Evolutionary Psychology, yet again

Georges Canguilhem proposed the concept of scientific ideology for certain types of discourse that seem to mimic the trappings of proper science but are, in his words, "hyperbolic with regard to its objects", that is, make unwarranted claims that are not reasonably supported by any scientifically sound procedure.

I am always reminded of this when I read certain claims of the "evolutionary psychologists". In the last few months I collected a number of posts by an evolutionary biologist and a psychologist that tear down the enterprise on the two fronts. The EP folks do provide easy targets a lot of time, though, see the last link below for an example.

That the brain we possess is a result of evolution is, at this point, an indisputable assertion. That we have plenty of examples of innate, inherited behaviour, in many species is also quite unproblematic. That some aspects of human behaviour are probably at least partly inherited is at least quite likely. When specific characteristics of human interactions are attributed to evolutionarily selected, inherited genetic stuff, though, things start to get a little frisky. Little or no support from the neurosciences is offered, and all the work done by cultural anthropologists is practically ignored. It has been said that the "natural human state" described by EP is strikingly similar to American middle class mores of the 1950s…

Anyway, just check what I found:

Critique of Evolutionary Psychology

Yet it is argued here that evolutionary psychology’s assumptions regarding the mind are often inconsistent with the neurobiological evidence; biological constraints may place limits on the kinds of hypotheses that can be made within a theoretical framework that wants to remain true to the known properties and functions of the human nervous system. Evolutionary psychology’s assumptions regarding our innate biology also shape their treatment of culture and learning in ways that may inaccurately reflect true experience–neurodevelopmental interactions.

Evolutionary Psychology and its Defenders

Readers of this blog know my thoughts on evolutionary psychology. Quite frankly, I am getting tired of writing about it. However I think this theory of psychology is important to challenge, so I feel some responsibility to stay involved in the discussions. Aside from Rebecca’s sarcastic tone and her choosing some of the most laughable examples from recent evolutionary psychology research, I see little wrong with her talk. There are no serious errors in her logic, and this more entertaining approach is probably just the kind of discussion that needs to be had for laypersons to begin to understand some of the problems with evolutionary psychology.

Evolutionary Psychology Is Neither

And finally, I can’t shake the feeling that the methodologies I have encountered in evolutionary psychology would not meet the standards of any other science. For a notable example, it is apparently a revelation to evolutionary psychology that one cannot readily generalize about the human condition from a sample of humans that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. Perhaps this was news in psychology – creationist, evolutionary, or otherwise – but, sad to say, everybody else who works with cultural diversity knew that a really long time ago.

I think I evolved and am hardwired to bang my head against the wall when I read this stuff

Did you know that women might have been driven by evolution to be ‘bitchy’, that is, aggressive, competitive, and insulting towards other women? An article in The Atlantic presents a couple of evo-psych studies — the usual stuff, Western college students given culturally specific choices, and then makes absurd universal conclusions about human nature and evolution. I hated it.

Panadaptationism strikes again!

I suppose it’s typical that male traits are explained by their likelihood of holding a weapon, and female traits by baby handling, but again, it makes no sense. I’ve held babies, and I recall holding them on whatever side was convenient at the time. The tricky part to holding a baby or a spear and unbuttoning your shirt is the unbuttoning bit — that requires a bit more dexterity than holding a bulky objects. So both men and women face the problem of unbuttoning while holding an object, and they get completely reversed solutions to the problem?


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