Talk:Evolutionary psychology/Archive 1

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Suggestion: Move controversies section to its own page

The controversies section is getting quite bloated. This page should be primarily about evolutionary psychology, not criticisms of it. Suggest revision of criticisms to a brief summary (e.g., list of criticisms), and then a link to its own page ("Criticisms of Evolutiony Psychology" for a longer discussion. That page can review criticisms of EP as well as rebuttals.

Anyone up for taking on this edit?

I think it's sensible to have the controversies section in the main article, since "evolutionary psychology" suggests not only the methods and findings but also the paradigm shift in progress (POV!)-- so the controversies section (as long as it's kept tidy) conveys an important part of what EP is to the reader by describing the state of that paradigm shift in the broader scientific community. Delmonte 22:38, 10 August 2006 (UTC)

EP/sociobiology distinction

In the sociobiology article, it says that ...

Since then, other terms have come into currency, such as evolutionary psychology.

This doesn't seem to be true from reading this entry; it seems like evolutionary psychology has a more, well, psychological twist to it. Can someone check this? Chas zzz brown 10:59 Jan 22, 2003 (UTC)

the two fields are different: see

Critiques of EP

I think that this could do with a discussion of some of the critiques of EP, for example their tendancy to explain everything by recourse to some (sometimes improbable) evolutionary advantage, see William H Calvin, the Throwing Madonna and others.

Recent defenses against criticisms

In the early hours of Wednesday, May 03, 2006, I copied the text from the main "Evolutionary psychology" article and the text from the "Talk:Evolutionary psychology" page (both as plain text). I then queried the word counts in a text editor.

Counting from the first word of the first sentence to the last word of the last external link (not including the sidebar), the main article contained 3757 words.

Starting with the list of contents and finishing with the signature "Orgone 16:58, 1 May 2006 (UTC)," the Talk page contained 7293 words.

I looked at the Talk page because the rebuttals in the "Controversies" section seemed woefully inadequate to me. Having read through the arguments on this page I looks as if salvaging the neutrality of the "Controversies" section is a lost cause.

Re: recent defenses against criticisms - first, I disagree with the substance of many of them. For example, it's absolutely true that little is known about the evolutionary context in which humans evolved. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to say one thing for certain. It's clear that we've diverged, but never clear why. Every adaptive change has a myriad explanations, and I can't recall examples of things that have been specifically tested. If people can't even dismiss the aquatic ape hypothesis (at best saying it's only as probable as other theories), what can we really say with certainty about the circumstances of human evolution? That females get pregnant and males don't? This is true of spiders, as well - but I didn't get my head bitten off last time I had sex. Graft 19:10, 16 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Woops - second, I think they should not be written as, "yes, but..." responses to the critics, which is not the function of this article... if you feel the criticism needs to be tempered there are ways to do that without explicitly endorsing either viewpoint, which the previous text did. Graft 19:11, 16 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Graft: We disagree that little is known about the evolutionary context in which humans evolved. If you want to see where I'm coming from, you could peruse my EP FAQ, and/or a book chapter of mine. Here is a brief snippet from the chapter (EEA = the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, the ancestral environment):

Is the EEA knowable? No one would dispute that our lungs evolved in an oxygen atmosphere (the lung EEA) nor that our immune system evolved in response to pathogens (the immune system EEA). Yet when it comes to the selection pressures that shaped the brain, some are skeptical that the past is knowable (e.g., Ahouse and Berwick 1998). The past, however, was much like the present. Physics was the same. Chemistry was the same. Geography, at an abstract level, was much the same—there were rivers, lakes, hills, valleys, cliffs, and caves. Ecology, at an abstract level, was also much the same—there were plants, animals, pathogens, trees, forests, predators, prey, insects, birds, spiders, and snakes. Virtually all biological facts were the same. There were two sexes, parents, children, brothers, sisters, people of all ages, and close and distant relatives. It is a common misconception that the EEA refers to aspects of the past that differ from the present, when it actually refers the aspects of the past whether or not they correspond to aspects of the present. We know that in the EEA women got pregnant and men did not. This single fact is the basis for perhaps three-quarters or more of all EP research. The hefty array of human universals (Brown 1991), although not as assuredly true of the past as, say, gravity, is nonetheless another important source of hypotheses about the EEA. Adding to our already detailed scientific understanding of the past are the historians, archaeologists, and paleoanthropologists who make a living studying it.

Sex differences in parental investment informs an entire industry of research in behavioral ecology. For the theory and a (now decade old) review of the data (on the order of 1000 studies, if I recall correctly), see Andersson, M. (1994) Sexual selection. Princeton University Press.

If and when I get time, I will flesh out the EP section with more content.

I agree with you that the controversies section might simply state the critics' viewpoint (although I note there were v. few references there). But, readers of this article might also want to know how evolutionary psychologists would respond to the criticisms. What do you think? (For now, I have just added a link to my FAQ and book chapter.)

Ed Hagen, August 17, 2004

I think this debate might quickly stray from what's relevant to the page if we engage in it too much, but briefly: the factors you describe are very general factors that apply to an incredibly broad range of species, including our very near relatives the great apes. The specific factors that separated us from those relatives are not known. There are a number of hypotheses for what led to upright posture, vocalization, large brain-size, hairlessness, and the dozens of other adaptive changes specific to the human lineage. However, none of them have been conclusively proven and little remains known about the specifics of human speciation. This is my point: sure, females get pregnant, and males don't, but that doesn't tell us anything at all. That's true of every animal in the world. Some very simple questions cannot be answered. What was the primary diet of humans? What habitats did they occupy? What was the average span of life? What was the size of the human social unit? These simple and unanswered questions have dramatic implications for the evolution of human psychology; this is a considerable weakness of EP.

Response to Ed: Some simple answers to your questions: The primary diet of humans in the past can be ascertained from analysis of tooth wear, the nitrogen content of bones, and the shape of the ribcage (more meat than before, less fibrous plant matter). The habitats they lived in are easily figured out by looking at the animal bones found with them (frogs and alligators = swamp, lots of seagulls = beach, etc). The average span of life can be figured out from the way that bones change as a person ages. The size of the human social unit can be extrapolated from the size of living bands of hunter-gatherers--variable: from about 10 - 100. --Leopoldhausen 05:23, 7 June 2006 (UTC)

I agree that responses of EPologists are appropriate, and that both sides of the debate should be referenced. I'll try to do some of that in the near future. Graft 17:43, 17 Aug 2004 (UTC)

If I may suggest, perhaps the criticisms and the responses to them should be moves into separate subsections. I've seen this done on other articles, and it works well to present both sides in an NPOV way. Listing a criticism and then immediately following with a response to it, the way the article currently does, reads almost like a straw man argument in favour of EP. I'm not suggesting that was the original author's intention, but it does read that way. Splitting the sections to allow both the yeas and nays in the argument to have a complete say before introducing counterarguments would read more like a statement of arguments than a refuting of criticism. Joshua Nicholson 05:01, 22 August 2005 (UTC)

I just came to this article and was struck by how POV the criticism section here is. This article states that these criticisms are incorrect. While i'm willing to accept that perhaps these criticisms as written may be simply incorrect, i'm sure there are criticisms that deserve to be here, and not followed in the next breath with "this is wrong because...". This seems to be in major need of revision, and as i'm not well versed in the subject at all, i don't think i'm the one to do it. I came here specifically to read about the criticisms of EP, and the POV of the article makes me unable to determine whether these are strawman criticisms, built up so that the writer may knock them down, or whether these are simply the writer's rebuttal. I shouldn't have to ask these questions in the first place. --Ben.c 17:23, 4 November 2005 (UTC)
I agree. I'm adding an NPOV dispute tag in the section until these issues are resolved. I'll try to do it myself, but I'd like to draw the attention of people who are more well-versed in EP to write this section from an NPOV. -- Schaefer 22:43, 5 November 2005 (UTC)

Graft, I simply must disagree. In fact, a great deal is known about the phisical environment, organization, group size and diet of humans and human ancestors from the A. africanus species to the present, the very period during which our modern brains evolved. And more to the point, the closer in time, the more is known so that all the "unknowns" you mentioned are well documented for even the earliest Homo Sapiens. Arguing that little is known about pre africanus species is irrelevant.DHBoggs 19:53, 27 January 2006 (UTC)DHBoggs

This is simply false. I'd like to see you justify even a single one of those statements. Graft 01:18, 28 January 2006 (UTC)

Gaft, you are right in your criticism of DHBoggs, I would go further to suggest what we really don't know about the EEA is the nature and complexity of the social environment that gave rise to the hypothesized mating, parenting, etc. mind modules proposed by EP. Even among hunter/gatherer societies of modern eras there is great diversity in the nature of social patterns of food gathering, hierarchical structures, dominance, status, aggression, etc. etc. It is, therefore, hard to imagine what adaptative pressures our ancestors faced in the EEA. BarryCull 06:34, 6 March 2006 (UTC)

EP misconceptions

It is a very common misconception of EP that EP is primarily interested in what makes humans different from other animals, especially our closest relative, the chimp. In fact, EP is interested in the functional structure of the brain, whether or not this structure is similar to that of other animals. See, e.g., this. The functional structure of human cognition will depend on features of the environment that are often known with certainty. The fact that these aspects of the environment also characterize the environment of other animals is neither here nor there. EP often draws upon comparative analyses with other species for exactly this reason, in fact. If males of many species engage in intrasexual competition over mates, this strengthens the case for adaptations for intrasexual competition in human males. If many primate species are fearful of snakes, this strengthens the case for an innate fear of snakes in humans. It is simply not true that the fact that females got pregnant and males did not tells us nothing. In my previous post above, I cited a review of the biological literature on sexual selection with a bibliography of over 1000 studies. This literature is mostly an exploration of the implications of sex differences in parental investment (i.e., that females get pregnant and males do not) in scores of different species.

Also, the latter part of the sentence "Evolutionary psychology is based on the presumption that, just like hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, and immune systems, cognition has functional structure that has a genetic basis, and therefore is subject to evolution by natural selection" is perhaps misleading because it seems to be saying that current selection is important. But as EP's have argued for years, it is not current selection that is important, but past selection over evolutionary time. Thus, the design evident in the heart is evidence for a past history of natural selection. Yes, the heart has a genetic basis -- otherwise it couldn't have evolved -- but EP is interested in the design of the heart, not its genetic foundations per se (only because the genetic foundations of complex adaptations like the heart are currently unknown). Adaptations that evolved by natural selection must, by defintion, have a genetic basis, but we do not need to know this foundation in order to study adaptations. Darwin knew nothing of genes, yet he was able to identify many adaptations by evidence of their design.

Fair enough - I rewrote it that way merely because that's the appropriate logical progression. If A then B is not equivalent to if B then A. It is absolutely impossible to say something is adaptive without first knowing that it has a genetic basis. Graft 16:13, 18 Aug 2004 (UTC)
This is the point of view described by one speaker at a lecture I attended last year as the argument of "a thousand just so stories can't all be wrong". (This was in the context of the origins of language.) At any rate, the article should at least mention Gould; from his perspective, the framework of EP only makes sense in the panadaptationist paradigm (which he perforce rejects). He wrote a number of essays attacking the EP program, including "The Internal Brand of the Scarlet W" (collected in The Lying Stones of Marrakech) which is the most familiar to me. 19:52, 12 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Misconception about the "selfish gene" hypothesis: It is not about a gene that makes people selfish. Dawkins uses the word "selfish" to stand for a more complex concept. He means that the gene is the thing being replicated, not the individual. Simple scenarios illustrates this:

1. If a gene "knows" for certain that it exists in two other individuals,
2. And: those individuals can be saved by having the individual which carries that particular copy lay down its life,
3. Then: it is actually in the gene's "best interest" if it can do this.

This results in the individual dying so that others might live, which appears to us to be the very height of unselfishness.--Leopoldhausen 06:58, 7 June 2006 (UTC)

EP and sociology

Some studies have been criticized for their tendency to attribute to genetics elements of human cognition that may be attributable to sociology (e.g. preference for particular physical features in mates).

But couldn't sociological studies likewise be criticized for attributing to sociology that which could be attributable to genetics? Or is there some rule that a socilogical explanation is correct by default?

Answer: Science doesn't work either/or those two alternatives. As with most EP hypothesis, the answer is "we don't know" or "the data doesn't tell". So the correct null hypothesis to testing the genetics of a behavioral trait is not sociological explation, but "not attributable to genetics".

Criticism can be positive

All the 'criticisms' in the aforenamed section are negative. Criticism's meaning does not neccesarily connotate negativity 100% of the time, although some fallaciously twist the meaning to mean something that is depreciative. Think of criticism as 'commentary', or 'evaluation' not 'depreciation' or 'disparaging'.--Knucmo2 16:17, 16 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Translation Question

Le point commun de toutes ces approches est qu'il n'existe pas entre le physiologique et le psychologique une barrière tellement infranchissable que l'évolution ne pourrait expliquer que le premier, et pas le second.(From the French Wiki article on EP)

Is it fair to translate this as meaning, essentially, that EP states that there does not exist an utter separation between psychology and physiology, that evolutionary mechanisms are capable of influencing both? Is that the jist? (A fairly straightforward one, if this is the case). Thanks! ~ Dpr 16:53, 23 July 2005 (UTC)

Yes. Literal translation: "The point common to all these approaches is that there does not exist between physiology and psychology a barrier so insurmountable that evolution can only explain the first, and not the second." -- Schaefer 18:33, 23 July 2005 (UTC)

Thanks for confirming my understanding. Vielen dank! ~ Dpr 20:15, 23 July 2005 (UTC)

Can the Neutrality Dispute Tag be Removed Now?

  • If not, what specifically needs to be altered in order to do so?
I don't like the section, because the "responses" to the criticism are just so much hand-waving and don't actually settle any issues. Neither are there firm criticisms made using example. Graft 20:40, 30 January 2006 (UTC)
For what it's worth, the responses sound more or less like what I've heard/read defenders of EP say in reponse to critics. The criticisms could probably be made clearer with examples. --Rikurzhen 20:55, 30 January 2006 (UTC)

D.S. Wilson is perhaps the most reasonable critic of ev psych. More reference to his criticisms may well develop a useful and fair 'criticism' section. The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk • contribs) .

Back to the "Controversies" Debate

It's seems to me that progress on this page is being hindered by at least two intertwining factors:

  • 1.) The debate surrounding the "Controversies" section
  • 2.) That particular debate being constantly derailed by what appears to be rants that seem, (at least to me), to have really nothing to do with evolutionary psychology

I have in front of me the textbook, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind by David Buss. One section is entitled "Common Misunderstandings about Evolutionary Theory", (pp 19-21). I'll list his three subsections addressing what he considers three misunderstandings, and I'll briefly try to illustrate his arguments. Perhaps this may be of help.

  • Misunderstanding 1: Human Behavior is Genetically Determined
    • Here Buss uses calluses as an analogy. Calluses aren't created by genes. "Callus-producing mechanisms" are created by genes, which were selected for through the evolutionary process. These mechanisms need an environmental stimulus, (i.e. friction), to be activated. By the same token, genes don't create behavior. Genes, (once again, which were selected for through the evolutionary process), create "psychological mechanisms." Psychological mechanisms are activated by environmental stimuli. Thus, evolutionary psychology is an interactionist approach between biology and environment.
  • Misunderstanding 2: If It's Evolutionary, We Can't Change It
    • Again, Buss uses the callus analogy. We can alter our environment in such a way as to reduce activation of our "callus-producing" mechanisms, (e.g. with gloves, shoes). By the same token, Buss argues that if we have a better understanding of our psychological mechanisms, their evolved functions, and what environmental stimuli triggers which mechanisms in what ways, then that knowledge can potentially give us more power to change.
  • Misunderstanding 3: Current Mechanisms are Optimally Designed
    • Here he makes two points:
      • 1.) evolutionary time lags: Evolution moves more slowly than environmental change. As an example, a strong desire for fat was adaptive in a time when fat was scarce, but it's not very adaptive in an environment with a fast-food joint on every corner.
      • 2.) costs of adaptations: For the sake of argument, let's say we had a psychological mechanism for "fear of snakes." (Buss and others actually argue that we do, though I remain skeptical here. But I'll use it anyways for the sake of the "less-than-optimal" argument, which I think is an interesting point.) If we had a "fear of snakes" mechanism, then that could be adaptive by keeping us from getting bitten by poisonous snakes. But if the level of fear was so high that it kept us from venturing outdoors, yes we could greatly reduce our risk of being bitten, but we would also be greatly hindered in engaging in other adaptive behaviors, such as humting and gathering. Thus, there is a cost-benefit issue at work here.

I think this last point may be Buss' weakest point. It seems to me that if a particular mechanism is less than optimal, it's only to contribute to the overall optimality of the organism. But then again, he may be implying this, though he didn't come out and say it.

Hopefully, this can be useful. For further references on evolutionary psychology, check out the papers at [1] The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk • contribs) .

Sorry for not signing it before User:EPM 21:02, 3 February 2006 (UTC)

One of the reasons I tried to figure out the incomprehensible ranter’s stuff was in search of a corrective to the unsatisfactory EP article.

The trouble with the EP entry is that it doesn’t actually SAY anything. It is academic waffle.

EP says the basis of behaviour was shaped by natural selection. It follows that what some organism does has its roots in differential reproduction a million years ago. I think someone, somewhere, should be saying clearly that EVERYTHING is rooted in evolution. Or is this not the case? Is it that only that things which are (relatively) obvious are to be explained? Tell us!

For example. If we like fast food and sugar, EP explains it’s because it was reproductively advantageous, once, to seek fat and carbohydrates. Just so. Well then. If 40 year old men like to fly light aircraft for sport, EP ought to be able to show how this extraordinary behaviour has its roots in reproductive advantage. (It wouldn’t have any problem explaining why they read pornography.) If 40 year old women like to read celebrity magazines, EP should show how differential reproduction produced this curious behaviour. (It wouldn’t have any problem explaining why they are keenly interested in female fashion.) If some things lie outside the area of explanation then say why and tell us where the boundary lies and the principles for determining those boundaries. (In my view the productive, falsifiable approach would be to say everything is in.)

The cars versus spiders mismatch story is about the only nitty-gritty item. I don’t find in this entry anything about the most interesting thing of all about us humans, namely that we are male and female. And the interesting thing about that is our furtive sexual relations, No mention of dimorphism and the implications for behaviour. No mention of relative investment in offspring and the implications for behaviour. No discussion, for example, of the implied male strategy being to inseminate as many females as possible and see to it that no other male gets near his mate. No discussion that the implied female strategy would be to marry a high status male and bear the children of a handsome philanderer. These things are the interesting stuff. And what is the origin of the furtiveness?

What I do find is “the fact that women got pregnant and men did not is an essential aspect of the EEA of human mating preferences”. Aspect?? What on earth does it mean? An encyclopaedia entry should not be confined to the rarefied abstractions. It is supposed to inform.

You write “Evolutionary psychologists use knowledge of the environment of evolutionary adaptedness to generate hypotheses regarding possible psychological adaptations and subsequently these hypotheses can be tested…” Good for them but we are not reading a disquisition on the theory of science. The entry needs some concrete substance as well.

I am sure the writers have been meticulous about sources but the entry is boring. Please show how evolutionary psychology might explain some psychology.

- Pepper 04:29, 4 February 2006 (UTC)

Hi Pepper, thanks for your comment. But please do remember Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia anyone can edit. If you feel the article is unsatisfactory, go for it & change it!! Mikkerpikker ... 23:19, 4 February 2006 (UTC)

This entry should in fact engender considerable debate because it goes to the core of the "human nature" debate. The entry should clarify, however, the fact that EP is one paradigm for studying how human thought might have evolved. The paradigm states that by knowing something about the EEA we should be able to predict what psychological processes have evolved in our species. Using these predictions EPsychologists then look in modern behaviour for the predicted adaptations.

There are many problems with this paradigm. Most of the theoretical issues have been covered here. The biggest problem with the paradigm, however, is the evidence from the studies that have been held up as support for EP is spurius. I won't bore people by re-iterating the critique of the data here, but would direct those interested to David Buller's excellent book "Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature"[2].

The problem with the entry, as I see it, is that is doesn't provide alternative models of how the human mind may have evolved. The issue turns on whether the data from "mainstream" psychology supports the EP claim that the human mind is comprised of hundreds, perhaps thoudands of specific adaptations to specific adaptive tasks (mind modules) or whether a general problem solver has evolved in the human mind as a response to an unpredictable physical and social environment. This view is well articulated in Merlin Donald's book [3].

In my humble view I think the controversial part of the entry so far, is not what follows the warning about the criticisms. The criticism have far more support from cognitive science than the claims of EP. In that light, how should the entry be edited? BarryCull 03:50, 6 March 2006 (UTC)Professor of Psychology

In Response to Pepper & Others with Similar Concerns

Should this article be scrapped and just started over again from scratch? Or is that too radical? Will just a few modifications here and there be sufficient? EPM 06:48, 4 February 2006 (UTC)

Be bold! I agree the article needs to change so go ahead and edit, changes can always be undone & we all can help with the improvement drive... Mikkerpikker ... 23:21, 4 February 2006 (UTC)

Yeah, be bold, I know. Trouble is I am just a dilettante, picking up on the curious (not to say salacious) and trying to make connections. Reading The Selfish Gene and some other popular stuff doesn't qualify me. I looked up the EP entry in the hope of learning something but found myself reading a sort of self-examination of the academic field of EP.

Scrapping the whole thing and starting again seems a bit drastic, but it does need more than a few mods here and there. (a) dish us up some genuine psychology with the more on sexual behaviour and sex differences the better (as the ranter said, everything is sex) and, (b) tell us what EP can explain and what it can't and why / why not.

I suggest saying ALL behaviour has biological roots because it is something clear that is potentially falsifiable and potentially productive and escapes the "just so story" criticism. I say this as a principle, not speaking from specific knowledge. The Junggrammatiker - Young Grammarians - did it in the 19th century with language. They said, "There's an explanation for everything - every swear word, every sound change, every damn thing," and with that off they went and found it. There must be people in the EP game who do this. Didn't EO Wilson more or less take that approach?

Sorry to be whingeing and unable to directly contribute but I really have no specialist knowledge - have never read a single academic article. I am just an encyclopedia reader looking for my info in nuggety sound-bites. - Pepper 07:10, 6 February 2006 (UTC)

Extension of the theory section

I've just extended the theory in this article. Hopefully, this will reduce some of the concerns that have been previously expressed here in regards to this article being "academic waffle." I hope to add even more eventually, with a focus on specific hypotheses, predictions, and research on specific human behaviors. But I would be curious to hear any comments about the changes thus far. EPM 08:40, 20 February 2006 (UTC)

Modifications to "Controversies" section

I've also made some modifications to the "controversies" section. I first broke it down into various subsections, each of which deals with specific controversial issues. I also extended some arguments. Lastly, I altered some of the language in this section in such a way as to try to give it a more "neutral" feel. For example, I changed statements like, "this is a misunderstanding" to something like, "evolutionary psychologists argue that this is a misunderstanding." My goal was to modify it well enough so that the "neutrality" tag can be removed. If that section is still unsatisfactory, though, some specific comments on how to improve it further would be helpful and welcome. EPM 21:30, 20 February 2006 (UTC)

Change of Subject

Gentlemen, If you don't mind I would like to bring up a different but quite related topic. I am a relative newbie to WP, and still trying to learn the three principles.I am not trained in evolutionary psychology, nor in the current research methodogies. However for over 50 yrs I have been a diligent student of biology,evolution, and animal social behavior.I have also spent many thousands of hours observing the social problems of human individuals and groups. And now I am interested in putting them together. I have written 8/10ths of a WP article Group (sociology)

My thesis is that Territoriality and Dominance though well studied in animal social behavior is totally neglected in human social behavior. Sociology, social psychology, psychology, and especially psychoanalysis all developed for the most part without any references to Darwinian evolution,or ethology.I recognize the intuitive, inferential leap that I can systematize the recognition of territoriality and dominance in humans. May I ask some of you to read the above referenced article, and let me know if you would accept an effort to extend my thesis to the next level.Islandsage 22:24, 12 March 2006 (UTC) Islandsage 19:41, 15 March 2006 (UTC)


This sentence is unclear to me:

"Evolutionary psychology has been applied to the study of many fields, including economics, aggression, law, psychiatry, politics, literature, and sex."

What are the great examples in economics, aggression, law, psychiatry, politics, literature, and sex? --Irgendwer 18:14, 29 March 2006 (UTC)

OK !! I agree. Forget my suggestion. This would not be the appropriate place. Islandsage 20:06, 1 April 2006 (UTC)


Proposal: I would suggest revising/paring down the third paragraph substantially, but retaining the reference to evolutionary developmental psychology ('evolutionary psychology', no caps (no commitment to massive modularity or every mechanism as an adaption - see Gould's Panglosian Objection) as opposed to 'Evolutionary Psychology' with caps, which is described here, as put forward by Tooby & Cosmides etc.)

I would also suggest getting rid of most of the material dealing specifically with evolutionary theory, we can have a link to that, this page should focus on Evolutionary Psychology.

Orgone 06:31, 1 May 2006 (UTC)

  • I certainly understand the concern about the material on evolutionary theory. However, I wrote that so that readers can understand that these are the the theories, (both general and mid-level), from which evolutionary psychologists derive their hypotheses and predictions. Most critics, at least in my experience, just don't seem to get that. Having that material at the beginning sets up the remainder of the article for the specific research in ev psych... which still needs to be done, in my opinion. Comments? EPM 14:58, 8 May 2006 (UTC)

Having re-read those pieces of the article more specifically, i now realise the relavance of the material, sorry about that! It was that there seemed to be allot more about evolutionary theory that Evolutionary Psychology altogether, so i agree, there needs to be more on specific reasearch, somthing to appease the critics! Have you read/heard of Ruth Millikan - Language, Thought and other Biological Categories, 1984. Its a good book, too heavy for me at the moment, unless i had more time to get in to it, but the introductory chapters set up a good account of adaptive/historical notion of biological function, which is another line of attack critics often take, eg: the 'swampman' example. Tydying up the third paragraph would still be a good idea in my opinion. Orgone 02:27, 9 May 2006 (UTC)

"triviality" section

I'd like to suggest that this section in "criticisms" be removed, as it is based entirely on ignorance of the current state of the art in EP, at least in the criticism's current form. If it is to be retained, it should be based on the claim that things that evolutionary psychologists really study (e.g., the specifics of what's considered beautiful and why, theory-driven predictions about correlates of these traits and about individual differences in preferences for these traits, etc.) are trivial, not the silly example given ("men will like beautiful women"). Delmonte 15:19, 1 May 2006 (UTC)

I would agree, there seems to be allot of misunderstanding about the level of explanaton EP is capable of providing:

"Explanation at one level (e.g., adaptive function) does not preclude or invalidate explanations at another (e.g., neural, cognitive, social, cultural, economic)." Tooby and Cosmides, 1997

Orgone 16:58, 1 May 2006 (UTC)

In middle of March , I asked about introducing an article for this section. I accepted silence as a negative response, and agreed. I have written the article in Psychoanalytic Theory a section entitled "A Fundamental Revision". Though not strictly evolutionary psychology, you might find it interesting and related to your concerns.Islandsage 04:20, 22 May 2006 (UTC)

Removed NPOV tag

  • It seems like the "Controversies" section is about as neutral as it can get to me. So I figured, what the heck...I'll take it off. If anybody strongly feels there's still a neutrality problem with the section, by all means, put the NPOV tag back on, and we shall resume debate! EPM 22:00, 21 May 2006 (UTC)

I don't agree that it's about as neutral as it can get. I've lost count of the number of books by eminent academics published over the past decade which support one side or the other in the debates surrounding ev-psych. And new ones continue to appear. Is it realistic to expect that the controversies can be settled once and for all by re-wording a few paragraphs in a Wikipedia article? Surely the only neutral position is to state that a number of controversial issues remain unresolved.

QUOTE: "...evolutionary psychology commits to a very specific causal relationship between the mind and the environment in which its design was selected, thus making evolutionary theory a source of highly specific, concrete, and falsifiable predictions."

Where are the examples of concrete predictions that have been tested? Evolutionary psychology is listed in Wikipedia's Category:Protoscience. As someone who is dismayed by the campaign to introduce 'Intelligent Design' into schools I can't help feeling that presenting ev-psych as something more than a theoretical orientation provides the Intelligent Design lobby with ammunition. Ev-psych is a regular target on the Discovery Institute's weblog. Here's an example of a Discovery Institute press release.

    • Thanks for the response. I'm not surprised by the Discovery Institue's statements. I don't know how much "ammo" they have, though. Let's face it...those people can take well established evolutionary theory in general and twist it all around. They pretty much do the same thing with ev psyche. Personally, I don't care what the Discovery Institute says, because they'll never be satisfied with anything that has to do with evolution in any way, shape, or form. They've got their own agenda, and it isn't science. However, I understand your concern about how they might manipulate the general public that typically has litle if any understanding of even the basic concepts of general evolutionary theory. For me personally, it's what academics have to say, I think, which is more important.
Has there been some wacky stuff published in ev psyche? Of course! But what field doesn't? My experience has been that a lot of academics who criticize ev psyche go into it with a preconceived set of notions about the field and misinterpret it, (e.g., genetic determinism). The field has more to do with the structure of cognition at its core, and that is the issue that is hotly debated amongst evolutionary psychologists themselves. Specifically, I'm referring to the debate between domain-specificity and domain-generality in human cognition. Your earlier evolutionary psychologists tended to support the concept of a mind that is composed of domain specific mechanisms. These days, more and more evolutionary psychologists believe it's a mixture of both. Most critics in academia completely miss this debate. I think it's in part due to the assumption of genetic determinism that they have going into it, in which they fail to distinguish between distal explanations and proximal explanations. Evolutionary psychologists understand this distinction, but they perhaps could do a better job of making this distinction more clearly to others.
Check out some of the papers in the above section on domain generality. I think they demonstrate a better reflection of the present state of ev psyche. Again, thanks for your input on the subject.EPM 22:28, 22 May 2006 (UTC)

A more neutral alternative

I agree that it may never be possible to placate the Discovery Institute. I would be satisfied to see the POV flag removed if the many rebuttals in the Controversies section didn't come across as an attempt to deflect all critisms as invalid.

I don't believe the rebuttals would seem adequate to anyone who knows how long-drawn-out the debate between luminaries in the fields of biology, psychology and philosophy has become. The section already occupies one third of the article. To appear neutral, any plausible counter claim would need to be supported with sound evidence and citations, not just opinions from the opposing camp. I make the assumption that a typical visitor to a Wikipedia page is looking for a self-contained summary of the topic. One can't expect them to go away and read masses of literature in order to evaluate what the article says.

Also, I don't think it's helpful to counter the "Too many alternative hypotheses" criticism by saying "Evolutionary psychologists respond that their discipline is not concerned with explaining the behavior of specific individuals," because that just raises the objection "What's so great about a psychological theory that can't explain the behavior of individuals?"

I would suggest paring the section down, and I've provided an example below. I removed non-neutral adjectives like "concrete" (twice), "elegant," and "sophisticated". As both spellings of "behavior" and "behaviour" were present, I converted all instances within the section to the American spelling, "behavior." Either would equally acceptable. I re-titled the last sub-section because it doesn't actually mention Research Data, and I replaced EEA with "past environment."

Suggested shortening of the Controversies section

While Animal behavior studies have long recognized the role of evolution, the application of evolutionary theory to human psychology, however, is controversial. There are many families of criticism of the idea.

How knowable is the past environment?

Some critics of evolutionary psychology claim that because little is known about the evolutionary context in which humans developed (including population size, structure, lifestyle, eating habits, habitat, and more), there is little basis on which evolutionary psychology may operate. Most EP research, the critics contend, is thus confined to certainties about the past, such as pregnancies only occurring in women, and that humans lived in groups.

Evolutionary psychologists maintain that there are many environmental features which we can be sure played a part in our species' evolutionary history (For an outline of the current state of knowledge in this area, see: Mithen, Steven. After The Ice: A Global Human History 20000-5000 BC. Harvard Uni. Press, 2004).


  • The EEA is a key term in ev psyche. We shouldn't get rid of that. Also, this position is not the position that all evolutionary psychologists take. Some see the environmental variation of the Pleistocine as part of the basis for the evolution of general intelligence. EPM 00:33, 23 May 2006 (UTC)

The section immediately preceding "Controversies" covers "The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA)". My feeling is that the acronym can be dispensed once it has been explained. Some visitors might click on the "Controversies" link as their first choice. It would be considerate to spare them the need to backtrack.


Critics claim that many of the propositions of evolutionary psychology are not falsifiable. It is not possible to conduct definitive experiments on humans on an evolutionary timescale, and the experimental manipulation of animal DNA is not the same as natural selection. Consequently, research by evolutionary psychologists relies mainly on twin studies, paleontological data, and data from other primates.


  • This last sentence is untrue. Evolutionary psychologists hardly ever use twin studies. That's behavioral genetics. Methods for testing include: comparing different species, comparing males and females, comparing individuals within a species, comparing the same individuals in different contexts, and other experimental methods. Sources of data for testing evolutionary hypotheses include archeological records, data from hunter-gatherer societies, observatios, self-reports, life-history data and public records, and human products. Source: Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind by David Buss.

That's fine. A simple statement of the actual methods used is a welcome addition. Any further explanation of the methods would belong in a separate section.

Too many alternative hypotheses

Critics say that too many valid hypotheses, including contradictory ones, can be drawn from the same evolutionary principles. Evolutionary psychology can predict many (or even all) behaviors for a given situation, including contradictory ones. Therefore many human behaviors will always fit some hypotheses by pure chance. The central paradigm of evolutionary psychology is impossible to prove, and the predicting power of evolutionary psychology is doubtful.

An example: a human who is egotistic fits the selfish gene hypothesis. One who is altruistic to relatives or known individuals fits kin selection or reciprocal altruism. And one who is altruistic towards a complete stranger fits the handicap principle. Every possible behavior of that human would fit some well known hypothesis. Thus it is hard to predict how a human will act in a given situation. Hence, evolutionary psychology is more concerned with explaining species-wide trends in behavior.


  • This whole section is one I've heard a lot. The whole argument demonstrates a lack of understanding of how evolutionary psychologists construct their hypotheses. First, things like kin selection and reciprocal altruism are middle level theories that are based on general evolutionary theory. These mid-level theories were first introduced by biologists, (Hamilton and Trivers, respectively), and they are firmly established in biology and used across species. EP's base their hypotheses on these mid-level theories and then generate predictions from these hypotheses. Which mid-level theory or theories they use is context specific. The predictions they make are indeed falsifiable. Example: Men who are looking for a long-term mate will look for cues of fidelity. Such a hypothesis would be rooted in Trivers theory of parental investment, along with considering the male adaptive problem of paternity uncertainty. Clearly, this is a testable and falsifiable prediction. The above explanation gives the persistently mistaken notion that EP's look at some aspect of psychology and then just come up with some evolution-sounding explanation off the cuff. EP isn't like that, at least not the EP I've read, and I've read a lot. Of course EP's speculate from time to time, (e.g. in the concluding section of a journal article), but no more than anyone else in other fields. EPM 01:10, 23 May 2006 (UTC)

It would be ideal if you could sum it up in one short sentence. If you feel it requires further elaboration, once again, it would belong in a separate section.

Biology vs. environment

Some studies have been criticized for their tendency to attribute to evolutionary processes elements of human cognition that may be attributable to social processes (e.g. preference for particular physical features in mates). Evolutionary psychologists respond that there is a bidirectional influence between things like "biology and environment" and "cognition and social processes."


Some opponents of evolutionary psychology maintain that elements of human behavior are irreducible to their component parts. On the other hand, it is quite possible that a study of the component parts can lead to new insights about how they function as part of an integrated whole.


  • Again, the core of EP is in regards to the nature of the structure of human cognition. This is almost entirely missed by most critics. EP's debate whether the mind has domain-specific mechanisms, domain-general mechanisms, or some combination of both. The last of these three seems to be gaining the high ground in EP. EPM 01:14, 23 May 2006 (UTC)

Ethical justification

Some people worry that evolutionary psychology will be used to justify harmful behavior, and have at times tried to suppress its study. They give the example [citation needed] that people may be more likely to cheat on their spouse if they believe their mind evolved to be that way.

Evolutionary psychologists respond by saying that they only state what is, not what ought to be. Knowing how something works is the first step in fixing it if it's broken. They contend that investigating evolutionary influences does not entail taking a moral viewpoint on people's behavior.

Empirical evidence

Some commentators, like philosopher David Buller, agree with the general argument that the human mind has evolved over time but disagree with the specific claims evolutionary psychologists make. Buller has argued, among other things, that the so-called Cinderella Effect, the argument that there are gender differences with respect to sexual jealousy and the contention that the mind consists of thousands of modules, are unsupported by the available empirical evidence. [4]

An alternative to the "mental module" view of how human minds evolved is offered by cognitive psychologist Merlin Donald. He argues that over evolutionary time the mind has gained adaptive advantage by becoming a general problem solver. Donald articulates this view in his book "A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness" [5].

Two Evolutionary Psychology articles?

  • Here's a radical solution to the POV problem. Why not just have two articles for evolutionary psychology, one pro and one con. This POV debate has gone on for months and has almost entirely dominated discussions...round and round! It seems to be going nowhere, since it's such a controversial field, even amongst professional academians. If we just had two articles, then there would be no need for an POV debate on either page. For example, if someone typed in evolutionary psychology, it would link that person to a disambiguation page. There, we could have two links, something like this:
(1) Evolutionary psychology (pro-argument) and
(2) Evolutionary psychology (criticisms)
Like I said, even professional academians from across a multitude of fields can't even begin to resolve this debate. How are we going to here as Wikipedians? And this way, we could focus on the specific point of view of the article,without constantly focusing on competing views of the field.
EPM 01:19, 23 May 2006 (UTC)
Yes, that's a very good suggestion. The main article could have a "See also" link to a "Evolutionary Psychology Controversies" article. I'll leave it up to you whether to include a shortened Controversies section in the meantime.
Re: "...there would be no need for an POV debate on either page."
That depends on whether the Controversies are covered in a neutral fashion. That's the whole point of the POV flag. A Wikipedia article should not be trying to resolve a debate over a controversial issue once and for all. That's specifically against Wikipedia's neutral point of view guidelines.
Thanks for your response. When I stated that there would be no need for a POV tag, I meant that each article itself would be a POV. I suppose each article can have different POV's. For example, in a "pro" Ev Psyche article, we could essentially emphasize evolutionary psychologists' typical responses to criticisms from outside the field and debates that exist within the field, (e.g., domain specific vs. domain general). An "anti" Ev Psyche page would of course emphasize the typical criticisms against ev psyche. Differences in this article might include a range of criticisms that go from arguments that suggest that evolution is relevant to human behavior but that EP gets it wrong to arguments that suggest that evolution is completely irrelevant in human behavior. POV's in these articles would be much simpler to be presented in a balanced manner, thus I doubt there would be a need to put a POV tag in either one. Furthermore, each page could have a link to the other in each page's "See also" section. EPM 14:02, 23 May 2006 (UTC)
As I understand it, the POV flag is for articles that contain a mixture of neutral and partisan opinion. Articles which present only one side in a controversy are vulnerable to deletion by Wikipedia Administrators. The for-and-against arguments regarding ev-psych would need to be presented within a single article to avoid that risk.
The split could be done in a NPOV way. If this article were too long (which it is not), then you could use Template:Main at the beginning of the "criticisms of evolutionary psych" section. This template would link to an article of criticisms. Then you would want to include a short paragraph summarizing the criticisms. — goethean 18:46, 23 May 2006 (UTC)
Read WP:POVFORK. Is is much more desirable to have a unified presentation of several viewpoints than having separate presentations of individual viewpoints. I would encourage the editors of this page to give the contended section a second look—it's really not that far from begin NPOV. Arbor 11:01, 24 May 2006 (UTC)

I went ahead and made the last few changes that would satisfy me that the Controversies section is now neutral.

  1. For the sake of visitors who click on the "Controversies" link as their first choice, I re-phrased the first subheading.
  2. Falsifiability -- I think it's better to use your list of methods than make a generalized claim.
  3. Arbor added a comment tag to Reductionism: "this is a terribly weak section." I replaced it with the suggestion I made above. Still quite brief, but it seems relevant to me.
  4. Changed "Research data" to "Empirical evidence."

If these changes remain as they are now, I would be content to see the POV flag removed.

I agree. I will remove the tag. Whoever disagrees: please put it back and tell us why, so we can work on it. Arbor 09:10, 25 May 2006 (UTC)
  • I can live with it. EPM 23:58, 25 May 2006 (UTC)

A new category

  • I just made a new category if ant of you are interested in copying and pasting it to your User Page:
    • Category:Wikipedians interested in evolutionary psychology
      • Of course, don't forget to add the double brackets on each end [[ ]] to create the internal link. Hope some of you like it. EPM 23:58, 25 May 2006 (UTC)

A Great Video

An interview of Steven Pinker by Robert Wright. A discussion of Evolutionary Psychology, I would recommend giving it a watch:

Orgone 17:11, 30 May 2006 (UTC)

  • Nice video! EPM 15:56, 1 June 2006 (UTC)

Evolutionary educational psychology

I just created an article on evolutionary educational psychology, if anyone wants to check it out. EPM 15:56, 1 June 2006 (UTC)

Proposed link: "Mental Evolution" by Rodney Chang

From Mental Evolution and Art, Rodney Chang, Exposition Press, New York, NY, 1980 Rodney Chang is a digital artist. Freudian, Behaviorist, as well as Holistic psychological theories are additional conceptual brushes for the digital artist. Source Dhammapal 09:23, 7 June 2006 (UTC)

Pseudoscience. This is a scientific article. No to inclusion. Jefffire 15:24, 7 June 2006 (UTC)
I agree. This shouldn't be included in the article. It has nothing to do with Ev Psyche. It doesn't even look like something that has undergone any kind of peer review. EPM 22:14, 7 June 2006 (UTC)

Assessment comment

The comment(s) below were originally left at Talk:Evolutionary psychology/Comments, and are posted here for posterity. Following several discussions in past years, these subpages are now deprecated. The comments may be irrelevant or outdated; if so, please feel free to remove this section.

This article resembles other articles (like say feminism) written by and for the special interests who have a stake in the topic. There is almost no content on well known criticisms, controversies and other possible problems with EP as a thesis. Instead, in the discussions there seem to be the usual totalitarian tactics (like moving criticisms to another article, censoring references to prominent critics' works, etc) a dead giveaway that those EP interests who control this article have no genuine interest in NPOV balance about their pet topic. 03:22, 29 April 2007 (UTC)

Last edited at 10:16, 4 June 2008 (UTC). Substituted at 20:32, 2 May 2016 (UTC)