Welcome to my world and beyond...

A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A to Z "P" is for Psychology: Evolutionary Psychology to Be Precise

Ph my--the things evolutionary psychology (EP) seeks to explain!  Is it mumbo-jumbo?  Some think so.  I admit I am a cynic most of the time.  As such, I am given to poo-pawing off such things.  But, time and time again, I have found myself reading some evolutionary psychology theory, then mumbling to the air around me, "Yea... that DOES make sense."

I hope its not the packaging that sells it to me. ;-)

From Merriam-Webster Online

": the study of human cognition and behavior with respect to their evolutionary origins "

From Wikipedia

"...Evolutionary psychologists hold that behaviors or traits that occur universally in all cultures are good candidates for evolutionary adaptations[3] including the abilities to infer others' emotions, discern kin from non-kin, identify and prefer healthier mates, and cooperate with others"

*Note:  This Wiki article is an interesting read. It's chock full of information many sources.

And from this writer's view?  It is an awe-inspiring source for world-building/character-building.  I reckon that for writing fantasy and science-fiction stories, it  is a bottomless source of inspiration and influence.  It is brimming with possibilities and variations where lifeforms are  concerned.

Although it is sometimes dismissed as a curiosity, it has a very positive side.  It seeks to determine things like whether an unhealthy obsession with a body image (causing bulimia or anorexia for example) is nature or nurture--and could lays the groundwork for treatment approaches. Jennifer Goehring writes more about this here Modern Standards of Beauty

Nigel Barber writes "Psychological evidence suggests that sex differences in morphology have been modified by sexual selection so as to attract mates (intersexual selection) or intimidate rivals (intrasexual selection). Women compete with each other for high quality husbands by advertising reproductive value in terms of the distribution of fat reserves and by exaggerating morphological indicators of youthfulness such as a small nose and small feet and pale, hairless skin. Men's physical appearance tends to communicate social dominance, which has the combined effects of intimidating reproductive rivals and attracting mates."

Men look for younger women--for reproduction.  I know...I know...  That is the last thing you think they are looking for, but EP posits that the men don't know why they prefer younger women...they just prefer them.  And EP also posits that men aren't looking for a long-term mate each time they look for someone to have sex with.  Because, procreating with as many females as possible to spread their DNA is the desired result.  They don't have to care for the children. If they father enough children, there is a likelihood that the mothers will manage to rear some of them to a reproductive age.  But, what they look for in a long term mate has been forged by EP.  Good looks are often equated with good breeding and health.

And, women who are healthy --active (probably slim and muscular) are more likely to produce a child with minimal difficulty. Hmmm...and men thought that they just preferred thinner women.

Women, on the other hand look for something different. They are looking for someone who can provide for them and their children.  Resources.  Big, strong, healthy...he will bring home the fresh kill and defend them from threats.

A research colleague at work once told me about a study he read about EP, in which the author theorized that "playing hard to get" was EP at work--it is not all cultural or religion based.   The idea that making a man wait for sex allows her to determine if he will stick around.  If he does...and patiently (or not so patiently) waits, that there is a higher likelihood that he will stick around and care for her and their children.

The fear of spiders and snakes is also purported to be EP at work.  Although guns kill far more people in the USA than spiders or snakes, a research poll done--showing photos of all three, elicited a dramatic difference in reaction.  People showed little response to a photo of a gun.  But most cringed  or pulled back from a photo of a snake or spider.

Another EP tidbit from the linked Wiki post, "Sleep may have evolved to conserve energy when activity would be less fruitful or more dangerous, such as at night, especially in winter."

And this: "Since our ancestors did not encounter truly random events, we may be cognitively predisposed to incorrectly identify patterns in random sequences. "Gamblers' Fallacy" is one example of this. Gamblers may falsely believe that they have hit a "lucky streak" even when each outcome is actually random and independent of previous trials." 

I could go on and on. But I won't. It is interesting.  It could make for some good reading someday, when you have nothing to do (we ALL have those days, right?)   Ha!


  1. Certainly thought-provoking, and the examples you mention make sense.

    I think the mistake people make is to seek evolutionary explanations for everything they see. For example, what is the evolutionary purpose for bone to be white? There isn't. It just happens to be that way as a by-product of what it's made of.

    Conversely, detractors seem to think that just because some features fail the evolutionary explanation, then nothing can be evolutionary.

    Even scientists aren't immune from the "with us or against us" fallacy.

    1. Yes, I so agree, Botanist. It always disappoints me to see a science professional dig in his heels. I guess it can't be helped. But from a (my) moderate point of view, it just makes sense to leave room for doubt in either direction.

      It is a lot of fun to read, and often--as I wrote in the blog, it makes so much sense...but...could probably just as easily be argued the other way.

      Thanks for visiting! :-)

  2. Very interesting and yes, thought provoking. Great post!

  3. We have lots of these spiders and many people have pet snakes, so they both seemed familiar. We aren't allowed hand guns here, so that is the object that I felt least comfortable with. But in this case, the reaction of cautious with the unfamiliar would support EP. I agree with Mr Botanist, on the whole.

    1. :-) lol...the differences in people. I never gave it a thought that in many places in the world, guns might be more unsettling than a snake or a spider.

      Mr Botanist seems to be a very wise person. :-)

      Thank you for visiting :-)

  4. The spider creeped me out! I never want to see one that big.

    Happy A to Z-ing!

    1. I am not a fan of spiders at all. Somewhere I read a bit of trivia--and I have no idea who came up with the idea...but it makes a lot of sense. A spider never bites to warn, to frighten away, or to wound. A spider always bites to kill. And if you are lucky--they won't have enough venom to pull it off.

      Yea...pretty creepy.

      Okay, I admit, except for wolf spiders in the garden (as long as I have on garden gloves). They have neat egg sacs and are so protective of them. Then when the babies hatch, they ride on the mother's back. Neat to watch. But not to feel on bare skin.

      Thanks for visiting! :-)