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Evolutionary Psychology

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Presentation on theme: "Evolutionary Psychology"— Presentation transcript:

1 Evolutionary Psychology
Lecture 1 - Introduction

2 Standard explanations for human behaviour
Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) Animals are rigidly controlled by their biology, human behaviour determined by culture. Human infants born with nothing apart from a few reflexes and an ability to learn. Learning is a general purpose process used in all domains of knowledge Children learn how to behave in their culture through imitation, reward, and punishment.

3 Evolutionary Psychology
Evolutionary Biology + Cognitive Psychology Goal is to understand the human mind/brain from an evolutionary perspective The design of the mind must have been shaped by natural selection (including sexual selection) Our mental lives and behavior reflect the evolutionary history of our species, particularly the adaptive problems that had to be solved The Pleistocene period: the “environment of evolutionary adaptedness” or EEA (2 million – 10,000 years ago).

4 Characteristics of the EEA
The EEA probably consisted of: Hunter/gather/scavenging subsistence Nomadic or semi-nomadic Low population density Small kin-based groupings Simple technology High infant mortality and low life expectancy Vulnerability (e.g. predators, disease) Few lifestyle options. 10,000 years ago: development of agriculture => living in large anonymous towns and cities.

5 What is evolution? Evolutionary theory consists of several simple assumptions: Within a species there is heritable variability. Some variations result in more offspring (natural selection), who will themselves possess these beneficial differences. Classical fitness = a measure of an individual’s direct reproductive success Inclusive fitness = a measure of an individual’s indirect reproductive success (Hamilton 1964)

6 Sexual Selection Evolution can be driven by mate preferences
Imagine some females prefer longer than average tails. Their offspring will have larger than average tails and their female offspring will fancy long tails. The sons can have more than average offspring; and the daughters will have sons similarly blessed. Positive feedback leading to runaway growth in tail length. WHY should females prefer any particular trait (like long tails)? Traits can be genetic fitness indicators – if a male can survive despite a long tail, he must be better than average in other respects.

7 Sexual selection produces
Rapid evolutionary change Excessive and extravagant adaptations Individual differences that are not eliminated by selection Traits that make one a desirable partner Traits rarely produced by convergent evolution Miller (2000, the Mating Mind): All characteristics of everything that makes us distinctively human! Our intelligence, language, wit, art, creativity, and morality. Our extravagant cognitive abilities evolved so we can chat people up?

8 Adaptive Problems Our minds were designed by natural and sexual selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. avoiding predators eating the right food attracting mates forming alliances “reading others people’s minds” All of these things are crucial for passing on your genes. We therefore expect selection to have designed mental mechanisms to solve these problems.

9 Adaptations Evolution produces adaptations that on average increase inclusive fitness. We do not do those things that maximize fitness; we execute those adaptations that in the past increased fitness. WHY does a certain trait exist? ULTIMATE CAUSE – the reason why it increased fitness in the evolutionary past PROXIMATE CAUSE – the immediate psychological, physiological, biochemical, and environmental reasons E.g. we eat because we are hungry, have sex because we desire it, help people because we feel compassion, withdraw because we feel sad – we do not calculate the effect of our behaviour on inclusive fitness! (We do not need to be aware of ultimate reasons to behave adaptively.)

10 Are all behaviours adaptive?
Evolutionary psycholgists habitiually look first to adaptive explanations. E.g. Rape - most social scientists try to explain this behaviour as “maladaptive” but evolutionary psychologists indicate possible adaptive benefits. Homosexuality – bisexuality is selected for, and a side effect is some people being 100% homosexual? It is not always possible to explain behaviours as “adaptive” and we must take into account the following: In some cases the environment may change more rapidly than the organism can evolve. An adaptation is not always adaptive in every circumstance.

11 “Naïve adaptationism” (Gould and Lewontin, 1979)
It is easy to invent “just so” stories to explain why something evolved. But: - not all characteristics of an evolved structure are adaptive per se (e.g. the redness of blood, two nipples rather one?) and some features will arise because of physical constraints (hexagonal honeycombs), or as side effects. - when postulating an ultimate (adaptive) explanation, draw predictions and seek to test them Some people take Gould and Lewontin too strongly. Adaptation produced by selection is the only means for producing increasingly complex structures. Adaptive thinking can be insightful (for which organism is fever adaptive?)

12 Questions Asked What selection pressures are most relevant to understanding the adaptive problem under consideration? What psychological mechanisms have evolved to solve that adaptive problem? What is the relationship b/w the structure of these psychological mechanisms and human culture?

13 Insights From Evolutionary Psychology
Our mind consists of a set of domain specific information processing modules; e.g. language, theory of mind, perception. 2. Food preferences: Strong desire for fat was once very adaptive, no longer so. (Speculation: An environment in which food is only periodically available – e.g. by dieting - means it is adaptive to switch on more fat storage) 3. Reasoning: We are good at reasoning about problems relevant to the EEA: cheater detection (Cosmides & Tooby, 1992) 4. Perception: Our colour vision is adapted to seeing ripe/unripe fruits against background foliage

14 5. Memory: Our forgetting rates are adaptive (Roland)
6. Mood: Evolution has no interest in maximizing happiness! Anxiety: Makes us cautious about actions we should be cautious about Sadness: Makes us withdraw from situations in which we might suffer further loss Anger and kindness: Produce the effective tit for tat style of negotiation 7. Mental disorders Phobias : fear of snakes vs. fear of guns Depression: Should withdraw from a major life endeavour and start a new one? ( 8. Men and women’s mate preferences and sexual strategies

15 Moral reactions against evolutionary psychology:
Aren’t evolutionary psychologists Daily-Mail-reading crypto-conservatives opposed to social change? The Naturalist Fallacy: You cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”. (Just because we have genetic tendencies to have affairs, that does not mean we should. Just because there are differences between the genders, that does not mean it is right to be sexist.) Further, you cannot derive an “is” from an “ought”: The outcome of scientific research cannot be determined by what you think it morally should be.

16 We are not slaves to our genes:
Natural selection operates on units other than genes. Evolution occurs when there are more or less faithful “replicators” (carried in vehicles) subject to selective pressures. The replicators can be memes rather than genes: An element of culture that can be passed on by imitation (Dawkins, 1976). There is competition by memes to be housed in our limited brains; those memes good at replication can invade many brains. Blackmore, S. (1999) “The meme machine”: Why can’t we stop thinking? We are we altruistic? Why does language exist? What attracts us to our mates? Why is religion so universal? What is a self?

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