Sharon Begley article on Evolutionary Psychology

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Sharon Begley, one of my favorite American science journalists (at least on bioscience topics), just published a 4300 word article in Newsweek on Evolutionary Psychology.  To call it a devastating attack would be about right, I think.  It is a very powerful summary of the scientific  evidence against strong EvoPsych positions.  I have been skeptical about Evolutionary Psychology ever since I first heard of it and found David Buller’s critical book about the field, Adapting Minds, largely persuasive.  This Begley article, though, seems to me the best short critical assessment I have seen.  I strongly recommend it.

— Hank Greely


3 responses to “Sharon Begley article on Evolutionary Psychology

  1. emilyrmurphy

    Seems as though Nicholas Kristof at the NY Times didn’t read Begley’s excellent article. In his column earlier this month ), he blamed our evolutionarily stuck brains for why we respond with fear to evolutionarily old threats but not global warming: “If you come across a garter snake, nearly all of your brain will light up with activity as you process the “threat.” Yet if somebody tells you that carbon emissions will eventually destroy Earth as we know it, only the small part of the brain that focuses on the future — a portion of the prefrontal cortex — will glimmer.” While he does cite to the work of some excellent psychologists, his piece perpetuates the EvoPsych viewpoint while ignoring alternative explanations (i.e. it is still highly adaptive to be more sensitive to near-term rather than long-term risks, whatever they are). It is a nice just-so story, however.

  2. lawandbiosciences

    I choose to believe that my brain glimmers and lights up. It’s probably because I’m a woman and I’m evolutionarily predisposed to like blingy things. – Teneille

  3. The whole snake fear argument is an interesting one for EvoPsych in another respect. Not everyone is afraid of snakes, just as not every stepfather kills his stepchildren (or even just the unweaned stepchildren), and (most powerfully, it has always seemed to me) not everyone tries to reproduce the species/themselves/their selfish genes. EvoPsych has explanations for homosexuality, but they sound an awful lot like desperate just so stories to me.

    I don’t say this as someone who believes evolution has no influence on behavior, just as someone who believes it has very few strong influences (and almost no determinative influences) on behavior.

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