While there’s an obvious consensus about evolution as it applies to biology, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there about evolutionary psychology. The New York Times gave the field a beating in a recent Sunday review piece called “Darwin was Wrong about Dating,” and the Wall Street Journal rushed to its defense in “Grey Lady Dumps Darwin.” Who was right? Let’s let Higgs examine this issue from the perspective of a different species of mammal.
Hi. Higgs here. I couldn’t help notice that humans get very agitated about the field of evolutionary psychology, especially when it starts to veer into the area of sex differences. I suspect the most extreme supporters and detractors may misunderstand the field, its promises and its findings.
Some humans think the goal of evolutionary psychology is to predict the behavior of individual human beings, and that such predictive power will prove useful in your sex lives. Others worry that evolutionary ideas about humans play into stereotypes that box in the range of acceptable behaviors for male humans and female humans.
Such arguments showed up in last Sunday’s New York Times piece on Darwin and “dating”. From my perspective, dating is an intriguing behavioral phenomenon. You’d never see me take another cat out to dinner. The piece didn’t address the fascinating question of cat/human differences, but stuck with perceived differences between male humans and female humans.
The writer of the story accused evolutionary psychologists of exaggerating or even making up human sex differences. But this misses the point that humans are too diverse a species for any scientist to predict the behavior of individuals based on sex.
A counter argument followed in the Wall Street Journal, rushing to the defense of evolutionary psychology, but for the wrong reason as well. In that story, the author tried to argue that human males and females do behave differently and that to deny this is as bad as being a creationist.
But some of these so-called differences apply only to averages across large populations. Men are taller than women on average but it doesn’t mean there are no tall women or that tall women look like men. Behavioral differences are even more subtle than physical ones, and science is not finding rules but patterns and tendencies. In commenting on the flap, Steven Pinker of Harvard pointed out that male humans pay for sex more often than do female humans. This is true but many male humans would never pay for sex. You can’t predict that a human will pay for sex simply because he’s a male.
Read more at NewsWorks.