Monthly Archives: July 2015

Three Things We Now Know About Being Human, Thanks To Ev Psych

Evolutionary psychologist Glenn Geher posts at Psychology Today on three big findings about humans that wouldn’t have been possible without the “mountain of research” done by evolutionary psychologists.

Here are two of the three findings:

1. Men are more than twice as likely to experience early mortality (death) during young adulthood compared with women (Kruger & Nesse, 2006).

Men are more likely to die than are women at any and all phases of the life cycle. Applying an evolutionary lens, Kruger and Nesse (2006) hypothesized that this phenomenon should be exacerbated during young adulthood when males are more likely to be courting mates and, as a result, engaging in male/male (intrasexual) competition. And that’s exactly what they found.

 

2. Step-parents are, by a large order of magnitude, more likely to engage in filicide (killing of offspring) compared with genetic/biological parents (see Daly & Wilson, 2005).

Filicide is universally seen as horrific. So it would benefit humanity writ large to understand its antecedents. Applying evolutionary-based reasoning, Daly and Wilson (2005) reasoned that as step-parents do not share the same genetic investment with offspring as biological parents do, then step-parents might be more likely to engage in filicide. And this is, by a large order of magnitude, exactly what they found.

For the third, check out Glenn Geher’s blog post on PsychologyToday.com. More about Glenn.

“Yes, But…”: Answers To Ten Common Criticisms of Evolutionary Psychology

Excellent myth-busting post by evolutionary psychologist David Schmitt. It came out of an invited talk he gave on evolution and human reproductive strategies to an audience of mostly sociologists and family studies professors. Schmitt writes at Evolution-Institute.org:

I mentioned that some social scientists hold false beliefs about “evolutionary psychology,” such as the mistaken assumption that evolutionary psychologists think all men are interested in bedding as many women as possible (often called short-term mating), whereas all women are only interested in marrying a single man and staying faithful to him for a lifetime (i.e., long-term mating).

 

When I tried to dispel this common misperception by noting, for instance, that evolutionary psychologists have hypothesized women are just as designed for short-term mating as men are—in some ways even more so such as women’s heightened desires for cues to genetic quality in short-term mates—an audible gasp swept through the conference hall. I kid you not, I could see rows of people who looked genuinely horrified.

 

I was a little taken aback, so I asked an audience member near the front row who had her hand over her mouth if something was unclear, to which she proclaimed, “that’s not the evolutionary psychology I know.”

 

When I tried to explain that women’s evolved short-term mating desires have been studied by evolutionary psychologists since the early 1990s and the topic remains a very active area of inquiry today, heads swiveled in disbelief.

 

…It seems to me many critics of evolutionary psychology cling steadfastly to false stereotypes of the field, both theoretical and empirical.

 

…Beyond simply not knowing about the empirical breadth and methodological richness of modern evolutionary science, many critics exhibit a certain kind of “empirical nihilism” toward any psychological findings even remotely portrayed as supporting evolutionary hypotheses.

 

For instance, when one points to a set of studies that respond to a specific criticism, some critics reply with a “yes, but” attitude and set forth new criticisms requiring more evidence (sort of a serial “moving the goalposts” maneuver). Now, in science extreme skepticism is generally a good thing. For scientists, there are no capital “T” Truths, and every claim about reality is tentatively true with a small “t” and is always adjustable as more evidence is accumulated over time.

 

Sometimes, though, this attitude is more than healthy skepticism about a particular empirical finding and is, instead, clearly an attitude of irrefutable empirical nihilism toward evolutionary psychology studies in particular.

 

As an example of this type of unshakeable attitude of disbelief, I list below 10 of the more common “yes, but” criticisms of evolutionary findings on women’s long-term mate preferences.

Here’s one of those 10 — starting with the “Yes, but…” criticism of ev psych:

5) Yes, but…this [women’s long-term mate preferences for cues to a man’s ability and willingness to devote resources] is only because women are denied access to resources themselves. If women have higher status themselves, they would not prefer men with high status. It’s just basic rationality, not evolved psychology, causing these sex differences in mate preferences for status.

 

Actually, it is a compelling test of women’s long-term mate preferences for men’s status-related traits (including their ability and willingness to provide resources) to evaluate whether their expressed preferences disappear when women have ample resources of their own. It could be women only prefer cues to men’s ability and willingness to provide resources because women are structurally denied access to resources[39].

 

Addressing this alternative explanation, Townsend and his colleagues have found women in medical school[40] and law school[41] are more selective of a future mate’s financial status, not less. Similarly, Wiederman and Allgeier[42] found college women’s expected income was positively associated with their ratings of the importance of a potential long-term mate’s earning capacity.

 

Regan[43] found as women’s mate value goes up, so does their insistence on men’s high status and resources (i.e., they “want it all”; see also[44]). Having higher personal status and resource-related traits appears not to attenuate women’s preferences for cues to men’s ability and willingness to provide resources. Instead, at least in the USA, women achieving high status themselves appears to make their long-term mate preferences for men’s high status even more intense!

For the rest of the 10, go to the link.

Twins Researcher Nancy Segal, Studying The Bogata Twins, Separated At Birth

In New York Times Magazine, Susan Dominus tells the riveting story of two pairs of Colombian identical twins raised as fraternal twins — how they found each other and what happened after they met.

However, there’s a science story here, and it involves twins researcher Dr. Nancy Segal, who is studying the four brothers.

But first, a little preface from Dominus’s piece about why the study of twins is important for the rest of us:

Identical twins don’t make obvious evolutionary sense; fraternal twins at least have the benefit of genetic diversity, improving the odds that at least one might survive whatever misfortune comes their way. And yet, in their utter inexplicability, identical twins have helped elucidate our most basic understanding of why, and how, we become who we are. By studying the overlap of traits in fraternal twins (who share, on average, 50 percent of their genes) and the overlap of those traits in identical twins (who share 100 percent of their genes), scientists have, for more than a century, been trying to tease out how much variation within a population can be attributed to heredity and how much to environment.

Nancy Segal, by the way, is not one to do her studying from afar:

William had only one condition for his participation: He insisted that Segal and Montoya visit the home in which he grew up in Santander. Without that, he thought, they could never really understand who he was. He did worry, however, that if he told Segal and Montoya how long it would take to get to Santander, they would never agree to go. So he dodged and evaded whenever the subject of travel time came up. It’s a four- or five-hour drive, William would say, and then add, almost as an afterthought, that when the road could get them no closer to their destination, they would get out and walk. For how long? A little while, William would say; it might be a little muddy. How muddy? Maybe, he would suggest, it would be easier if at that point Segal traveled by horse. Would she, by any chance, rather ride a horse? Segal, a woman in her early 60s who grew up in the Bronx, said no.

And a few words about the science, quoting from Dominus:

The casual observer is fascinated by how similar identical twins are, but some geneticists are more interested in identifying all the reasons they might differ, sometimes in significant ways. Why might one identical twin be gay or transgender and not the other? Why do identical twins, born with the same DNA, sometimes die of different diseases at different times in their lives? Their environments must be different, but which aspect of their environment is the one that took their biology in a different direction? Smoking, stress, obesity — those are some of the factors that researchers have been able to link to specific changes in the expression of specific genes. They expect, in time, to find hundreds, possibly thousands, of others.

 

…Before she left for Bogotá, Segal contacted Jeffrey Craig, who studies epigenetics at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Australia, to ask if he would analyze the epigenetics of Carlos, Jorge, Wilber and William, using saliva swabs she would obtain while she was there.

 

Craig has analyzed the epigenetic profiles of 34 identical and fraternal twins at birth, collecting swabs from their inner cheeks. To Craig, it was noteworthy that in some cases — not many, but some — the epigenetic profile of one newborn twin was more similar to an unrelated baby than to the identical twin with whom that baby shared a womb. Structural differences in the womb could possibly account for it, Craig says — a thicker umbilical cord for one than the other (there are, in fact, two cords) or an awkward site of connection for the umbilical cord on the placenta. But he recognizes that there could be additional factors still in the realm of guesswork. Perhaps one twin is farther from the sound of the mother’s heart, its reassuring steady beat, sending that child on a slightly different life course.

Segal and Craig were eager to see the epigenetic results for the Colombian twins. Whose epigenetic profile, they wondered, would look more alike? The biologically unrelated twins who shared an environment — Segal calls them virtual twins — or the ones whose DNA was the same?

A sample of four subjects could only raise questions, not answer them. But epigenetic testing on larger samples of twins reared apart could one day provide a valuable resource for epigenetic science, says Kelly Klump, who is the co-­director of the Michigan State University Twin Registry. ‘‘You can’t look at how the environment will change the function of the genome without holding constant the genome,’’ she says. ‘‘Identical twins allow you to do that.’’ Given how hard it is to find identical twins raised apart, twins researchers working in epigenetics have mostly been focusing on the identical twins who show difference. Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, is generating a huge global registry for identical twins in which only one twin has, for example, diabetes or autism.

And Segal’s findings, also quoted from Dominus’s piece:

Before starting her research, Segal would not have been surprised if each young man tested similarly to his identical twin, despite their different environments. But her preliminary results, she said, show that on a number of traits, the identical twins were less alike than she initially anticipated. ‘‘I came away with a real respect for the effect of an extremely different environment,’’ Segal said.

Perhaps the results merely indicate that people raised in deeply rural environments, with little education, take tests in a wholly different manner from those who attended a university. William, who managed a small business with competence, at times seemed overwhelmed by the test. But Segal considered the young men’s story a case history that might provoke further research, inspiring others to seek out more examples of twins reared apart with significantly different upbringings, whatever they were.

Do read the whole compelling story in New York Times Magazine.

Learn more about Dr. Nancy Segal here. You can also buy her books through this link at Amazon — and, by going through this link, you’ll be supporting AEPS at no cost to you!

Sometimes We Have Sex Because We Don’t Want To Do The Dishes

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Evolutionary social psychologist Carin Perilloux was one of the co-authors on a new study“Sex and Mating Strategy Impact the 13 Basic Reasons for Having Sex.” (It’s the Kennair et al paper referenced below.)

And most helpfully — this being the Applied Evolutionary Psychology Society blog — Perilloux put the findings in context for us in this piece below.

Have you ever wondered why people have sex?

If you’re like most people, the answer might have seemed so obvious to you that you never stopped to wonder about it. Just a decade ago, psychologists probably would have had the same reaction, citing a few reasons such as reproduction and physical pleasure.

But a recent study led by Leif Kennair has confirmed that humans have sex for a large suite of reasons. Replicating the original findings of Cindy Meston and David Buss (2007), Kennair and colleagues show that the reasons men and women give for having sex fall into 13 categories:

•Stress reduction – “I thought it would relax me” “I’m a sex addict”

•Pleasure – “I was horny” “It feels good”

•Physical desirability – “S/he was naked and I couldn’t resist” “His/her appearance turned me on”

•Experience seeking – “I was curious” “I wanted to see what s/he was like in bed”

•Resources – “I wanted a child” “I wanted to make money”

•Social status – “I wanted to be popular” “I wanted to brag to my friends about it”

•Revenge – “I wanted to make someone jealous” “I wanted to get back at my cheating ex”

•Utilitarian – “I wanted to keep warm” “I wanted to get out of doing something else”

•Love and commitment – “I wanted to show my feelings for him/her” “I wanted to take the next step in our relationship”

•Expression/consolidation – “I wanted to celebrate his/her birthday” “I wanted to say I was sorry”

•Self-esteem – “I wanted attention” “I wanted to boost my self-esteem”

•Duty/pressure – “I wanted to stop my partner from nagging about it” “I felt it was my duty”

•Mate guarding – “I wanted to prevent a breakup” “I wanted to decrease my partner’s desire to cheat”

Now that you’ve read the list, your perspective might have shifted since the beginning of the post: perhaps now it seems obvious to you that people have loads and loads of different reasons for having sex! And these reasons are not simply idiosyncratic: there’s a pattern to them.

First, the reasons replicate cross-culturally: Meston and Buss (2007) originally documented these 13 categories in a US sample while Kennair (2015) found the same 13 categories in a Norwegian sample.

Second, Kennair and colleagues (2015) showed that gender and mating strategy are good predictors of who endorses which reasons for having sex. For example, men are more likely to cite Stress Reduction reasons for sex than women. And men and women who are more interested in short-term mating (e.g., hooking up, one night stands) are more likely to cite reasons for sex in the Pleasure, Experience-Seeking, and Revenge categories.

Learning that people have sex for a multitude of reasons can help us understand ourselves better – and our sex partners. It can perhaps give us pause in our assumptions about why someone might want to have sex with us – and addressing our own assumptions is generally a good exercise.

These findings also help many of us to feel more normal about why we have sex. Sure, a lot of times we have sex for the big reasons – it feels good, we want to have kids – but sometimes we have sex because it will make our ex jealous, or we don’t want to do the dishes, or it’s simply a little more interesting than the novel on the nightstand.

Our reasons for having sex might not always be grand or fun or even healthy, but they are part of the suite of motivations for sex that makes us human. Researching these underlying motivations is a step toward understanding our mating psychology even better. And as mating researchers (and all of you who have ever engaged in mating) know: it’s complicated!

See more about Perilloux’s research here.

Read Meston and Buss’s (popular science) book on this subject, Why Women Have Sex: Women Reveal the Truth About Their Sex Lives, from Adventure to Revenge

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The World Needs Secular Communities To Fill The Shoes Of Religious Communities, Now In Decline

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Michael Price writes at Evolution-Institute.org of the needs religion fills (by providing ritual and common values and a network of social support) — and the need to fill them in secular ways as religions decline. This can be accomplished by creating secular communities that fill the needs religions traditionally have. Price explains the need to do this as a public health issue:

It’s well-documented that religious people tend to live healthier and longer lives, and the best explanation that scientists have found for this relationship is that organized religion provides people with supportive communities.

 

Religious affiliation makes people less lonely, and loneliness doesn’t just feel bad, it’s also bad for your health. Loneliness is associated with heightened blood pressure, weakened immune system, increased depression, and other unhealthy outcomes. Therefore it’s strongly associated with all-cause mortality, and its effects are every bit as deadly as better-known risk factors like obesity, smoking, and substance abuse.

 

And as religiosity has been decreasing, loneliness has been increasing. Data on loneliness have not been collected as systematically as data on religiosity, but in countries like the USA and UK, people are lonelier than ever before. Loneliness is often seen as being more of a problem for older people, but there is little evidence to support this view. The negative health effects of loneliness in fact appear to be worse for younger than older people, and in the UK, younger people are the loneliest age group, just as they are also the least religious.

Price offers a number of recommendations for requirements secular organizations need to meet to function as replacements for religious groups. A few examples:

Endorse a simple set of shared values. These values should reflect member beliefs and promote human progress.The most important kinds of values to define are social (how we should treat other people) and epistemological (how we should understand the world). The choice of values I’d suggest are influenced by my own subjective preferences, but I think a successful secular movement would certainly need to promote social values associated with compassion and inclusiveness, and epistemological values associated with reason and science. (Note that these are roughly the same values advocated by the British Humanist Association).

 

Make members feel like they’re part of a larger force for good in the world. Community is great not just because it helps individuals avoid loneliness, but because it enables them to work together and thus achieve much more than they could by acting alone. People want to be part of a force for good in the world that is larger than themselves, and secular community can provide this opportunity.

This is not from Price’s piece, but the Josephson Institute of Ethics is an example of an organization that functions as a secular replacement for religious groups.

About Michael Price: Michael Price is Senior Lecturer in Psychology, and co-Director of the Centre for Culture and Evolutionary Psychology, at Brunel University, London.

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Testosterone, The Hormone Of Aggression – Also A Helping Hormone?

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At SocialEthology.com, ethologist Dorian Furtuna posts:

Men with a high level of testosterone in their blood will suddenly become more generous towards their group members and, at the same time, more aggressive towards the foreign rivals; they will be more willing to risk for the sake of their group, to engage in competition and fights for the common good and to punish those who cheat or refuse to fight for the group’s cause. This altruist behavior of self-sacrifice usually applies only to competition and intergroup conflicts. Therefore, testosterone does not necessarily induce antisocial attitudes and actions, but is rather involved in a much more complex behavioral mechanism, which has an adaptive role [Diekhof et al., 2014].

Follow Dorian on Twitter: @instinctologist

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Dr. Gad Saad Wins The 2014 Darwinism Applied Award

 

AEPS is proud to announce that the winner of the 2014 Darwinism Applied Award is Professor Gad Saad! Dr. Saad is a highly esteemed evolutionary behavioural scientist who has been a pioneer in popularizing the applied use of evolutionary psychology – not only through academic papers and books, but also in blog posts, newspapers, podcasts, television and radio appearances.

Dr. Saad is the founder of the field of evolutionary consumption, the intersection of evolutionary psychology and consumer behaviour and marketing.

He is Professor of Marketing and holder of the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption since 2008 at Concordia University in Montreal. Dr. Saad received his PhD from Cornell University, in Marketing, Statistics and Cognitive Studies, and has been a professor of marketing at Concordia University since 1994, during which time he has also held Visiting Associate Professorships at Cornell University, Dartmouth College, and the University of California-Irvine.

He is Associate Editor of the academic journals Evolutionary Psychology and Customer Needs and Solutions, and an advisory fellow at the Center for Inquiry (Canada).

Dr. Saad has authored over 75 scientific articles in numerous disciplines, including marketing, consumer behavior, advertising, psychology, medicine, economics, and bibliometrics. His popular science book, The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature was released in June 2011, to widespread acclaim. His 2007 book, The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption, is the first academic book to demonstrate the Darwinian roots of a wide range of consumption phenomena. His edited book, Evolutionary Psychology in the Business Sciences, was released in 2011, as was his special issue on the future of evolutionary psychology published in Futures journal.(Elsevier).

Dr. Saad’s work has been covered in over 300 media outlets around the world; in television documentaries/interviews, radio interviews, podcasts, newspapers, magazines, and blogs.  Thanks to the extensive media coverage of his research, he has been appointed Newsmaker of the Week of Concordia University for five consecutive years (2011-2015).  Dr. Saad is the author of the immensely popular Psychology Today blog; Homo Consumericus, on human consumption, garnering over 3 million views to date. He has a huge online presence, including his website and social media channels TwitterFacebookYouTube, and has given two highly engaging TEDx talks (http://bit.ly/egNuXr and http://bit.ly/12tewh7)

2014 marks the fourth annual “Darwinism Applied” award presented by AEPS.  Each year, AEPS honours an evolutionary scientist whose work demonstrates the value of evolutionarily informed practical solutions to human problems. Previous recipients of the “Darwinism Applied” award are Prof. David Sloan Wilson, Dr. S. Craig Roberts, and Prof. Randolph M. Nesse, for their contributions to applied evolutionary psychology in their respective fields.  Dr. Saad joins this esteemed group of scientists with the 2014 Darwinism Applied Award.

Please join us, the board of directors of AEPS, in congratulating Dr. Saad for his significant accomplishments in advancing practical application of evolutionary behavioural science, and be sure to peruse some of his ground-breaking work.

 

02.08.2015 – NEEPS is proud to announce that the winner of the 2014 Darwinism Applied Award is Dr. Gad Saad of Concordia University! Dr. Saad has been instrumental in popularizing the applied use of evolutionary psychology through academic papers, books, blogs, podcasts, and television and radio appearances. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Saad, and check out his work, such as the excellent 2011 popular science book, The Consuming Instinct.