Evolutionary psychology explains why he’s a good boy

I’m not talking about the polarizing EvoPsych related to gender, sexism, shopping, or even humans. I’m talking about dogs!

evolutionary psychology in dogs

National Geographic filmed ‘The Science of Dogs’ a few years back. I found a particular segment to be relevant to recent blog posts regarding EvoPsych.

The psychology of a dog’s degree of ‘human suggestibility’ is tested against a similar group of wolves.

www.youtube.com/embed/iDt0ZygNUNQ#t=2314

That’s pretty cool. At the 41:00 mark, the dogs are tested and unsurprisingly – are highly suggestible. The real cool stuff happens at 41:36 when the wolves are clearly uninterested in the humans in the same situation.

This post is not intended to suggest that 5 minutes on Nat Geo should count as a rigorous defense of the field. In fact, I’d like to recommend this critique in PLOS Biology (thanks, jose!) It’s got some well-laid out problems with the field of EP. Curiously, it frames much of the criticism as a past tense problem (‘traditional EP’) and suggests some quality control measures already are (or should be more rigorously) applied by present day scientists (‘modern EP’).

I’m quoting from sections that aren’t particularly critical, for what it’s worth.

Towards a New Science of the Evolution of the Mind

We have reviewed how developments in a number of scientific fields have called into question the key tenets of EP. Fortunately, these developments do not just create problems for EP, but also suggest potential solutions. We argue that the key factor will be the methodological and conceptual integration of EP with adjacent fields.

Traditionally, EP has tested hypotheses using the conventional tools of psychology (questionnaires, computer-based experiments, etc.). Generally these hypotheses have a functional perspective—that is, EP proposes that a particular mechanism functioned to enhance reproductive success in our ancestors.

However, Nobel laureate Niko Tinbergen famously proposed that understanding behavior requires comprehension not only of its function and evolution, but also of its causation and development, and he argued that a complete understanding of behavior involves addressing all four of these questions. These distinctions are relevant because accounts of the evolution of brain and cognition cannot in themselves explain the brain’s underlying working mechanisms, since these are logically distinct questions. While evolutionary analyses may generate clues as to the mechanisms of human cognition, these are best regarded as hypotheses, not established explanations, that need to be tested empirically, and there are instances where such evolutionary hypotheses about mechanisms have had to be rejected. Here, we ask which of Tinbergen’s questions is currently addressed in the field of EP and describe how EP could expand its focus to provide a broader and richer understanding of human behaviour.

I suggest that the experiment in the video does seem to satisfy the four questions as proposed by Niko Tinbergen. The trickiest seem to be the two associated with the deep past. Fortunately, the dog’s journey away from its grey wolf ancestors is recent by evolutionary standards. It must be a lot easier to do direct observational science than to attempt extremely clever alternate methods (still perfectly reasonable).

Similarly, EP has engaged in a longstanding debate with advocates of cultural evolution over whether human social learning is governed by evolved content biases (e.g., choose the sugar-rich food) or by domain-general context biases (e.g., conform to the local norm). There is sufficient empirical evidence for the deployment of context biases, such as conformity or prestige bias, to render the casual dismissal of transmitted culture counterproductive. A broader EP could actively pursue these questions, by testing experimentally whether human social learning is dominated by content or context biases, and by investigating the factors that affect reliance on each. The finding that innovation, social learning, and other aspects of development are capable of introducing novelty into phenotype design space, thereby establishing new selective scenarios, opens up new opportunities for investigating evolutionary novelty to which social scientists can actively participate.

This experiment with wolves and dogs seems to be an example of content-biased evolution, to my untrained eye. They familiarized a pack of wolves with humans, but didn’t get the same results. The trait wasn’t example of  conforming to the local norm, because wolves didn’t socially acquire it despite the opportunity. Instead, the trait appears better explained by ancestral dogs’ increasing reliance on human-controlled resources. Interesting, as it seems to buck the trend (if my understanding is close enough).

One more apparent instance of evopsych in dogs

(below the fold) 

Genes that tend to give rise to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (or the doggie equivalent) seem to plague this breed:

www.youtube.com/embed/iDt0ZygNUNQ#t=1854

It’s kind of depressing. I have no idea how well the science behind this diagnosis was formed, and don’t accept it as irrefutable fact. The expert said so, and I can’t trump that as a layman. Other potential EP-related factors might cause similar symptoms. We’ve created breeds of herding dogs, and they often exhibit obsessive circling behavior. In what are probably too tight of spaces for the breeds, they’ve may even aggressively ‘herd’ toys, and children.

Neat stuff. Once again, I’m a layman. Perhaps these are terrible examples of EP, though I think they’re strong ‘proof of concept’ if nothing else. I’d love to see Chris Hallquist or Ed Clint weigh in on these examples. I’m also looking forward to more calm rational dialog from the (mostly) excellent commentariat I’ve seen over the last few posts about EP.

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About Justin Griffith
  • jose

    Justin! You must read Our Inner Ape! :D

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

      Sounds awesome, actually. Not familiar with it.

  • A Hermit

    Maybe it’s a quibble, but not a trivial one I think, to note that dogs did not “evolve from” wolves; rather both are descended from some distant common ancestor…so right there I think we have a reason to be very cautious about generalizing too much from this piece of research.

    Also, if dogs brains have evolved to be fundamentally different in response to their interaction with human beings over the last ten thousand years or so of domestication doesn’t this undercut the EV contention that human brains are basically fixed in the Pleistocene and that our fundamental behavioural tendencies can’t have evolved significantly in response to cultural and social pressures?

    I’m no scholar here, by the way, and I may be off base with that last bit, but I have seen that argument made, so that’s a question this raises for me…

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

      I’m not sure that dogs and wolves share a common ancestor. My understanding is that domestication of wolves over a number of years yielded a new species. In that sense dogs did “evolve from” wolves, though artificial selection. Dawkins has a whole chapter on it in The Greatest Show on Earth.

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

        Sup Cromm! No matter how you slice it, dogs evolved. Artificial or not.

        Here’s wiki’s take:

        “Morphological comparisons between wolves and domestic dogs have narrowed the likely ancestral subspecies of gray wolf to Middle Eastern and South Asian wolves. This is confirmed by SNP studies done in 2010, which point to the Middle East as the source of most of the genetic diversity in the domestic dog and the most likely origin of domestication events. The actual process undergone in domesticating the wolf is still debated. Although it is popularly assumed that dogs originated as a result of artificial selection, the general intractability of adult wolves to human handling has led certain experts to theorise that the domestication process occurred through natural selection, when Mesolithic human communities began building permanent settlements in which a new ecological niche (middens and landfills) was opened to wolves. These wolves would have formed a commensal relationship with humans, feeding on their waste over many generations, with natural selection favouring assertive wolves with shorter flight distances in human presence, and causing physical changes related to the redundancy of features adapted for hunting big game.

        Also, genetically speaking, ‘dogs’ are closer to gray wolves than gray wolves are to other wolves.

        Although dogs are the wolf’s closest relative (the genetic divergence between gray wolves and dogs is only 1.8%, as opposed to over 4% between gray wolves, Ethiopian wolves and coyotes), comparative studies on dog and wolf behaviour and anatomy have shown that dog physiology and most dog behaviours are comparable to those of young wolves.”

        All in all though, the ‘how they evolved’ (artificial vs natural) is irrelevant to the EvoPsych debate. Both situations would be expected to have testable psychological impacts. It is my opinion that the experiment demonstrated clear psychological difference in the dogs versus the wolves. (Dogs relied on human gesture, wolves ignored it).

        Dawkins has written about silver fox domestication before, in multiple books. Check it out, they start looking like you’d expect from dog morphology (droopier ears, etc.) Also interesting, a ‘marsupial dog‘ (morphologically speaking) went extinct in modern enough times for it to be photographed and recorded on film.

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

      Maybe it’s a quibble, but not a trivial one I think, to note that dogs did not “evolve from” wolves; rather both are descended from some distant common ancestor

      I would say that in this case ‘distant’ is not the same as it is for other life forms. Dog (Canis lupus familiaris) emerged from the gray wolf (Canis lupus) about 15,000 years ago (perhaps more recently according to some). Canis lupus proper, the gray wolf, still exists and is certainly subject to 15,000 years of drift. Relatively speaking, that’s a blink of an eye.

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

      Also, if dogs brains have evolved to be fundamentally different in response to their interaction with human beings over the last ten thousand years or so of domestication doesn’t this undercut the [EP] contention that human brains are basically fixed in the Pleistocene and that our fundamental behavioural tendencies can’t have evolved significantly in response to cultural and social pressures?

      I’m no scholar here, by the way, and I may be off base with that last bit, but I have seen that argument made, so that’s a question this raises for me…

      You really should read Ed Clint’s amazing critique of Rebecca Watson’s recent speech against EvoPsych (she clearly referred to ‘all of EP’ as bunk, and not just the ‘pop EP’, if you’ve not listened yet. I’m a fan of Rebecca’s, but I think she needs to fix her speech significantly.) In this post he has a list of ‘25 False and misleading claims made by Watson‘. This was #1

      Claim

      1. “[Evolutionary psychology is] a field of study based on belief that the human brain as it exists today evolved completely during the Pleistocene era when humans lived as hunter-gatherers” (8:51)

      Rebuttal

      1) Evolutionary psychologists stipulate that change during the Holocene is possible; it is merely limited because 11k years is a short amount of evolutionary time for a species with a 20-year reproductive cycle.
      2) The study of recent evolution is avoided for two reasons. The first is that large “big picture” understanding of the evolution of the brain are unanswered, making the asking of any smaller questions impossible. Second, uncritical claims about recent evolution are the kind that have been politically used by fascists and racists who wish to claim one “race” is superior.
      3) Our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers for about 10 million years. This is a thousand times longer than they lived any other way (source). It is not reasonable to imagine this period did not leave lasting marks on our psychology.

      Also closely related is #5 on Ed Clint’s list:

      Claim

      5. We know “shockingly little” about the Pleistocene era, it was varied in climate and ecology. “What we assume about them is taken from present day hunter-gatherer cultures” (13:39)

      Rebuttal

      1) Evolutionary psychologists only lean heavily on non-controversial facts about the past. For example, pregnancy involves numerous costs, and we therefore expect that females in many species will be more picky about mating than will males. This prediction has strong empirical support for both humans and other animals.
      2) The ancestral environment is not restricted to the Pleistocene. Powerful hormones, such as testosterone, for example, date back half a billion years. Breast feeding originated in early mammals eons before primates existed. To explain why we have bones, we’d consider ancient fishes hundreds of millions of years before the Pleistocene.
      3) Data about our human past comes from archaeology. Contemporary hunter-gatherer societies are presumed, quite sanely, to be more like our ancestors than we are, but not to be exactly like them. They are useful in helping to determine features which are purely cultural and otherwise only useful when they conform to previously mentioned non-controversial facts about the past (see also response to point 1).

      • doubtthat

        Here’s what the abstract to the PLOS study said about EP: “Evolutionary Psychology (EP) views the human mind as organized into many modules, each underpinned by psychological adaptations designed to solve problems faced by our Pleistocene ancestors.”

        http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001109

        Clint may want to distance himself from that concept, but it really is the basis for much of EP. Box 1 lays out the major tenants of the discipline, and they’re essentially what all the critics have describe. Clint is the outlier with regard to the history.

        Ironically, we are left with Clint and Watson essentially criticizing the same dumbass notions contained in EP, the only difference being Clint’s attachment to the term “EvoPsych” even as he distances himself from the traditional foundation.

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

          I think you should read the whole thing. Clint appears to be operating largely within the recommendations put forward in this paper.

          “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…) which with the benefit of hindsight we now know to be questionable”

          Vs. Ed Clint’s final paragraphs:

          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. If I am an evolutionary psychologist, I must be the worst one ever. I’ve broken every rule. I must be biding my time until they kick me out of the clubhouse.

          So, I formally criticized a theory in evolutionary psychology that has stood for years. I did it, in part, because I love evolutionary psychology. I know that it’s a good science and that a good science gets better with robust criticism. I am excited to be able to play a tiny part in that, if I can. It was also an exercise in skepticism toward something I cared about. We need to engage in this kind of skepticism because as we try to figure out how the world works and how it got to be the way it is, commitments to ego and politics tend to get in the way.

          I noticed that he does link heavily to several sources that outline similar critiques of his own field’s earlier work and it’s modern outliers. I really enjoyed that paper in PLOS Biology. If you notice, it takes great care to suggest alternate and empirical approaches to all of the problems it identifies. Many of the alternate approaches are similarly suggested as ‘best practice’ by other papers written by people within the field. At no point does it argue against the entire field of EP, as Watson clearly did.

      • doubtthat

        Maybe I wasn’t clear, let me try again:

        Clint doesn’t make this argument: “Watson was clearing referencing EP in its traditional terms, the way it has been understood by the general public and academia since its development in the 1980′s. I share her criticisms of that version of EP, but there have been subsequent advancements. Those advancements, interestingly, were possible because proponents of the newer version of EP have taken such criticisms to heart. Here are some examples of solid EP for her to reference in the future…”

        Instead he charges her with science denial, an obviously loaded phrase for skeptics, for essentially making the same arguments that PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne have offered.

        Clint, not Watson, is the one using a non-traditional understanding of EP. Watson isn’t wrong in her description, nor is she wrong in targeting the standard definition of EP and its use in the media. That is by far the most influential version of the discipline. Once you frame her presentation in those terms, there are no longer any problems with it.

        The whiny sanctimony of the presentation and “denail” framing reveal the malice underlying the project. It is not “science denial” to use standard definitions–especially those definitions used by academics in the very field being criticized.

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

          Watson framed her argument as an indictment of the entire field. Not one of these scholarly papers that are critical of various parts of EP (usually written by proponents of EP) are aligned accordingly. She then suggested the only good EP that might exist would be so boring that the scientists would have to lie. That’s bordering on denialism, and sprinting past absurd.

          This paper frames the argument as ‘traditional vs modern EP’ because it is similarly referring to related sciences such as neurology, psychology, etc as sciences that underwent significant shifts (each one having its set of ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ paradigms). Perhaps a case could be made that EP is field of overlapping disciplines so it’s likely to be lagging behind as one discipline keeps the other discipline(s) up to date. Lag doesn’t mean ‘stop’, even if this were the case. It just means an even steeper uphill battle.

      • doubtthat

        To be more direct, Clint makes this claim:

        “Evolutionary psychologists only lean heavily on non-controversial facts about the past.”

        This is patently false. You even brought us some papers that rely entirely on strange claims about the past. The public face, the academic face, of EP is heavily rooted in a tradition of making outlandish claims about our Ice Age ancestors.

        What Clint wants to say is that there are people working in the field of EP that recognize the bullshit surrounding them and burn calories making certain that quality science is practiced. That’s all fine and dandy, but Watson was correct in her general assertions about EP. We know this, in part, because Clint agrees with all of them.

        So what was the glib concern over Watson about? My spidey sense is telling me it might not have much to with her largely correct assessment of EP…

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

          That’s all fine and dandy, but Watson was correct in her general assertions about EP. We know this, in part, because Clint agrees with all of them.

          He never said she was correct in her general assertions about EP. He had a few specific *points* of agreement, which were outliers. Then he had 25 specific instances of disagreement (too gentle a word, frankly). He then documented her relying on fake experts, applying standards inconsistently (‘media is bad and manipulative with science’… ‘but look at this media article about sexist EP! FUCK EP! listen to the media!’)

          And so on…

          Yet there are two schools of people rushing to defend Watson’s speech at all costs.

          1) “EP is all (or 99.9% etc.) bad science” (you?)

          2) “EP is good, but Watson was ‘clearly’ only referring to so-called ‘Pop-EP’” (Zvan’s take, and agreed to by Rebecca Watson herself)

          Watson is a strong enough person to just say “I got some things wrong. I’ll be careful to avoid framing the speech as an indictment on the entire field in the future.” Or simply just give the better version from now on. She’s already indicated she is fixing it. Progress!

      • doubtthat

        Look, I enjoy your blog and respect what you do, but please, please don’t join “incapable of understanding sarcasm” crowd. She was clearly joking, exaggerating for humorous effect, when she said the good EP would be too boring. In fact, she gave an interview, available over at Almost Diamonds, where she says this:

        …I’m sure that there are–there must be–evolutionary psychologists out there who are very careful with their work and who don’t make large pronouncements like one I mentioned in my talk: “This proves conclusively that men value sex and women don’t.” You know, something like along those lines. I’m sure there are researchers who come to a conclusion more like “It’s inconclusive whether such and such occurred.” There may even be people who are actually searching out biological evidence for the idea that our behaviors are evolved from the Pleistocene, but, you know, they’re not the ones who are making the headlines because that’s not what the mainstream media wants. And they’re not even the ones who are making the headlines in publications like Psychology Today, for instance, where we saw things like why black women are rated as less attractive than white women, why black women basically evolved to be less attractive. I mean just pure racist claptrap in Psychology Today. You know, these are the stories that get thrown[?]. These are the ones we need to stand up and rebut.

        You’ll also notice that she offers a description of EP indistinguishable from PLOS’s.

        Do you honestly think that if you presented one of these awesome, legit EP studies to Watson that she would say, “well, it’s EP, it must be bad,” or would she acknowledge the quality science contained therein? You know damn well she wouldn’t condemn proper science.

        Watson was clearly, CLEARLY discussing EP in its traditional academic setting and its representation in the media. As a thought experiment, assume that’s the case and see what’s left to criticize in her presentation. All that needs to be added is a clarification, which she will.

        Jumping on the “denial” wagon is beneath you. There’s a difference between actively battling against good science and not being on the cutting edge of a long maligned (in academic circles, no less) discipline. Are you prepared to call PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne science deniers? They made the same points.

      • doubtthat

        First, the section where Clint accuses Watson of being a science denier is a fucking embarrassment. The application of her presentation to the five criteria he uses is strained, awkward, and based on a malicious assumption about the point of the presentation (one you’ve jumped in with, despite the lack of difference between Watson on EP and PLOS on EP). He didn’t “document” anything.

        Second, Clint inadvertently legitimizes everything Watson said about EP by abandoning all of the tenants she criticized. He refers to this as “cherry-picking” and “straw-manning” EP, but again, Watson was using the traditional academic definition as well as its representation in popular media. On that level, regardless of what Clint says, he is perfectly in line with Watson. The EP that Clint and PLOS argue is good has taken all of the criticisms leveled against it, many described in Watson’s speech, and improved. Bad EP is still, however, the public face of the movement and, like young earth bullshit, has to be dealt with.

        All that is required is a clarification. One sentence, “This presentation is about traditional academic EP, which is no longer in vogue among contemporary practitioners, and its representations in popular media.”

        If the problems with a presentation can be entirely solved with one sentence of clarification, you’re not dealing with science denial.

        I should also point out that Clint is just as sloppy in his generalization of EP as he slides past the history and continuing bullshit present in that profession. Good on him for separating himself from that and improving the discipline, but it’s still there, and it’s perfectly valid to argue against it.

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

          All that is required is a clarification. One sentence, “This presentation is about traditional academic EP, which is no longer in vogue among contemporary practitioners, and its representations in popular media.”

          I’ve said this . from . the . beginning.

      • doubtthat

        Here’s my school of Watson defense: she was not precise enough in explaining the subject of her presentation. It can and easily will be fixed.

        Her critics are sanctimonious goofballs for trying to describe a minor error as “science denial.” I also think they have ulterior motives because they don’t throw that term at other folks who make the same unspecific claims about EP.

    • nohellbelowus

      Very interesting, dog! Er, I mean Justin!

      @A Hermit:

      …doesn’t this undercut the EV [EP] contention that human brains are basically fixed in the Pleistocene and that our fundamental behavioural tendencies can’t have evolved significantly in response to cultural and social pressures?

      Which evolutionary psychologist(s) (or body of EP work) claims that human brains are basically “fixed” in the Pleistocene? I’m not necessarily disputing your assertion — just asking for some evidence.

      The Late Pleistocene ended about 12,000 years ago. Justin apparently found that dogs emerged about 15,000 years ago. So I’ll assume (as a WAG by total ignorant layman) that it’s essentially a push as to when “modern cultural evolution” began for both humans and dogs. What’s left to consider, I suppose, to address the issue you raise above, is how many breeding generations occurred for each species over that time period. Another major factor has to be the number and type of selection pressures that were imposed on each species.

      To “answer” the first one, we would probably need to factor in the typical lifespan of dogs versus humans, as well as estimating how many pairs of each animal actually reproduced in each generation. Definitely a sticky wicket there. Were there more dog generations than human generations over that 12,000+ year span? I’d say it’s a definite maybe. (Sometimes I’m glad to be a mechanical engineer.)

      The critical factor in why the behavior of dogs may be more strongly tied to cultural and social pressures (than humans) might be for the simple reason that dogs were artificially selected by humans for favorable social traits. There was perhaps more uniformity in which traits were favored, i.e. not biting, paying attention to their human masters, etc. Culturally speaking, humans were most likely under much more diverse and sporadic social conditioning, given the (wide?) variation we observe today.

      You get what you pay for, in other words.

      (Damn… even amateur EP is hard work! Somebody qualified: please feel free to suplex this comment.)

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

        The critical factor in why the behavior of dogs may be more strongly tied to cultural and social pressures (than humans) might be for the simple reason that dogs were artificially selected by humans for favorable social traits. There was perhaps more uniformity in which traits were favored, i.e. not biting, paying attention to their human masters, etc. Culturally speaking, humans were most likely under much more diverse and sporadic social conditioning, given the (wide?) variation we observe today.

        I don’t see why artificial vs natural selection (both yielding ‘evolution occurs’) would make any difference as to whether or not a concept is valid for the purposes of EvoPsych.

        Natural selection version: Canis Lupis Familiaris (dog) branched from Canis Lupis (gray wolf) via natural selection. 15,000 years later, wolves still exist. Contemporary controls for social / cultural pressure were established (that generation of both the wolves and the dogs were raised around humans in similar fashions). Psychology of dogs is measured to be different from psychology of wolves in a specific way by scientists.

        Artificial selection version: Canis Lupis Familiaris (dog) branched from Canis Lupis (gray wolf) via artificial selection. 15,000 years later, wolves still exist. Contemporary controls for social / cultural pressure were established (that generation of both the wolves and the dogs were raised around humans in similar fashions). Psychology of dogs is measured to be different from psychology of wolves in a specific way by scientists.

        Samey samey. They could have fucked up along the lines you suggest. For instance, if they didn’t socialize the wolves with humans for a realistic comparison.

      • nohellbelowus

        Natural selection version: Canis Lupis Familiaris (dog) branched from Canis Lupis (gray wolf) via natural selection.”

        Is this true? Dogs are (by and large) a product of human intervention (artificial selection), no?

        What am I missing here… were wild dogs tested in a similar manner to household dogs?

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

          I’m saying that even if the *evolved* entirely as a product of human intervention, they still evolved (genetic). It’s still an example of evolutionary psychology, because both the set of wolves tested and the set of dogs tested were each raised in identical social / cultural settings. Did you watch the video? It shows this happening.

      • nohellbelowus

        I’m saying that even if the *evolved* entirely as a product of human intervention, they still evolved (genetic). It’s still an example of evolutionary psychology, because both the set of wolves tested and the set of dogs tested were each raised in identical social / cultural settings. Did you watch the video? It shows this happening.”

        I think we’re at cross-purposes here, and yes, I watched the video.

        My response was to A Hermit‘s question, who essentially asked why EP says that modern human behavior can be fully explained by pointing to similar behavior in the Pleistocene (an assertion about EP that may not be true, incidentally), while dog behavior has clearly changed in the intervening 15,000 years. This is what the video demonstrated, after all.

        You then brought up something about “samey-samey”… and now you’re saying something about “it’s all EP”… I don’t think I’ve ever said anything to inspire this kind of feedback. I’ve never maintained that anything represented in the video wasn’t EP-related.

        It’s no big deal, but I am pretty sure that the dogs tested in the video are mostly a result of artificial selection, and your contention that it wouldn’t matter if they were products of natural selection is a tangent that doesn’t relate to my initial comment. Again, I could be misunderstanding you, and I’m happy to be corrected (or not!).

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

          I think I see what happened. I’m replying to these comments in the backend and nesting is not obvious. I hate it. We were talking past each other. I loaded it up in the other window and a few of the conversations played differently. I’m probably going to abandon nesting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/connorbd BrianX

    There may be real science to be found in evo psych; in fact, there probably is. But the field as it is right now is hopelessly polluted — at the very least people who are putting legitimate research under the evo psych category are insuring they won’t be taken seriously.

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

      Thank you for acknowledging that the concept is sound. I hope you don’t take offense, but I kind of want to use your comment to make a point (when dozens have said similar things on my blog over the last few days).

      “There may be real science to be found in evo psych; in fact, there probably is. But…”

      I find it extremely telling that not a single person who starts out like that can point to even one study that constitutes ‘good EP’. If you think it’s a sound concept, why so dismissive of the whole thing as ‘too polluted’?

      Was the dog/wolf video evidence not compelling? I thought it was about as uncontroversial an application of EP as one can get.

      • nohellbelowus

        Thanks very much for your reply above in #5. And thanks for the interesting posts recently on EP. I’ve been job-seeking for many months now, and have way too much time on my hands. For all its sturm and drang, FtB is helping me maintain a modicum of sanity (a conclusion best left to other observers, obviously).

      • doubtthat

        I find it more telling that when people get excited and try to give us examples of “good” EvoPsych, the good stuff is about 50% bullshit (so far).

        I would also like to play a game where we sit down the people whining about Rebecca’s condemnation of EvoPsych (a point barely distinguishable from previous statements made by PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne) and have them start listing these awesome EvoPsych studies. Separate them from google and I bet they come up with nothing just like the rest of us.

  • Pitchguest

    I’m afraid, Justin, that with the whole debacle now going on, a lot of people are going to be sceptical of EP — even of the instances that are proven to be scientifically sound — on principle. Damage control and all that. On the other hand, I found the study very interesting and it made it very clear that to me that evolutionary psychology is not the psuedo-science it’s made out to be.

    • A Hermit

      I think there’s no doubt that biology has some influence on behaviour generally; my skepticism about EP has more to do with emphasis; the articles I’ve seen (and they may not be representative; I’m no expert by any means) seem a little too eager to put more weight on the biological and ignore things like cultural influence, especially when it comes to complex himan interactions like gender roles.

  • A Hermit

    Dog evolution is fuzzier than I thought…http://www.dogspelledforward.com/evolution-of-the-dog/

    There are a few different theories on how the domestic dog emerged. However, the actual event and where it happened will most likely never be known. As a matter of fact the existence more than one origin looks more and more likely.

    The two domestication theories most frequently cited, “adoption” and “self-domestication,” are both verifiable as possibilities but neither can be effectively disproved. In addition, the question as to whether or not domestic dogs evolved from wolves, coyotes, jackals, or a common ancestor can neither be proven nor disproven given the current fossil record and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) information.

    • nohellbelowus

      @A Hermit in #5:

      From your initial comment:

      Also, if dogs brains have evolved to be fundamentally different in response to their interaction with human beings over the last ten thousand years or so of domestication…”

      Did you read your own source? Apparently not:

      Researching and discussing the origin of the domestic dog is a rewarding and challenging endeavor, but it’s important to keep in mind that the dog is a domesticated species and the single biggest difference between the domestic dog and the wolf is its relationship to us.”

      Fail.

  • A Hermit

    Yes, and I was suggesting that this seems to argue for the influence of culture on recent behavioural evolution rather than a deep rooted basis independent of such influences, which, if I understand it correctly (and maybe I don’t) is the direction EP tends to go.

  • A Hermit

    So Justin, I’m going to leave this alone `cause I don’t really know enough about it to say anything beyond my general impressions, but I was thinking about it last night and I wondered of you had come across Daniel Levitin’s book This is Your Brain on Music?

    If you haven’t I have a feeling you’d enjoy it as much as I did…http://daniellevitin.com/publicpage/books/this-is-your-brain-on-music/

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

      Awesome! Will add it to my list. Have definitely not read it, but it sounds really familiar. Maybe in a review or something.

    • nohellbelowus

      Maybe we should just close this thread with the following hypothesis:

      Current EP research on dogs may just be a WAG.

      (Pun intended, of course.)

  • jasmyn

    Unless Netflix got rid of it, the entire show is there. Were watched it a while back. I was also fascinated by the dogs vs wolves experiment.

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

    FYI – It looks confusing because I just turned off nested comments. Sorry, I didn’t think it would work retroactively!

  • doubtthat

    @36

    I. Haven’t. Argued. With. You. On. That. Point.

    Our disagreement is whether or not to call that “denial,” and you seem to be more bullish on Clint, which, fine. I wasn’t impressed with his production, neither was I fooled by his glib high-mindedness.

    It isn’t remotely science denial. Once again, Clint agrees with every bit of Rebecca’s criticism, whether he says so or not. Notice he makes no effort to defend EP on those points, he simply argues that massive assumptions about the Pleistocene, for instance, aren’t part of EP. It’s essentially a really long “No True Scotsman.” As we learned from PLOS, however, the EP Rebecca is attacking is the traditional, most influential, most public version.

    Again, please find me something in her work to criticize if you assume that she was talking about traditional, popular EP. If there’s nothing to complain about, you’re not dealing with a science denier.

  • Edward Clint

    @38 doubtthat

    You are confused on a number of points and I will try to help you.

    1. You’ve noticed I have not made efforts to defend EP. Good. I was never defending EP, although critiquing a critic can appear that way. Whether the science is true/not has nothing to do with Watson’s misrepresention and distortion nor does it change anything about the ideological biases that may have lead her to do it. For example, I could debunk a psychic because I really hate frauds. But if in the process, I totally distort what that person says, believes, and does, then I have behaved unethically and with incompetence as an investigator. The truth or falsity of psychic claims changes nothing about this.

    2. Your “traditional” vs “PLOS” distinction is a false dichotomy. A fiction you’ve invented on these blogs after reading one theoretical paper with no data. EP is not monolithic or sanctioned by some central office blessing off on what is and is not “official” until the next revision. You might be thinking of Microsoft Office. The evolutionary study of the mind is a thriving, dynamic science which is constantly changing in small ways, and over time, in large ones. Also, there are schools of thought and cultures of different regions, countries, and universities– all of which are in competition, cooperative interchange, and testing all of the time.

    For example, you paint the “traditional” EP as heavy genes, low culture, static Pleistocene and all that. Rob Boyd was part of my own anthropology department until somewhat recently; He wrote a book with Peter Richerson called “Not by Genes Alone: How culture transformed human evolution” which describes, among other things, how culture and genes co-evolve. I know this because it’s on my desk right now. This book was published in 2004, when PLOS didn’t even exist.

    You might also google up Life History Theory, a new set of hypotheses about how the environment (not merely genes) influences behaviors and biology in peoples’ lives. It remains EP, though, because the mechanisms to respond adaptively to varying environments has to be produced via evolution, the only known source of complex adaptations.

    It is inadvisable to maintain strong conclusions when you are not versed in the field.

  • doubtthat

    This is just more scattered nonsense, like your comical attempt to cram Rebecca’s speech into your 5 characteristics of science denial. It’s that aimless malice that reveals your intent, despite the condescending sanctimony you try to adopt.

    Rebecca was clearly attacking a version of EP. Everyone, including Rebecca, agrees that clarification was necessary. So more bullshit about the diversity of the field doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s a point few, if any, people have attempted to argue.

    The question is whether attacking the popular version of EP, a definition, by the way, that is used in academia, while failing to whisper soft praise into the ear of people working to redeem the field constitutes science denial.

    Do you honestly think that Rebecca would deny that proper science was being done if you present her with a contemporary EP product that distances itself from the shaky assumptions that gave the field such a bad name? Of course not. You damn well know that.

    Or, put another way, if you assume she was attacking popular version of EP and its traditional framing, as described by PLOS, what do you have left to criticize? I will also point out that PLOS gave a historical account of the development of EP going back to the 80′s, so I’m not sure what presenting a book from 2004 proves.

    But you’re just as sloppy as she is, trying to whitewash your discipline’s history. For instance, as I mentioned before, this comment is flatly false: “Evolutionary psychologists only lean heavily on non-controversial facts about the past.”

    YOUR version of EP doesn’t rely on such, you’re attempting to do actual science, but the EP field is littered with countless examples of preposterous, unjustified assumptions about the past (Look at the paper on music Justin posted, for example). So just like Rebecca needs to clarify which part of EP she’s talking about, you need to do the same. Again, good on you for moving the field forward, but the attempt to label Watson a science denier is comical in its overwrought melodrama.

  • doubtthat

    And where did you find a “traditional” vs. “PLOS” distinction? I’m using the word “traditional” as synonym for PLOS’s summation of the field’s history. PLOS calls it the “Santa Barbara School.”

    And the point is not that PLOS represents total, 100% truth on the matter, simply that the difference between Rebecca’s description and PLOS’s is one of specificity. Rebecca needs to clarify.

    If Rebecca is a science denier, then so too is PLOS, unless you think denial is indistinguishable from speaking too generally. I don’t remember that being one of your 5 criteria.

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

      doubtthat, I appreciate your excellent commentary and absolutely commend your respectful (though spirited) rebuttals. I even agree that RW isn’t a science denialist (if she clarifies, which she seems to be doing or willing to do…)

      However, you keep saying that her *first* speech isn’t an example of bad science. You keep saying that it’s about a specific angle or school of EP, or perhaps the bad pop-EP, etc. Her speech (as it exists in the SK5 form) is most certainly painting the entire field of EP as junk science (and sexist). It needs a loud and clear clarification to salvage it from science denialism (as it exists in the SK5 form). Perhaps you’re right about the 5 elements of science denialist tactics not being met… But she plainly, directly, and repeatedly denies an entire field of science, so forget those 5 elements as being necessary to determine denialism.

      On the other hand, like I said, I totally agree that the fix is easy. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a serious error (or omission or unclear approach). I think it needed to be said in strong, scholarly, and respectful terms. Progress is made, she thanked Ed Clint for some of the corrections, I don’t see why you’re still worked up, brother (or sister)!

  • doubtthat

    The interesting thing about this “debate” is that I see very few people disagreeing on anything substantive. We both agree there should be clarification and that the presentation was sloppy and too general on the aspect or type of EP that was being discussed.

    Even more fascinating, to me, is that Clint and Watson should be allies in this. Both are suffering harm from the version of EP that makes it into the media. There aren’t going to be any breathless articles in USA Today about Clint’s solid, verified, scientific research. Without dealing with which is “worse,” Clint’s profession and the country in general suffers from stupid science reporting and women continue to specifically suffer from the sexist tripe that seems to compose the lion’s share of those horrible articles.

    So why is there an argument? Why are the comment’s at Clint’s site the way they are?

    Clint was perfectly justified in demanding more specificity and would be right in pointing out that Watson should make clear that the contemporary version of EP in actual academic practice has moved far away from the Santa Barbara nonsense. I can’t speak universally (for every potential opinion there is someone voicing it loudly on the internet), but I doubt any of the critics around here would have been upset with an article framed that way. Hell, even with the “science denial” poisoning the discussion, Rebecca and most critics agree she needs to deal with the legitimate complaint.

    It doesn’t speak well for the current state of things that we can be in almost total agreement about the substance of the situation and still find space to get in ugly arguments. I certainly have an idea of what the source of that ugliness is and I don’t think it’s coincidence that Rebecca, making comments indistinguishable from Myers and Coyne, was the one who brought it out.

  • Pitchguest

    @44:

    Don’t beat around the bush. Spit it out. What’s the source of the ugliness and more importantly, what can be done to stop it?

  • doubtthat

    There are days when I simply cannot bear the entire field of evolutionary psychology: it’s so deeply tainted with bad research and a lack of rigor.

    I suggest, then, that the results of evolutionary psychology often reflect ascertainment bias. If you find a result that comports with the idea that a trait is “adaptive,” it gets published. If you don’t, it doesn’t. That leads to the literature being filled with positive results, and gives the public a false idea of the strength of scientific data supporting the evolutionary roots of human behavior.

    EP argues that that human cognitive processes evolved in response to selection pressures acting in ancestral conditions—in an environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA)—and are not necessarily adaptive in a contemporary world that has changed radically in recent millennia. From this vantage point, genetic evolution simply could not keep pace fully with the extraordinary rate at which human technology transformed environments.

    …evolutionary psychology is the idea that humans evolved during the Pleistocene epic, which we did. But also that our brains evolved, which they did. But that our brains stopped evolving then, so that we currently have Pleistocene brains inside modern bodies.

    Only one of these is unacceptable “science denial.” The others may be debated, but there are no breathless, melodramatic blog posts with hundreds of comments of people being “appalled” and “outraged” that such flagrant abuse of science was tolerated.

    I’m sure it’s 100% coincidence that the lone case of “science denial” was generated by a woman, and a very specific woman, at that.

    How to end the ugliness? By marginalizing the ugly people. It’s happening, the change will only accelerate. It’s the usual nonsense that occurs when an entrenched, decadent power structure sees their control slipping away. It’s the last convulsive tantrum before the hysteria fades away.


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