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Author Topic:   Laws of Attraction: The seduction of Evolutionary Psychology?
Silent H
Member (Idle past 5096 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 1 of 102 (290012)
02-24-2006 8:04 AM


Evolutionary Psychology continues to pop up in various threads regarding human behavior. This is particularly true for explanations of human sexuality, or attraction.

These explanations are not usually supported with evidence from science, or (rarely) when papers are mentioned, that a critical examination of their contents take place. And yet these explanations are treated by posters as if acceptable or accepted by both evolutionary theorists and psychologists alike... despite conflicting evidence presented on this matter.

Is Evo Psych truly a scientific field, with its conclusions accepted by members within the communities it purports to cross over? This thread is meant as a "catch-all" thread to examine Evo Psych in a sober manner, using its actual products, open for critical analysis.

Posters who support Evo Psych should present the best evidence for their claims from this field. I promise to only address the studies or articles presented, as well as the factual or logical claims made in support of the field. I will not answer posts containing derogatory personal statements about myself or others not supporting Evo Psych.

As a short synopsis of my own position: Evolutionary Psychology is a seductive theory which ultimately fails to be a science as it is currently practiced, and its conclusions are speculative at best, sophistry at worst.

It is based on a plausible or sound concept, that mental states or behaviors may have genetic components which have been driven by evolutionary pressures. The problem is in its methodology as well as its purported accuracy for explanation of human behavior.

The methodology appears to consist of a deductive procedure starting with the plausible theory stated above, followed by positing two correlated issues which could be argued would result in a selection for observed behavior if they were in fact connected. Unfortunately two correlations do not mean connection or causation, but this point is left unaddressed by EP adherents.

At the same time counter evidence is summarily dismissed or downplayed in light of the correlations. Unfortunately that is a circular logic, also unaddressed by EP adherents.

I am not arguing that psychological states or behaviors cannot or do not have an organic or physical nature connected to the brain, that some may be unconscious and hardwired to the human brain based on genes, and that some may have been driven by evolutionary pressures.

I am arguing that we do not have any solid evidence that most of our behaviors are hardwired, genetic, and evolutionarily selected. I am also arguing that highly particular psychological behaviors have not been accurately identified with actual evolutionary pressures that might have formed them. Finally, I am arguing that the field of EP has ignored the fact that evolution has created an organ which is capable of adapting to situations within its lifetime and so voids its methodology of correlation study which can be confounded by other nonevolutionary factors.

If one would like to see a specific critique of an EP paper by myself, rather than submit one of your own:

The role of body weight, waist-to-hip ratio, and breast size in judgments of female attractiveness, Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, August, 1998 by Adrian Furnham, Melanie Dias, Alastair McClelland
My analysis of this paper may be found via this link. You can answer my critique within this thread.

Here is a link to my critique of another paper on EP, though admittedly it is more or less pointing out that the paper agrees with my critique of popular EP references.

This is meant for the Is It Science thread.

This message has been edited by holmes, 02-24-2006 02:06 PM


holmes
"What you need is sustained outrage...there's far too much unthinking respect given to authority." (M.Ivins)

Replies to this message:
 Message 2 by AdminPhat, posted 02-24-2006 8:17 AM Silent H has taken no action
 Message 4 by Phat, posted 02-24-2006 9:07 AM Silent H has replied
 Message 5 by crashfrog, posted 02-24-2006 10:02 AM Silent H has replied
 Message 6 by Clark, posted 02-24-2006 10:03 AM Silent H has replied

  
AdminPhat
Inactive Member


Message 2 of 102 (290018)
02-24-2006 8:17 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Silent H
02-24-2006 8:04 AM


Holmes wants to know Is It Science?
Hello, holmes! Lets give it a whirl in Is It Science? then.

holmes writes:

As a short synopsis of my own position: Evolutionary Psychology is a seductive theory which ultimately fails to be a science as it is currently practiced, and its conclusions are speculative at best, sophistry at worst.

Comments, anyone?


This message is a reply to:
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AdminPhat
Inactive Member


Message 3 of 102 (290019)
02-24-2006 8:18 AM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.

  
Phat
Member
Posts: 15996
From: Denver,Colorado USA
Joined: 12-30-2003


Message 4 of 102 (290031)
02-24-2006 9:07 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Silent H
02-24-2006 8:04 AM


What is evolutionary Psychology?
Hey, holmes! I studied Psychology in college. I had Industrial Psychology, Social Psychology, and basic Psychology. I burned out before tackling "statistics".

What do the proponents of Evolutionary Psychology assert about their field of study? Why do they believe that it IS Science?

This message has been edited by Phat, 02-24-2006 07:07 AM


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 8:04 AM Silent H has replied

Replies to this message:
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crashfrog
Member (Idle past 744 days)
Posts: 19762
From: Silver Spring, MD
Joined: 03-20-2003


Message 5 of 102 (290044)
02-24-2006 10:02 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Silent H
02-24-2006 8:04 AM


Those are some great strawmen, Holmes. Your critiques, I mean. Not to mention the slipshod reasoning contained in this post. Not exactly your finest hour, I must say.

At the same time counter evidence is summarily dismissed or downplayed in light of the correlations. Unfortunately that is a circular logic, also unaddressed by EP adherents.

Like, what? How do counterexamples disprove correlation? Correlation itself is marked by the fact that it isn't perfect, only correlated; and nobody's offering the position that evolution controls our minds. But it does influence them. If that were true we would expect to see a statistically significant deviation from random behavior, even though individuals may reject or make different choices than their instinct might otherwise dictate. Do you do everything you ever feel like doing, Holmes?

We're not even at the point where's it's necessary to show you the studies. First we have to tear down this insurmountable wall of purposeful ignorance, ad hominem, and fallacious analysis you've erected around yourself. I don't, however, think I have the patience to do it.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 8:04 AM Silent H has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 8 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 11:03 AM crashfrog has replied

  
Clark
Inactive Member


Message 6 of 102 (290047)
02-24-2006 10:03 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Silent H
02-24-2006 8:04 AM


Violence,Testosterone, and Evolution
I think it is accurate to say that increased testosterone increases levels of violence. This can be shown in humans as well as other social mammals, in particular closely related species like rhesus monkeys, baboons, and chimpanzees.

Here's a paper about violence, testosterone, and humans:

Pubmed

Levels of testosterone also seems to have an effect on reproductive success in mammals.

Pubmed

quote:
We used a blinded, sham treated and self-controlled, randomized, multi-treatment crossover design to test the hypothesis that male sexual behaviour is regulated by oestrogen modulation of the serotonergic system in intact male Japanese macaque.

Sounds pretty scientific to me. So if male sexual behavior is regulated by hormones which in turn are created by genes, then I think it is safe to say evolutionary processes act on them.

I don't really know where to go with this, I'm not a good enough a writer to tie it all together. I suggest you search Pubmed for testosterone and you will find a lot more on the subject. I've been reading some books by professors Melvin Konner and Robert Sapolsky who cover a lot of this stuff. Look them up if you're interested. The interaction between genetics, the brain, environment, and behavior is absolutely fascinating.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 8:04 AM Silent H has replied

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Silent H
Member (Idle past 5096 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 7 of 102 (290053)
02-24-2006 10:33 AM
Reply to: Message 4 by Phat
02-24-2006 9:07 AM


Re: What is evolutionary Psychology?
What do the proponents of Evolutionary Psychology assert about their field of study? Why do they believe that it IS Science?

That's a good question to start with I suppose, so that we can set the ground for specific evidence and studies to be produced in support of it. Here is a link to a Wiki article on EP, which starts with a decent overview of its tenets and ends with a description of criticisms it faces, including why some consider it wholly a pseudoscience. The following excerpts come from the Wiki entry...

Evolutionary psychology... proposes psychology can be better understood in light of evolution. Though applicable to any organism with a nervous system, most EP research focuses on humans.

Specifically, EP proposes the brain comprises many functional mechanisms, called psychological adaptations or evolved psychological mechanisms (EPMs), that evolved by natural selection. Uncontroversial examples of EPMs include vision, hearing, memory, and motor control. More controversial examples include incest avoidance mechanisms, cheater detection mechanisms, and sex-specific mating preferences, mating strategies, and spatial cognition. Most evolutionary psychologists argue that EPMs are universal in a species, excepting those specific to sex or age.

...The term evolutionary psychology was probably coined by Ghiselin in his 1973 article in Science. Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby popularized the term in their highly influential 1992 book The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and The Generation of Culture. Evolutionary psychology has been applied to the study of many fields, including economics, aggression, law, psychiatry, politics, literature, and sex.

From the above one can see how elements of EP are not necessarily controversial, while other elements are. The field itself is divided about the legitimacy of certain elements. Those involved with the more controversial elements are (unfortunately) the more vocal and active in promotion of their position to the public via publication in popular media.

Here is more description of what EP is based on...

Evolutionary psychology is based on the belief that, just like hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, and immune systems, cognition has functional structure that has a genetic basis, and therefore has evolved by natural selection. Like other organs and tissues, this functional structure should be universally shared amongst a species, and should solve important problems of survival and reproduction. Evolutionary psychologists seek to understand psychological mechanisms by understanding the survival and reproductive functions they might have served over the course of evolutionary history.

That is an interesting concept and I am not adverse to that possibility or attempts at trying to find it using credible scientific methods. Here is a description of what is necessary for an adequate understanding, and where popular EP starts falling apart by taking short cuts...

In order to understand the design and function of any mechanism, it is necessary to correctly identify the 'environment' the mechanism is intended to interact with. It would be difficult to understand the design of a pipe wrench, for example, without understanding the properties of pipes and pipe-fittings. This argument also applies to evolved mechanisms in the living world. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to understand the function of the lungs without understanding the properties of a gaseous oxygen atmosphere, or to understand the immune system without understanding the properties of pathogens. The environment that a mechanism evolved to interact with is termed the EEA of that mechanism.

EP argues that in order to understand an evolved psychological mechanism, one must similarly understand the properties of the environment that the psychological mechanism evolved to interact with.

Given the vast history our brains would have had to develop within, the forms our ancestors took, as well as the environments they faced, EPers insisting they can isolate behavioral emergence to recent strictly human environmental conditions to solve specifically human issues (some from an obvious western cultural standpoint) begins to raise my eyebrows.


holmes
"What you need is sustained outrage...there's far too much unthinking respect given to authority." (M.Ivins)

This message is a reply to:
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Silent H
Member (Idle past 5096 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 8 of 102 (290055)
02-24-2006 11:03 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by crashfrog
02-24-2006 10:02 AM


My position is based on a credible understanding of the field, as well as what criticisms exist about it. This can be seen within one of the posts I linked to in the OP (which discusses an EP proponent criticizing aspects of the field) as well as the Wiki link I have provided in post 7.

If you do not agree with what I have said, then the proper reaction is to show what EP as a field proposes, and studies which support its conclusions. That is simple enough and does not require emotional outbursts and personal attacks.

Your post is an example of what I will not be responding to. If you cannot raise the quality of your participation then don't post.

This message has been edited by holmes, 02-24-2006 05:05 PM


holmes
"What you need is sustained outrage...there's far too much unthinking respect given to authority." (M.Ivins)

This message is a reply to:
 Message 5 by crashfrog, posted 02-24-2006 10:02 AM crashfrog has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 10 by crashfrog, posted 02-24-2006 1:24 PM Silent H has replied

  
Silent H
Member (Idle past 5096 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 9 of 102 (290063)
02-24-2006 11:35 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by Clark
02-24-2006 10:03 AM


Re: Violence,Testosterone, and Evolution
Sounds pretty scientific to me. So if male sexual behavior is regulated by hormones which in turn are created by genes, then I think it is safe to say evolutionary processes act on them.

Thanks for your post. This does not actually address the focus of my thread. I agree that hormones can regulate behavior, that genes control hormone production, and that evolutionary processes shaped those genes.

The question is what evidence we have regarding specific behaviors being selected for in order to solve specific external environmental problems. And further what methodologies are appropriate for such investigations.

The studies you have posted do not actually address specific behaviors such as desiring a particular waste to hip ratio, nor do they posit specific problems that hormones are solving beyond perhaps attempts to mate. Perhaps more importantly they are focused on specific physical characteristics which are measurable and suggest comparisons to physical characteristics within other species related to our ancestors.

It is my opinion that proper EP studies are possible the more physical the focus, immediate the result of the physical trait, and comparison to such traits in ancestral-type species to peg down where and when the trait may have evolved.


holmes
"What you need is sustained outrage...there's far too much unthinking respect given to authority." (M.Ivins)

This message is a reply to:
 Message 6 by Clark, posted 02-24-2006 10:03 AM Clark has taken no action

Replies to this message:
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crashfrog
Member (Idle past 744 days)
Posts: 19762
From: Silver Spring, MD
Joined: 03-20-2003


Message 10 of 102 (290111)
02-24-2006 1:24 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Silent H
02-24-2006 11:03 AM


Answer the question, Holmes. Before I post studies I want to be able to know that you can reason appropriately about them.

Do you believe that a counterexample disproves correlation?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 8 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 11:03 AM Silent H has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 12 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 1:34 PM crashfrog has replied

  
crashfrog
Member (Idle past 744 days)
Posts: 19762
From: Silver Spring, MD
Joined: 03-20-2003


Message 11 of 102 (290113)
02-24-2006 1:30 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by Silent H
02-24-2006 11:35 AM


Re: Violence,Testosterone, and Evolution
I agree that hormones can regulate behavior, that genes control hormone production, and that evolutionary processes shaped those genes.

The question is what evidence we have regarding specific behaviors being selected for in order to solve specific external environmental problems.

I don't see how the first doesn't answer the second.

It is my opinion that proper EP studies are possible the more physical the focus, immediate the result of the physical trait, and comparison to such traits in ancestral-type species to peg down where and when the trait may have evolved.

And I don't understand why you think evolutionary psychology is the only evolutionary field that has to nail down the exact environment and time period that prompted these adaptations in order to be a science.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 9 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 11:35 AM Silent H has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 14 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 2:11 PM crashfrog has replied

  
Silent H
Member (Idle past 5096 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 12 of 102 (290115)
02-24-2006 1:34 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by crashfrog
02-24-2006 1:24 PM


Do you believe that a counterexample disproves correlation?

No, a counterexample does not inherently disprove anything. A specific counterexample may disprove an assertion that a correlation represents a causative relation, but it really depends on the case.


holmes
"What you need is sustained outrage...there's far too much unthinking respect given to authority." (M.Ivins)

This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by crashfrog, posted 02-24-2006 1:24 PM crashfrog has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 13 by crashfrog, posted 02-24-2006 1:40 PM Silent H has replied

  
crashfrog
Member (Idle past 744 days)
Posts: 19762
From: Silver Spring, MD
Joined: 03-20-2003


Message 13 of 102 (290116)
02-24-2006 1:40 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by Silent H
02-24-2006 1:34 PM


A specific counterexample may disprove an assertion that a correlation represents a causative relation

How would it do that, except in the simplest possible case? If the causative relation is merely one of several influencing factors - which would have to be the case unless the coefficient of corellation was 1 - then a counterexample disproves nothing at all about the putative causation.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 12 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 1:34 PM Silent H has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 16 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 2:18 PM crashfrog has replied

  
Silent H
Member (Idle past 5096 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 14 of 102 (290120)
02-24-2006 2:11 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by crashfrog
02-24-2006 1:30 PM


Re: Violence,Testosterone, and Evolution
I don't see how the first doesn't answer the second.

The studies suggested that hormones effect male sexuality (and anger). Thus there is a direct chemical connection between level of a specific hormone and exhibition of sexual desire or activity. Evolutionary processes resulted in a state where certain hormones are used to regulate (control) sexual impulses. And evolutionary pressure may have dictated levels of hormonal production we see today (or maybe the current level was simply not deselected). This is description of a measurable physical process connected directly to emotional states and behavior, with no assignment to a specific environmental solution or suggestion of when it was produced. The best suggestion was that it existed within similar primates, though with further study it could be pushed back.

Frankly these studies weren't even EP in nature, but it was clear what they suggest regarding evolution and sexual arousal.

These studies differ from the more controversial EP studies such as the one I presented as an example in my OP. In that case it did not suggest any measurable physical process within the body, only linking a mildly higher instance of choosing images with specific WHR's (which is assumed to reflect actual choice in partner), to indicators of health in women based on similar WHR's. Thus choosing such a woman as a partner would increase chance of mating success. That is linking a specific behavior to solving a specific external environmental issue, I might add without ever explaining why the behavior must have been decided when we were humans looking like we do now and affected the same way.

I don't understand why you think evolutionary psychology is the only evolutionary field that has to nail down the exact environment and time period that prompted these adaptations in order to be a science.

If you posit as part of your hypothesis that something occured at a specific time, there would have to be evidence for this. EP theorists often compare their field to physiology development theorists, but establishing boundaries of where a physiological feature might have occurred depends on comparisons to features within other species in order to identify where it might have come about and what environmental factor might have been important.

That said, if there are any other evolutionary fields making claims in a similar manner or based on similar methodology I would find them equally questionable, and my guess is they would be considered questionable by many within evolutionary theory. I should say I have seen some studies (or popular programs discussing theories) which I did not find sound science.

But I don't want to get sidetracked into discussing them or general questions regarding EP. I think the point will be more clearly demonstrated by dealing with actual studies from EP.


holmes
"What you need is sustained outrage...there's far too much unthinking respect given to authority." (M.Ivins)

This message is a reply to:
 Message 11 by crashfrog, posted 02-24-2006 1:30 PM crashfrog has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 15 by crashfrog, posted 02-24-2006 2:17 PM Silent H has replied

  
crashfrog
Member (Idle past 744 days)
Posts: 19762
From: Silver Spring, MD
Joined: 03-20-2003


Message 15 of 102 (290125)
02-24-2006 2:17 PM
Reply to: Message 14 by Silent H
02-24-2006 2:11 PM


Re: Violence,Testosterone, and Evolution
This is description of a measurable physical process connected directly to emotional states and behavior, with no assignment to a specific environmental solution or suggestion of when it was produced.

I don't see why that's required. The origin of human genes is the same as the origin of the genes of all organisms - evolution. It's hardly necessary to provide a speculation about what environment was present that our genes had to adapt to; we know that the origin of the content of our genes is evolution, which would entail adaptation to our environment - whatever it may be.

If you posit as part of your hypothesis that something occured at a specific time, there would have to be evidence for this.

I don't see where that has been posited.

EP theorists often compare their field to physiology development theorists, but establishing boundaries of where a physiological feature might have occurred depends on comparisons to features within other species in order to identify where it might have come about and what environmental factor might have been important.

Again, I don't see the necessity of this. It's not necessary for me to posit the specific envrionment to conclude that a specific gene was selected for as an adaptation to an environment; we know that the origins of our genes is adaptation to environment regardless of the fact that we're not certain what that environment may have entailed.

I mean, unless you mean to suggest that human beings are the only organisms on the planet for whom evolution does not apply? Why on Earth would we expect that to be the case?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 14 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 2:11 PM Silent H has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 18 by Silent H, posted 02-24-2006 2:39 PM crashfrog has replied

  
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