Evolutionary Psychology: A Response to Its Critics

Gad_saadIn Psychology Today, Gad Saad responds to Sharon Begley’s article on evo psyc in Newsweek. One of Saad’s points is that many evo psyc models incorporate contingent behavioral strategies, the “it depends” mode of explanation. I wonder though. If the claims of evolutionary psychology are given credence by identifying them in cross-cutural, transhistoric universal patterns of behavior, how can we know that the variations in behavior are the result of an “it depends” hardwiring or socio-cultural development?:

Sharon Begley has just written an article in Newsweek wherein she castigates the field of evolutionary psychology (EP) using the same antiquated and perfectly erroneous set of criticisms that have been addressed by evolutionary psychologists on endless occasions. If cats have nine lives then critics of evolutionary psychology à la Ms. Begley have infinite lives. The anti-EP dragon is slain repeatedly and yet it always resurfaces, emboldened by its blind and prideful ignorance of the facts. Unfortunately, it would take several posts for me to provide a point-by-point retort to the endless number of falsehoods that appear in her article. Instead, I will focus on a few key ones that were central to her critique.

(1) Ms. Begley’s article title, Can We Blame Our Bad Behavior on Stone-Age Genes, seems to levy yet again the specter that evolutionary psychology is tantamount to genetic determinism. Evolutionary psychologists posit that the human mind does indeed consist of evolved computational systems that can be instantiated in one of several ways as a function of specific triggering inputs. Put simply, evolutionary psychologists are perfectly aware that humans are an inextricable mélange of their genes and idiosyncratic life experiences. This is known as the interactionist perspective. Epigenetic rules by definition recognize the importance of the environment in shaping the manner by which biological blueprints will be instantiated. Hence, EP does not imply that we are endowed with a perfectly rigid and inflexible human nature. Rather, we do possess an evolutionary-based human nature that subsequently interacts with environmental cues. That said this does not imply that human nature is infinitely malleable. I challenge Ms. Begley to find a culture in the annals of recorded history where parents were overwhelmingly more concerned about their son’s chastity as compared to their daughter’s.