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Monday, July 09, 2007

Evolutionary Psychologists in Action

Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa are evolutionary psychologists. They have written an article for Psychology Today that goes a long way toward explaining why this discipline is in such bad shape [Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature]. Miller is a professor of social psychology in the Department of Behavioral Science at Hokkaido University, Japan. Kanazawa is a Reader in Management and Research Methodology at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Did you know that all men prefer women with large breasts? I didn't. If true there must be a lot of very frustrated men in Asia and a lot of small-breasted spinsters wandering around somewhere. Anyway, Miller and Kanazawa have figured out why young American teenagers men like women with large breasts.

Until very recently, it was a mystery to evolutionary psychology why men prefer women with large breasts, since the size of a woman's breasts has no relationship to her ability to lactate. But Harvard anthropologist Frank Marlowe contends that larger, and hence heavier, breasts sag more conspicuously with age than do smaller breasts. Thus they make it easier for men to judge a woman's age (and her reproductive value) by sight—suggesting why men find women with large breasts more attractive.
Boy, you learn something every day from these evolutionary psychologists, don't you?

Now here's a useful bit of information. Do you know why young Muslim men are more violent and prone to suicide missions? The evolutionary psychologists have the answer,
Suicide missions are not always religiously motivated, but according to Oxford University sociologist Diego Gambetta, editor of Making Sense of Suicide Missions, when religion is involved, the attackers are always Muslim. Why? The surprising answer is that Muslim suicide bombing has nothing to do with Islam or the Quran (except for two lines). It has a lot to do with sex, or, in this case, the absence of sex.

What distinguishes Islam from other major religions is that it tolerates polygyny. By allowing some men to monopolize all women and altogether excluding many men from reproductive opportunities, polygyny creates shortages of available women. If 50 percent of men have two wives each, then the other 50 percent don't get any wives at all.

So polygyny increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status. It therefore increases the likelihood that young men resort to violent means to gain access to mates. By doing so, they have little to lose and much to gain compared with men who already have wives. Across all societies, polygyny makes men violent, increasing crimes such as murder and rape, even after controlling for such obvious factors as economic development, economic inequality, population density, the level of democracy, and political factors in the region.
This is useful information. It means that we can settle all of the problems in the Middle East by withdrawing our troops and simply banning polygyny. Did somebody tell Dick Cheney?

There's lots more where this came from. Did you know that rich people have more sons than daughters? Neither did I, but lets not allow facts to interfere with a good just-so story. Here's the evolutionary explanation,
It is commonly believed that whether parents conceive a boy or a girl is up to random chance. Close, but not quite; it is largely up to chance. The normal sex ratio at birth is 105 boys for every 100 girls. But the sex ratio varies slightly in different circumstances and for different families. There are factors that subtly influence the sex of an offspring.

One of the most celebrated principles in evolutionary biology, the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, states that wealthy parents of high status have more sons, while poor parents of low status have more daughters. This is because children generally inherit the wealth and social status of their parents. Throughout history, sons from wealthy families who would themselves become wealthy could expect to have a large number of wives, mistresses and concubines, and produce dozens or hundreds of children, whereas their equally wealthy sisters can have only so many children. So natural selection designs parents to have biased sex ratio at birth depending upon their economic circumstances—more boys if they are wealthy, more girls if they are poor. (The biological mechanism by which this occurs is not yet understood.)

This hypothesis has been documented around the globe. American presidents, vice presidents, and cabinet secretaries have more sons than daughters. Poor Mukogodo herders in East Africa have more daughters than sons. Church parish records from the 17th and 18th centuries show that wealthy landowners in Leezen, Germany, had more sons than daughters, while farm laborers and tradesmen without property had more daughters than sons. In a survey of respondents from 46 nations, wealthy individuals are more likely to indicate a preference for sons if they could only have one child, whereas less wealthy individuals are more likely to indicate a preference for daughters.
If you believe this garbage then please send me an email message expressing your confidence in evolutionary psychology (and adaptationism). I'd like to talk to you about some swampland that I own in Florida. It will make a terrific vacation property.

[Hat Tip:]


  1. I was disgusted that such a poor article should be published. The ten 'truths' pander to so many bigoted predjudices that if they were true they would need a great deal of supporting evidence - which I didn't see.

    I do believe that some evolutionary psychology scholarship is worthwhile and informative, but this article is an anti-example!

  2. I know that my discipline (mathematics) publishes false stuff from time to time.

    Didn't the Journal of Theoretical Biology once publish some of Yokey's articles which purported to show that life couldn't have evolved sans some sort of creation? It supposededly used information theory.

  3. One of George Orwell's best aphorisms is also one of the least known.
    "There is no idea so preposterous that some intellectual won't believe it."
    The rampant infection of Freudianism throughout the twentieth century gives a wealth of insight into Orwell's dictum. Ditto for Joseph Campbell and Jungian gibberish.

  4. The statisticians fight back:

  5. Let's see...If I kill myself, maybe I can get laid tonight...hmmm.

  6. The evolutionary psychology explanation for evolutionary psychology is probably that persons who are outcompeted as prima facie biologists or psychologists will try to invent new areas to get attention. (I bet they call it 'the younger sibling hypothesis'. :-)

    Um, wait a minute ...

  7. Is it really as bad as all that, Larry? Is it really garbage?

  8. Lorenzo asks,

    Is it really as bad as all that, Larry? Is it really garbage?

    You can see the evidence yourself. The Psychology Today article was written by two men who hold academic appointments in major universities. The article was published by a magazine that specializes in psychology. It's garbage.

    The fact that there is no storm of protest from psychologists and anthropologists when this garbage is published indicates that the entire field is in deep dodo.

  9. They have become accustomed to thinking an adaptationist speculation is automatic truth and does not require evidence. Say, first they say "men prefer them blondes" as if it were a general truth, something I disagree with, at least in my case I like all sorts of babes. Also, in the case of men that explicitly prefer them blondes, they assume its ingrained in their genes, and that these genes have been selected for, rather than "preferring blondes" being something cultural. They apparently ignore that whether a trait is genetic or not is something that can be tested by evidence. And then of course they must not only be able to argue that such a thing as an "prefer them blondes" gene even exists (probably not), then, that it has led to an increased fitness. There is much more nonsense in that very example, but I'll leave it here.

    As Gould says, adaptationist hypotheses are a dime a dozen. But when studied in actual scientific fashion, most of them are demonstrated to be false or simply untestable. They just don't hold a candle to the standard of true evolutionary science.

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  12. "The implications of some of the ideas in this article may seem immoral, contrary to our ideals, or offensive. We state them because they are true, supported by documented scientific evidence. Like it or not, human nature is simply not politically correct"

    just "bacuase they are true" huh. hahaha

    Thy wish to appear tremendously objective, but thuth is, an idea is not true only because it is pplitically incorrect, but becuase it has shown to be true according to actual EVIDENCE

    I have no problem with psychologists discussing humna nature: thay SHOULD. The problem is that thier "evolutionary biology" is a pseudoscientific charicature of real evolutionary biology, with neutralism, opportunism, epigenetic plasticity.
    I sincerley hope some sychologists will eventually show themselves capable of understanding true evolutionary theory, not paperback-dawkins and pseudoscientific version of it.

  13. oppps triple post? wasn't me I swear I pressed only once!!!

  14. As for beautiful people having more daughters, the generalized Trivers-Willard hypothesis was proposed by Satoshi Kanazawa himself. He also has published most of the research on it. Frankly, it doesn't look that definitive when you look at the research. I don't think he has even come close to proving his case.