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Unpacking evolutionary psychology

Is It Only “Good” Science When It Confirms Your World View?

Evolutionary psychology's critics still don't understand the field, and here's a great example from Kate Clancy. Read More

Wow, this was quite...

Wow, this was quite... something. The photo of the daffy woman with her ears plugged and the bloodied up fighter really seal this as being one of the more unprofessional ways to respond to criticism. Even if you may have valid points buried in here, the intense hostility towards your critique makes this a nightmare to read.

I find it interesting

I find it interesting that all the comments here have focused on the tone of the piece. Hidden below those comments, there seems to be a thread of, sure, Kate wasn't actually getting what she was saying right (or, at the very least, that people are not trying to defend Kate's points), but that doesn't much matter now that I've said something perceived as being mean towards her. Her misunderstanding a field she levels public criticisms towards is, apparently, not a nightmare, but my response to it is because I have pictures with captions that suggest Kate isn't doing to a good job.

While I find that to be a fascinating piece of moral psychology, as it's by no means unique to this specific incident, it is eminently frustrating to deal with. For instance, were I to say that your criticism of my criticism is a "nightmare" to read, because it suggests that I'm unprofessional and intensely hostile (presumably, these would count as personal attacks on my character, rather than my piece), you might suggest that my position on your criticism had missed the mark, so to speak.

Intense hostility?

Are you kidding me?

Is there a more

Is there a more oversensitive, prickly and querulous bunch than evolutionary psychologists?
The fact that Jesse immediately resorts to personal attacks (and the whole of his piece seems little more than a personal attack) only leads one to believe Clancy probably is on to something here.
And seriously, declaring yourself the "winner" in an argument?

Just to clarify

The tone of the piece is indeed on the saltier end of things, I agree. That does tend to happen when someone levels the accusation that your field is attempting to enforce sexism and keep LBGT folk as second-class citizens all while engaged in pseudoscience; all of that when it's not even apparent that the author of the criticisms has done more than dip her toes into the field while openly admitting her own biases.

Declaring the stereotype of evolutionary psychology's critics being rather uniformed about the field they're criticizing as confirmed might seem to be, as many would put it, unprofessional. Then again, so would someone trying to tell evolutionary psychologists things that the field has acknowledged for over two decades and since its inception as if we were not already award of it. At least it would seem that way to me, anyway.

If you had left out the

If you had left out the personal attacks and "saltiness" and instead just responded to each point you disagreed with with clear citations, you could have done a service to evolutionary psychology. This really doesn't help the field in anyway.

If you feel someone was unprofessional in a critique, take the high road and respond more professionally than them, not less.

I find that curious

We could disagree as to whether these were personal attacks. I happen to think they're not: if Kate is clearly unfamiliar with the field or making a bad or misguided suggestion, saying that she is doing so hardly constitutes a person attack. Suggesting that science ought to progress by personal bias, for instance, is a bad suggestion, and one she opted to make the title of her post. Changing the tone of the piece does nothing to change that point.

Now something (the comments section on Kate's article) tells me that she will not receive much in the way scolding for being "unprofessional", in that she unfairly criticized a field she seems to be unfamiliar with on both an academic and political level. In fact, the responses she received were generally positive. Maybe it has something to do with her tone as well but, for my money, I don't think science should be done by tone either.

Well, I do think tone counts

Well, I do think tone counts for something. Disagreements over science are contentious enough. We don't need the imagery of a boxing match, or using words like "just plain stupid," or including a photo of a woman with her fingers in her ears (you're aware of how that can be interpreted as sexist, or at the very least tone-deaf, right?).

If there's a reason the other comments have focused less on your arguments and more on the manner in which those arguments are made, it's not that hard to see why. You have the obligation to defend the field of study that you love, but be an ambassador for it as well.

But substance counts too. For example, I wouldn't concede point #2 (let's go with points, rather than 'rounds') so easily. Yes, undergrads are people too, and for all the reasons you mentioned. However, Kate is correct that WEIRD undergrads are a sliver of humanity. Culture, age, and environment count for a lot, and they are more than 'superficial.' That's obvious when we are confronted with that point, but it makes a difference when interpreting our data how aware we are of that.

I'm not an evolutionary psychologist, but like Kate Clancy, a bioanthropologist. Some of my anthro colleagues are not very accepting of evo psych, but I am at least in theory, if only because I place a good deal of trust in evolution as a predictor of biology in general. And so is Kate. She did write, quite explicitly, "And I think I’ve come up with five exhortations to help any reader trying to tell the good ev psych from the bad."

I think all evo-minded folks are aware at some level of the problem of adaptationism (or what Gould called "ultra-Darwinism"). As you say, it is not a problem specific to evo psych. We can do this with physiological traits as well. But the really bad evo psych - the Satoshi Kanazawa's - do seem to suffer from adaptationism and confirmation bias. They also get a lot of attention. You're right that we shouldn't define good science as that which confirms our worldview. Objectivity is sacrosanct. I think many of Kate's suggestions were toward that end.

Lots to say

I was wondering if people would have interpreted the picture of the woman not listening as sexist given the comments about it, which raises the obvious question: if it was a picture of a man, would that have made it better? Perhaps the people who saw that picture inferred several things on the basis on the gender. An interesting question some of my current research is actually aimed at examining. Anyway...

In the case of tone, let's consider the collective tone directed at either me or my field from Kate and commenters (both here and at Scientific American):
(1) We're at least partially complicit in attempts to keep LBGT folk as second class citizens, viewing non-straight people as "pathological"
(2) Evolutionary psychologists are a "oversensitive, prickly and querulous bunch"
(3) I'm apparently unprofessional and intensely hostile
(4) My field "does not have a popular or scientific reputation for being rigorous" despite some unnamed exceptions
(5) We don't realize there are byproducts, mutations, drift, and this thing called "culture", which is apparently some kind of get-out-of-needing-to-support-your-hypothesis-free card (just assert culture did it and move on!)
(6) We only tend do things we "call" science - not actual science

Yes, tone can matter to people, but very few of them seem to be terribly interested in making sure their tone, as directed towards me or my field, is particularly civil. That aside, tone should not come first, before substance. So let's discuss substance.

Regarding the use of WEIRD, undergraduate samples, I said I agree with Kate (as every evolutionary person I've come across does as well, without exception) that more cross-cultural and cross-species research is a good thing. It is not, however, a requirement of good research, nor does it mean that we cannot learn many, many things about people more generally from WEIRD samples. It might make accurate interpretation a more difficult task, but it certainly does not invalid the results.

That said, this issue is (a) not a problem specific to evolutionary psychology and (b) has long been recognized by evolutionary-minded researchers; if anything, evolutionary psychology is better about getting cross-cultural samples than non-evolutionary psychology from what I've seen. So, if that's the case, what is it doing in an article criticizing evolutionary psychology? I have a guess, but it involves an older example:

In early 2011, Amanda Marcotte (really, PZ myers, but she quotes him approvingly there, so I'll assume it represents her view as well) was posting about some evolutionary-minded research on women's handgrip strength in response to rape scenarios across the menstrual cycle (actually done by one of my form advisors). She had this to say about the sample: "Most of the studies were conducted on small, homogeneous groups of women, using subjective measurements." This must mean Amanda is awfully concerned about those small samples and WEIRD subjects, right?

Flash ahead to October of that same year; now Amanda is discussing a study that found no differences in ratings of how funny captions men and women came up with were. She seemed awfully approving of the study; the kind of research that would really "bust stereotypes", despite her noting that sample size was 32 (presumably undergraduates; for reference sake, the handgrip stuff had 232 subjects).

So what happened? When Amanda didn't like what she thought the study said, she was concerned about the subjects; when Amanda did like what the study said, all those concerns for the subjects seemed to evaporate. While I might be the one, strange exception, I never recall hearing anyone complaining about the sample of a study that they liked, even if that sample was small, and even if it was conducted solely on psychology undergraduates. If such a thing happens, it's so infrequent to the point that it can easily be missed. This is most certainly not the case when it comes to results that people do not like, where concerns for samples can be raised almost instantly. While I can't say this is definitively the reason the WEIRD concern seems to get raised in a manner specific to "bad evolutionary psychology", I think it gives us some potential useful clues.

With regard to Kate, I would offer her a single recommendation for improving her posts on the subject: don't try to inform your readers about what differentiates good from bad evolutionary psychology until you yourself can demonstrate you understand what evolutionary psychology is. Had she known more about what she felt the need to criticize, she might not have done things like botch basic definitions or talk about problems in psychology completely peripheral to the evolutionary subfield, like the WEIRD issue.

Yes, evolutionary psychologists are aware of Gould; Tooby and Cosmides cite him. In fact, they cited him over 20 years ago, and yet adaptationism continues on as the most useful paradigm for studying biology and psychology out there. There is bad adaptationism out there; no doubt about it. But Kate manages to botch the point about all behavior being the result of adaptations as well, so there's also plenty of bad criticisms of adaptationism as well. Unfortunately, there a fewer articles written about how to spot bad criticisms.

Concerning Kanazawa, one who's not familiar with the field might not know this, but he is roundly condemned by evolutionary psychologists. I've never come across one who has spoken of him approvingly. It's almost inevitable, however, that when someone is complaining about evolutionary psychology, there is a high probability they're talking about him, as if he represents the state of the field.

Some corrections/clarifications

It seems to me you're either not fully understanding or you're deliberately misrepresenting what genetic heritability stands for, with regards to Kate Clancy's argument that adaptive traits must be heritable, or as you say, due to unique genetic factors. Heritability, or specifically narrow-sense heritability, is the proportion of the phenotypic variance attributable to additive genetic effects (the rest is attributable to the environment, in the broadest possible sense). You propose that, by that logic, hands aren't heritable as we all generally have hands, because selection works to remove heritability. That is not actually true, and is highly misleading.

High selective pressures (such as for the presence of hands in tetrapods) work to minimize variance, so that we indeed almost always have hands, just as we almost always have arms, legs, eyes, ears, brains, other vital organs, etc. You cannot run a quantitative genetic analysis of something that's defined as the proportion of phenotypic variance if there is zero phenotypic variance in the first place (also known as "garbage in, garbage out" principle). That does not mean, however, that the presence of absence of hands is not under genetic control. If you included people who happen not to have hands in the analysis of heritability of hands, the chances are you'd find that the heritability of hands is actually very high. Specifically, the presence and patterning of hands is controlled by the posterior genes of the Hoxa and Hoxd clusters (Reno et al, 2008, demonstrated this very nicely using mouse models, whose Hox genes can be readily tinkered with with IACUC approval). I'm not saying the heritability would necessarily be 1 (or 100%), because epigenetic effects (aka the environment) likely play a role by affecting the expression (or lack thereof) of those Hox genes, leading to visible changes in the phenotype (whether it's brachydactyly, missing fingers, missing sets of bones, missing hands and/or forearms, or any other unfortunate consequence).

If you'd like another example, if you are interested in the heritability of albinism (to use a Mendelian trait for the sake of simplicity) and only sample people who are albino, you have no narrow-sense heritability because you have no variance. That does not change the fact that albinism is a simple Mendelian trait and thus due entirely to genetic factors. If you include albino and non-albino individuals, you'll again likely find a significant heritability. It's just a limitation of the model.

Your analogy with the ability to digest pop-tarts is also flawed, and it confuses proximate and ultimate explanations, amongst other things. The point is that indeed, we did not evolve to eat pop-tarts, you're right on that, but our ability to digest them is a side-effect of our suite of adaptations for digestion of sugars, starch, and god knows what else that goes into pop-tarts. Saying that this ability "must not be a result of any physiological adaptations designed for digestion" is a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of the proper analogy, which is that this is not a result of a physiological adaptation module designed specifically for digesting pop-tarts, which you should agree with given your comments on choosing sock color. Our ability to eat pop-tarts is not adaptive in an of itself. Pop-tarts are Stephen Jay Gould's spandrels in this example. Ability to digest crap that goes into pop-tarts is the true adaptation. So yeah, concluding that the ability do digest pop tarts isn't a result of digestive adaptations would be silly indeed. Kate Clancy did not make that argument.

As far as some of the other arguments that you've put forth, such as that evolutionary psychology is not the only field of psychology or science more broadly that has sampling issues, well those are just poor excuses for samples of convenience and lack of rigor. One of the main points of Kate Clancy's criticism - shared by many anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, etc. - is that a lot of things evolutionary psychology proposes can and should be tested (further), so instead of complaining about it and trying to come up with excuses for why you're not doing it, just do it! Instead of saying "yeah just call it culture", find ways to design (IRB-appropriate) experiments that would test whether a certain behavior is a result of different cultural preferences or not. Sure, WEIRD undergrads can tell us interesting things about human behavior, but you can't argue that those things are universal until you've demonstrated on a diverse sample that those same patterns or preferences exist. That's what science is about, rigorous repeated testing until something is either falsified or provisionally accepted as true (until falsified).

Good subtance

I don't think we disagree on any of your points regarding heritability. You might also find, for instance, that traits do show heritability while remaining adaptive (like height, for instance). The point I was hoping to get across is that measuring the heritability of trait doesn't inform you as to its adaptive function (or lack thereof).

Kate seems to suggest something else, unless I have badly misread her. Specifically, she says that "to be able to be more confident about whether a trait you’re interested in has been selected...The trait [needs to be] variable [and] heritable". Most adaptations are in fact not very variable and you would tend to find very low estimates of their heritability. Her point seems wrong there.

I also don't think we disagree about the digestion or sock color example either. The point I was hoping to make there was that all behavior - whether that behavior is adaptive, a byproduct, neutral or maladaptive - is the product of psychological adaptations. She seems to disagree with the specific proposition that “Psychological adaptation underlies all human behavior”, mistaking it instead for the claim that all human behavior has a specific adaptation associated with it (the sock-color-choosing module that one might tell a story about). If she wasn't making that mistake, there is no reason I could see for including that in her piece. In that sense, I find my analogy spot-on: we have no "digest pop-tarts mechanism", but other adaptations associated with digestion allow us to do that, and any number of other things, like enjoy pornography, fear visual cliffs, and wear high heels.

Personally, I try to avoid the subject pool, but there are reasons that people use it. It's not always feasible, for a variety of reasons, to even get large sample sizes in many cases, let alone translate your experiments or surveys into different languages, collect samples from all over the globe, and so on. Those are not reasons it shouldn't be done, I agree, just very good reasons as to why they don't get done. Without grant money, good collaborators, and a lot of spare time, it's often practically unfeasible.

Now if evolutionary psychologists were claiming that a behavior is universal, yes, I would expect them to furnish evidence for that universality; one can certainly have a good debate as to what constitutes proper evidence on that front, or even how universal ought to be defined. What many researchers are doing, however, is making far more modest claims along the lines of: here is a possible adaptive problems that humans might have needed to solve, here is a mechanism that might solve it, and here is a test to see if the predicted design features show up. Most researchers also seem to be very careful to use tentative phrasing, such as "might be" or "our evidence is consistent with", rather that saying that their results "demonstrate conclusively that...".

So what I think we have here is a case where we agree with each other on almost all points of substance. And I happy to be talking substance, rather than tone, so I thank you for that.


Hmm, I replied to this earlier this morning, but it's not showing up. I'll do my best to repeat what I said.

Regarding heritability, there's a difference between saying that a trait is heritable in the general sense (i.e., the genes for said trait are present in the gametes), which is what I believe Kate Clancy was referring to. The narrow-sense heritability you're referring to (as determined by quantitative genetic analyses) is the proportion of the phenotypic variance attributable to additive genetic effects. Those two terms are not necessarily the same, for example in conditions where phenotypic variance is zero. A trait can be heritable in the sense that the genes for that trait are present in the gametes, but have an un-estimable narrow-sense heritability if the trait is fixed in the sample under study (i.e., phenotypic variance is zero). For a trait to be adaptive, it has to be heritable in the general sense, and it's narrow-sense heritability is really irrelevant. So you're right that examining a trait's narrow-sense heritability doesn't tell you anything about it's adaptiveness, but for a trait to be adaptive it has to be heritable in the broad sense or you end up with a Lamarckian view of evolution!

There are some other inconsistencies in your examples. You invoked the example of height as something that has a heritability estimate and is adaptive, but you failed to mention it's also extremely variable. On the flip side, you stated that most adaptive traits have low heritability estimates or are not variable. It's true that a very strong selective pressure for a particular trait will minimize variability, but you're forgetting that variability isn't just presence/absence of a trait. For example, while more or less all of us have hands, there are small hands, large hands, hands with thin/thick/long/short fingers, wide or narrow apical tufts, etc. There are many experiments one can conduct to determine whether different morphologies are adaptive for different functions (better precision grip, better power grip, greater grip strength and what not). But hand morphology, as well as presence or absence of hands, are both heritable, regardless of their narrow-sense heritability.

I disagree with your point about all behavior being a result of psychological adaptations, whether it's adaptive, maladaptive, neutral or a by-product, at least the way you've phrased it at this point. Sure, a by-product is a by-product of an adaptive process operating on another trait, but clearly it's not adaptive in and of itself. Saying all behavior is a result of adaptations oversimplifies the matter.

It also, sadly, gives leverage to people seeking to exploit such vague wording for ethically dubious purposes. For example, in cases of pedophilia and hebephilia, a "natural" attraction to young girls can and has been used in court as a part of the defense process (I wonder if those lawyers are ignorant of the naturalistic fallacy, or actually knowingly commit that fallacy). I met a child psychologist a few years ago who said she's been encountering this argument in her practice as an expert court witness in cases of sexual abuse of children. Kate Clancy has a great post on this topic that I'd highly recommend everyone reads (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/context-and-variation/2012/01/18/int...). It beautifully deconstructs this argument and shows that hebephilia cannot be an adaptive reproductive strategy (is it variable? yeah. is it heritable? probably. is it adaptive? hell no, cause prepubertal and pubescent children are either not fertile or are less fertile than more mature girls, and certainly adult women.)

The same reasoning can be applied to, for example, my lack of a desire to have biological children of my own. Are child-bearing preferences variable? Yes. Are the heritable? Probably. Is my decision not to have children adaptive? It's really not, because I'm effectively removing my genetic contribution from the next generation (yeah, there could be some if my sister has children, but let's not split hairs. I'm really not doing my genes a favor here.) While it's easy to identify a number of proximate causes for people's decisions to remain child-free (lack of time or resources to raise children, concern over their carbon footprint, concern over what this world is coming to and not wanting to bring a child into this world, and so on and so forth). However, ultimately this behavior is not adaptive. I imagine you could argue that there may be a mechanism that diminishes one's desire to have offspring if they are unfit parents, but about five seconds of many reality tv shows would immediately falsify this hypothesis. If someone has a better idea, I'd gladly sign up as a test subject (although I'm mostly WEIRD - just not rich), in all seriousness! I'm curious.

Finally, regarding study subjects and how hard it is to get funding in academia (someone posted on it below), I know how hard it is to get funding for research in different locations. Anthropologists face that same problem on a daily basis too. When I was applying for Ph.D. funding, it took me over a year to get it (the fact that it was right when the stock market crashed didn't help, either). However, if you actually have a solid and well-written research proposal, you will get funding for it (I got to collect data in several locations in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa), not in the least because agencies such as the NSF and NIH aren't allowed to consider the budget when scoring the scientific merits of grant proposals. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, I'm just saying if I could do it, so can just about anyone. Your research and your field will all be better for it.

Food for thought

I forgot to mention, there's an article by Bolhuis and colleagues published in Plos Biology in 2011 that lays out detailed criticism of some of the mainstream tenets of EP based on more recent evidence from a wide range of social and natural sciences. It's very informative.


A reply

Here's a reply to the paper by Robert Kurzban: http://www.epjournal.net/blog/2011/08/more-on-darwin-in-mind/

The article and the comments

The article and the comments are very interesting, though it seems people are mostly talking past each other. A lot of things people dismiss as "semantics" comes from either a rather careless use of specific terminology, or the confusion between similar or same words to describe different things.

I'm pretty sure when Kate was referring to traits being variable and heritable, she wasn't going into the details of narrow-sense heritability that you're referring to (which, btw suffers from another complication, namely that models are generally first adjusted for potential confounding variables, such as age and sex, but some of them - like sex - are clearly genetically determined. But I digress.). Natural selection (which leads to adaptation) can only act on heritable traits because otherwise they can't be passed onto the next generation and affect allele frequencies (ergo, no evolution takes place).

This really goes back to the very basics about how natural selection works:
a) There's variation in a particular trait (here: behavior) in a population.
b) The trait (behavior) in question is heritable (i.e., can be passed onto offspring because the genetic information for that trait is present in the gametes).
c) Individuals with certain versions of that trait (behavior) are better adapted to their current environment, leading to their greater reproductive success and, consequently, greater chances of passing on the genes for the more adaptive version of that trait (behavior) to the next generation.

I don't understand why you seem to have such a problem with the notion that adaptation and variability aren't mutually exclusive. First of all, clearly not all traits are fixed in a population (that is, there IS variability), because not many are under such strong selective pressures (though it could be a random consequence of drift, too, but never mind that right now). Then there are different kinds of selection - directional, disruptive and stabilizing (balancing) selection -, which can each lead to different allele frequencies (that is, variability or lack thereof) in a given trait in a given population.

If you want to make an argument that all behavior is a result of psychological adaptations, you need to show that all behavior is indeed the result of selection, because natural selection determines what's adaptive and what's not. To demonstrate that, the behavior you're investigating has to be variable, heritable, and as good if not better than other strategies towards achieving that same goal (ultimately, reproductive success). Traits and behaviors that are variable and heritable but are not good evolutionary strategies (cause they're not as good or better in achieving their goal than their alternatives) cannot be thought of as adaptive. Not every trait (behavior) is adaptive.

My contention

To better outline the problems I have with the criteria that Kate puts forth is that, as I have been saying, variability - or lack thereof - in a trait does not necessarily inform you as to past selection on that trait. Let's say you were trying to determine which of the following traits were selected for or not selected for: nipples, eyes, height, strength, sexual strategy, and the ability to speak English. It seems to me that knowledge of heritability (in the broad or narrow sense) and variability will not tell you much of use. Maybe it will, and I'd be happy for someone to enlighten me as to why that might be the case, but so far I have yet to come across a solid argument for it. For my money, I would rather examine tests about function and design features, rather than hear about the data from behavior genetics.

Regarding your point about behavior being the result of psychological adaptations, I agree that not every trait or behavior is adaptive. No one has been making that argument. I think you might be missing the point in the same way that Kate did, but I'm not positive. While I'm in no way making the argument that all behavior is adaptive, I am making the argument that all behavior is the result of adaptations; the outputs of those adaptations might or might be adaptive or might or might not have anything to do with the adaptation's initial function, but they're outputs of them nonetheless. This is a critical distinction to bear in mind.

A quick follow up

I realized it might have been helpful for me to have included a link to an older piece that bears on this issue. I hope this helps: http://popsych.org/the-difference-between-adaptive-and-adapted/

Thanks for the follow up

I'm not sure why your comment isn't showing up, but thank you for taking the time to redo it.

Perhaps Kate was talking about heritable in the sense of "capable of being inherited", but she also adds the statement about there needing to be variability, which pushes me towards the technical definition. This is an issue that has been run into before, but, even if we are neglecting the point about which sense of heritability she used, her point still wouldn't be correct with regard to the existence of variability informing you as to selection pressures. No matter how I slice it, I can't seem to find an interpretation of what Kate is saying that ends up being accurate, let alone useful.

With regard to height and hands examples, the point is, as it was before, that estimates of heritability aren't terribly useful for determining adaptive functions. It seems we're really in agreement on this point.

I think we're also in agreement on the point about behavior being the result of adaptations versus being adaptive itself, so that's also nice. The same goes for the point of not using the naturalistic fallacy and understanding that explanation is not condoning. Why people seem to think it is happens to be another area of research I find rather interesting.

With regard to your example about children, I'm in the same boat as you are, in that I don't want any myself. But, barring recent advancements in contraceptive technology, the desire for children could have been rather irrelevant to whether one actually ends up having children, just so long as they're having sex.

WEIRD participants

Thanks Jesse, you made a lot of points here that I had already been thinking (and others in the field).

One comment I'd like to add about the criticism of using WEIRD participants; whenever I see this as a criticism of evolutionary explanations of human behaviour, it's written as if evolutionary psychologists don't want to extend the populations they study! I would LOVE to replicate some findings I have from undergraduate samples to cultures all around the globe, but hey money's tight in academia at the mo! Fortunately other interesting evolutionary-based findings have been explored cross-culturally, and I am as interested by the universals as I am about the inconsistencies (WHR anyone?!) and THAT helps us understand the role of evolution in shaping behaviours more.

The subject of universality

There are, of course, good debates that can be had regarding whether a trait is universal or not (as I mentioned previously). Let's say, in some perfect world where time, money, and other factors aren't getting the way, you run your experiment in 100 different cultures around the world. Your results turn up such that in 80 of those cultures, the predicted findings turn up; in the remaining 20, you find either no effect or a different effect than the one predicted. What is one to conclude from that pattern of results? That last question is a tough one to answer for a variety of reasons.

But your point, which seems to agree with mine, is well taken: it's not that evolutionary researchers are naive about the importance of cross-cultural (and cross-species) research, nor are WEIRD subjects necessarily useless for telling us rather important things. Indeed, if humans truly were different to the point where knowledge of one groups behavior couldn't inform knowledge of another's, cross-cultural research would be all but impossible, as the researchers from different cultures would literally not be able to understand each other (or at the very least, struggle very hard to figure each other out).

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Jesse Marczyk, M.A., is a Ph.D. student at New Mexico State University; he studies evolutionary psychology and writes the blog Pop Psychology: The Internet's evolutionary psycholo-guy.


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