Four exciting papers on evolutionary psychology

I find the following evolutionary psychology papers fascinating. Listed in no particular order.

I.

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.

Full text (PDF)

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.

II.

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.

III.

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?

IV.

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)

Full text (PDF)

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.)

Lastly…

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.*

www.youtube.com/embed/tB7uNQjkZ7Y

(remember, the word ‘proof’ was in scare quotes…)

About Justin Griffith
  • jackiepaper

    Really? She dismissed the entire field?

    And a screamer/startle video proves the entire field of evo-psych?

    I hope this is your idea of a joke.

    • Justin Griffith

      Really? She dismissed the entire field?

      Yes. Several times. I don’t think she’s a bad person, or speaker because of it. I simply think she should modify her newest speech. I’m a fan of hers…

      And a screamer/startle video proves the entire field of evo-psych?

      I hope this is your idea of a joke.

      Yes.

      • LeftSidePositive

        I think you’re misrepresenting her disgracefully. For one, she made clear in her talk that she was referring to “pop” EvoPsych. Yes, there are methodological issues about our lack of concrete knowledge about the ancestral environment that is a problem for EvoPsych as a whole, as are inherent difficulties in determining the natural state of a highly adaptable organ (or are you seriously denying that these are major stumbling blocks of EvoPsych as a whole?!), but pointing out that there are several inherent problematic areas in a field of study in no way means the entire field of study is as fruitless as the particular pop-brand to which she was clearly and explicitly referring.

        • Justin Griffith

          but pointing out that there are several inherent problematic areas in a field of study in no way means the entire field of study is as fruitless as the particular pop-brand to which she was clearly and explicitly referring.

          She clearly referred to “the whole of evolutionary psychology” multiple times. No big deal, because she probably learned not to do this anymore (hopefully?). She even thanked Ed Clint for some of his corrections.

      • A Hermit

        I didn’t think she was dismissing all evo-psych in her talk; in fact there were a couple of caveats in there if you pay close attention. She maybe could have done a better job of making that clear, but the way I saw it she was going after the bad science and particularly the bad science reporting in the media.

        And I’m still not sold even on the “good” evo-psych research; there’s some interesting stuff there but I’m not sure how far one can extrapolate those findings. Kenan Malik has some good thoughts on the subject here: http://www.kenanmalik.com/essays/fallacy.html

        In short, Malik contends that EP leans too heavily on the idea of modularity and is insufficient to explain anything beyond the simplest forms of behaviour and can’t be reliably used to explain complex social interactions in the way that some EV proponents would have us believe.

        But then I’m repelled by guns more than I am by snakes and spiders, so maybe I’m just some kind of a mutant…;-)

        • Justin Griffith

          Kenan Malik has some good thoughts on the subject here: http://www.kenanmalik.com/essays/fallacy.html

          Thank you for that. I am going to read that shortly. I did notice it is a little outdated (1998). I’ll definitely still read it though – this is precisely the type of back and forth I hope for.

          But then I’m repelled by guns more than I am by snakes and spiders, so maybe I’m just some kind of a mutant…;-)

          LOL

      • LeftSidePositive

        As I pointed out in my first comment, she referred to “the whole of evolutionary psychology” on issues that are legitimately relevant to the whole of evolutionary psychology. What the hell is the problem with that?

        Here, I’ll spell it out for you really clearly:

        1) The majority of her talk was about the presentation of EvoPsych in the media. She established this several times.

        2) The portions of her talk that referred to underlying methodological issues that are more broadly applicable are denoted as such.

        3) The discussion of certain things that are broadly applicable, and denoted as such, in no way implies that every criticism of the particular topic of the talk must in fact be so broadly applied as some of the specifically-denoted issues.

        Is this really so hard to understand?!

  • Nathanael

    Cool.

    A good rule of thumb, which has worked well for me, is “If a study claims to have found innate differences between human men and women, and they aren’t the bloody obvious (women have uteruses! men have penises!), it is very likely to be completely bogus”.

    I’m not surprised that evo-psych is doing OK in areas where people do not have heavy, emotionally-laden preconceived biases. I’m suspicious that (I) and (II) still have preconception bias, but (IV), being about *non-human* psychology, seems more likely to have avoided this.

    • Justin Griffith

      I largely agree with your conclusion. Not convinced of the rule you put forward, but that’s because I’m not familiar with the subject enough to make such a claim (or to discount it).

      I purposely choose among papers that dealt with non-gender evopsych issues. I expect that it is just as difficult to do evopsych research as it is for many flavors of psychology as far as gender (and preconceived bias). I imagine that scientists attempt to be clever enough to control for this. Clearly, Watson showed us that a few are not clever enough in the evopsych realm. That doesn’t mean that all gender-related research in the field is similar skewed, and Clint opened my eyes to a whole field of science.

      • LeftSidePositive

        So if the issue at hand is the misuse of gender issues in EvoPsych, what the hell is the point of putting up a lot of non-gender related EvoPsych? No one but people who are obsessively insisting–to the exclusion of the explicit refutation by Rebecca in her talk–that she was trying to discredit all of EvoPsych actually buys into this strawman you’ve created. Yes, WE KNOW evolution plays into our psychology in fundamental ways. Yes, WE KNOW that extremely primitive and highly adaptive traits like fight-or-flight are evolutionarily strongly selected for. None of this is news–so why do you keep bringing it up?

        Furthermore, your subsequent claim that not “all gender-related research in the field is similar[ly] skewed” is unsupported. In order to support this, you would need to provide an example of gender-based research and explain why you think it has merit.

        And if you have seriously just had your eyes opened to the field, maybe you should take the advice of Internet denizens everywhere and “lurk moar.” Or do you make a habit of opining on areas of science to which you have no prior experience? If not, why is this any different?

        • Justin Griffith

          So if the issue at hand is the misuse of gender issues in EvoPsych, what the hell is the point of putting up a lot of non-gender related EvoPsych? No one but people who are obsessively insisting–to the exclusion of the explicit refutation by Rebecca in her talk–that she was trying to discredit all of EvoPsych actually buys into this strawman you’ve created.

          She clearly referred to the field as a whole. As did many of my commenters yesterday (though we still had a calm reasonable discussion).

          Furthermore, your subsequent claim that not “all gender-related research in the field is similar[ly] skewed” is unsupported. In order to support this, you would need to provide an example of gender-based research and explain why you think it has merit.

          Okay. Please react calmly, though.

          Although evolutionary psychology is a relatively young field, hundreds of empirical studies have been conducted to test a variety of evolutionary psychological hypotheses. Some have been confirmed; others have been falsified; and others have not yet been subjected to enough empirical tests to render a firm scientific conclusion.

          Among those that have been confirmed by multiple methods in multiple samples by multiple investigators are anti free-rider adaptations in cooperative groups (e.g., Price, Cosmides, & Tooby, 2002); cheater-detection adaptations in social exchange (e.g., Cosmides & Tooby, 2005); female superiority in spatial location memory as part of a gathering adaptation (e.g., Silverman & Choi, 2005); functional attributes of male and female short-term mating strategies (e.g., Greiling & Buss, 2000; Schmitt, 2005; Schmitt & International Sexuality Description Project, 2003); sex differentiated deception tactics in human mating (e.g., Haselton, Buss, Oubaid, & Angleitner, 2005; Tooke & Camire, 1991); antipredator adaptations in children (e.g., Barrett, 2005); and dozens more (see Buss, 2008, for a recent review)

          Why do I think these have merit? Easy. The American Psychological Association (137,000 member+) says so. They are experts.

          Or do you make a habit of opining on areas of science to which you have no prior experience?

          Did you read Ed Clint’s article? He has prior experience, and calmly calls out the person you are defending. She got it wrong because of her lack of experience. Are you taking the side of experts now? I hope so.

      • gshelley

        I assume Justin keeps bringing it up because he is going by the words Rebecca Watson used and the explicit claims she made about Evolutionary biology. That’s the beauty of the internet, we can actually listen to the the talk and evaluate the claim that it was “just about pop evo psych” and not about evolutionary psychology as a field as a whole.

      • LeftSidePositive

        Justin, your entire post is a ridiculous argument from authority, and you have not presented any detailed explanation of why any particular study has merit–you’ve just name-checked titles and said that other people agree with them. This is incredibly weak, and I’m really curious as to why you are so eager to defend something for which you evidently have such a superficial understanding. Furthermore, I simply asked you to substantiate your claim. For you to snidely imply that I am not answering “calmly” is incredibly offensive and is a blatant avoidance of the burden of proof which you took upon yourself by claiming that some quantity of the gender-based studies in EvoPsych have merit. State which ones have merit and why. Until you demonstrate a competent independent understanding of the subject matter, I must confess to be baffled as to why you are so insistent on defending a field based on what others say–why are you particularly attached to certain experts as opposed to others? How do you decide which studies to name-check? Do you categorically stand by everything the American Psychological Association says? Do you categorically stand by everything all organizations with more than 137,000 members say? Do you consider an organization primarily focused on clinical/experimental psychology to have the academic basis to evaluate the evolutionary origin of the behaviors they study, which is, after all, the subject of contention here?

        By the way, what exactly did Rebecca get wrong due to her lack of experience? Do you agree or disagree with her critiques of the studies presented in her talk? Or are you still on your ridiculous insistence that she must have been referring to all EvoPsych, just because you are apparently selectively incapable of distinguishing between a context-dependent statement and a universal one?

        • Justin Griffith

          Gish Gallop

          What manner of devilry is this? What grade are you in? Are you worried about calm people around you? Are they being calmly snyde and offensive? Are you aware that I cited some papers that answered your earlier questions? Don’t you know that you need to respond to those citations with specific reasons why you dismiss them? What is a competent ‘independent understanding’ of something? Who makes sure it is sufficiently independent? Is there a group that decides this? Do they have 137,000 people (and how’d you guess that was my magic number?) How can I be sure that your questions arise from competent independent understandings? Don’t you get that if a person has an understanding ‘independent’ of the scientific consensus, the person tends to be ‘wrong’? Do you categorically stand against everything the American Psychological Association says? Do you consider biologists who have no clinical/experimental psychology experience to have the academic basis to evaluate the psychology of humans / animals?

          What did Rebecca get right due to her experience in the field? Do you not realize that I plainly agreed with her critiques of the studies presented in the talk? Did you not see that Ed Clint did too? Did you not realize that she’s pointing at studies that are discredited in her field? Are you still on your ridiculous insistence that she never criticized ‘all of EvoPsych’ (multiple times)? Are you aware how the Gish Gallop makes both of us look stupid?

      • LeftSidePositive

        Are you worried about calm people around you?

        No, I’m saying that your assertion that I am not calm is unwarranted and is a blatant dodge.

        Are you aware that I cited some papers that answered your earlier questions?

        No, they did not answer my earlier questions, because you just wrote down their titles. You did not say why you thought they had merit. Until you make a claim for their merit, the ball remains in your court.

        Don’t you know that you need to respond to those citations with specific reasons why you dismiss them?

        Who is Gish-Galloping now? You seriously think that you can just drop the names of a bunch of papers with NO FURTHER ARGUMENTATION on your part, and think that this will rise to the level of plausibility that I’m supposed to drop everything and read each of these papers, telepathically determine why you think they have merit, and comb through them? You made the claim these papers have merit, so YOU have to support your claim. Otherwise you are just being lazy, and shifting the burden of proof.

        What is a competent ‘independent understanding’ of something?

        The ability to state something in your own words would be a good start. The fact that you are unable to do this leaves me very, very unimpressed.

        Do they have 137,000 people (and how’d you guess that was my magic number?)

        Because you used the 137,000+ membership of the APA as a justification, which is an embarrassing and flimsy argumentum ad numerum, and I was calling you on it.

        Don’t you get that if a person has an understanding ‘independent’ of the scientific consensus, the person tends to be ‘wrong’?

        Did you seriously not understand what I meant by “independent”? Is your understanding of basic English syntax really so poor? I clearly used “independent” in the context of your repeating what others say, and asking you to explain why you think something has merit. Really–this should not be so difficult.

        Do you categorically stand against everything the American Psychological Association says?

        Shifting the burden of proof again. You claimed the APA was a sufficient source simply by naming it. It is therefore on you to substantiate that assertion. If you could actually describe in your own words why any of these studies have merit, you wouldn’t have to just rely on “The APA says so!” which can only be valid if you categorically accept everything the APA says (which is argument from authority).

        Do you consider biologists who have no clinical/experimental psychology experience to have the academic basis to evaluate the psychology of humans / animals?

        Stop shifting the burden of proof. You are the one who claimed that publication by the APA was sufficient for acceptance of evolutionary psychology. Yes, if an evolutionary biologist made a claim that was at odds with my extensive postgraduate training in psychology and neuroscience, I would take them to task for it, but what you are doing is a red herring. You are trying to make a claim for the validity of surmises about evolutionary origin, and you have provided nothing further than “Here are these psychologists who say so!!” Just flipping the script does not invalidate my point.

        What did Rebecca get right due to her experience in the field?

        1) I never claimed she had experience in the field.

        2) You yourself admit that you agree with her critiques of the studies presented, so what do you even mean with this cheap rhetorical question?

        3) Parroting back what others say makes you look like a petulant three-year-old. I suggest you stop it and actually explain why you think the above studies have merit.

        Do you not realize that I plainly agreed with her critiques of the studies presented in the talk? Did you not see that Ed Clint did too?

        Then seriously, what is your problem with her talk?!

        Did you not realize that she’s pointing at studies that are discredited in her field?

        You’re playing No True Scotsman here. Moreover, these studies still continue to be harmful on a societal level even when people with very obscure platforms object to them and never come close to the exposure that the bad science gets in the general media.

        Are you still on your ridiculous insistence that she never criticized ‘all of EvoPsych’ (multiple times)?

        Look, I already explained to you why you have it wrong about when and in what context she was criticizing all of EvoPsych. You have not addressed those explanations, so don’t keep repeating your assertions without addressing their criticisms. It is juvenile and intellectually barren.

        Are you aware how the Gish Gallop makes both of us look stupid?

        Nope, just you. Sorry. I’m not the one listing bunches of studies that I have no ability to recommend than just saying “but the APA says so!”

        • Justin Griffith

          LSP wrote:

          You did not say why you thought they had merit. Until you make a claim for their merit, the ball remains in your court.

          Regarding why I thought they had merit:

          Among those that have been confirmed by multiple methods in multiple samples by multiple investigators are…

          That was the phrase that preceded the list of studies. You did not say why you disbelieve multiple investigators who used multiple methods to obtain multiple samples that led them all to the same conclusion. The ball is in the court of the scientists in the field. You and I (and Rebecca for that matter) are spectators / consumers.

      • LeftSidePositive

        Justin, thank you for that hearty belly-laugh. The grand total of your justification is a few repetitions of the word “multiple”!? Do you understand the methods used and their strengths and weaknesses? Do you understand the pitfalls of finding a representative sample? Have you made any effort to ascertain whether or not the findings you are touting are more common in certain types of samples than others, and what biases may be operating there? Are you familiar with the work of the multiple investigators you are quoting, and do you feel yourself qualified to speak for the validity of their research? Do you feel yourself qualified to assess whether or not their main focus of study and previous body of work provides adequate background for the findings in the papers you quote?

        In short: just summarize what in particular the studies you believe are about and why you think they’re valid, to show that you actually understand them. Then it might be worth my time to engage with them, or at least I could address specific misconceptions or assumptions that you express. Otherwise it is unbecoming of a skeptic to assert the validity of conclusions simply because others say so. Look, I don’t go around insisting on the validity of String Theory, and moreover if I actually cared enough to take a position on it, I would care enough that I could defend my position in my own words without referring to some number of experts.

      • jose

        Hey I’ve been referenced! Thanks. I do think the whole field could use a serious overhaul before it goes down the tubes the same way memetics did. There is way too much noise, way too many easy, arbitrary guesses and overblowing, overreaching conclusions and most annoyingly a lot of just plain bad statistics. It’s the journals that should do this. It’s time to value quality as much as quantity even if your journal shrinks as a result. That’s me though, I don’t know what Rebecca Watson or anybody else think.

        I don’t want to be the bad guy entering in the blog like a bull in a china shop so that’ll be all.

      • jose

        Hey! I found a thorough review that supports my opinion about the field in general needing an overhaul. Relieved it’s not just me ^_^’

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

          Awesome. This is much better than your comment suggesting that EP ‘are just making stuff up and sticking to it for their careers’.

          I’d like to note that some of the improvements suggested here should be compared to Ed Clint’s article. From the PLOSBiology article you mentioned:

          Conclusions
          None of the aforementioned scientific developments render evolutionary psychology unfeasible; they merely require that EP should change its daily practice. The key concepts of EP have led to a series of widely held assumptions (e.g., that human behaviour is unlikely to be adaptive in modern environments, that cognition is domain-specific, that there is a universal human nature), which with the benefit of hindsight we now know to be questionable. A modern EP would embrace a broader, more open, and multi-disciplinary theoretical framework, drawing on, rather than being isolated from, the full repertoire of knowledge and tools available in adjacent disciplines. Such a field would embrace the challenge of exploring empirically, for instance, to what extent human cognition is domain-general or domain specific, ***under what circumstances human behaviour is adaptive***, how best to explain variation in human behaviour and cognition. The evidence from adjacent disciplines suggests that, if EP can reconsider its basic tenets, it will flourish as a scientific discipline.

          (emphasis and asterisks mine)

          Now compare this with Ed Clint:

          I believe in skepticism as a condition to living well, and for doing science. I therefore tow no lines for any entity or cause, not an evolutionary psychology edifice or anything else. I have mentioned my forthcoming paper currently in press, but I have not told you what it is about. Briefly stated, it is an hypothesis test of an adaptationist theory about gender differences in one kind of cognitive ability. The adaptationist theory is couched in “man the hunter, woman the gatherer” theoretical trimmings of the sort Watson dislikes so much. I test the hypothesis using a cross-species comparative analysis. My findings do not support the adaptationist model, and I suggest an alternative explanation which is non-adaptationist and consistent with the data. In Watsonian terms, I’ve done the impossible (evolutionary psychology theories can’t be tested/falsified) by rejecting the party line (everything is an adaptation) consequently breaking a gender stereotype in total defiance of a fundamental purpose of the field (to oppress women)— and it’s being published in a venerable biology journal.

      • jose

        Ed Clint thinks evolutionary psychology is doing fine. I think it’s doing badly and it needs way higher standards. The linked letter offers different arguments to the ones I offered, making the case for a major change stronger (I relied on methodological problems, they go more for the conceptual core). You don’t deny that Equatorial Guinea is poor by pointing out the president is rich.

        Let Clint’s forthcoming paper be an example for his colleagues. Would be cool if it facilitated the change his field needs, but it probably won’t -we need active commitment from the journals for that.

  • doubtthat

    I found #II rather…silly, to be kind. You cited that as a good example of something produced by Evo-Psych? I’ll leave open the possibility that there was something contained in the actual study that wasn’t properly represented in the abstract or the article, but the conclusion was ridiculous:

    “The researchers believe the effect of listening to music with distortion is similar to hearing the cries of animals in distress, a condition that distorts animals’ voices by forcing a large amount of air rapidly through the voice box. ”

    We like Jimi Hendrix because it sounds like a dying rabbit? I wonder why I like Bach, then.

    That article seems like an exemplar of the fundamental absurdity of evo-psych: trying to define a highly culturally specific activity (appreciation of a “distorted” sound) with an awesomely dumb test. Did you listen to the sound examples? I would like to meet the person that became “aroused” by the second sample.

    “Subjects were presented with emotionally neutral musical exemplars that had neither noise nor abrupt frequency transitions, or versions of these musical exemplars that had noise or abrupt frequency upshifts or downshifts experimentally added.”

    Haha. So much silliness. Who determined what music was “emotionally neutral?” How did they isolate “sounds like a dying or stressed animal” from, “this sample is mono-dynamic and boring, this other one has elements that make it more interesting?”

    They proved that people become aroused by music that gets louder in some places. STOP THE PRESSES, it must be due to velociraptors chasing our genetic ancestors!!!

    Then the real dramatic conclusion: turns out when people are watching something they are less affected by the sound. Wow. You mean distracting someone with an added sensory input reduces the potency of other sensory inputs? Surely this is cutting edge stuff.

    All with the caveat that I couldn’t see the original paper.

    • Justin Griffith

      I understand that the paper also largely dealt with animals and their reactions to ‘musical’ patterns in mating calls, predator noises, etc. I have a soft-spot for music, and assume that may be at play with the researcher on that one. Rhythms and noises seem to be associated with a part of the brain – evolved shall we say?

      Who determined what music was “emotionally neutral?” How did they isolate “sounds like a dying or stressed animal” from, “this sample is mono-dynamic and boring, this other one has elements that make it more interesting?”

      I wish I had the full text too. I provided the full texts for the other articles. I notice you didn’t mention those. Maybe they were cutting edge enough for you.

      They proved that people become aroused by music that gets louder in some places. STOP THE PRESSES, it must be due to velociraptors chasing our genetic ancestors!!!

      I think you are greatly mis-characterizing here. Sexual selection – as a function of evolution – is often associated with chirps, whistles, rhythmic ‘dances’, and the like. Why wouldn’t the millions of years of that playing out find it’s way into our brains?

      • LeftSidePositive

        Sexual selection – as a function of evolution – is often associated with chirps, whistles, rhythmic ‘dances’, and the like. Why wouldn’t the millions of years of that playing out find it’s way into our brains?

        No one is saying it hasn’t. What we are saying is the paper presented is woefully inadequate to demonstrate that in itself, and provides nothing but the most superficial indication that such processes occur, and has no insight into how these sound preferences are actually affecting our brains and to what extent these are inherited or hardwired, which would actually be advancing past the thought-experiment stage that just about every high school student would be able to deduce from observing that certain species have highly stereotyped mating calls.

      • chrisho-stuart

        The issue with Evolutionary Psychology is not with the hypothesis, but the method.

        That is: there’s no problem with expecting that millions of years of that playing out find it’s way into our brains.

        But testing of that hypothesis and the particular links to evolutionary processes calls for the use of science; and this is where much of evolutionary psychology falls down, I think.

        Keep that in mind; I suggest. Finding an interesting hypothesis, or finding an idea fascinating, is not any guide at all as to the merit of papers. It’s rather about the more subjective matter of what topics tweak your interest. And that’s okay.

        There is good evolutionary psychology.

        But to tell whether any of these papers you mention stand out for good science, rather than for fascinating hypotheses, is a risky judgement for someone not well immersed in the specifics of science itself. Frankly, some of them look dubious to my untrained eye. But since my eye *is* untrained, my initial doubts shouldn’t carry any weight and I won’t try to identify them here.

        BTW, Justin; you are one of my absolute favourite FtB bloggers. In my view, they are lucky to have you and the work you do beyond your blog within the military is fantastic.

        I love your generosity, and I think in coming days you going to find some cause to apply it more widely. You’re likely to be getting a couple of terse or testy responses from folks whom you consider as colleagues and friends. Hang in there. Sorting all that out should be healthy all around, in the long run, and you are a real asset here.

      • doubtthat

        I didn’t read the others, just the one about music. My statements were directed at that paper, and that paper alone. If it’s representative of the “best” of evo-psych, so much the worse for evo-psych. Maybe I’ll read the rest, the subjects interest me less. Pointing to other papers you think are good does little to defend #II, though.

        “I think you are greatly mis-characterizing here. Sexual selection – as a function of evolution – is often associated with chirps, whistles, rhythmic ‘dances’, and the like. Why wouldn’t the millions of years of that playing out find it’s way into our brains?”

        I’m going by the description of the test and the two samples. Listen to them. If that is representative of what they used for data, they have really, really shitty data. I would be willing to bet that 90% of participants responding to the prodding about which was more “stimulating” with, “Uh…I mean, I guess #2.” YEAH, THAT PROVES IT!!!!

        Yeah, I guess we have ears, and when we fuck, noises are present, therefore distortion must mimic terrified animals (I know I can barely maintain an non-medication supported erection without the sounds of torture present–I can’t be the only one, right? right?). Sex selection as a catch-all for “things you want to make up” isn’t particularly good science.

        And again, what role does the fact that we live in a society that produces music with distortion play in people’s reaction to distortion? Do we like Jimi Hendrix because of his distorted guitar, or do we like distorted guitar because of Jimi Hendrix? Or, because he sounds like a caribou with a broken leg?

        I will also point out that all sounds become strained and more intense when the volume is increased. Did we develop in reaction to distressed sounds or did distressed sounds evolve to be what they were because our ears would be most likely to notice them? Elephants and whales make distress sounds much differently, do we like tubas because they sound like harpooned narwhals?

        Again, unless there’s some magic in that full paper, every step of that production is riddled with massive, unfounded assumptions. In what way is distortion “like” distressed animals in a way that’s different from every other loud, high pitched sound? Maybe I like Stravinsky’s string parts because they sound like a limb snapping from a tree in a serious storm, and my tree-dwelling ancestors evolved to recognize that sound. Now certain string voicings arouse me.

        And that’s another point: do you think people in 1850 would be aroused by the same sounds as people in 2012? Harmonies that caused revolts in the early 20th century are now customary. Surely if were just genetics there would be no way to explain changing reactions to the harmonic organization of notes.

  • Pitchguest

    Please calm down, LeftSidePositive. There is no reason to get so worked up. The fact of the matter is that she referred to EP as a whole many times, not just how it’s depicted in popular media, and that she thought it was bunk. When a question was asked after the talk if she thought there were anything valid with evolutionary psychology, she answered scoffingly (without having any expertise in the subject) with a long “Maaaaaaaybe”, but, and I quote, “it would be so boring you would have to make everything up.” If she didn’t aim to discredit Evo Psych as a whole, then why did she give that answer?

    Furthermore there is another instance (another timestamp that Zvan neglects to mention in her blog post) where Watson says, quite clearly says, “The biggest problems with this study though are the same problems that are levelled against evolutionary psychology as a whole.” This after she mentions a study in evolutionary psychology that she has a problem with. We’re not exactly twisting her words or spinning it to our advantage, we are repeating what she said. Explicitly.

    However, the nice thing with Ed Clint’s article is that Watson has learned what not to do and that’s a good thing. I’m not sure pretending that she didn’t say it and then justify it with outrage is the right way to go.

    • LeftSidePositive

      Please calm down, LeftSidePositive. There is no reason to get so worked up.

      From whence, exactly, comes this assertion that I am worked up? I have asked Justin to substantiate his views. He has repeatedly failed to do so. I have pointed out the flaws in his reasoning. How exactly does this equate to “worked up”? What actual contribution to the debate does claiming that one’s opponent is “worked up” provide, and how does it reflect on the validity of her statements?

      The fact of the matter is that she referred to EP as a whole many times, not just how it’s depicted in popular media, and that she thought it was bunk.

      I have already explained this here. If you object to that, make a specific rebuttal to my argument rather than just re-asserting your thesis.

      If she didn’t aim to discredit Evo Psych as a whole, then why did she give that answer?

      Did you notice that she specifically referred in her answer to the type of EvoPsych in the media, why the EvoPsych to which she objects has marked advantages in the media, and stated that her frame of reference was the effect of EvoPsych on the general public? How did you miss that?!

      “The biggest problems with this study though are the same problems that are levelled against evolutionary psychology as a whole.”

      I already addressed this in the comment to which I linked above. Do you claim that these specific problems–distinguishing inherited from adapted behaviors, failing to take into consideration heritable changes/selective pressures in recent history, failure to substantiate a mechanism for postulated inherited traits–are actually not problems for EvoPsych as a whole? This is not to say that all EvoPsych must inherently be bunk: lots of fields have problems and still produce valuable science (think of how much great chemistry was accomplished during eras of comparatively primitive understanding of atomic structure), but it is important to address limitations in any field of study. Naturally, though, the more tenuous and/or inferential the conclusions of a study the more these fundamental problems cast doubt on the validity of the study.

      • Justin Griffith

        You’re just turning every sentence upside down in the form of a question. This is kind of what a gish gallop looks like:

        ˙ʎpnʇs ǝɥʇ ɟo ʎʇıpıןɐʌ ǝɥʇ uo ʇqnop ʇsɐɔ sɯǝןqoɹd ןɐʇuǝɯɐpunɟ ǝsǝɥʇ ǝɹoɯ ǝɥʇ ʎpnʇs ɐ ɟo suoısnןɔuoɔ ǝɥʇ ןɐıʇuǝɹǝɟuı ɹo/puɐ snonuǝʇ ǝɹoɯ ǝɥʇ ‘ɥbnoɥʇ ‘ʎןןɐɹnʇɐu ˙ʎpnʇs ɟo pןǝıɟ ʎuɐ uı suoıʇɐʇıɯıן ssǝɹppɐ oʇ ʇuɐʇɹodɯı sı ʇı ʇnq ‘(ǝɹnʇɔnɹʇs ɔıɯoʇɐ ɟo buıpuɐʇsɹǝpun ǝʌıʇıɯıɹd ʎןǝʌıʇɐɹɐdɯoɔ ɟo sɐɹǝ buıɹnp pǝɥsıןdɯoɔɔɐ sɐʍ ʎɹʇsıɯǝɥɔ ʇɐǝɹb ɥɔnɯ ʍoɥ ɟo ʞuıɥʇ) ǝɔuǝıɔs ǝןqɐnןɐʌ ǝɔnpoɹd ןןıʇs puɐ sɯǝןqoɹd ǝʌɐɥ spןǝıɟ ɟo sʇoן :ʞunq ǝq ʎןʇuǝɹǝɥuı ʇsnɯ ɥɔʎsdoʌǝ ןןɐ ʇɐɥʇ ʎɐs oʇ ʇou sı sıɥʇ ¿ǝןoɥʍ ɐ sɐ ɥɔʎsdoʌǝ ɹoɟ sɯǝןqoɹd ʇou ʎןןɐnʇɔɐ ǝɹɐ–sʇıɐɹʇ pǝʇıɹǝɥuı pǝʇɐןnʇsod ɹoɟ ɯsıuɐɥɔǝɯ ɐ ǝʇɐıʇuɐʇsqns oʇ ǝɹnןıɐɟ ‘ʎɹoʇsıɥ ʇuǝɔǝɹ uı sǝɹnssǝɹd ǝʌıʇɔǝןǝs/sǝbuɐɥɔ ǝןqɐʇıɹǝɥ uoıʇɐɹǝpısuoɔ oʇuı ǝʞɐʇ oʇ buıןıɐɟ ‘sɹoıʌɐɥǝq pǝʇdɐpɐ ɯoɹɟ pǝʇıɹǝɥuı buıɥsınbuıʇsıp–sɯǝןqoɹd ɔıɟıɔǝds ǝsǝɥʇ ʇɐɥʇ ɯıɐןɔ noʎ op ˙ǝʌoqɐ pǝʞuıן ı ɥɔıɥʍ oʇ ʇuǝɯɯoɔ ǝɥʇ uı sıɥʇ pǝssǝɹppɐ ʎpɐǝɹןɐ ı

        ”˙ǝןoɥʍ ɐ sɐ ʎboןoɥɔʎsd ʎɹɐuoıʇnןoʌǝ ʇsuıɐbɐ pǝןןǝʌǝן ǝɹɐ ʇɐɥʇ sɯǝןqoɹd ǝɯɐs ǝɥʇ ǝɹɐ ɥbnoɥʇ ʎpnʇs sıɥʇ ɥʇıʍ sɯǝןqoɹd ʇsǝbbıq ǝɥʇ“

        ¡¿ʇɐɥʇ ssıɯ noʎ pıp ʍoɥ ¿ɔıןqnd ןɐɹǝuǝb ǝɥʇ uo ɥɔʎsdoʌǝ ɟo ʇɔǝɟɟǝ ǝɥʇ sɐʍ ǝɔuǝɹǝɟǝɹ ɟo ǝɯɐɹɟ ɹǝɥ ʇɐɥʇ pǝʇɐʇs puɐ ‘ɐıpǝɯ ǝɥʇ uı sǝbɐʇuɐʌpɐ pǝʞɹɐɯ sɐɥ sʇɔǝظqo ǝɥs ɥɔıɥʍ oʇ ɥɔʎsdoʌǝ ǝɥʇ ʎɥʍ ‘ɐıpǝɯ ǝɥʇ uı ɥɔʎsdoʌǝ ɟo ǝdʎʇ ǝɥʇ oʇ ɹǝʍsuɐ ɹǝɥ uı pǝɹɹǝɟǝɹ ʎןןɐɔıɟıɔǝds ǝɥs ʇɐɥʇ ǝɔıʇou noʎ pıp

        ¿ɹǝʍsuɐ ʇɐɥʇ ǝʌıb ǝɥs pıp ʎɥʍ uǝɥʇ ‘ǝןoɥʍ ɐ sɐ ɥɔʎsd oʌǝ ʇıpǝɹɔsıp oʇ ɯıɐ ʇ’upıp ǝɥs ɟı

        ˙sısǝɥʇ ɹnoʎ buıʇɹǝssɐ-ǝɹ ʇsnظ uɐɥʇ ɹǝɥʇɐɹ ʇuǝɯnbɹɐ ʎɯ oʇ ןɐʇʇnqǝɹ ɔıɟıɔǝds ɐ ǝʞɐɯ ‘ʇɐɥʇ oʇ ʇɔǝظqo noʎ ɟı ˙ǝɹǝɥ sıɥʇ pǝuıɐןdxǝ ʎpɐǝɹןɐ ǝʌɐɥ ı

        ˙ʞunq sɐʍ ʇı ʇɥbnoɥʇ ǝɥs ʇɐɥʇ puɐ ‘ɐıpǝɯ ɹɐןndod uı pǝʇɔıdǝp s’ʇı ʍoɥ ʇsnظ ʇou ‘sǝɯıʇ ʎuɐɯ ǝןoɥʍ ɐ sɐ dǝ oʇ pǝɹɹǝɟǝɹ ǝɥs ʇɐɥʇ sı ɹǝʇʇɐɯ ǝɥʇ ɟo ʇɔɐɟ ǝɥʇ

        ¿sʇuǝɯǝʇɐʇs ɹǝɥ ɟo ʎʇıpıןɐʌ ǝɥʇ uo ʇɔǝןɟǝɹ ʇı sǝop ʍoɥ puɐ ‘ǝpıʌoɹd ”dn pǝʞɹoʍ“ sı ʇuǝuoddo s’ǝuo ʇɐɥʇ buıɯıɐןɔ sǝop ǝʇɐqǝp ǝɥʇ oʇ uoıʇnqıɹʇuoɔ ןɐnʇɔɐ ʇɐɥʍ ¿”dn pǝʞɹoʍ“ oʇ ǝʇɐnbǝ sıɥʇ sǝop ʎןʇɔɐxǝ ʍoɥ ˙buıuosɐǝɹ sıɥ uı sʍɐןɟ ǝɥʇ ʇno pǝʇuıod ǝʌɐɥ ı ˙os op oʇ pǝןıɐɟ ʎןpǝʇɐǝdǝɹ sɐɥ ǝɥ ˙sʍǝıʌ sıɥ ǝʇɐıʇuɐʇsqns oʇ uıʇsnظ pǝʞsɐ ǝʌɐɥ ı ¿dn pǝʞɹoʍ ɯɐ ı ʇɐɥʇ uoıʇɹǝssɐ sıɥʇ sǝɯoɔ ‘ʎןʇɔɐxǝ ‘ǝɔuǝɥʍ ɯoɹɟ

      • LeftSidePositive

        Thank you, Justin, for that articulate contribution to the debate. Thank you for providing the answer to the age-old question of determining the inheritance of highly-adaptible behaviors, and thank you for addressing how that affects the methodology of EvoPsych research. Thank you for addressing point-by-point the explanation I gave about when criticisms in Rebecca’s talk were general and when they were specific. Thank you for your thorough assessment of my understanding of the context of each statement in the talk.

        • Justin Griffith

          Smug alert!

          “THAAAAAANKS!” /smug

      • LeftSidePositive

        I notice you’ve still failed to substantiate your claims about the merits of the studies you’ve selected, nor have you actually addressed any of the points I made about the limitations of EvoPsych and how they applied to Rebecca’s talk, of which I reminded you in my prior comment about your continued failure to address them. One would think if you actually had a valid argument you could have made it by now instead of going multiple rounds of gifs, copying text upside down, appealing to “multiple” authorities, and accusing me of being insufficiently calm for your taste.

        • Justin Griffith

          LeftSidePositive wrote:

  • doubtthat

    Well, that got weird.

    • Justin Griffith

      It’s because of evolution that you feel that way ;)

      • doubtthat

        I will agree that we witnessed some sort of evolved defense mechanism. Whether it confers a survival advantage in this internet wilderness remains to be seen.

    • chrisho-stuart

      I think LeftSidePositive has given some very sensible and pertinent feedback, and that he has been treated very poorly here, frankly.

      • LeftSidePositive

        Thanks for your comment, but just for the record, it’s “she.”

      • http://www.oolon.co.uk/ oolon

        Personally I’ve not really thought of LSP as male or female, just usually pretty on the ball. No change here really, and kudos for not actually getting angry as it would be totally deserved.

        Very disappointed in Justin pulling the ‘OOooh look how angry you are!’ method of winning the debate. Not at all surprised at Pitchguest given his track record in commenting.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

          The debate is still open. She’s welcome to actually respond to my answers to her first round of questions. I started up a new thread hoping she’d jump back in if she wished.

          She never realized I had answered her question the first time, and I honestly thought she (or he, at the time) was simply a troll. That wasn’t a debate. That was a self-righteous, smug and amateurish gish gallop. It was apparently the result of her ignorance of ‘an appeal to authority’ as a legitimate (non-fallacious) answer to her question (“why do you think those articles have merit?”).

  • callistacat

    “Every time I write a piece like this, one that’s critical of evolutionary psychology, I get emails from its practitioners, chewing me out for being so hard on their field. And my response is always the same: I’ll stop being so hard on your field when you guys start being more critical yourselves. If you policed your own discipline better, I wouldn’t have to.”

    - Jerry Coyne on Evolutionary Psychology

    • Justin Griffith

      I like that quote. I bet it really has (or will) make a difference. Still, this part: “If you policed your own discipline better, I wouldn’t have to.” suggests that Coyne recognizes that there is some good EP, but the field needs better quality control.

  • callistacat

    Justin, you didn’t respond to LeftSideofPositive’s points about the articles you cited. Then you accuse her of not being calm enough for you. Pretty pathetic and juvenile behavior.

    “Gish Gallop”? That was on your part.

    • Justin Griffith

      She didn’t have any points about the articles I cited (in this comment)

      She simply launched into what was largely a series of questions, each requiring a full essay to answer properly. That is not a realistic expectation of two way dialog. It’s a gish gallop.

      And we were already off the topic of the main post.

      • LeftSidePositive

        My initial challenge to you was:

        In order to support this, you would need to provide an example of gender-based research and explain why you think it has merit. (Emphasis added)

        You did not do this. You seem to think that just naming the articles will suffice. I have explained to you in as many combinations of English words as I can think of why this is invalid, and why you are the one Gish Gallopping. The questions were supposed to help you understand why just naming the titles of articles is insufficient. They are basic critical thinking applications that should be applied to any study and must be considered before you would embrace a study as worthy of citing. Frankly, I’m appalled that you did not ask these questions to yourself before you found the studies worthy of posting.

        Look, this really shouldn’t be difficult: if you think a particular study in EvoPsych on gender differences has merit, explain why you think so. I might agree or disagree, but until you provide evidence that you have invested some time and thought into assessing the studies that YOU CHOSE as support for the claims YOU CHOSE to make, I see no reason why I should invest more time and mental effort than you have demonstrated, when, as I have already explained, the burden of proof is on you.

      • chrisho-stuart

        Justin, what *is* the main topic here?

        I thought it was to provide some credible examples of worthwhile evolutionary psychology.

        I don’t think you’ve done that very well; because you seemed to picked articles on the basis of how interesting the hypothesis is, rather than the critical matter of “merit”. I suspect at least two of your examples (the first two) stand as examples of the problems with evolutionary psychology as science, and I’m unsure whether the latter two could work as examples of scientific merit in evolutionary psychology.

        LeftSidePositive is raising important questions directly relevant to what I had thought was the main point of your post.

      • Justin Griffith

        Anybody looking for my reply to LeftSidePositive can find it here.

        FWIW: I hate the way comments look with so little space. I started a new thread, hoping LSP would answer there. I don’t want to turn off nested comments. I’ll probably try to lower the font size via CSS or something.

  • GoJustinGo

    The above exchange between Justin Griffith and LeftSidePositive is absolute internet gold. As an old flame war veteran myself I have to say Justin’s performance is up to par with the best of PZ’s battles with creationistst on usnet of old days.

  • Bert Russell

    Justin, thank you for the laughs. Your responses, especially the last handful, to LSP were hilarious. Thanks for sharing these studies. I’m going through the first one and it’s actually really interesting stuff.

  • Pitchguest

    I have already explained this here. If you object to that, make a specific rebuttal to my argument rather than just re-asserting your thesis.

    I take it you’re not much for irony. The post you linked me to is nothing but a re-assertation of your view that Watson was talking about evo-psych in the popular media and not in general. Well, that just doesn’t stand up to the facts. Since according to you the several occasions where she refers to it “as a whole” is to do with the popular media, I will have to go back to my previous example of the question at the end.

    Again, the question at the end was, paraphrasing, are there cases of evo-psych that are good and valid? If the talk was really about how evolutionary psychology is portrayed (badly) in popular media, and that she indeed thinks evolutionary psychology outside of it has merit, then this question would be a misunderstanding of her talk and Watson should correct the questioner. She didn’t do that. Instead she gave an odd scoff and responded rather glibly, “Is there any good evolutionary psych. Probably? I’m guessing yes, but it’s so boring, because you can only make it interesting if you make up everything.”

    Is that a reference to evolutionary psychology in the popular media? Frankly I can’t tell. And if she were simply trying to give a talk about how it can be misinterpreted in the media (which is basically speaking to the choir), then clearly she should have answered “yes.” If she’d researched subject, she should have answered “yes, and you can read this and this to learn more.” You want me to believe this vague, glib response is not to do with evolutionary psychology “as a whole” (as she mentions on several occasions) where you can clearly ascertain she doesn’t know what she’s talking about (guesswork is usually not a sign of expertise) but just within the popular media? I think you’re trying too hard to put this in the bin.

    As for not getting so worked up, I think we know who of us has a chip on their shoulder. (Hint: it’s not Justin.)

    • Bert Russell

      The fact that the question “Is there ANY good evolutionary psychology?” was even asked in the first place is evidence that people in attendance also had a difficult time figuring out the aim of Rebecca Watson’s presentation; that they couldn’t tell that whether she was criticizing evolutionary psychology as a field and not just “pop” evolutionary psyschology.

      • Pitchguest

        As a supposed major in “Communications”, if that was indeed her intent, she should be able to, well, communicate that better. That she didn’t and people misunderstood and thought she meant the other is a failure of her talk. So that’s the first thing about talking to people: learning how to communicate intent. So two things wrong with this talk:

        1) If she indeed meant it as portrayed in the popular media, she failed miserably and should take that to heart – suggest for her next panel to talk about something else. If not, and the intent was in fact to discredit the entirety of evolutionary pscyhology wholecloth, then the criticism from Edward Clint is valid since she’s obviously not a scientist, nor have any expertise in the field of evolutionary psychology.

        2) She shouldn’t give talks about things she doesn’t understand, nor pass judgment on things she doesn’t understand. Leave it to the experts.

      • bertrussell

        Ya know, I also noticed that at the end of her presentation, Rebecca Watson asked if there were any evolutionary psychologists in the audience. When none revealed themselves she said “PHEW!”

        Yea, that’s a good thing ya know, to not have anyone competent around to point out the problems with your presentation.

        And some people have the nerve to say Ed Clint’s science denialism allegation is bogus?

        HA!

  • Justin Griffith

    LeftSidePositive wrote:

    My initial challenge to you was:

    In order to support this, you would need to provide an example of gender-based research and explain why you think it has merit.

    —-

    I don’t think you realize that I answered you the first time. I’ll re-iterate.

    —-

    From page 113 of the American Psychology Association’s 2010 article:

    Although evolutionary psychology is a relatively young field, hundreds of empirical studies have been conducted to test a variety of evolutionary psychological hypotheses. Some have been confirmed; others have been falsified; and others have not yet been subjected to enough empirical tests to render a firm scientific conclusion.

    Among those that have been confirmed by multiple methods in multiple samples by multiple investigators are anti free-rider adaptations in cooperative groups (e.g., Price, Cosmides, & Tooby, 2002); cheater-detection adaptations in social exchange (e.g., Cosmides & Tooby, 2005); female superiority in spatial location memory as part of a gathering adaptation (e.g., Silverman & Choi, 2005); functional attributes of male and female short-term mating strategies (e.g., Greiling & Buss, 2000; Schmitt, 2005; Schmitt & International Sexuality Description Project, 2003); sex differentiated deception tactics in human mating (e.g., Haselton, Buss, Oubaid, & Angleitner, 2005; Tooke & Camire, 1991); antipredator adaptations in children (e.g., Barrett, 2005); and dozens more (see Buss, 2008, for a recent review)

    Why do I think these have merit?

    Easy. The American Psychological Association (137,000 member+) says so. They are experts.

    ————-

    Now you assumed that I had committed a logical fallacy, and therefore my answer was instantly dismissed. I was, after all, definitely arguing from authority.

    Here’s the problem with your thinking. Arguing from authority is not necessarily a fallacy.

    Via wiki:

    Although certain classes of argument from authority can constitute strong inductive arguments, the appeal to authority is often applied fallaciously: either the authority is not a subject-matter expert, or there is no consensus among experts in the subject matter, or both. (emphasis mine)

    In order for you to ethically dismiss my answer about why I think those papers have merit, you must first show that

    A) the American Psychological Association is not a subject-matter expert on those studies (laughable suggestion)

    or

    B) the American Psychological Association has not reached a consensus, or has reached a consensus that is significantly out of line with any similar large body of subject matter experts, with regard to those studies.
    (possible? doubtful though.)

    A fallacious counter-argument from authority would be to cite a single or handful of SME’s that disagree with those specific studies. You didn’t even do that.

    I honestly thought you were just being sarcastic with your volley of decidedly *not* calm questions, and repeated pleas for me to answer the question I already answered.

    • Bert Russell

      Justin, I just wanted to point out that I’m not sure that article is the APA saying evolutionary psychology is valid, at least not directly. It is an article in their peer-reviewed academic journal that addresses the criticisms. Now, making it into a peer-reviewed psychological journal is no small feat, so, clearly, there is, at least some, validity to the article, and certainly there are lots of psychologists at the APA who agree with it, (look here for another one: http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2009/05/sci-brief.aspx#Kruger), but I don’t think I’ve seen all of the APA do it. Does that make a huge difference to what you’re saying? I don’t believe so. But I do think it should be pointed out.

      • Justin Griffith

        Thanks for that article. I’m just skimming so far and it’s already got some compelling stuff, and is definitely similar to the one I was using before (I think you supplied it too, initially). I’ll read it tomorrow.

        Justin, I just wanted to point out that I’m not sure that article is the APA saying evolutionary psychology is valid, at least not directly.

        I was a little careless. I guess I should state it like this, “The APA’s peer-review process found this articles’s ringing endorsement of these studies as sound.” (I read this first article in its entirety, and notably right after this paragraph is a long paragraph listing some EP concepts that have been falsified and discarded by mainstream EP. Good stuff.) Yeah, it doesn’t make a huge difference to what I was saying, and yes it should have been pointed out. Thank you.

      • Bert Russell

        Don’t mention it. I think the only thing that really matters is that you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a significant amount of scientists that dismiss evolutionary psychology in its entirety. Even some of the most vocal critics of evolutionary psychology that I’ve seen admit that there is valid science to be found.

    • http://iacb.blogspot.com/ Iamcuriousblue

      Well, Justin, I find it odd that I’m on the same side of an argument with LeftSide Positive, however, I must agree – simply saying the APA are the experts and they endorse something is simply an argument from authority rather than reason. Now it’s true in a world of specialization, one must often defer to the authority of the consensus of experts in a specialty, but that can’t simply be a bottom line argument. And particularly, professional associations are as prone to the vagaries of political influence and are not always the objective sources that they claim to be. This is particularly true in the social sciences.

      In the case of the APA, I’ve seen them endorse some highly questionable claims in their report on “sexualization”, for example. There are also entire schools of psychology, such as the Freudian, Jungian, or Reichian schools that contain a strong streak of pseudoscience or outright woo – I’m not sure if the APA calls *any* school of psychology into question. So while I think there are findings in evolutionary psychology that stand on their own merits, the endorsement of the APA is not a worthwhile argument in itself.

  • nohellbelowus

    @LeftSidePositive:

    Here is the precise exchange:

    Question: Is there any good evolutionary psych?

    Watson: Probably…? [giggles] I’m guessing yes, but it’s so boring [giggles]… because you can only make it interesting if you make up everything. [giggles]

    How is this not an indictment of the entire field of EP? And please don’t direct me to here, as you did with pitchguest in #4, because this earlier comment of yours most certainly does not explain, justify, or even ameliorate what Watson said. In more direct language, here is Rebecca Watson’s opinion about evolutionary psychology:

    Even if there is good EP, all of it is boring and its researchers lie about everything to make it interesting.

    Perhaps you can clarify your defense?

  • chrisho-stuart

    I’m guilty of not following the various claims being made sufficiently carefully. Sorry all!

    (1) On Justin’s blog post itself, with four articles: I think there’s a huge question of their scientific merit.

    (2) On gender or non-gender related EP: the question was asked in comments (by LeftSidePositive) “what the hell is the point of putting up a lot of non-gender related EvoPsych?”

    That question is already answered in Justin’s blog. Justin put up this blog prompted by a question from HumanisticJones: “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?”

    Justin chose some non-gender related examples; a good idea for answering only the question from HumanisticJones while avoiding all the rest of the stuff associated with critique or defence of RW’s talk. My own concern is whether those four examples are actually good papers. I don’t think they are; not all of them anyway.

    (3) On being asked in comments, Justin then did give some more examples, this time of gender related papers. He did so by quoting this paper:

    Confer JC, Easton JA, Fleischman DS, Goetz CD, Lewis DM, Perilloux C, Buss DM. (2010) “Evolutionary psychology. Controversies, questions, prospects, and limitations”, in Am Psychol. 2010 Feb-Mar;65(2):110-26

    (I’m guessing Justin is repeating this extract after seeing it in another blog somewhere?)

    (4) Justin, as a non-expert, is quite correct to use argument by authority, and I agree with him that this is not a fallacy. It’s the correct response for a non-expert to note that papers seem to have merit by virtue of how they are received by a body of experts. There are pitfalls with this technique — but it is not a fallacy; in fact I recommend this as the best guide for a non-expert. Just make sure there really is a body of experts involved.

    Be that as it may, Justin’s particular use of argument by authority in this case missed.

    Justin is quoting a review article published in a journal (American Psychologist) which is itself published by the ASA. It’s completely incorrect to say that anything published in this journal is determined to have merit by the ASA as a whole. The most you can say is that the reviewers of that article decided it was worth publishing. That’s IT. For more, you need to look at subsequent reception of the papers.

    Worse, there’s a second level of indirection here. Justin is quoting a review article, which is in turn proposing the EP papers on gender that are said (in the review) to have merit. Do they? The authors of the review think so. The journal thought the review worth publishing, which means the journal considers the review to have merit — this is not endorsement of everything endorsed in the review!

    I’d be very surprised indeed if nothing at all in evolutionary psychology that is related to gender has any merit. But I note that the authors of the review Justin quoted have at times been themselves the object of criticism when the scientific merits of evolutionary psychology are being considered, and that some of the papers listed (Silverman and Choi, for example) are really dubious as good evolutionary psychology. The problem — as is so often the case — is the lack of any testing of the evolutionary models for their observations.

    • Justin Griffith

      Be that as it may, Justin’s particular use of argument by authority in this case missed.

      Bert Russell beat you to it. I’ll concede in sloppy application, and reformulate like this:

      “The APA’s peer-review process found this articles’s ringing endorsement of these studies as sound.” (open to further specification.)

      With that formulation, the argument from authority appears to remain in tact. Thank you very much for the thoughtful reply. It’s clear that you are sincere and arguing in good faith.

      I’d be very surprised indeed if nothing at all in evolutionary psychology that is related to gender has any merit.

      INSERT 8 MILLION QUESTIONS! RAAAAAAAWRRRR!!! Hehehe, just kidding.

      The problem — as is so often the case — is the lack of any testing of the evolutionary models for their observations.

      Question here. Isn’t this list gathered from a section called: “Can evolutionary psychological hypotheses be empirically tested or falsified?” Is there even one study in that section (pp 112 – 113) that conclusively uses testing of the evolutionary models for their observations?

      • chrisho-stuart

        Yes, that is the section. I may be off base, but I really don’t get how the evolutionary hypothesis was being tested in that case… and I don’t know nearly enough about the field to answer your concluding question.

        • Justin Griffith

          I see. Thanks for the continued conversation, either way.

  • JMH

    Part of the problem, I suspect, in looking for instinctive reactions to human predators is that we’ve done a pretty fine job of killing them all. It seems a case could be made that there’s leftover reflexes for cousins of our traditional predators (historical reaction to wolves in North America being a classic example, when tiny North American wolves are nothing like the threat of the old world timber wolves and such).

    Maybe we should clone an auroch, and see how people react to it.

    There is totally something to evol-psych, but I’m not sure we’ve found it yet. Psychology itself is such a sketchy field, in terms of horsing carts and such; it’s too easy sometimes to end up Intelligently Designing an argument. I love the evolutionary sciences, from my arm chair. Brains are so fungible though, not even to speak of the software going through the wetware.. I wish them luck with it. I suspect they’ll have a better go of it, once we can tie neuro-biology to it better. Psych is hindered by a lack of verifiable input (as the great Dr House says: Everyone lies).

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/noelplum99 noelplum99

    So apparently we now learn that Rebecca was ★★clearly★★ not referring to evo psych in general. Of course, this is obvious in the same way biblical ‘truths’ are obvious and we must be thankful for your fellow ftb’ers taking on the roles of RW textual critics and theologians to help point out to us what was, apparently, obvious and unambiguous.

    Jim

  • Edward Clint

    I am very privileged to work with Greg Bryant and Clark Barrett. They’re just fantastic people. You might like to know this past evening we had some spirited debate over dinner about such things as group selection and the evolution of laughter/mirth.

    They both just kick my ass. In a good way.

  • Greg Bryant

    Many thanks to Justin for listing my paper here. It’s actually freely available on my web site, as well as Dan Blumstein’s. The “brings the animal out in us” was just a quip that a journalist picked up on – there is no connotation intended that humans are not animals, or that animals are “primitive.” Just having a little fun, and the media went kinda nuts with it. Anyway, I’m happy to be in this list of papers, all of which I know well.

    Given some of the comments about the work, I feel compelled to respond.

    doubtthat writes:

    Who determined what music was “emotionally neutral?” How did they isolate “sounds like a dying or stressed animal” from, “this sample is mono-dynamic and boring, this other one has elements that make it more interesting?

    In the paper we explain the emotional neutrality of the compositions – in particular the music was not in definite major or minor modes, of medium tempi, average dynamic amplitude range, and rather melodically bland by design. The overall emotional ratings confirmed this – the pieces were like elevator music, and that was on purpose. The acoustic features of distressed animal vocalizations are fairly well described in the literature, and these sounds (e.g., deterministic chaos) bear a strong structural resemblance to square wave (and other) transformations used in music distortion algorithms. It wasn’t louder, it was just broadband sound that is quite similar to features one sees acoustically in distress calls of many mammals, including humans.

    I’m going by the description of the test and the two samples. Listen to them. If that is representative of what they used for data, they have really, really shitty data. I would be willing to bet that 90% of participants responding to the prodding about which was more “stimulating” with, “Uh…I mean, I guess #2.” YEAH, THAT PROVES IT!!!!”

    The sound samples are not the data, they are examples of the stimuli used in the study. The data were the judgments of subjects in a repeated measures experimental design. No subject heard more than one version of any music sample, and the versions were identical except for the manipulations (added noise, or abrupt pitch shifts). The samples with these noisy manipulations were rated as more arousing and negatively valenced relative to their non-noisy counterparts. This is the effect predicted based on how these sounds seem to affect non-humans in natural contexts.

    The valence effect remained when the music was paired with mundane video, but the arousal effect went away, suggesting that arousal is more context dependent than valence. It isn’t just that subjects were distracted by the video – different aspects of people’s judgments were altered in distinct ways.

    We like Jimi Hendrix because it sounds like a dying rabbit? I wonder why I like Bach, then.

    We proposed that certain ecological factors might underlie composers’ preferences for certain musical features, and listeners’ reactions. It’s not supposed to explain why we like music in general, or reduce the cultural phenomenon to this dimension. Also, you say you would like to meet the subject aroused by that second sample? Well, In 2 experiments, we had 84 in total, and most people showed the effect.

    I realize that people were reserving ultimate judgment until they could see the actual study – and we all know how journalists will not describe research accurately or completely. But still, there is significant hostility despite this caveat. It seems symptomatic of the exact knee-jerk reactions against evolutionary psychology being discussed here and elsewhere.


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