Yesterday, on my home campus of SUNY New Paltz, my research assistants and I hosted a 3-hour conference featuring a wide variety of evolutionary psychology research. The presenters, several of whom who now hold doctoral degrees, included alumni and students from my research team, the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab. This conference was held to provide a forum for our students and alumni to present their work and for other members of our academic community to learn about evolutionary psychology from active young researchers in the field — and perhaps to get inspired along the way.
The conference, videotaped and streamed live HERE, included nine presentations. Here are summaries of key findings, presented here to highlight the power of evolutionary psychology in providing new insights across several domains of human behavior:
Untangling the Complexities of Female Sexuality: A Mixed Approach (Rachael Carmen, MA)
Female sexuality is, famously, something of a mystery — including both long and short-term strategies as well as clear effects of such biological processes as the ovulatory cycle. In research designed to help elucidate the mysteries of female sexuality, Rachael studied the predictors of positive sexual outcomes in women. In doing so, she provides strong evidence that, for women, positive sexual experiences, strong emotional capacities, and low stress levels go hand-in-hand.
Attentional Resources Required for Processing Operational Sex Ratio Information (Dr. Haley Dillon)
From an evolutionary perspective, human adults should be very good at detecting the ratio of males-to-females in a localized environment. Using advanced methodology in cognitive psychology, this is exactly what Haley found. In spite of all our mental shortcomings, our minds are particularly good at some things — and gauging the ratio of men to women in a set of stimuli is apparently among them.
A Romantic Partner Insurance Policy: Are You in Good Hands? (Nicole Wedberg, MA-in-progress)
Multiple mating strategies exist in the female mating repertoire. Having a backup boyfriend seems to be part of the female mating strategy. Women who report having a backup boyfriend (or as having “partner insurance”) tend to score high on measures of narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sexual promiscuity. The idea of women as exclusively monogamous is somewhat overstated.
Symposium on Evolutionary Psychology and Issues of Sexuality and Gender (Amanda Guitar, MA, Maureen McCarthy, BA-in-progress, Selena Perry, BA-in-progress, and Kate Wells, BA-in-progress )
Much scholarly debate has taken place regarding whether the field of evolutionary psychology can be reconciled with a feminist perspective on being human. In discussing the work of the Feminist Evolutionary Perspectives Society (FEPS — now with their own Psychology Today blog!), these brave young scholars provided much evidence to think that, indeed, yes, these two different scholarly traditions can be understood as highly compatible and that such a conciliatory approach can lead to progress in helping elucidate issues that uniquely pertain to women.
The Evolutionary Psychology of “You’re Dead to Me.” (Kian Betancourt, MA-in-progress, Matthew Chason, BA-in-progress, Richard Holler, MA-in-progress, and Vania Rolon, MA-in-progress)
This new team of young bucks in our lab is part of a larger team working on a project that examines the evolutionary psychology of estrangement. From an evolutionary perspective, having a large number of social estrangements under ancestral conditions would have been devastating given the fact that social groups were much smaller then. Thus, this research predicted that the number of estrangements a person has in his or her world would correspond to negative life outcomes. Preliminary data provided in this talk show that a high number of estrangements corresponds to such outcomes as high levels of neuroticism, an insecure attachment style, and relatively low subjective well-being. As Rich Holler indicated in his synopsis at the end of the talk: Just don’t do it!
Music and Emotional Intelligence (Morgan Gleason, MA)
In describing a detailed study on the connection between musical ability produced in a lab setting and markers of emotional intelligence, Morgan provided many insights into what might make music tick, so to speak. One evolutionarily relevant tidbit included is this: Music samples created by males in this study were rated to be of higher quality by a group of independent judges who didn’t know the gender of the creators of the music sample. Maybe, as several researchers into human mating have suggested, males are more likely than females to focus on musical creativity as this may be part of a largely male-based courtship strategy.
Catching the Crown: An Evolutionary Analysis of Female Competitiveness in Beauty Pageants (Laura Johnsen, MA)
Insights gleaned from evolutionary psychology can help us better understand the enigmas surrounding beauty pageants. Delving deep into the research on human mating, Laura provides a strong framework for understanding beauty pageant behavior as including (a) intrasexual competition among females, (b) competitor derogation, and (c) mating-relevant self-enhancement. Want to know what beauty pageants are about? It’s all evolutionary psychology!
Situation-Specific Emotional States: Testing an Evolutionary Model of Emotions Using Second Life (Amanda Guitar, MA)
Nesse and Ellsworth (2009) proposed that we can use an evolutionary framework to best understand the origins of emotional states by focusing on (a) opportunities and threats, (b) whether situations deal with physical or social outcomes, and (c) whether a situation leads to success or failure. In using the virtual reality software of Second Life (in collaboration with Dan Glass, another alum on our research team), Mandy provided strong evidence that specific emotional states can be well-predicted by this evolutionary-based model of emotional experience.
The interdisciplinarity of evolutionary approaches to human behavior: A key to survival in the Ivory Archipelago (Dr. Benjamin Crosier)
Now a post-doctoral fellow at Dartmouth who is part of an interdisciplinary team studying behavioral health using quantitative methods, Ben’s current work is highly interdisciplinary in scope. As elucidated in this presentation, the field of evolutionary psychology is also highly interdisciplinary, including scholarship from such fields as anthropology, biology, literary studies, and more. In summarizing research into the interdisciplinary nature of evolutionary psychology, Ben provided strong evidence that journals in the field of evolutionary psychology include more diversity in the academic background of researchers than is found in typical psychology journals. One legitimate reason to be excited about evolutionary psychology is the fact that this field genuinely connects with other fields of inquiry in a uniquely exciting way.
A Community of Scholars
If you know me at all, then you know that I place a strong value on the power of evolutionary psychology, and I care just as much about cultivating the next generation of leaders and scholars through high-impact education. This unique evolutionary psychology conference (titled the Evolutionary Psychology Independent Conference (or, for short, E.P.I.C.)) provided an opportunity for me and my research team to merge these interests. And I know that I learned an awful lot about human behavior along the way! I hope and trust that the audience in attendance - as well as readers of this blog - also learned some new things about what it means to be human. And if you’ve got some time on your hands, note that, via the magic of our Instructional Media Services office and Keron Lewis’ videography skills, the entire conference is streamed for free.
As documented by several evolutionists before me, one of the unique things about Homo Sapiens is that we create groups that stretch beyond kin lines (see Bingham & Souza, 2009) and, along the way, we are able to create products that could never be developed by any particular individual. The EPIC conference we held on campus represents such a product. This event benefited from the hard work of so many students who volunteered their time, especially Kate Wells, president of our campus’ Evolutionary Studies club — along with the effort of so many members of the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab. Several administrators on campus, who genuinely champion high-impact education and student-collaborative research, took time out of their busy schedules. They include: Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences Laura Barrett, President Don Christian, Interim Provost Stella Deen, and Associate Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Lynn Spangler. The support of these individuals added greatly to the event. I also thank David Buss, one of my academic inspirations and a leader in the field of evolutionary psychology, who provided some very encouraging words** that were read at the event (found below**, for those interested). And of course I thank the many students and alumni who took their time to participate in this unique event.
For years I’ve been telling people that evolutionary psychology has the capacity to enhance our knowledge on a wide variety of topics. The EPIC conference at New Paltz, which stands on the shoulders of a group of bold young intellectual giants, provides conspicuous support for this assertion.
References and Resources
Bingham, P. M., & Souza, J. (2009). Death from a distance and the birth of a humane universe. Lexington, KY: BookSurge Publishing.
** David Buss’ encouraging words for the participants of EPIC @ New Paltz:
“In 1859, Charles Darwin started a scientific revolution with his theory of adaptation and natural selection. He envisioned that at some point in the distant future, psychology would be based on a new foundation. Now in 2015, we are witnessing the coming to fruition of Darwin’s prophesy. It is tremendously exciting and a huge honor for you all, for Glenn Geher, and for me, to be part of this scientific revolution. We have that rare opportunity in science to discover new and important things about human nature, about the human mind, that no one else has discovered. I wish you all the very best in your brave quests to join forces with the best and brightest minds in contributing to this exciting evolutionary and revolutionary science of the mind.” David M. Buss, 11/28/2015