of subjects showing clinical signs of susceptibility to evolutionary psychology, which the team refers to as “Desmond Morris Syndrome,” or DMS. Ninety percent of the DMS-positive subjects shared a single allele, first isolated by researchers at the University of Lucerne. The recessive allele, named luz-R, was absent from the remaining 95 percent of test subjects. (The corresponding dominant allele, luc-ID, has been tentatively linked to critical thought faculties and penis size.)
Mann-Esser admits that the existence of a “DMS gene” is confusing from an evolutionary standpoint. “Most genes persist because they contribute to reproductive success in one way or another. Sometimes this is in surprising ways, such as the gene for sickle-cell anemia, a crippling condition for those possessing two copies of the gene, but conferring resistance to malaria to heterozygous individuals with one normal gene. But the luz-R gene is strongly correlated with complete reproductive failure due to sexual selection against the gene by human females.
“It may be that early human populations carrying the recessive gene in their genome benefited from having certain individuals who were more likely to stand there and lecture the lion about how man is clearly the most fearsome predator on the savannah and then be eaten, thus allowing the rest to escape. It’s puzzling, though. We clearly need to study the issue further.”
One evolutionary psychology partisan maintains that evolutionary psychology itself holds the key to understanding the existence of the luz-R gene. “It’s ridiculously obvious, and has been proven time and again beyond the point where any rational person not swayed by politically correct feminism could dispute it,” says BigBoyBob87, a frequent commenter on a number of feminist blogs.
“You only need to look at sage grouse,” continues BigBoyBob87. “They reproduce by leks, in which a group of males converge in a spot to attract females and only the alpha males get to mate, while the others complain about the alpha males being big jerks. Anthropologists have proven that that very same evolutionary psychology observation is a major theme in Paleolithic art, as in for instance the Mousterian Pluvial cave painting Females of Breeding Age Always Mate With Damn Metro sapiens and Toss Us Nice Guys on Communal Trash Midden.” [See figure 1.]
When asked how any of the preceding actually supported his contention that DMS conferred selective fitness on men with the luz-R allele, BigBoyBob87 suggested that this author was only parroting the feminist line in order to get laid.