Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Clarification on Evolutionary Psychology

Perhaps I am wrong, considering that I am not an evolutionary psychologist, but it seems that there is a common consistent flaw in the use of language when talking about the findings of evolutionary psychology. Consider this statement:

People behave X, because it is more advantageous to reproduction and survival.

X here could be anything: "in an altruistic way," "in a promiscuous way," "in a dominant way," or you could get more specific, "Men tend toward non-monogamous behavior because this is the best way to ensure the spread of his genes."

This may be true, but the language in statements like these fails to communicate the fullness of the situation, and leads to a misunderstanding.

Suppose someone said to you that the reason you like to gossip is because your ancestors used gossip to keep track of more and more people, thereby making it possible for complex societies to develop, which in turn led to increased reproduction. This is true in one sense: the cause of your desire to gossip is that you are the latest in a long line of people inclined toward gossip and you have all those gossipy genes inside of you (disregarding environmental factors for the moment). But when you start talking about how Krissy was totally making out with Bryce even though Bryce is engaged to Melissa, well, your motivation is not to hold society together. Your motivation is a love of this kind of information.

And your ancestors were the same way. They did not gossip because they wanted to hold society together, they gossiped because they enjoyed it, they gossiped because it was their nature to gossip. It just so happened that there was also an evolutionary advantage to it, so their genes and, by extension, their preferences spread because their very nature was advantageous.

Perhaps no one else ever found that the way statements from evolutionary psychology research are presented sometimes seemed to skew that fact, but I have noticed it a time or two.

No comments:

Post a Comment