Monthly Archives: August 2015

Sex Disparities in the Workplace: Is Competitiveness to Blame?

It’s no secret—across many cultures, men and women aren’t equal in the workplace. Men are more likely to hold high positions, and earn higher salaries than their women counterparts on most rungs of the corporate ladder. A study performed by Drs. Corin Apicella and Anna Dreber, published in this September’s issue of Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, suggests that that some of these workplace disparities may exist because men are more willing to engage in competition than are women, though this willingness to compete may differ depending on the type of task.

Participants were all members of the Hadza hunter-gatherer group, which is a group living in remote areas of Tanzania. The Hadza population is often studied when determining whether certain psychological traits, like mate preferences or competitiveness, may have been present in our early ancestors.

Participants engaged in 3 different tasks: a gender-neutral task, a female-centric task, and a male-centric task. Results suggested that:

“Hadza boys and men are more competitive than Hadza girls and women. This difference, however, is only significant for the gender-neutral task (skipping rope) and the male centric-task (handgrip strength)”.

However, when it came to actual performance,

“Boys and men are significantly more competitive than girls and women in skipping rope, even though they perform equally well when it comes to both practice jumps and actual performance. The sex difference in competitiveness found for handgrip strength, with men competing more than females, is less surprising since men are typically stronger than women.”

In the female-centric task (bead collection), women performed better on the task than men, but they did not display significantly different levels of competitiveness than men.

The sex differences in competitiveness observed in the Hadza population across all age groups, though only present in certain tasks, tend to support the idea that

“Financial and labor outcome disparities… may, in part, result from sex differences in economic preferences such as willingness to compete.”

While we have previously assumed the existence of evolutionary sex differences in competitiveness in humans, these assumptions have come largely from work done in nonhuman primates. Some prior work in humans has suggested sex differences in competitiveness, though Apicella and Dreber provide us with some of the first data on these sex differences across different task types.

Upcoming Evolutionary Psychology Conferences

HBES, June 29th to July 3rd, 2016, Vancouver, Canada: The 28th annual HBES conference will be held June 29th to July 3rd, 2016 at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver, Canada. (HBES is the biggie of ev psych conferences, with the most international attendees.)

NEEPS, June 2-5, 2016, in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada): The NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society will hold its 10th annual conference, beginning 6/2/16, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Our AEPS meetings and sessions will also be held there.)

SEEPS, Feb 12, 2006, Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The SouthEastern Evolutionary Perspectives Society (SEEPS) will hold its inaugural meeting February 12th, 2016 (Darwin Day) through the 14th at the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa, AL. (SEEPS is the newest ev psych organization.)

ISHE, August 1-5, 2016, University of Stirling, Scotland: The 23rd Biennial Congress on Human Ethology will be held at the University of Stirling, in Scotland, from the 1st – 5th of August 2016. What is ethology? More from ISHE’s website.

SPSP (with Evolutionary pre-conference, Jan 28), Jan 28-30, San Diego, California: The annual Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference will be held in will be held in San Diego, Jan 28-30, 2016.

EHBEA, April 5-8, 2016, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: The annual European Human Behavior and Evolution Association’s annual conference will take place in London, April 5-8, 2016.

Evolutionary Tradeoffs: Too Materialistic To Marry And Have Children?

Evolutionary social psychologist Norm Li and his colleagues have posted an interesting open access study at PLOS ONE, exploring materialism’s relationship to attitudes toward marriage and having children. They studied subjects in Singapore, finding that:

Materialistic values led to more negative attitudes toward marriage, which led to more negative attitudes toward children, which in turn led to a decreased number of children desired. Results across two studies highlight, at the individual level, the tradeoff between materialistic values and attitudes toward marriage and procreation and suggest that a consideration of psychological variables such as materialistic values may allow for a better understanding of larger-scale socioeconomic issues including low fertility rates among developed countries.

There’s a drop in fertility in prosperous countries:

In many modern societies, native populations are shrinking as citizens are delaying marriage and having less children. This is especially the case in East Asia, where countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea have fertility rates that are far short of what is required to sustain a population. Although this trend seems to be related to economic development, relatively little is known—especially from a psychological perspective—regarding what it is about economic development that may be responsible for inducing aversions to marriage and procreation. In this paper, we considered the possibility that a key factor prevalent in modern societies—materialistic values—may negatively influence the value that individuals place on marriage and children.

They further explain at the end of the paper:

Materialistic values may, from an early age, compete with and displace values relating to cooperation and interpersonal warmth. Such displaced values may directly or indirectly decrease the desire for marriage and family.

There seems to be an evolutionary mismatch here — between our evolved psychology and the modern world:

Modern-day materialism may involve a maladaptive engagement of mental processes evolved to impel individuals to acquire social status and signal their status to others. Although status signaling may be a manageable process in an ancestral village of 100 to 150 individuals, in the modern day, rapid technological advances combined with global competition induce symbols of social status to change at increasingly faster rates and luxury goods to lose their luster exceedingly quickly. Thus, it is not possible for most modern people to acquire what feels like enough status for very long or at all, and materialistic desires may lock individuals into a costly and futile pursuit of status targets perpetually moving upwards. Ironically, then, the pursuit of status may be leading to decreased reproduction in the modern day.

As for possible solutions, Norm Li explained in an email:

As long as evolved mechanisms for social status exist, accompanied by capitalism, technology, globalization, and advertising, there will likely be competitive materialistic processes. However, consistent with our previous findings and those of others, materialistic appetites can be curbed by improving the strength of personal relationships and finding ways to boost overall life satisfaction. At the individual level, though, one can reduce one’s own exposure to mass media, and associate with individuals and communities who aren’t so caught up in the materialistic game. My collaborators and I are looking into new ways to approach the materialism-reproduction tradeoff.  Stay tuned.

Mystery Solved: The Way To A Woman’s Heart Is Through Her Stomach

In new research by clinical psychologist Alice Ely, there’s some light shed on the conundrum that has plagued men for centuries: “How do I get this lady to like me?”

In a new study published online in the journal Appetite, researchers found that women’s brains respond more to romantic cues on a full stomach than an empty one. The study explored brain circuitry in hungry versus satiated states among women who were past-dieters and those who had never dieted…

“We found that young women both with and without a history of dieting had greater brain activation in response to romantic pictures in reward-related neural regions after having eaten than when hungry,” said Ely.

So far, studies have found support for stronger reward responses while hungry, but Ely’s research provides a view of the other side of the coin: When you’re hungry, you’re preoccupied with finding food, but once you’ve chowed down, you can focus on other priorities.

“In this case, they were more responsive when fed,” she said. “This data suggests that eating may prime or sensitize young women to rewards beyond food. It also supports a shared neurocircuitry for food and sex…

“The pattern of response was similar to historical dieter’s activation when viewing highly palatable food cues, and is consistent with research showing overlapping brain-based responses to sex, drugs and food,” said Ely.

Maybe those dinner dates aren’t so overrated after all!

Evolutionary Scientists: Collaborate With Local Teachers To Help Them Teach Evolution Better

Dustin Eirdosh, AEPS’s main man in spreading evolutionary education in the schools, writes:

AEPS Members in the US (and all evolutionary scientists): The National Center for Science Education has just started its “Scientists in the Classroom” program, and they are seeking evolution scientists willing to collaborate with local teachers who want help teaching evolution better.


Please consider joining the effort. If you do join, drop me an email [dustin at unitoliara dot info] so we can strengthen our relationship with the important work that NCSE does!

Dustin Eirdosh (on Research Gate) is a curriculum designer at the Berlin-based NGO Big Red Earth (, an organization that supports a university-led development approach in southwestern Madagascar. This region is characterized by high food insecurity, poverty, low quality of education and unsustainable use of natural resources, while it is at the same time an important biodiversity hot spot. Utilizing perspectives in Evolutionary Educational Psychology (Evo-Edu) and the tools of cultural evolution studies, Dustin has developed a governance education program focused on connecting university classrooms with sustainable development initiatives in the region.

Meet The Greats Of Evolutionary Psychology: The HBES Founders Videos

BELOW ARE THREE TERRIFIC VIDEOS — 15-minute interviews with three major evolutionary scientists: Steven Pinker, David Buss, and Leda Cosmides. There is also a link to many more from the series.

About the videos: In 2013, evolutionary psychology professors Catherine Salmon and Barry X. Kuhle videotaped oral histories of the researchers who founded the major international organization for evolutionary psychology, the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, and who were substantial in fostering the emergence of evolutionary psychology as a science of public import. (The taping of these videos coincided with the 25th anniversary of HBES.)

Thus far, with funding from HBES, and the participation of filmmaker Dave Lundberg Kenrick, Salmon and Kuhle have taped interviews with David Buss, Steven Pinker, Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Douglas Kenrick, Martin Daly, Randy Thornhill, Mark Flinn, William Irons, Napoleon Chagnon, Sarah Hrdy, Don Symons, Raymond Hames, Bobbi Low, Peter Richerson, David Sloan Wilson, Dick Alexander, Randy Nesse, and E. O. Wilson. (The entire series of interviews can be found here.)

(Sadly missing from this series are pioneers and pillars of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology who’ve passed on, including Bill Hamilton, Dave Rowe, Dev Singh, John Maynard Smith, George C. Williams, and Margo Wilson.)


And now…those videos: 

Steven Pinker (introduction below by David Sloan Wilson)

Looking back, Pinker recalls how he first adopted an evolutionary perspective, based on thinkers such as Noam Chomsky and Jerry Fodor, who stressed the need to posit a nativistic dimension to human cognition and language. Looking forward, Pinker advises new students to think of themselves as psychologists first and evolution as an essential perspective for the study of all aspects of psychology, rather than a sub-discipline of the field. He describes the self-described field of evolutionary psychology as a stepping stone toward this end. He calls for more integration with evolutionary genetics and more generally the fully rounded approach associated with Nobel Laureate Niko Tinbergen, who stressed that all evolved traits should be studied from functional, mechanistic, developmental and phylogenetic perspectives. He also shares his own best idea that has not yet received the attention that it deserves.

Buy books by Steven Pinker (for which AEPS gets a wee kickback, at no cost to you).



David Buss (introduction below by Diana Fleischman)

This interview in the series “On the Origin of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society” is with David Buss, Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. David is one of the founders of evolutionary psychology but initially made significant contributions to personality psychology. He is perhaps best known for groundbreaking work in human sex differences and mating including jealousy, cross-cultural mate preferences, and the strategies people use to retain a mate. Oftentimes his discoveries come with their own snappy nomenclature like “mate poaching” and “exploitability.” David professes he is especially interested in the “dark side” of human nature. Many of the initial forays David made into new territory have spawned whole new lines of research.

Some highlights of this interview include David’s rebellious roots and how an early hypothesis about dominance was purely designed to upset one of his teachers, how he began to acclimatize to John Tooby and Leda Cosmides’ night owl schedule when they became fast friends at Harvard, the advice he would give to graduate students and the way he demonstrates how to derogate a rival male on his interviewer and former graduate student Barry X. Kuhle, maybe a little too effectively.

Buy books by David Buss (for which AEPS gets a wee kickback, at no cost to you).



Leda Cosmides (Introduction below by Robert Kurzban)

Leda is one of the pioneers of the field of evolutionary psychology. She is a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, where she co-founded the Center for Evolutionary Psychology (CEP) with husband and collaborator John Tooby. Leda’s impact on evolutionary approaches cannot be overstated. Her awards and honors are numerous, and include the prestigious National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award. Even if you are very familiar with Cosmides’ work, you’ll learn a lot from this video, including how being 5 minutes late to a meeting with E. O. Wilson (when she was an undergrad at Harvard) was “key to her future,” how her seminal and award winning 1989 paper on cheater detection took four years and several rejections before getting published in Cognition, why she called the field she and John helped start “evolutionary psychology” as opposed to “human sociobiology,” and much more.

Buy books by Leda Cosmides and her colleagues.


Also check out the fantastic interviewers and their research and thinking: 

Barry X. Kuhle’s Psychology Today page can be found here.

Catherine Salmon’s Psychology Today page can be found here. Buy books by Catherine Salmon (for which HBES gets a wee kickback, which we very much appreciate).

The Personal is Universal: How To Put Your Science Out for the General Public

A big part of putting out applied science is communicating to the general population in a language they can understand. A post by editor Katie L. Burke at American Scientist on how to do this (and much more) has some helpful tips.

This is one of the most important:

8. If you want people to understand that a problem addressed by your research affects real people, you need to illustrate the problem by telling a story about real people.

Scientists often want to connect with the public by talking about how their research affects issues of widespread concern. But they are used to talking about these effects in abstract ways, such as giving statistics about groups of people. The stats are important, but they’ll hold more weight and be more memorable for the reader if real people are also written as characters in the narrative. When scientists rattle off statistics but do not talk about how they connect to people’s lives, they risk coming off as cold and distant. Anecdotes may not have a place in science writing, but they are absolutely essential to journalistic and literary nonfiction.

Personal stories are stories that connect with people. We care about people. We don’t connect over big social issues we can do nothing about.

David Carr, the late media columnist at The New York Times, spoke about this at an alternative weekly newspaper conference in around 2008, saying (best I can recall), “Don’t talk about poverty; talk about how little Tasha doesn’t get lunch.”

Garry Shandling puts this another way: “The more personal it is, the more universal it is.”