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Posted by on Dec 13, 2012 in Evolutionary Psychology | 15 comments

Got questions about Evol Psych? Post them here and I will answer

What’s the one thing a scientist absolutely has to have?  Mr. Buhl, my high school biology teacher once asked the class. I can’t remember if I guessed correctly, but the answer was , simply, curiosity. It was maybe something of an exaggeration, but still a great message for young students.

I’ve been noticing many discussions around the inter-tubes about evolutionary psychology. People have lots of questions. Questions about its status, philosophy, and mechanics. I am delighted to see so much interest, so much curiosity. I would like to try to field some of those. So here’s how this works: post questions as comment replies to this post. Observe the guidelines below to ensure consideration. Using the disqus up/down vote arrows you can up-vote questions. I will do my best to see that the top 5 (max) most up-voted questions are answered in a follow-up post within the next week-ish.

Question guidelines:

1. Reasonable succinctness. Please no “what is the history of EP and all of its consequences” type of queries.
2. Topicality. I will not answer questions about people directly, though if you wish to ask about some claim or statement someone has made about EP, that is acceptable.
3.  Civility of tone. Please speak respectfully and calmly, whatever your views of EP are.

Lastly, don’t bother down-voting other questions, I will ignore downvotes.

  • Chas Stewart

    Evolutionary psychology is an inter-disciplinary study so you have to rely on evidence derived from anthropology, psychology, ecology etc. What problems can arise from this situation?

  • Daosorios

    Does EP actually provide evidence -or has a rational hypothesis- that men are more attracted to women in a physical way, and that women are more attracted to men on an emotional level?

  • qbsmd

    What, in your opinion, is the most surprising or unintuitive result
    evolutionary psychology has provided, and what is the evidence for it?

  • Tim McCollough

    P. Z. Myers has equated EP with adaptationism and that it ignores other mechanisms of evolution. Does EP rely overly on adaptationism?

  • Ronlawhouston

    Since study after study in fields such a neuro-biology or fMRI studies in neurology support that basic premises of EP, what’s the problem?

  • padawanphysicist

    How, roughly, would you outline evolutionary psychology as a discipline? The most I can make of it is that it tries to explain some features of human psychology as being evolutionary adaptations. But what exactly unites it as a field? Does it have any central premises, questions, etc. that make certain research programs “evolutionary psychology,” rather than just a psychology research program informed by evolution, or a population genetics program, etc.?

  • Damion Reinhardt

    What are the most notable confirmed and disconfirmed hypotheses from the field of EP, and which of these do you consider most representative of the field operating properly as a scientific endeavour?

  • Guest

    How is the problem of nature vs nurture solved when attempting to falsify a hypothesis?

  • Jeremy J. Goard

    Evolutionary psychology of humans is hampered in many ways by ethical and practical limitations on research methods, relative to many other areas of evolutionary biology. In your view, is it reasonable to hold it to the same standards of evidence? Also, what are your thoughts regarding social constructivist accounts being treated as null hypotheses against which EP studies are measured? Don’t those accounts tend to have a far more dubious scientific history?

  • Marlo Rocci

    Simple yes or no: Does Evo psych validate innate gender differences?

    • Edward Clint

      Your question is ill-posed; it can have no meaningful yes or no answer.

  • Copyleft

    In “The Republican Brain,” Chris Mooney explores the tendency of hardcore conservatives to reject facts and science in order to preserve cherished beliefs, and he notes that this trait is not unique to conservatives. Liberals, he noted, have their own version, which could be labeled “Enlightenment Syndrome”–the relentless expectation that the use of facts and reason should persuade someone to give up a cherished belief, and perpetual astonishment that it doesn’t work that way…. only to repeat the same failed tactic over and over, because it SHOULD work.

    Mooney also refers to Evo Psych as an area of science that liberals are more likely to reject than conservatives, because it conflicts with one of their own cherished values: the belief in everyone’s fundamental equality. Evo Psych suggests that some differences ARE inherent, and the liberal mind doesn’t like the implications of that finding. So it seeks to discredit, undermine, distort, sensationalize, and outright deny the science… remarkably similar to how committed evolution denirs, global warming ‘skeptics,’ etc. try to defy the science that they disagree with.

  • Alessandra Kessler

    @sofiarune says[1]:
    “Most evolutionary biologists don’t take evolutionary psychology
    seriously. I guess we’re anti-science. It couldn’t possibly be because
    we’re familiar with actual evolutionary biology and that when we examine
    evolutionary psychology we see them tinkering around with an extremely
    outdated concept of evolution and coupling it with the already soft
    science of psychology. If you start with flawed premises you get flawed
    results. Garbage in, garbage out.”

    She’s not from the FTB crowd (she’s been often critic of them), but a scientist mildly known in the youtube atheist/skeptic community. I quite like her videos actually. What would be your response to the above statement?


    • Jeremy J. Goard

      I can’t speak for Ed, of course, but my main response would be that claims about causality in human cognition and behavior ought to be weighed against claims about causality in human cognition and behavior — not against other, more rigorous, forms of biological research which *may* involve less complex phenomena but *certainly* tend to be much less hampered by ethical restrictions on research. The proper comparison for the evidence offered by evolutionary psychology is with competing claims from the humanities and social sciences. When I did this comparison, I found the former to be at least reasonably scientific in its fundamental approach, while the latter kind of work was an almost unbearable slog through one armchair extrapolation after another, backed by anecdote, poor statistical reasoning, and (often) moral intimidation toward would-be doubters.

  • Dave Allen

    What books or documentaries do you think a beginner would benefit from reading or watching?