I find the following evolutionary psychology papers fascinating. Listed in no particular order.
Fears, Phobias, and Preparedness: Toward an Evolved Module of Fear and Fear Learning
Arne Ohman – Karolinska Institute | Susan Mineka – Northwestern University
Viewed from the evolutionary perspective, fear is central to mammalian evolution. As a product of natural selection, it is shaped and constrained by evolutionary contingencies. It is a central thesis of this article that this evolutionary history is obvious in the fear and phobias exhibited and readily learned by humans. We are more likely to fear events and situations that provided threats to the survival of our ancestors, such as potentially deadly predators, heights, and wide open spaces, than to fear the most frequently encountered potentially deadly objects in our contemporary environment, such as weapons or motorcycles.
That’s a fascinating concept. Essentially, we’re more frightened by a snake or a spider than a weapon or motorcycle ride. It holds true for me. Forgive the anecdotal observation, it’s offered as description rather than proof. I recently watched a show about spider infestations, and my body shivered as if they were crawling on me. I watch a show about weapons (or even a war movie), and I’m sympathetic to wounded / dead, but feel no revulsion to the weapons themselves.
The sound of arousal in music is context-dependent
Daniel T. Blumstein, Gregory A. Bryant, Peter Kaye – UCLA
I wish I had access to the full paper, but the abstract is here. Luckily, the paper was picked up by ScienceDaily, ‘Dissonant music brings out the animal in listeners’:
“Music that shares aural characteristics with the vocalizations of distressed animals captures human attention and is uniquely arousing,” said Daniel Blumstein, one of the study’s authors and chair of the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Blumstein is an authority on animal distress calls, particularly among marmots. In 2010, he and a team of researchers captured media attention with a study of the soundtracks of 102 classic movies in four genres: adventure, drama, horror and war. They determined that the soundtracks for each genre possessed characteristic emotion-manipulating techniques. Scores for dramatic films, for example, had more abrupt shifts in frequency, both up and down. Horror films, on the other hand, had more screaming females and distorted sounds. The researchers were even able to detect recordings of animal screams in some scores.
The latest findings are based on a series of experiments that Blumstein designed and conducted with Peter Kaye, a Santa Monica–based composer of movie and television scores, and Greg Bryant, an assistant professor of communication studies at UCLA who specializes in research on vocal communication and evolutionary psychology.
Full article at ScienceDaily
Neat concept. I dislike the ‘brings out the animal in you’ poetic device, but concede that I understand it’s point. I’m an animal 24/7, and I don’t view all the other species of animals around me as ‘primitive’. They are thoroughly modern creatures. I will concede that distorted guitar really does sound ‘primal’ and scandalously unpolished. It’s the type of sound you don’t play around grandma.
An Adaptive Bias in the Perception of Looming Auditory Motion
John G. Neuhoff – Department of Psychology, The College of Wooster
Rising acoustic intensity can indicate movement of a sound source toward a listener. Perceptual overestimation of intensity change could provide a selective advantage by indicating that the source is closer than it actually is, providing a better opportunity for the listener to prepare for the source’s arrival. In Experiment 1, listeners heard equivalent rising and falling level sounds and indicated whether one demonstrated a greater change in loudness than the other. In 2 subsequent experiments listeners heard equivalent approaching and receding sounds and indicated perceived starting and stopping points of the auditory motion. Results indicate that rising intensity changed in loudness more than equivalent falling intensity, and approaching sounds were perceived as starting and stopping closer than equidistant receding sounds. Both effects were greater for tones than for noise. Evidence is presented that suggests that an asymmetry in the neural coding of egocentric auditory motion is an adaptation that provides advanced warning of looming acoustic sources.
From an evolutionary perspective, the problem of anticipating an approaching object is an important task. A listener with a perceptual bias to detect approaching objects might gain a selective advantage by better preparing for the object’s arrival. In vision, the topic of looming has been widely studied, with investigations ranging from the study of gannets who time their wing folding to coincide with contact with the water when diving for fish (Lee & Reddish, 1981) to baseball outfielders who arrive at the correct position in the field to catch fly balls (McBeath, Shaffer, & Kaiser, 1995).Full text (PDF)
It’s a novel concept to me. I look at a paper like this, and try to see if I relate to it (anecdote trigger warning). I’ve falsely sensed the proximity of a noise many times. On a few occasions I even ducked at the sound of a ‘whoosh’ from some unseen thrown object, only to see it miss me so badly that I look foolish. Is the same ‘auditory looming bias’ concept at play?
Adaptations to Predators and Prey
H. Clark Barrett (2005)
Snakes and spiders, while predators, do not prey on humans, but rather, attack humans in self-defense (except for some large snakes such as constrictors). To date, no evidence for evolved perceptual templates for true predators on humans has been found. This might mean that the array of predators on humans over space and time was diverse enough to prevent selection for distinct templates, or it might mean that such templates have yet to be found (felids would be a likely candidate). There is evidence that such templates exist in other species and that they can persist for thousands of years even under relaxed selection (persistence of antipredator adaptations in the absence of predators is sometimes known as the “ghost of predators past” hypothesis; Byers, 1997; Peckarsky & Penton, 1988)
For example, tammar wallabies that have been isolated on a predator-free island for approximately 9,500 years exhibit an antipredator reaction to taxidermic models of several predator species including foxes and cats and to acoustic cues to predators such as howls, but do not exhibit these reactions to non-predators (Blumstein, Daniel, Griffin, & Evans, 2000). Coss, Guse, Poran, and Smith (1993) have found similar reactions of squirrels to snakes even in populations isolated from snakes for many thousands of years. In humans, while the array of predators might have been too diverse over space and time to select for specific perceptual templates, it is possible that natural selection engineered other means for rapid learning about predators, such as social learning of the sort seen in rhesus monkeys, who can acquire fear of novel animals in a single trial if conspecifics are observed to be afraid of them (Mineka, Davidson, Cook, & Keir, 1984)
Emphasis mine. I like this part because it is not anthropocentric, and seems to lend itself more easily to objectivity. This is also considered a tested and empirically supported hypothesis. Evolutionary psychology – now featuring tests! (From what I gather, the previous paper is similarly now considered ’empirically supported’ across many disciplines.)
This post was prompted by this comment by HumanisticJones on Stephanie Zvan’s recent post.
Can someone show me one of these good EvoPsych papers that isn’t complete bunk cooked up to sell soap flakes or back up stereotypical gender roles? The idea that evolution and biology play a role in our psychology isn’t unsound what with our brain being an evolved organ, but I think that it would be a much more effective defense of the field than accusing Rebecca Watson of bias.
And note that this isn’t the creationist style “ask with the smug assumption that their isn’t an example”, I’m genuinely curious as to what non-sensational EvoPsych actually studies.
I don’t think you sound like a creationist. At worst, lazy? More likely, new to the subject (me too!)? Overall, you remained calm, asked for evidence. Seems natural enough.
I’m grateful for Rebecca Watson pointing out the bunk stuff, but I’m equally grateful that Ed Clint showed me where she may have gone too far in dismissing the entire field, or suggesting that the bunk stuff was representative of the whole.
‘Proof’ that evolutionary psychology is real, in 20 seconds
*due to cell phone quality camera work, you have to turn the volume up to hear the guy explain it properly.*
(remember, the word ‘proof’ was in scare quotes…)