18: Evolutionary psychology

September 26, 2010

You’ve heard the claims: men are inclined to cheat on women because natural selection favors multiple offspring from multiple mates, especially if you don’t have to pay child support. Even rape has been suggested to be the result of natural selection in favor of “secondary mating strategies” when the primary ones fail. Welcome to evolutionary psychology, a discipline curiously situated at the interface between evolutionary science and pop psychology, where both wild and reasonable claims seem to clash against the wall of an incredible scarcity of pertinent data.

The issue is not whether it makes sense to apply evolutionary principles to the study of human behavior. Of course it does, human beings are no exception to evolution. But the devil is in the details, and the details deal with the complexities and nuances of how exactly evolutionary biologists test adaptive hypotheses, as well as with the nature of historical science itself.