I’m complaining about evolutionary psychology again

It’s kind of an irresistible target.

A few things that I mention:
The evolutionary psychology FAQ at UCSB
(Warning: it’s a sad, ugly, long document, but worth perusing if you want ammunition against evolutionary psychology.)

Chapter 7 of Darwin’s Descent of Man
(Warning: it’ll be a shock if you haven’t read 19th century literature in scientific racism before. Darwin held all the biases of his time.)

The critical points:

Evolution is more than just selection, and includes mutation, recombination, and drift.

Natural selection has a cost; it puts an upper bound on the number of elements subject to selection.

Populations have a substantial amount of genetic variation.

Most of that variation is neutral, or nearly neutral.

Mutations that have a small effect are invisible to selection.


  1. aziraphale says

    These lines from The Descent of Man do not seem to me to be racist:

    The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans are as different from each other
    in mind as any three races that can be named; yet I was incessantly
    struck, whilst living with the Fuegians on board the Beagle, with
    the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds
    were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I
    happened once to be intimate.
    He who will read Mr. Tylor’s and Sir J. Lubbock’s interesting works*
    can hardly fail to be deeply impressed with the close similarity
    between the men of all races in tastes, dispositions and habits.
    This is shown by the pleasure which they all take in dancing, rude
    music, acting, painting, tattooing, and otherwise decorating
    themselves; in their mutual comprehension of gesture-language, by
    the same expression in their features, and by the same inarticulate
    cries, when excited by the same emotions.

  2. bcwebb says

    I have one strong objection. It’s allergy season; right now it is a gross exaggeration to describe my nose as “functional.”

  3. says

    Darwin was open-minded for his time, but he still had attitudes we find painfully cringeworthy today. I provided a link to chapter 7 of the Descent of Man so you can see for yourself. He concludes at the end that there is only one human species, but his path to get there is through the thickets of Victorian bigotry.

  4. says

    I have the same opinion of Margaret Sanger.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, many of the right wing attacks on Sanger are made up out of whole cloth. She definitely didn’t want to commit genocide against any racial group (as the right wing often alleges). But “She wasn’t racist” doesn’t work for me either. She was a product of her times, and while I think she was probably less racist than the average white woman of her day (I’m not an expert in the history of racism, but this seems likely), she also had “painfully cringeworthy” attitudes. She saw herself as having common cause with eugenicists, for example, agreeing that problematic breeding was the source of many social ills, but disagreeing on the means to combat problematic breeding. While you might think that taking away any means of enforcement from the eugenicists renders them inoffensive, that’s not true. It renders them ineffective, but they still frequently advocated genocide and Sanger thought these folks were natural potential allies and saw eugenicists’ meetings as fertile territory for recruiting.

    There are other things as well, but yeah. Neither Darwin nor Sanger appear to be more racist than the average person of their white contemporaries, and both appear to my inexpert eye to be at least a bit less racist than their white contemporaries. But that’s far from saying that they were non-racist.

  5. chrislawson says


    Darwin was way, way ahead of his time. He had two main reasons for writing Descent of Man. One was to establish that humans were animals and the rules of biology applied to us just as much as to other organisms. The other was to dispel the theory that human races were entirely different species; that is, Darwin argued that we all had common ancestors and were much the same. And yes, your quote ties in with all these good qualities of Darwin.

    But there are still plenty of examples of racist writing in Descent of Man.

    The inferior vitality of mulattoes is spoken of in a trustworthy work as a well-known phenomenon; but this is a different consideration from their lessened fertility; and can hardly be advanced as a proof of the specific distinctness of the parent races. No doubt both animal and vegetable hybrids, when produced from extremely distinct species, are liable to premature death; but the parents of mulattoes cannot be put under the category of extremely distinct species. The common Mule, so notorious for long life and vigour, and yet so sterile, shews how little necessary connection there is in hybrids between lessened fertility and vitality. (p. 221)

    Sir J. Lubbock further remarks how improbable it is that our earliest ancestors could have “counted as high as ten, considering that so many races now in existence cannot get beyond four.” Nevertheless, at this early period, the intellectual and social faculties of man could hardly have been inferior in any extreme degree to those now possessed by the lowest savages; otherwise primeval man could not have been so eminently successful in the struggle for life, as proved by his early and wide diffusion. (p. 234)

    In Europe the ancient races were all, according to Schaaffhausen, “lower in the scale than the rudest living savages;” they must therefore have differed, to a certain extent, from any existing race. (p. 237)

    When civilised nations come into contact with barbarians the struggle is short, except where a deadly climate gives its aid to the native race. Of the causes which lead to the victory of civilised nations, some are plain and some very obscure. We can see that the cultivation of the land will be fatal in many ways to savages, for they cannot, or will not, change their habits. New diseases and vices are highly destructive; and it appears that in every nation a new disease causes much death, until those who are most susceptible to its destructive influence are gradually weeded out; and so it may be with the evil effects from spirituous liquors, as well as with the unconquerably strong taste for them shewn by so many savages. It further appears, mysterious as is the fact, that the first meeting of distinct and separated people generates disease. Mr. Sproat, who in Vancouver Island closely attended to the subject of extinction, believes that changed habits of life, which always follow from the advent of Europeans, induces much ill-health. He lays, also, great stress on so trifling a cause as that the natives become “bewildered and dull by the new life around them; they lose the motives for exertion, and get no new ones in their place. (p. 238-9)

    Some of this is just evolving language. “Rude” in Darwin’s context meant crude or unsophisticated rather than insulting. But even so, “crude” is still dismissive of the arts of people who often had extremely painstaking and complex techniques that Europeans simply disregarded or destroyed. (The Aztecs, for instance, built a floating city using a hydro engineering system far more sophisticated and extensive than anything in Europe. Darwin never mentions this even though it is directly relevant as a counter-example to his argument on p. 238, and he had read Alexander Humboldt extensively. Darwin would have been aware then of the engineering involved, the conquistadors’ decision to destroy the system and drain the lake so they could use cavalry, and the great ruins of dams and dykes that remained when Humboldt visited Mexico.)

    Darwin was a thoughtful writer with an extensive vocabulary, so when he chose to write “barbarian”, “rude” and “savage” to describe people it was because he felt comfortable using those words and not because he lacked options. Especially note that quote from p. 234 where Darwin argues that ancient humans must have been close in intellectual capacity to modern humans because it’s hard to imagine how some groups could have migrated to their current territories if they were any more stupid.

    And we really don’t want to get into his views on sexual differences!

  6. says

    Darwin is being systematically smeared by creationists as the original source and chief advocate of racism. Yes, he had racist (and sexist) views. like all figures of his era, but it would be a big distortion to make him a leader of racism in his time. His views are quite similar to those of his exact contemporary Abe Lincoln — both were committed opponents of slavery, but both were known to give vent to racist views. But just as one would never say that Lincoln was a leading racist, the same is true of Darwin. What is deeply dishonest about the creationist attacks on his racism is that creationists’ own views on society come straight out of long traditions of racism. The predecessors they honor bitterly opposed the civil rights movement and were apologists for South African apartheid. Yet they pretend this didn’t happen and get up on their high horse and condemn Darwin as a leading racist.

  7. Matt G says

    You are right about Lincoln being his exact contemporary – they were born on the same day!

    The real question here is: was Darwin more or less racist than today’s conservatives?

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Crip Dyke @ # 6: … Margaret Sanger.

    Who worked for years with W.E.B. DuBois, a rather perceptive critic of white liberal racists, as well as women leaders in the African-American, Japanese, and (Asian-)Indian communities.

    … having common cause with eugenicists…

    Who ran the only publications which would print her articles promoting individually-chosen contraception, even while mainstream political discourse advocated wholesale compulsory sterilization by race and class. Sanger did abandon her radical red/anarchist affiliations, but not her individualistic principles.

    Pls read Ellen Chesler’s Woman of Valor.


  9. says


    I think we’ve had this conversation before. I really believe that Sanger was more liberal than other whites of her time, and I’d be happy to read Chesler on her since I haven’t read Chesler before. But I have read the original works of Sanger – gods, easily more than half of what she published and she published a lot. She said some fucked up shit that no one who is genuinely anti-racist would let pass today.

    In particular, I think of her defense of the idea that birth control and family planning education were necessary for all people. To that end, she advanced the idea that each race had a separate “type” and that each race must be free to perfect itself by advancing the traits that best exemplified its own unique strengths. Further, she thought that racial intermarriage was bad for every race, because it destroyed the unique character of each race by allowing no race to express its best traits in pure form.

    I hate getting into these conversations because people think that I don’t believe Sanger was awesome. I absolutely do. She was great. Just like Darwin was great.

    However she was also a product of her times, and as liberal as she may have been with the idea that Black people should have racial self-determination, her anti-race mixing views and ideas that stereotypes had some biological reality and merely articulated the inheritable characteristics most strongly embedded in that races genes, those were fucked up.

    Look up Darwin’s sexism he was fucked up. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t also awesome as a biological thinker. it doesn’t discredit his work on the theory of natural selection or his observations of (and on) evolution.

    Likewise Sanger did fantastic work, work that I would never want reversed. Her work was absolutely necessary to reproductive rights today. And… she was still affected by the racism of her time. That’s just the way it is. If I was able to actually speak with her on a wide range of topics, I’d probably find fault with her feminism and believe she was clinging to some old sexist beliefs and stereotypes, but in her writing that’s not nearly so obvious as the whole thing about races needing to separately perfect themselves.

    I’m sure that Black self-determination would have been a huge step up, but I don’t have to accept her anti-miscegenation ideas just because this other idea she had was good.

    Sanger was awesome. She was also racist. She was probably less racist than her contemporaries (probably a lot less racist, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve never studied that), but her contemporaries were hanging Black folk from trees every weekend. You can be less racist than that and still be hella racist. And it’s hard for any human to escape her cultural context.

    Again, it is what it is.

  10. mailliw says

    Evolutionary psychologists come firmly under the heading of scientists-as-explainers-of-the-status-quo. Effectively, they work backwards from what appears to be a well-established fact today; they find an explanation in evolutionary history that could fit this fact and offer it up as the reason for the status quo. An example that we will meet later is of women’s alleged preference for pink, reported by visual neuroscientists Anya Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling in 2007.11 The evolutionary-psychology explanation they offered was that, as the gatherer half of a hunter-gatherer team, women have evolved a differential preference for pink in order to be better equipped for berry finding, as opposed to their mammoth-hunting other halves, who are more attuned to the blue end of the spectrum to enable them to scan the horizon effectively. In addition, men are better at running (to follow said mammoths) and at visuospatial tasks such as targeted spear throwing (to kill the same).
    A key take-home message from evolutionary psychology is that our abilities and behavioural characteristics are innate, biologically determined and (now) fixed (though it is less clear why skills that were clearly flexible and adaptive enough in the past have now become immutable). Although the need for these skills and abilities is in our evolutionary past, they can still have consequences for our twenty-first-century lives.

    Gina Rippon – The Gendered Brain

  11. lochaber says

    I especially hate that berry argument, it’s 3 kinds of wrong glued together with stupid juice.

    Women like pink, because organ meats are often pink, and as the hunters of early human groups, the organ meats were both the most nutritious, and the quickest to spoil. Men like black and blue, because as the gatherers of early human groups, most edible berries (as well as many fruits) were frequently blue or black colored. Women also tend to be better at interpersonal relationships and teamwork, which are both necessary when hunting megafauna.

    it’s all so much bullshit. Also, if you are in a survival situation, don’t eat pink berries, at best, they aren’t ripe. And then there is that bit where blue used to be considered the feminine color, and pink was considered masculine

  12. Muz says

    EP advocates tend to disavow much of that sort of ‘pop EP’ from the early part of the century now. I’ve heard them say that critics are hung up on all that stuff while the field has been producing real results for a decade.
    I’m not overly clear on what that is except for things like reading neuroscience papers and interpreting them in similar ways. But I couldn’t say I’ve looked that hard, to be fair.

  13. hemidactylus says

    And here is the part of the program where Hemi deconstructs PZ. Good overall but a very bad sin of omission in not mentioning the Achilles heel of spandrels. Tsk tsk.

    Very disappointed you didn’t discuss spandrels, the ultimate Achilles heel of ev psych. Gould/Lewontin spandrels kinda analogous to genetic draft or hitchhiking. Gould’s example was religion as a byproduct of us having brains large enough to contemplate mortality. He attributed this insight to Freud, but would have been on stronger footing to have acknowledged Ernest Becker’s notion of death denying projects which has spawned the field of terror management theory best summarized in the documentary Flight from Death.

    Gould/Vrba exaptation co-option and functional shifts was another omission. Tsk tsk.

    Ev psych is primarily invested in a mythos of the spraying haploids forward rinse/repeat contextualized to the African savannah. They may have problems with Gould’s short-circuit of the paradigm. But the mismatched psychology aspect in that culture outpaces our capacity to adjust may have some value. On the other side there have been adaptions subsequent to the edenic EEA. Lactase persistence is one of the best examples. I fear though that mismatching is behind the paleo-diet rhetoric.

    Michael Lynch approach to evolution @ 2:32: Lacking gene flow as a means to alter allelic frequencies and counter isolation (incipient speciation). Important to bacteria which benefit from gene transfer between disparate lineages to counter human hubris. Ev psychers have tons of that.

    Dawkins to paraphrase Gould reified an accounting trick to foist gene selectionism onto the world, which is a staple of sociobiology and ev psych, but see EO Wilson’s relatively recent shift toward group selection in eusocial species. Interesting ideas. Human encampments are analogous to nests?

    Wilson and Pinker have been on the polemic offensive for decades. First they wanted to colonize the social sciences as their respective scientific images were deemed superior to the Durkheimian/Skinnerian blank slate fluff in such topsy turvy fields. Then they took on the humanities (overrun by the postmodern bogey).

    Dawkins also sold us that most Darwinian of ideas, the meme, running roughshod over fields of memory research, social psychology, and cultural anthropology. At least decades previously Julian Huxley had the breadth to recognize previous concepts of artiffacts, socifacts, and mentifacts, before speculating in a similar direction. Not Dawkins. I do think a positive aspect of memetics is that it makes people think outside the box of ev psych. Even EO Wilson thought in terms of a leash metaphor. Memetics in its extreme form breaks the chain and creates chaos in the social science neighborhood. Why speculate on archaic adaption when ideas have interests of their own? Still problematic. People want new shoes @19:40 because our artifacts adapt? There is a critical theory/pomo angle here where sign has replaced exchange and utility value, but Baudrillard has some flaws I don’t fully understand. Still the culture industry does manipulate us in the marketing matrix. Our objects are taking us over. Sneakers are expensive but make us magically proficient at basketball. Kids nag parents. Consumer debt explodes. But shoes confer status/prestige and wanting that seems to be a deep seated trait that is hard to combat.

    Hierarchy is a natural tendency in intragroup sorting, but it ought to be scrutinized. Some people are better managers than others and are promoted. Others rise beyond their capacity due to natural tendencies such as nepotism and cronyism. Peter principle prevails.

    Around 22:00…if we were aquatic apes shouldn’t our noses have migrated to the back of our skulls?

    There are fascinating ideas such as the Dunbar number, theory of mind, kinship/reciprocity building ethics from the bottom up instead of divine command.

    Are those who disagree with ev psych are cognitive creationists?

  14. hemidactylus says

    There’s a danger in characterizing a field by worst casing it by its low hanging fruit, in this case notions having to do with rape and racism. Does that give fair representation of the field as a whole, or set an innate disgust response? Behe ironically goes after such low hanging fruit in his chapter that superficially addresses
    cognitive science and philosophy in Darwin Devolves and brought up Darrow’s defense of some killers and the book A Natural History of Rape. Such a move had polemic effect in Behe’s book.

    I wasn’t happy with how Pinker characterized the Frankfurt school in Enlightenment Now. But he has elsewhere made the apt point that to explain behavior is not to exonerate it. In the case of ev psych some of the behaviors are heinous and their explanations not very good. One would hope they are not cast as justifications.

    And it is possible that there is an innate tendency to outgroup. Haven’t studies indicated an implicit racial bias when looking at pictures? Outgrouping ages ago may have had benefit. Cue the biblical story of shibboleths. Does asking such a question condone outgrouping or its current versions of ethnocentrism and racism?

  15. says

    #15: I’ve been working with Jackson Wheat on an upcoming video that will discuss spandrels and structuralism. Patience.

    #14: If modern evo-psych is so much better, why do Satoshi Kanazawa and Gad Saad and Geoffrey Miller still have jobs? I haven’t seen much improvement in quality over the years.

  16. Pierce R. Butler says

    Crip Dyke @ # 11 – yeah, we did a round on MS back in July of ’17.

    Having nothing further to add, I’ll let my reflexive Sanger-defense mode return to standby…

    Thanks again for your thoughtfulness in these debates.

  17. garnetstar says

    Now that PZ’s explained this, the first thing that occurred to me is, it is well established that the human brain is enormously plastic. Events during an individual’s lifetime affect its structure, as they say, “rewire” it. The brain differences in those that have, for example, experienced trauma, especially childhood trauma, are well-documented.

    So, if individuals end up with quite different brains than they had at birth, how can their brains, and behaviors, be regarded as fixed by genetics and “adaptive” only? JAQ!

    Also: when different colors were first taken up to signify girl and boy babies (I believe in the 19th century in Europe), the colors were reversed: boys were dressed in pink, girls in blue. I don’t know when the switch occurred, but obviously something to do with natural selection.

  18. pilgham says

    A bit off-topic but I wonder if you might review Robert Newman’s Entirely Accurate Encyclopaedia of Evolution which is a book and a BBC Radio program. It’s sort of a humor program and still sort of tries to be what it says on the tin. I wonder how accurate it is, some parts seem fine, some pretty urban legendy.

    It’s just being rebroadcast, so you can listen online for a month.

  19. hemidactylus says

    If I could put forward the best takeaway message from Pinker as a proponent of ev psych, besides the pessimistic Hobbesian fundamentals at the core of his more recent attempts at progressive optimism is the Kantian notion that we are at root made from crooked timber. That resonates. Even Enlightenment thinkers Locke and Kant were very imperfect:


  20. hemidactylus says

    And I’m far from a fan of Jonah Goldberg but his response to the above article was instructive in criticizing Pinker:


    He wins the internet for this insightful critique of “the” Enlightenment as cast by Pinker:

    “And within all of the countries that enjoyed an Enlightenment, there were fierce internecine disputes about what it was and what it required. In France, some disciples of the Enlightenment cut off the heads of other disciples of the Enlightenment.”

  21. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Garnetstar @19. My favorite example of the plasticity of the human brain during childhood is effect that music has during childhood.
    Musicians brains
    Link 1
    Link 2
    Link 3
    Link 4
    The developing mind does interact with its environment.

  22. Owlmirror says

    Around 22:00…if we were aquatic apes shouldn’t our noses have migrated to the back of our skulls?

    Didn’t happen with seals, sea lions, sea otters, sea cows/dugongs/manatees . . .

    Not trying to defend soggy apes; just pointing out that as a criticism, that doesn’t really make sense, given obviously aquatic mammals that don’t have that adaptation.

    A criticism that I thought of last time a soggy ape proponent came around was: If we were aquatic apes, shouldn’t webbed toes and fingers be a lot more common than they are?

    Of course, that proponent seems to have been arguing for a much weaker soggy ape hypothesis: wading, rather than fully swimming, did . . . something to our evolution. I’m not sure what; the arguments weren’t very clear or coherent.

  23. Muz says

    PZ @14

    Well indeed. It feels a little like when Matt Dillahunty et al breaks down some god claim and people say “Why do you go after these cliches and not the real, sophisticated arguments for god?”. Once they do appear they’re actually not any better, is the problem.

    I’m not well versed in the recent stuff from EP types, but even if they do distance themselves from the berry colour stuff or the race realist stuff it seems they’ll turn around and advocate some notion that has essentially the same problem from a scientific knowledge perspective. As you have pointed out, the flaws are deeper than even their problematic conclusions. It’s not clear the field (line of investigation really) can even produce arguments and testable results from its own set of assumptions on anything specific.

  24. hemidactylus says

    @24- Owlmirror

    Fair point. I was having a cheap laugh at AAT expense. Sorry. But pinnipeds unlike cetaceans have a lumbering landlubbing aspect. And otters are wet weasels. The sirens are far more committed to water. And they obviously look it. But yes my nose joke was unwarranted. True. I grant possibility that humans may have some adaption for occasional wading. But what other semiaquatic species is fast running and able to dissipate heat on land while cooperatively hunting quarry? Arguably bears and some dog breeds are able to swim adeptly and forage on land. What semiaquatic mammal matches the desert survival capacity of the beduin? Yes they need water but they aren’t quite always swimming in it.

  25. unit000 says

    Long time listener, first time caller (I’ve been reading since the ScienceBlogs era)

    I’m also a current psychology undergrad who spotted this lovely piece of EP reported in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/apr/17/cheating-men-can-be-spotted-by-their-face-type-study-suggests
    From the article:
    “Philandering men have unfaithfulness written all over their faces, according to research that suggests men and women are able to spot cheating chaps just by looking at them. Experts found men with more “masculine” faces were more likely to be thought to be unfaithful, and such men also self-reported more cheating or “poaching” of other men’s partners.”
    Here’s the paper: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.181552
    Doing a little digging through their citations, this particular fun gang at the University of Western Australia (Gillian Rodes and Leigh Simmonds being the comoon factor in all these papers) have been conducting research in this area for a while:
    Of course, all the participants are students at the University of Western Australia. As an example, from the 3rd paper linked above:
    “A final sample (166 males and 196 females), excluding nonheterosexual participants and males with facial hair, was used in the analyses of appearance and sexual behavior. Most were young adults (males: M=23.4 years, S.D.=6.0 years, range=18–47 years, 75% of the sample was below 25 years; females: M=22.9 years, S.D.=5.6 years, range=17–51 years, 75% of the sample was below 25 years), and most were Caucasian (males: 129 Caucasian, 29 Asian, 8 other; females: 152 Caucasian, 38 Asian, 6 other). They participated in return for course credit, travel expenses, or as volunteers.”
    Can’t include those bearded guys, right? Because… Er…
    In short, this is what their valuable research has discovered:
    1. There’s a correlation between faces considered to be more “masculine” (in men) or “feminine” (in women) by self-reported heterosexual participants with opposite-sex faces considered to be more attractive.
    2. There’s a correlation between men’s faces considered to be more “masculine” and men’s faces judged to appear less trustworthy by self-reported heterosexual women participants.
    3. There above correlation (2) appears to be subject to an other-race effect, based on differences in results between “Caucasian” and “Asian” participants. This effect appears to diminish in “Asians” with greater familiarity with “Caucasians”.
    4. There’s a correlation between those men’s faces judged to appear less trustworthy by participants with the self-reported sexual unfaithfulness behaviour of the men pictured.
    5. The above correlation (4) is observed in self-reported heterosexual “Caucasian” men and women participants.

    Each of these studies used the same set of photographs.

    What’s this all about? From the paper linked at sciencedirect:
    “Evolutionary psychologists propose that perceptions of attractiveness are species-wide, sexually selected adaptations for finding good mates (Fink & Penton-Voak, 2002, Rhodes & Zebrowitz, 2002, Thornhill & Gangestad, 1999). If attractive traits and preferences for them are under sexual selection, then those traits should be associated with individual variation in mating success. The present study was designed to test this hypothesis.”
    From the paper linked at nih.gov:
    “Trust is particularly important in the context of sexual relationships and mate choice. There are substantial costs associated with choosing unfaithful partners. Men with unfaithful partners risk raising another man’s child, and women with unfaithful partners risk losing some, or even all, parental and other resources to competitors. From an evolutionary perspective, these costs could reduce reproductive success, making accurate assessment of sexual faithfulness of potential mates adaptive ”
    From the paper linked at PLosOne:
    “A crucial aspect of trustworthiness in the context of romantic relationships is sexual unfaithfulness [8]. Intriguingly, there is very small but above-chance accuracy for judgments of the likelihood of sexual unfaithfulness made to opposite sex faces [9,10]. Accuracy is adaptive, because pairing with a partner who engages in extra-pair sex could confer substantial fitness costs [9,10]. Thus, facial unfaithfulness impressions may help us assess threats to evolutionary fitness. Unfaithfulness impressions therefore have a potential functional significance, and might also be expected to be universal.”

    The sciencedirect paper begins “Impressed by cultural diversity in beautification practices, Darwin (1874) concluded that humans lacked universal, biologically based standards of beauty.”
    Yup, seems about right. Conceptualisations of attractiveness vary massively across cultures. But that’s not real evidence, obviously. Clearly, these groundbreaking and vital papers demonstrate that (generally white) contemporary WEIRD students’ perceptions of facial attractiveness, “masculinity” and untrustworthiness are universal, adaptive and selected.

    Big, important stuff, right? From the Guardian article again:
    “However the team stressed many other factors are linked to whether someone is unfaithful. “The actual unfaithfulness varies in our sample of faces, and 4-8% of this variation is accounted for by the average perceived unfaithfulness of those faces,” said Dr Yong Zhi Foo, the first author of the research from the University of Western Australia.”

    This is the worst kind of bullshit. It illustrates many of the criticisms you’ve been making of EP over the years. There’s more than enough bullshit in Psychology that’s attained a certain respectability; please do keep posting on this topic and calling pseudoscience out.

  26. says

    “The actual unfaithfulness varies in our sample of faces, and 4-8% of this variation is accounted for by the average perceived unfaithfulness of those faces”

    That’s just funny as hell. Let’s imagine attractiveness and “faithfulness” (as a personality trait) are entirely uncorrelated, but opportunities for breaching a monogamy agreement were slightly more common among persons judged more attractive by more people.

    In that case, the same mean levels of faithfulness in personality would lead to slightly different real-world actions that breach an agreement on monogamy. And what do we find? The exact kind of small correlation that could easily be explained by this “opportunity” hypothesis.

    But, okay… if you’re hypothesizing that breaches of monogamy agreements carry selection risks then it wouldn’t matter if a person has more inherent faithfulness, it only matters if you have agreement-breach regardless of cause.

    BUT evo-psych folks ALSO argue that attractiveness is a proxy for fitness. So… is the fitness disadvantage of mating with someone less attractive equal to or greater than the fitness advantage of mating with someone less attractive?

    What, all y’all evolutionarily psych folks don’t have an answer to that? Well then how do you know which way the (hypothetical) selection pressures are acting?


    Nice catch, unit000!