Why do we rape, kill, and sleep around?
June 25, 2009 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Back in the late Pleistocene epoch 100,000 years ago, the 2000 book contended, men who carried rape genes had a reproductive and evolutionary edge over men who did not: they sired children not only with willing mates, but also with unwilling ones, allowing them to leave more offspring (also carrying rape genes) who were similarly more likely to survive and reproduce, unto the nth generation. That would be us. And that is why we carry rape genes today. The family trees of prehistoric men lacking rape genes petered out. Newsweek's Sharon Begley examines evolutionary psychology and some of its most controversial theories (and how they are being rethought) in Don't Blame The Caveman.
posted by hippybear (92 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yeah, I hope not... It's going to be a festival of learning who doesn't RTFA, I'm sure.
posted by hippybear at 2:32 PM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Finally. My room-mate and I, in our carefree college days, had insult wars. It was slanderous fun, until he threw down "Well, your people invented rape." I had nothing to say. I've never wanted to research the history of rape, because I imagined I would not like whatever I found.

You have provided the rebuttal to that comment. Rape was not invented, it's genetic!
posted by filthy light thief at 2:34 PM on June 25, 2009


"Men attracted to young, curvaceous babes were fitter because such women were the most fertile; mating with dumpy, barren hags is not a good way to grow a big family tree."

I'm sorry, but could they maybe have phrased this a bit MORE offensively? Because I wasn't quite convinced yet that this was just misogynistic bullshit tied up in a pretty ev-psych bow.
posted by peggynature at 2:40 PM on June 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


I am pleased that a long article critical of evolutionary psychology has been published in a major American Newsweekly. In my opinion, evolutionary psychologists have been overly bold in their claims and science journalists overly credible of their theories.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:43 PM on June 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


I wasn't quite convinced yet that this was just misogynistic bullshit tied up in a pretty ev-psych bow.

Hey! I think you'll enjoy reading this article then!
posted by ook at 2:45 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Among scientists at the university of New Mexico that spring, rape was in the air. One of the professors, biologist Randy Thornhill, had just coauthored A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, which argued that rape is (in the vernacular of evolutionary biology) an adaptation, a trait encoded by genes that confers an advantage on anyone who possesses them.

This is the first paragraph, and there is so much loaded language. Even the title! "Rape was in the air" makes rape sound like some dark twin to spring, perhaps to be found on a metal album mocking a romance novel. "Sexual coercion" seems to downplay the act of rape, and "stone age genes" - compared to what? More recent genetic mutations? Genetic evolution?
posted by filthy light thief at 2:45 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


For those without the time to read the article before joining the discussion here, the linked article is not espousing the type of evolutionary psychology described in the quote above, it is describing how that type of thinking is being scientifically discredited.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:46 PM on June 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


This post was poorly framed and is likely to invite hostile responses. It's a good article, but you should have billed it for what it was: a detailed critique of evolutionary psychology.
posted by nasreddin at 2:46 PM on June 25, 2009


Founded in the late 1980s in the ashes of sociobiology, this field asserts that behaviors that conferred a fitness advantage during the era when modern humans were evolving are the result of hundreds of genetically based cognitive "modules" preprogrammed in the brain. Since they are genetic, these modules and the behaviors they encode are heritable—passed down to future generations—and, together, constitute a universal human nature that describes how people think, feel and act, from the nightclubs of Manhattan to the farms of the Amish, from the huts of New Guinea aborigines to the madrassas of Karachi. Evolutionary psychologists do not have a time machine, of course. So to figure out which traits were adaptive during the Stone Age, and therefore bequeathed to us like a questionable family heirloom, they make logical guesses.

I think Evolutionary Psychology has a lot to tell us about ourselves in the current era. Since "scientists" in this field lack a time machine, and cannot provide any evidence to support their theories, they can tell us nothing about our past. The discipline is, however, highly enlightening about our own current half-baked prejudices about "promiscuous men" and "rape." Since it revolves almost entirely around the issue of sex and based on no evidence at all, there is no better window on the attitudes of Western culture on modern sexuality and relationships. Rape fear, fear of cheating, you name it, every button gets pushed. The phrenology of our age.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:46 PM on June 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


Interesting article. Thank you.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:47 PM on June 25, 2009


You have provided the rebuttal to that comment. Rape was not invented, it's genetic!

The article actual rebuts your rebuttal, I'm afraid.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:48 PM on June 25, 2009


What are the numbers of men who would rape, if they could get away with it? I have no idea. However, recently there was a survey in South Africa, and one in four - 25% - of all men admitted to having actually raped someone. One wonders how many did not admit, and how many would've raped, but they didn't have the right opportunity. So what are the real stats for men willing to rape? Depressing.
posted by VikingSword at 2:48 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]



Hey! I think you'll enjoy reading this article then!


Hey! Guess what I'm doing right now!

Also: WAAAAAAAAH
posted by peggynature at 2:48 PM on June 25, 2009


Jesus, VikingSword- that's awful.

Okay. NOT going to South Africa, no matter how good the waves are.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:52 PM on June 25, 2009


What always got me about evo-psych was the handwaving assertion that it always benefitted women to be monogamous. Really? Because while HeMan the CaveMan was off hunting mammoth, and a cute stranger with...hey!...a whole exciting new mess of genes to contribute wandered by, then, you know...why wouldn't they? I mean, if you want Just So Stories about early humanity, I could probably come up with some more good ones like that.

And the many many laws harshly punishing or forbidding female promiscuity in human history seem to indicate that the ladies, well, might not be all that hung up on monogamy either, when the opportunity to wander presented itself.

Good article, though, hippybear--I wasn't expecting much from Newsweek, but hey, good on them.
posted by emjaybee at 2:56 PM on June 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


Have they found the gene that makes one despise evolutionist wankery? 'Cause I think I got it, and it seems to be dominant.
posted by No Robots at 2:57 PM on June 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't know, nasreddin. I think hippybear's running his own experiment. Like he said, to see who reads it.

I think it was a dumb theory in the first place, but maybe in 100,000 years, if abortion becomes legal and freely available world-wide, we'll have an answer. Assuming women abort the offspring from rape unions.

Seems to me that the counter argument to this being an evolutionary trait is a bit obvious. Seems like the person who came up with the theory in the first place probably should have thought, "Nah."

Both side kinda assums that a rapist will only propagate through rape. Or maybe I read that wrong.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:57 PM on June 25, 2009


emjaybee: you should really check out the new Newsweek. They did a hardcore reboot a few weeks ago, and have more in common with Atlantic Monthly than anything else now. I have never been so happy with a magazine revamp as I am with what Newsweek has turned into.
posted by hippybear at 2:58 PM on June 25, 2009


What this "discipline" does is give the reader some sense of control of the very messy thing that is human sexuality. By providing reductionist hypotheses regarding our deepest sexual fears, we gain some level of control over our fear. It has nothing to do with the scientific method.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:01 PM on June 25, 2009


I view this as a thinly-veiled attempt by Newspeak to lay some groundwork in preparation for blaming everything on video games and rap music again.
posted by 7segment at 3:01 PM on June 25, 2009


In case there is still a question of what this is actually about:

"Hill then ran the numbers on the reproductive costs and benefits of rape. It wasn't even close: the cost exceeds the benefit by a factor of 10. "That makes the likelihood that rape is an evolved adaptation extremely low," says Hill. "It just wouldn't have made sense for men in the Pleistocene to use rape as a reproductive strategy, so the argument that it's preprogrammed into us doesn't hold up."

However, recently there was a survey in South Africa, and one in four - 25% - of all men admitted to having actually raped someone.

Something in my head says that I read a somewhat similar study about Alaska, either way, it's is just fucked up beyond words.
posted by quin at 3:10 PM on June 25, 2009


This is an excellent counterpoint to the typical media spam that attributes most (all?) human behavior to evolution. And even the science among the people who do the science should be subject to exactly the kind of criticism raised by this article. My favorite counterpoint in the article is the finding it cites that investigated the preferred hip-to-ratio nonsense -- the preferred ratio which shows up quite differently among people not exposed to western media ideals of beauty. Thanks very much for the post!
posted by bluesky43 at 3:10 PM on June 25, 2009


here is a segment from "Newsweek Radio" about the article, with an interview with the author. Might be a good capsule summary for those who find the article is tl;dr.
posted by hippybear at 3:11 PM on June 25, 2009


Crap. There should be something delineating those to bits of italicized text. One is a pull from the article, the other is quote from VikingSword. They read weird back to back.
posted by quin at 3:12 PM on June 25, 2009


what's hysterical about this evolutionary psychology theory is that it all hinges on the supposition that there is a rape gene, and the one thing no evolutionary psychologist seems to be doing, or asking anyone else to do, is to look for that gene. that's telling, innit?
posted by shmegegge at 3:13 PM on June 25, 2009


From the piece: "and if being a known rapist (in a small hunter-gatherer tribe, rape and rapists are public knowledge) makes others less likely to help him find food..."

I can't imagine that this wouldn't be a gigantic factor. I'm no biologist, but where Randy Thornhill (and I'm not convinced that's not a porn star name) got the idea to completely segregate social interaction from the rest of the equation, I'm not clear. But cooperation was critical to early man, especially when it came to hunting and gathering for food. One could argue for clandestine arrangements or assaults between small groups, but on a widespread scale? The caveman dragging the woman by the hair is entirely unrealistic.
There are plenty of sexual adaptations from the bonobos to the chimps but they're all nearly entirely predicated on cooperation for survival first, with sex being an ongoing negotiation (aggressive or otherwise).
Which tends to be true of many socialized creatures, especially those of us without the big teeth and claws, wings*, and other natural advantages that depend on cooperation to y'know, eat.

*there are examples of ducks, dolphins, etc. using coercive behavior for sex. On the other hand, that goes both ways - female spiders and praying mantises for example, and ducks and many other birds are socially monogamous.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:15 PM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought the same thing, shmegegge.

And, on further reflection (and reading), my original comment stands. They phrased things incredibly offensively in the lede, perhaps in order to oversell the anti-evo-psych point. That's exactly the response they were hoping for -- but they really didn't need to sell so hard, at least not to most of the readers here.
posted by peggynature at 3:16 PM on June 25, 2009


This is an interesting bit: "One of the uglier claims of evo psych is that men have a mental module to neglect and even kill their stepchildren." Ugly as it may be, we see that behavior in lions, quite a bit.

As wonky, hand-wavy, and hard to test as evolutionary psychology can be, I find the whole bit where people of various ideologies dislike the conclusions, and therefore dismiss the science out of hand, as both biased and an extremely crappy way to investigate scientific truth. Worse than the admittedly lousy science which gets kicked about in the name of evolutionary psychology.

The study of genetics and how they interact with the behaviors of humans and the trends of various tribes, cultures, and societies will most certainly bring some very nasty things to light about human nature. That does not mean they aren't true, or that we "ought not" to look. I could never buy into the tabula rasa crowd's closely held belief that humans, out of all animals, magically appear without a single instinct or tendency, which is, after all, only a corollary of the "It's The Culture Entirely Which Is Evil/Wrong/Bad/*-ist" espoused by so many.

Cue Tim Curry, purring out in Legend, "We are all animals, milady."
posted by adipocere at 3:17 PM on June 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sometimes when you put a bunch of blind men around an elephant there's always that one who heads straight for the dong. He grabs it gleefully and announces to the world, "It's a giant penis! I knew it!"
posted by fleacircus at 3:19 PM on June 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


The part I find interesting is that evolutionary psychology often attempts to offer up explanations for behaviours which may very well serve to promote individual genetic line propagation, or individiual survival, but many of those same behaviours are catastrophic for society as a whole.

It seems to me that we've long since moved past the point of living as individual animals -- hell, even as animals in small family groups -- into something much greater. Our civilization/society/whatever-you-want-to-call-it is almost its own organism at this point. And behaviours that serve only certain individuals to the detriment of other individuals are essentially sociopathic.

Meaning, they hurt the larger organism. Which seems to me isn't very good for the continuation of our species, as a whole.

Does evo-psych attempt to address this in some way I'm not aware of? Or am I even making any sense at all?
posted by peggynature at 3:22 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


We do not reproduce ourselves: the species reproduces itself through us.
posted by No Robots at 3:31 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not sure if you're addressing me or not, No Robots, but at any rate -- isn't reproducing a species that is self-destructive (via individual behaviours like rape and murder, which either outright kill people, or traumatize then to the extent that they may be prevented from living life in adaptive ways) kind of, erm, counterproductive rather than reproductive?
posted by peggynature at 3:36 PM on June 25, 2009


> And the many many laws harshly punishing or forbidding female promiscuity in human history seem to indicate that the ladies, well, might not be all that hung up on monogamy either, when the opportunity to wander presented itself.

I think the standard evo-psych bit is not that women necessarily are monogamous... only that they have strong social incentives, and therefore some degree of internalized drive, to seem monogamous.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:42 PM on June 25, 2009


This is a complete strawman attack on an evolutionary psychology that if it ever existed, long ago adapted to incorporate critiques.

This bit is especially offensive and wrong:

"One of the uglier claims of evo psych is that men have a mental module to neglect and even kill their stepchildren."


Martin Daly and Margo Wilson-- whose replicated research, along with eons of history and anecdotes-- shows that stepparents are more likely to abuse, neglect or kill their children than bio parents. Buller's claims about the data are just plain wrong: dozens of studies using varied methodology have found this effect cross-culturally and all of that cannot be explained away by selection effects as he claims. Here is their rebuttal [pdf]

But perhaps more importantly, Daly and Wilson never claimed that stepparents have some kind of mental module that *makes* them do this. Nor have any evolutionary psychologists claimed that there is the kind of biological determinism that the writer attributes to them. They have always talked about tendencies and predispositions, not fixed human nature. They use evolutionary thought as Occam's razor: in other words stuff like, is it possible for a mammalian species to have evolved via desire for sex with parents so intense it needed a cultural taboo to prevent it? Unlikely, scrap that.

All serious ev psych people support a strong role for culture-- what they are looking for is exactly what she claims the "new" behavioral ecologists are seeking. In fact, the research that "debunks" the ev psych findings is done by--- EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGISTS!

This is how research works, they make hypotheses, they test them, if they fail, they revise.

She conceded the point that evolution shaped the human brain-- which is the basis of evolutionary psychology. After accepting that, the rest is commentary, you're an evolutionary psychologist!

Journalistically, it's rather shocking that she didn't quote Tooby or Cosmides whose work she's trashing, also.
posted by Maias at 3:55 PM on June 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


The species is indifferent to the destructive effects of its own drive to propagate itself. And, yes, this blind drive to propagate itself sometimes causes problems for the species.
posted by No Robots at 3:56 PM on June 25, 2009


> And behaviours that serve only certain individuals to the detriment of other individuals are essentially sociopathic.

Meaning, they hurt the larger organism. Which seems to me isn't very good for the continuation of our species, as a whole. Does evo-psych attempt to address this in some way I'm not aware of?


It was only at the dawn of the species that humans had any real competitors-- and even then, our tool-using and collaborative strengths easily outclassed other critters.

Since then, it's only been Population A of screwed-up humans versus Population B of extremely similar screwed-up humans, so there aren't really strong selection pressures refining new traits. (There's only the occasional nutty regime that, for example, kills all its intellectuals, or imposes some other selective filter-- but, even at the most extreme, that society just harms itself, and then humans from the slightly less-nutty regime next door swarm in to fill the gap.) Even most authoritarian regimes focus more broadly on what you do and say, and do not do and say, rather than what happens in the privacy of your own head. They would, of course, like sway over that region-- but, technologically, have thus far had only social and physical punishment, as well as propaganda, as a means for gaining it... and punishment and propaganda are very crude mechanisms.

Given human dominance over the planet, there could be a human tendency to lock oneself in a steel box and propel oneself at 60mph, near others doing the same thing... and even if it was keeping the population growth rate 50% below what it otherwise would be, the impact wouldn't be too visible.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:08 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very interesting, d_t. Thanks.
posted by peggynature at 4:19 PM on June 25, 2009


Emphasis mine:
... evolutionary psychologists argue, the trait might have been adaptive long ago and therefore still be our genetic legacy. An unfortunate one, perhaps, but still our legacy. Short of a time machine, the hypothesis was impossible to disprove. Game, set and match to evo psych.
What the what? Is the author implying that evo psych proponents propose unfalsifiable hypotheses? And if so, why would that be to evo psych's advantage? Aren't falsifiable hypotheses the whole point of science?
posted by mhum at 4:47 PM on June 25, 2009


Evolutionary Psychology is deduced from the following logic:

A. There are some very strong human behavioral tendencies (i.e. eating, sexual activity, sleeping, drinking water, avoiding bodily damage, having strong social connections).

B. These strongest of human tendencies are the most important for survival (or at least increase the chances of it greatly). For example, using my given examples, we know that eating is necessary for survival and procreation. As is the act of sex. As is drinking water, avoiding serious bodily damage, getting regular sleep, having social connections, etc.

Ergo, the most powerful of human tendencies and predispositions (in other words, those behaviors that have the human feel psychologically best) are rooted in biological necessity.

What Evolutionary Psychology does is simply extrapolate such findings to smaller, less biologically necessary behavioral predispotions. For example, in preferences for waist-to-hip ratio. The argument goes that men (via hormones like testosterone effecting neurotransmitter levels in the brain) prefer women who have a slim waist and wide/large buttocks. This preference is frankly far and wide, despite the Newsweek's articles cherry-picked finding. The next step is to ask the question why. And there is a good biologial reason for this fairly strong tendency: wide hips show a number of things important for procreation, namely:

1) That the 'woman' has hips wide enough to birth the very large head of a homo sapien baby. Indeed, any woman who has gone through childbirth knows the difficulty involved.

2) That the women has substantial fat stores to be able to deal with potential lack of food during the pregnancy, so that it is more likely that the baby comes to term

3) And further, that the woman has a high level of female hormones that (which tend to store fat in the buttocks region much more disproportionately in men) which are important for ovulation and therefore initiating pregnancy.

That is the power of some Evo. Psych. arguments. Of course we can't go back in time and see past behaviors. Moreover, we cannot and should not discount culture, as it has a powerful role on human behavioral dispositions. But, when behavorial dispositions span cultural boundaries, there are certain preferences that indeed are determined by the makeup of our biology...for our species-wide survival benefit.
posted by Risiko at 5:07 PM on June 25, 2009


Mhum, if you had a dollar for every physicist, biologist and chemist that thought evolutionary psychology was a science, I'd buy you dinner because you'd probably be pretty hungry.

Uh, game, set and match to not making shit up!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:09 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


and if being a known rapist (in a small hunter-gatherer tribe, rape and rapists are public knowledge) makes others less likely to help him find food...

Or kill the motherfucker. Let's be realistic--men would seem to have a pretty solid reproductive interest in ensuring that females related to them (or with whom they are consensually mating) have total choice in their selection of mates. So they would kill any known rapists near females they cared about.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:11 PM on June 25, 2009


Within the animal kingdom, various species (some close to us) exhibit behavior that is free from our moral interpretation. They do not care what we think. War, murder, infanticide, infidelity, stealing.... easy to find examples in primates AND in lower forms.)

The general premise is that some successful behaviors, like successful mechanical/biochemical traits, enhance the likelihood of breeding.

Either you make the assumption that behavior in non-humans has moral content, or that our behavior contains no genetic predispositions/components. If you state that they are either entirely gene driven, then you have just accepted the premise that their behavior is an expression of genes and is subject to the principals of natural selection. If they have genetically based behaviors, so must we. We came from the same stock.

If you say that they have morals, you confer upon the very primitive minds a sophistication that is not evident in their other skills. What is moral about the new senior lion killing all the progeny of his predecessor? Is the species well served by the murders? It is murder, by any definition, and worse, morality-free infanticide, contrary to the simple interests of having more lions alive.

Social biology does not claim that behavior is entirely genetic. It claims that behavior can confer breeding advantages. To the extent that behavioral predispositions are genetically determined, you cannot rule out genes for rape, humor, love, or any other human attribute, any more than you can 'will away' eye color, symmetry, beauty, height.

Those in this thread that condemn social biology or evolutionary psychology are caught in a rather powerful pincer.

To me, it seems more likely that folks just can't stand the possibility that they have anything less than perfect free will. I see it more in religious folks and folks who have a vested interest in removing all of our 'animalness'. It makes things seem so unfair, and while I hate unfairness, I try not to let it influence my observation. Things are what they are. They don't care if I think they are fair or not.

It is unfortunate that proof (in the deductive sense) is hard to come by in our genome due to the 'time machine' issue (i.e., we don't have one!), but connecting lines of reason across similar species inductively compels some credibility.

(Food for thought... schizophrenia, undeniably a mental (hence behavioral) defect, has a strong genetic trail.... prima facie evidence that behavioral characteristics can be inherited. QED).
posted by FauxScot at 5:13 PM on June 25, 2009


Within the animal kingdom, various species (some close to us) exhibit behavior that is free from our moral interpretation.

We may observe monkeys/ants/ducks/lions exhibiting a behavior, but our interpretation of that behavior is anything but free of our culture-bound morals. And when those doing the interpretation are mostly of one group (white, male, Western), well, I'm going to be skeptical when their interpretations always seem to bolster their privileged place in the world.
posted by rtha at 5:39 PM on June 25, 2009




Ironmouth, I'll cite the Bible here simply as a text that include some very old social values. From Deuteronomy 22:25-27:

V25 But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die:
V26 But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter:
V27 For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.
posted by shetterly at 5:50 PM on June 25, 2009


rtha: We may observe monkeys/ants/ducks/lions exhibiting a behavior, but our interpretation of that behavior is anything but free of our culture-bound morals.

What? When a duck rapes a female duck, who counter-evolves by being hard to impregnate, how is our interpretation of that hobbled by our worldview? I don't follow. When a female insect rips the head off its partner or a large animal eats its offspring, how is that hard to figure out just because the scientist is a man? Would a woman be able to figure it out?
posted by Non Prosequitur at 6:17 PM on June 25, 2009


I'm pretty sure I carry the beer gene.
posted by ...possums at 6:19 PM on June 25, 2009


I think hippybear's running his own experiment. Like he said, to see who reads the original article.

Yeah, it's like those instructions sheets that say "READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS FIRST", and the last instruction says "Don't do the first 25 instructions", except the article is the instructions.

And a lot of people got this one wrong, too.
posted by msalt at 6:43 PM on June 25, 2009


Actually, I tried and tried and TRIED to find a pull-quote from the first page of the online version of the article that wasn't horrid and awful and didn't give a bad impression of the article. I couldn't find one, and finally tried to insert the words "how they are being rethought" into my brief description of the article, hoping that would help springboard people into not hating the whole piece after page 1.

Then the first response was a (now deleted) wendell warning, and that, at least, gave me the chance to editorialize a little bit about RTFA.

I've learned from the mistakes in this one. I'm glad the thread isn't full of hate. That's what I love about MeFi, actually.

I promise, my next post with a potentially controversial article will have more truth in advertising up front.
posted by hippybear at 7:17 PM on June 25, 2009


rtha, you can certainly be as skeptical as you wish. It is relatively easy to be skeptical, and it is a prudent approach to anything, including this very delicate topic. Not that it matters, but I'm 100% with you on skeptical.

But when an interpretation, hypothesis or conclusion is pre-dismissed because the observer is in a category you don't WANT to agree with, it's not good science, either.

Dianne Ackerman and Helen Fisher are two social biologists who are at least not male. Not sure whether their ethnicity or hemispheres meet with your approval or not, but I like them.

I have never seen a topic fraught with as much potential for argument as this one.

Just so you know, I don't advocate rape. I don't understand it. I don't get it. I don't condone it. Got that?

I also don't have mental illness, understand it, or desire it.

I'd prefer neither existed. Nature, on the other hand, does not give a rat's ass what I prefer. I'd sure like to undertand nature, though.

Nature is not male, western or white. Stereotyping me is indistinguishable from stereotyping women, blacks, indians, and the dig seems highly irrelevant to a search for truth. The truth doesn't care what your personal experience is.
posted by FauxScot at 8:14 PM on June 25, 2009


This is how research works, they make hypotheses, they test them, if they fail, they revise.

It is literally impossible to view and test behavior from 100,000 years ago. There can be no science there. We can look at morphology and surmise how an animal may have interacted with its environment. But we cannot test the behavior of animals we cannot observe because they existed in the distant past. There can be no science where there is no observation.

That's the problem with this whole "rape module" shit. There's no evidence that "modules" exist at all. The theory makes up gigantic stories about the human brain with no evidence they exist in order to justify the theory. The only actual facts are that rape exists now and in the historical record. These are literally the only facts the theorist has to go on. The rest is total fantasy.

There is a deep desire to explain why terrible things we fear happen to people and why people do terrible things to others. Understanding, it is believed, will help us predict when a mate will break a promise made to us, or who is likely to rape another. People want this understanding so bad that they will make up explanations with no evidence whatsoever. Hence the gods and religion. When religion has been discredited, then people turn to science, which is frankly, a religion to the populace--few of us have actually done experiments. We take it on faith that this body of knowledge called "science" provides us with the right explanations.

So many immediately jump on these evolutionary biology bandwagons, which substitute folk wisdom and rational, but unprovable explanations for things we have to face in our own world. When these explanations coincide with deep-seated fears, like the fear of rape, they strike a chord in the populace. But that does not make the explanations true.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:35 PM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think the standard evo-psych bit is not that women necessarily are monogamous... only that they have strong social incentives, and therefore some degree of internalized drive, to seem monogamous.

Social incentives (such as, death, beating, etc. that are often used to punish women who sleep with unapproved people) do not equal biological drives. They may, however, equal oppression. We know that such strictures for women go back to the beginning of recorded history, but before that, we don't know. So really, for early pre-writing humanity, we don't know what their setup was, "social incentives" were, or "internalized drives". What is an internalized drive, anyway? Flinching when the guy who beat you raises his hand? Can that be passed on in your genes too?

I can accept the premise: some of our drives/behaviors have a biological basis. What I can't take seriously is extrapolations about the genetic foundation of those drives/behaviors absent actual genetic evidence. Which we don't get.

Instead all we get is "of COURSE bigger hips=better childbearing ability, ergo, men like 'em!" Really? Do you have studies re hip size, or are you just hypothesizing out your ass?

Do you know, for instance, that a woman's pelvis is actually not a solid bone but has ligaments that expand during birth to allow a baby out, especially if she gives birth in a crouching position? Hip size does not = pelvis area. Hip size can in fact be deceptive, fat deposits on a narrow pelvis. Oh and breast size? Has nothing to do with milk-producing ability, either, unless she's lactating at the time.

None of this has anything to do with my feelings about rape, or female oppression or whatever; in fact, if it were proven such things had a biological basis, then it might also give us some insight in how to get rid of them. That would indeed be useful. So far though, it has not been presented.
posted by emjaybee at 8:45 PM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ironmouth, I'll cite the Bible here simply as a text that include some very old social values. From Deuteronomy 22:25-27:V25 But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die:V26 But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter:V27 For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.

Indeed, the sons of Jacob slew the family of Havor the Hivite because Havor's son Schechem raped Dinah, Jacob's daughter.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:59 PM on June 25, 2009


What? When a duck rapes a female duck, who counter-evolves by being hard to impregnate, how is our interpretation of that hobbled by our worldview?

I don't know. Maybe it's not. I do know that ducks are observable, right here and now (and I have seen male mallards mate with female mallards who clearly did not want to be mated with) and we can take gene samples from these ducks and study them. Can we observe early humans? Are these evo psych scientists studying human genetics as we currently understand it and comparing them to known earlier samples? (According to the evo psych guy in the article, they're not.)

What they're doing is taking what they observe of current human behavior and applying it backwards. How can this not be colored by their current culture and the position they occupy in it?

As for me writing off the contributions of someone just because of their race and sex, well, as a woman who's been raised in a culture that's evolved quite rapidly (historically speaking) from an attitude of "women are delicate flowers who can't be allowed to be doctors or lawyers because it will hurt their brains" - not to mention "nonwhite people aren't smart enough to rule themselves" - to one where we have a black president of the U.S. and lots and lots of female doctors and lawyers, can you blame me for being skeptical of unfalsifiable "scientific" claims that men are like this because cavemen were like this?

Back in The Day, according to oral histories, Hawaiian women who were fat were the height of beauty, to a Hawaiian man. It mean she was fertile and well-fed and healthy. Barbie types would have been assumed to be barren.

Stereotyping me is indistinguishable from stereotyping women, blacks, indians, and the dig seems highly irrelevant to a search for truth. The truth doesn't care what your personal experience is.

Who said I was talking about you? Are you an evo psych guy? Because that's who I was talking about. "The truth"? Which truth? The truth that men are genetically programmed to rape? Is that a truth? Is that a fact? According to whom?

And Diane Ackerman? I was unaware that she was a trained scientist, let alone an evolutionary psychologist.
posted by rtha at 9:32 PM on June 25, 2009


> Social incentives (such as, death, beating, etc. that are often used to punish women who sleep with unapproved people) do not equal biological drives.

True.

The idea is that when the social incentives of a particular culture are within a moderate range, all else being equal, most women will have a stronger desire than men to seem-- not necessarily be-- monogamous.

The thing is, nature and nurture are both factors-- and strong input from one can override the other. Put someone in an environment where they get very intense, or very persistent conditioning, and and that person's instincts can become flattened or reshaped.

The real determinant, then, is how strong the social incentives are, in a particular time and place. I would guess that in most cases, the social incentives either reinforce instincts, or counteract them with less force than would be necessary to bend that instinct in a new direction.

When it comes to boy-girl talk, there is a tendency to lump together three different things: observed behavior of the sexes; neurological and anatomical differences between the sexes; and the evo-psych explanation of the first, and, to some extent, the second, in terms of prehistoric social and environmental pressure. At this point, we don't have a time machine that would allow us to watch those environmental pressures play out in the lives of our ancestors, and we're only starting to assemble the medical know-how that might help us trace the threads of genetic influence.

What evo-psych reduces to, then, is a narrative: We have instincts whose strength our immediate social conditions cannot account for, but whose relevance in precivilized times would have been obvious, pervasive, and pressing. This narrative may not seem the deepest, but the obvious alternatives to this narrative, e.g., "Everybody's different and you can't predict people at all!" and "People only behave in line with their social incentives" seem shallower, and less predictive, yet.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:17 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


rtha, as an aside, in much of the middle east and south-east asia women on career paths are stereotyped into becoming doctors!! Can't have them becoming journalists or media execs or whatever so it's become a traditionally safe path.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 3:07 AM on June 26, 2009


Either you make the assumption that behavior in non-humans has moral content, or that our behavior contains no genetic predispositions/components.

Just because you set this up as an either-or does not mean it really exists.

Most people (especially here) who object to ev psych and/or ev bio object not because of a rejection of all genetic predispositions, or because of a secret adherence to Christian morality, but because as noted above the content of these hypotheses is utterly unprovable, and because those who promulgate them often seem blinded to the cultural drivers that lead them to their "assured" conclusions.

Clearly humans do have food drives, sex drives, parenting drives, etc., which stem from our biology. But to leap from that to "well rape must be an inherent drive in men because under a hypothetical set of circumstances hypothetically rapists' genetic material will be more effectively passed on, hypothetically" is, frankly, ridiculous. Even the opposing viewpoint presented in the article was made up completely of hypothetical factors that would depend largely on culture. (Although I do appreciate someone presenting those to demonstrate the paucity of evidence the original "scientist" used to support his theory.)

Maybe babies born of rape were more likely to be drowned in the river 100,000 years ago. Maybe not. And that applies to all of the factors that would determine if the genetic material of a rapist is passed on.

We simply don't know. And that's why I and others reject this approach to determining what human actions are "genetic." The theory is so theoretical it might as well be a fairy tale.
posted by miss tea at 4:09 AM on June 26, 2009


PS I actually don't object at all to the hypothesizing. What drives me crazy is the sureness with which these unsubstantiated theories are presented. If the person in the article had presented his rape theory as just that-- fine, you can argue. But he is basically saying "look, this is true." There's really no way to prove that given the current tools at our disposal.
posted by miss tea at 4:24 AM on June 26, 2009


Social incentives (such as, death, beating, etc. that are often used to punish women who sleep with unapproved people) do not equal biological drives.

A trillion ants would beg to differ.

Indeed, the first class I ever took in college, Introduction to Political Behavior was basically all about monkey and human studies involving group behavior and seretonin levels of monkeys and apes who led small groups. Our response to social incentives is rarely carried out on the rational level and studies linked to observable phenomena such as seretonin levels demonstrate this.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:23 AM on June 26, 2009


miss tea: I am not quite clear about where in the article the theories about rape are presented as true. Can you help me understand what you are saying?
posted by hippybear at 7:08 AM on June 26, 2009


The Moneyshot from the article:
[Hill, et. al.] calculated rape's fitness costs and benefits. Rape costs a man fitness points if the victim's husband or other relatives kill him, for instance. He loses fitness points, too, if the mother refuses to raise a child of rape, and if being a known rapist (in a small hunter-gatherer tribe, rape and rapists are public knowledge) makes others less likely to help him find food. Rape increases a man's evolutionary fitness based on the chance that a rape victim is fertile (15 percent), that she will conceive (a 7 percent chance), that she will not miscarry (90 percent) and that she will not let the baby die even though it is the child of rape (90 percent). Hill then ran the numbers on the reproductive costs and benefits of rape. It wasn't even close: the cost exceeds the benefit by a factor of 10.
Maias: But perhaps more importantly, Daly and Wilson never claimed that stepparents have some kind of mental module that *makes* them do this. Nor have any evolutionary psychologists claimed that there is the kind of biological determinism that the writer attributes to them.

The concept of mental modules, or "cognitive organs" are the centerpiece of Stephen Pinker's arguments that the human brain is not a general behavior machine but a collection of specifically-evolved algorithms for questions like, "can I eat that?" The implicit argument made in the evolutionary psychology of sexual behavior is that our decision-making processes regarding sexual behavior are biased in certain specific ways towards maximum reproductive fitness.

FauxScott: Those in this thread that condemn social biology or evolutionary psychology are caught in a rather powerful pincer.

To me, it seems more likely that folks just can't stand the possibility that they have anything less than perfect free will. I see it more in religious folks and folks who have a vested interest in removing all of our 'animalness'. It makes things seem so unfair, and while I hate unfairness, I try not to let it influence my observation. Things are what they are. They don't care if I think they are fair or not.


Nonsense. The reason is that we don't need evolutionary psychologies myths about the pleistocene to make statements about human nature that are grounded in biology. Developmental psychologists have been doing it for the last 50 years. Neurobiology has exploded since the 1980s with the development of much better imaging technology. Heck, even B. F. Fucking Skinner's theories were grounded in a biological theory rooted in observations about the ability to learn from experience. I don't need science fiction about the Pleistocene to make statements about human memory, language, or mental illness.

The basic equation that is at the core of the modern synthesis that makes up real evolutionary biology is P = G + E. Observed variance in Phenotypes is the product of Genetic and Environmental factors. With human behavior, or ability to measure P is tricky and very sensitive to bias. Isolating G from E has proven to be a tricky, and possibly intractable problem under current ethical standards. Until you can do so, you can't even begin to construct rigorous models of what might change gene frequencies over multiple generations.

And evpsych theories of human sexual behavior don't even make sense. Depending on the argument du jour, women are either primed for long-term monogamy, primed to get hot over any signifier of reproductive fitness, or primed to get hot at any suggestion of sex. Evpsych approaches to sexuality seem to come with a pre-packaged virgin/whore dynamic.

darth_tedious: The thing is, nature and nurture are both factors-- and strong input from one can override the other. Put someone in an environment where they get very intense, or very persistent conditioning, and and that person's instincts can become flattened or reshaped.

Environment and genetics are not threshold effects in many cases. They often work together or in synergy with each other. Treating them as antagonistic is missing the entire fucking point, and ignoring huge volume of research on this issue.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:15 AM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Or for the tl;dr version evolutionary psychology has the following problems:

1: At it's heart, it's a strawman critique of cognitive, developmental, and behavioral psychology.

2: It's theories about the OBE are untestable projections of modern human cultures into an environment where we have minimal evidence.

3: Without a strong and evidence-based estimate of the heritability of a given behavioral trait, you can't create strong theories about the selective pressures on that trait.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:21 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maias: She conceded the point that evolution shaped the human brain-- which is the basis of evolutionary psychology. After accepting that, the rest is commentary, you're an evolutionary psychologist!

Except that's evidently not what evolutionary psychologists mean when they, completely dishonestly and in profound bad faith, make punching bags out of people like James and Skinner, both of whom generally agreed that evolution had a role in shaping the human brain. I can just as legitimately make the claim that since evolutionary psychologists are concerned with quantifiable human behavior that they are radical behaviorists.

No, the rest isn't all "commentary." Evolutionary psychologists are in profound theoretical and methodological hot water until they can 1) develop objective and unbiased ways of measuring the phenotype, 2) quantify the relationship between G and E and 3) develop testable hypotheses for looking at early-human culture.

Risko: That is the power of some Evo. Psych. arguments. Of course we can't go back in time and see past behaviors. Moreover, we cannot and should not discount culture, as it has a powerful role on human behavioral dispositions. But, when behavorial dispositions span cultural boundaries, there are certain preferences that indeed are determined by the makeup of our biology...for our species-wide survival benefit.

Well, ignoring the fact that the evidence for a universal preferred waist/hips ratio was never very strong and has been undermined by additional data, what is the argument for a specifically evolutionary psychology that is grounded in 1) untestable hypotheses regarding past behavior and 2) theoretically dismissing or underestimating environmental factors, as opposed to current cognitive and developmental psychology which takes into account 1) predispositions and 2) environmental factors?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:58 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


rtha:"Who said I was talking about you? Are you an evo psych guy? Because that's who I was talking about. "The truth"? Which truth? The truth that men are genetically programmed to rape? Is that a truth? Is that a fact? According to whom?

And Diane Ackerman? I was unaware that she was a trained scientist, let alone an evolutionary psychologist."

Calm down. I use the word 'truth' in its general sense, not this specific case. SEEKING truth is what I am talking about; not allocating it to this position. I don't buy that men (the class) are 'genetically programmed to rape'. I do SUSPECT that genes play a part in behavior... all behavior on some level and to some degree. Surely you'll concede that rape is a behavior? Will you also agree that it's not relegated to our time or our culture exclusively? From whence rises its worldwide existence? Culture? White male power is pretty much not a factor in the Congo.

You can also substitute Dr. David Buss for Ackerman, who has the science creds you crave; (Ackerman's chief asset is that she's female and it's a little harder to accuse her of misogyny, and she admittedly is not a scientist but an aggregator of sorts. Bad choice on my part. I blame my genes! No, goddamn it! I blame hers! )

Current thinking seems to be that we decended from lower forms of life. There is a continuum from where we are back to amoral, non-cultural life forms. All movement along that continuum came from genes at the most basic level. Personally, I don't have the stomach to argue with Darwin or the virtually 100% of living scientists who buy into his work. (It just occurred to me that he's actually the perfect example of scientific progress being made despite the political pressure to ignore an observation. Well, he and Galileo. )

Proving that environment can influence behavior, I have just decided to abandon (again!) my compulsion to engage these EB threads. Jeez, I have work to do!
posted by FauxScot at 8:28 AM on June 26, 2009


Has anyone bothered to actually study rape among chimpanzees? Using genetic analysis or even just observation? I mean, it seems that in the absence of ancestral hominids wandering around the savannah they're our best bet for finding out if there is a biological or genetic component to rape. I know a lot of sexual research has been carried out on bonobo populations....
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:43 AM on June 26, 2009


miss tea: I am not quite clear about where in the article the theories about rape are presented as true. Can you help me understand what you are saying?

hippybear, I was saying the "scientist" who has come up with the hypothesis that rape is a selected human trait and is presenting it as truth.
posted by miss tea at 8:48 AM on June 26, 2009


FauxScot: I do SUSPECT that genes play a part in behavior... all behavior on some level and to some degree.

Sure, but that's not where evolutionary psychology starts or ends.

Surely you'll concede that rape is a behavior? Will you also agree that it's not relegated to our time or our culture exclusively? From whence rises its worldwide existence? Culture? White male power is pretty much not a factor in the Congo.

We know that agricultural cultures came into existence, flourished, and in some cases vanished in different geographical locations independently of each other. So did writing. Do we then argue because agriculture and writing are not unique to a single culture, that they are genetic imperatives?

But of course, cognitive psychologists do explore the genetic basis of literacy. They do so by looking at the mistakes children make in adapting spoken language to written language. They do so by looking at patterns of brain activity in scanning and writing words. They do so by looking at the heredity of certain enlightening learning disabilities in language. They do so by looking at the way in we use context to handle typos and mistakes. Looking at the way in which a cultural innovation results in cognitive rewiring is something that's of great interest.

And says more about how or brains really work than caveman science fiction.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:51 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


David Brooks' take on this very article.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:00 AM on June 26, 2009


The concept of mental modules, or "cognitive organs" are the centerpiece of Stephen Pinker's arguments

What? Pinker was talking about things like edge detection in vision, not complex social behaviors. The idea that norms and the violation of them can be inherited is still so much hand waving.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:02 AM on June 26, 2009


lumpenprole: What? Pinker was talking about things like edge detection in vision, not complex social behaviors. The idea that norms and the violation of them can be inherited is still so much hand waving.

Which Pinker extrapolates to just about all cognition. Later in the same volume he proposes that cultural food taboos are an extrapolation of the mind organ that makes us picky eaters at toddlers. While Pinker doesn't say that kashrut and halal dietary practices are inherited, he does say that they are reinforced by mind organs that determine what we find to be "yummy." Complex social behaviors are built from systems of simpler mind organs, in the same way that our ability to walk down the street is requires the simple action of edge-detection.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:26 AM on June 26, 2009


> And evpsych theories of human sexual behavior don't even make sense. Depending on the argument du jour, women are either primed for long-term monogamy, primed to get hot over any signifier of reproductive fitness, or primed to get hot at any suggestion of sex.


I don't see a contradiction here. Surely a given woman can choose to live a life within a framework of long-term monogamy, while experiencing arousal and titillation when encountering signifiers of fitness, while sensing her body involuntarily react to suggestions of sex. Lifestyle choice, private fantasy, and physical reaction are different levels of behavior, with different levels of visibility to an observer.

> Evpsych approaches to sexuality seem to come with a pre-packaged virgin/whore dynamic.

Seeing a binary relationship between having sex and not having sex is one thing; construing it as a division between virgin and whore is something else entirely.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:29 AM on June 26, 2009


> And evpsych theories of human sexual behavior don't even make sense. Depending on the argument du jour, women are either primed for long-term monogamy, primed to get hot over any signifier of reproductive fitness, or primed to get hot at any suggestion of sex.


I don't see a contradiction here. Surely a given woman can choose to live a life within a framework of long-term monogamy, while experiencing arousal and titillation when encountering signifiers of fitness, while sensing her body involuntarily react to suggestions of sex. Lifestyle choice, private fantasy, and physical reaction are different levels of behavior, with different levels of visibility to an observer.


I think the argument the commenter is making is that evolutionary psychologists either argue that women are (1) totally hard-wired for monogamy; or (2) hard-wired cheaters. You can't be both.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:08 AM on June 26, 2009


From David Brooks' take on this very article:

"According to Miller, driving an Acura, Infiniti, Subaru or Volkswagen is a sign of high intelligence. Driving a Cadillac, Chrysler, Ford or Hummer is a sign of low intelligence."

...ok, well,

"Listening to Bjork is a sign of high intelligence,"

PPTHFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF! *cough* *cough* *squeeges OJ off the screen*

"while listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd is a sign of low intelligence."

Y'know, I hate it when people think like Lynyrd Skynyrd is just a guy in the band, y'know?
Sometimes, I like to think of Jesus with like giant eagles wings and singin’ lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like an Angel Band, and I’m in the front row, and I’m hammered drunk. Or sometimes I like to think of Jesus as wearin' a Tuxedo T-shirt, 'cause it says, like, "I want to be formal, but I'm here to party too." I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party. And I like to think of Jesus like a ninja fighting off evil samurai.
...but I digress.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:32 AM on June 26, 2009


Awesome. Classist much?
posted by small_ruminant at 11:50 AM on June 26, 2009


not you, Smedleyman. Miller, if that quote of Brooks's is accurate.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:51 AM on June 26, 2009


> I think the argument the commenter is making is that evolutionary psychologists either argue that women are (1) totally hard-wired for monogamy; or (2) hard-wired cheaters. You can't be both.

In contrast, I think the evo-psych argument is that women are relatively hard-wired to be relatively good at concealing cheating, and thereby preserving apparent monogamy and long-term relationships.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:06 PM on June 26, 2009


don't see a contradiction here. Surely a given woman can choose to live a life within a framework of long-term monogamy, while experiencing arousal and titillation when encountering signifiers of fitness, while sensing her body involuntarily react to suggestions of sex. Lifestyle choice, private fantasy, and physical reaction are different levels of behavior, with different levels of visibility to an observer.

I think the argument the commenter is making is that evolutionary psychologists either argue that women are (1) totally hard-wired for monogamy; or (2) hard-wired cheaters. You can't be both.


What evolutionary psychologists *typically* argue is much more subtle than any of that. They say that, on average, there are fewer circumstances in which it is evolutionarily sensible for women to cheat. Not that there are none, nor that women don't do it. Simply that circumstances likely to push a man to cheat are more common than those which push a woman to do it because of the greater biological investment women make in having a child.

What the anti-ev psych people seem to be missing is that

a) ev psych isn't a unitary position, some people support cognitive modules, others don't, there is a range of ideas about what those modules might be

b) ev psych people overwhelmingly argue that there are biological parameters that produce statistical tendencies to act certain ways in certain circumstances. this is not "hard wired to cheat"-- this is, if A, you'll tend to do B... very very different.

c) as a result, what ev psych looks for is universal "defaults" that can be turned up or down by culture. for example, there might be a universal default for men to look more for signs of beauty and fertility in partners and women to look more for signs of status. but cultures can either run with this or push against it. completely eliminating the tendency is probably unlikely-- but different cultures tune it up or down.

and, interestingly, before you get gender differences in what people seek in mates cross-culturally, you get two primary similarities: both want kindness and intelligence.
posted by Maias at 12:06 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Calm down.... Surely you'll concede that rape is a behavior? Will you also agree that it's not relegated to our time or our culture exclusively? From whence rises its worldwide existence?

I don't know much about this debate, but if this comment represents Evolutionary Psychology, then I hate it too.
posted by msalt at 12:07 PM on June 26, 2009


So you believe in the Noble Savage? Everything bad we do is because of human culture?
posted by Non Prosequitur at 12:28 PM on June 26, 2009


Maias: What evolutionary psychologists *typically* argue is much more subtle than any of that. They say that, on average, there are fewer circumstances in which it is evolutionarily sensible for women to cheat. Not that there are none, nor that women don't do it. Simply that circumstances likely to push a man to cheat are more common than those which push a woman to do it because of the greater biological investment women make in having a child.

The problem is that without some quantitative model of P = G + E, it's all back of the napkin bullshit. Heck, it's bullshit because there isn't a good model for how sexuality works. Which is why evpsych advocates are barking up the wrong tree when they point to things like monogamy and attitudes regarding infidelity rather than looking at people sporting mutations that prevent them from understanding numbers above 2.

a) ev psych isn't a unitary position, some people support cognitive modules, others don't, there is a range of ideas about what those modules might be

In which case, there is no point in identifying someone as an evolutionary psychologist, is there?

b) ev psych people overwhelmingly argue that there are biological parameters that produce statistical tendencies to act certain ways in certain circumstances. this is not "hard wired to cheat"-- this is, if A, you'll tend to do B... very very different.

Yes, so what distinguishes evolutionary psychology as an approach distinct and different from behavioral, cognitive and developmental psychology which has been wrestling with those biological parameters for most of the last century?

c) as a result, what ev psych looks for is universal "defaults" that can be turned up or down by culture.

In which case, evolutionary psychology is built on an antiquated and proven-false model of the relationships between biology, genetics, and environment. Evolutionary psychology isn't just bad psychology, built on myths that are only slightly stronger than Freud's id, but this renders it bad biology as well.

Non Prosequitur: So you believe in the Noble Savage? Everything bad we do is because of human culture?

Hilarious.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:49 PM on June 26, 2009


"I do SUSPECT that genes play a part in behavior... all behavior on some level and to some degree. Surely you'll concede that rape is a behavior? Will you also agree that it's not relegated to our time or our culture exclusively? From whence rises its worldwide existence?"

I'm no biologist, but I'd think it'd come from the urge for procreation and the massive wiring of nerve ends routed into pleasure centers. Rape is a more specific kind of behavior than the core biology that produces an erection.
While there are no inhibitors (outside of chemistry) for having an erection (as evidenced by them popping up on the school bus, in math class, and all sorts of other inopportune moments) there is a lot of negative social feedback in terms of rape (being killed among them).
So I'd think the feedback would trump the biology - even if genes can dictate behavior to that degree of complexity. I always thought genes were sort of 'blind.' I don't really know.

Still, I've got a pretty ferocious temper and a martial attitude and a high sex drive. Never even been anywhere close to raping anyone.
If (if) there's a genetic basis for rape because of environment, surely that'd work the other way as well - environmental feedback for a given behavior knocking it down. That'd be coded into genes.
Which seems to bring us back to those initial premises of the anarchical caveman dragging his woman by the hair. Which just isn't true.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:20 PM on June 26, 2009


What else is hatred for the idea that a behavior is not limited to our time/culture expressing but the idea that time/culture creates behavior?
posted by Non Prosequitur at 1:21 PM on June 26, 2009


Non Prosequitur: What else is hatred for the idea that a behavior is not limited to our time/culture expressing but the idea that time/culture creates behavior?

My goodness, such an earnest insistence on barking up the wrong tree while ignoring just about all of the criticisms of evpsych that have been presented in this discussion. (Including the post you responded to.) Perhaps you could go back and actually read the OP and the posts that followed?

But to enlighten you, of course strawman of a cultural determinist wouldn't argue for the Noble Savage theory of human behavior. The Noble Savage theory is actually an essentialist view of human nature, as it proposes that humans are naturally moral and only the sturm and drang of civilization renders them immoral. A strawman cultural determinist would, very correctly point out that practically all humans have a culture, (along with many social animals), and that we shouldn't assume that just because a culture has not developed the corset and the whale-oil lamp, that they are ignorant savages living in a state of divine or natural grace.

Of course, the strawman cultural determinist could point to the fact that social interventions have lead to changes in behavior, such as washing hands, boiling water, and wearing condoms. Which means they are substantially less full of shit than the evolutionary psychologist, having at least a testable hypothesis.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:44 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read the article well before it was posted here, but I just love how you're lathering yourself in contempt. It's sorta cute. Maybe I was just responding to the comment above mine and not to your strangely aggravated bluster? That's a good distinction between Noble Savage and cultural determinism though.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 1:56 PM on June 26, 2009


Or to put it simply, contrary to the blatantly dishonest bleatings of Pinker, the debate is not between nature vs. nurture. Behavioral, cognitive, and developmental psychology are quite well aware of P = G + E. The debate is about whether one can construct reasonable hypotheses about evolutionary selective pressures in the absence of a good model for the relationships between G and E for a given behavior, or the environment in question.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:58 PM on June 26, 2009


"What else is hatred for the idea that a behavior is not limited to our time/culture expressing but the idea that time/culture creates behavior?"

I don't know what the fuck you're talking about.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:05 PM on June 26, 2009


"What else is hatred for the idea that a behavior is not limited to our time/culture expressing but the idea that time/culture creates behavior?"

Dittoing Smedleyman in spirit, if not tone, 'cause all I could think of for an answer was, "Uh, Hitler?"

Apologies if I'm being thicker than usual.
posted by shetterly at 2:12 PM on June 26, 2009


The debate is about whether one can construct reasonable hypotheses about evolutionary selective pressures in the absence of a good model for the relationships between G and E for a given behavior, or the environment in question

And this is what the entire field of epigenetics seeks to do-- and is coming up with some intriguing results. Nonetheless, Darwin got pretty far without even knowing what a gene was and I don't think there's anything with wrong with making these hypotheses and trying to test them now.

Why do I think ev psych is a better way of doing this than other approaches to psychology? Because at least it starts with the idea that our minds had to have evolved somehow. The rest of it is often based on ideas that are incompatible with having evolved minds-- like Freud's Oedipal stuff. At least with ev psych you can rule ridiculous stuff out and move towards a basis for psychology that is compatible with neuroscience. Is it perfect? No.

But people like Sarah Hrdy and EO Wilson and Martin Daly and Margo Wilson and John Tooby and Leda Cosmides have done some fascinating work and the way it was caricatured in that article was absurd and bore little connection to what their work actually suggests.
posted by Maias at 3:11 PM on June 26, 2009


I read Desmond Morris' "The Naked Ape" in college (as did the majority of my friends). I had just switched my major to psychology at the time, and so developed an interest in evolutionary psychology. Imagine my shock at the revulsion I encountered when I told a friend of mine outside college that I was interested in the field. Apparently some guys use it to justify all sorts of horrible behavior? Who knew! I just thought it was an interesting way to explain why we have things like religion.
posted by Eideteker at 4:08 PM on June 26, 2009


She conceded the point that evolution shaped the human brain-- which is the basis of evolutionary psychology. After accepting that, the rest is commentary, you're an evolutionary psychologist!

What is this, some kind of solipsistic card trick? Shuffle, shuffle. "And THERE'S the hypothesis you chose, isn't it? Ha!"

How about this hypothesis/commentary: the human brain evolved so that our behavior is controlled by social rather than evolutionary forces, giving us a decisive evolutionary advantage in flexibility. Which is why all of EvPsych's deterministic justifications for rape, infidelity and golddigging are wrong.
posted by msalt at 4:14 PM on June 26, 2009


Maias: And this is what the entire field of epigenetics seeks to do-- and is coming up with some intriguing results. Nonetheless, Darwin got pretty far without even knowing what a gene was and I don't think there's anything with wrong with making these hypotheses and trying to test them now.

How can you test them?

Let's take an example from evolutionary biology. We know that birds were related to theropod dinosaurs because we have physical evidence that shows they were: hollow bones, contour fossils of feathers, bone structures characteristic of endothermy, attachment points for feathers on bones, and multiple skeletal similarities.

We know that H. pylori co-evolved with human beings fairly early because we have quantitative measures of genetic variance among H. pylori populations that correlate with quantitative measures of genetic variance in human populations. This is at the molecular biology level.

In the absence of either physical evidence for rape among human populations over time, or quantitative measures of genetic variance how can you construct any kind of a hypothesis regarding selective pressures on genetic factors linked to rape? We don't even know if date rape, prison rape, serial rape, sexual abuse of children, and wartime rape have the same behavioral etiology. How can we even begin to construct a testable evolutionary hypothesis other than, "yep, something in human cognition evolved to make rape possible."

The big problem as I see it, is that when I was trained as a biologist, the limitations of evidence in regards to evolutionary hypothesis was pounded into my skull. If you wanted to talk about the behavior of extinct species, you better have some pretty good physical evidence to back it up. I could certainly propose out of my ass that T. rex turned its head to look at prey like a bird, but that's an untestable hypothesis. E. O. Wilson can make claims regarding the evolution of ant behavior, because there are thousands of living species in dozens of clades. For humans, in talking about the evolution of social psychology we have only four living species in three clades.

Given Goodall's multiple accounts of rapes within chimpanzee populations, the evolutionary evidence puts the capacity for rape at least as far back as the common ancestor 5-7mya. Of course, we can't exclude the hypothesis that rape evolved independently in both, as opposed to bonobos evolving an absence of rape once. Even this assessment is controversial given the problems identifying rape from observations. That's as far as the evidence goes. Arguments putting all human behavior in the Pleistocene strike me as fairly arbitrary, and unsupported by evidence.

Of course another fallacy that evolutionary psychologists make is claiming if humans do a behavior then specifically that behavior must be the selected agent. The obvious counter is writing. We know that writing and reading are rewired speaking and listening. The late and multiple origins of literacy suggest a more plastic view of language and abstraction than evolutionary psychology is willing to deal with. (Ironically, because we can possibly isolate some of the genes necessary for literacy, it might be possible to construct an evolutionary hypothesis there.) As we don't really have a good theoretical etiology for rape at this time, it's premature to make the claim to a rape "gene" as opposed to an aggression or disassociation "gene." (With the caveat that it's likely to be a multi-gene thing.)

But people like Sarah Hrdy and EO Wilson and Martin Daly and Margo Wilson and John Tooby and Leda Cosmides have done some fascinating work and the way it was caricatured in that article was absurd and bore little connection to what their work actually suggests.

And you've chosen to caricature just about every other branch of psychology that doesn't wear it's evolutionary origins on its sleeve.

So far, what I've seen of evolutionary psychology is that it offers nothing to the discipline that can't be covered without the science fiction of Pleistocene behavioral origins. Saying that the capacity for certain behaviors evolved? No shit Sherlock. Everyone else already said that. I can say that my messy cognition evolved without such narrative myths, thank you very much.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:15 PM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Dittoing Smedleyman in spirit, if not tone,"

Yeah, there's no modulation here so that probably comes off as more ascerbic than I intend. Which was more like Kari from the Incredibles vocally than, say, Francis from Left 4 Dead.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:49 PM on June 26, 2009


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