on the robustness of evolutionary explanations

I just finished reading Rosemary Hopcroft’s interesting article, Gender Inequality in Interaction – an Evolutionary Account (Social forces 87:4, June 2009). If I understand the article correctly, it argues essentially that frequent female deference to men is (a) well demonstrated; (b) subconscious; and (c) the result of evolutionary pressures. There’s an interesting spin, which is that because these preferences or behaviors are subconscious, feminist approaches like consciousness raising might work to change them. But otherwise the article strikes me as open to several important alternative hypotheses.

The principal alternative hypothesis results from the time problematic. Like other studies based on evolutionary psychology, the article is premised on behaviors having emerged during the Evironment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA), a period of historical development in which human genetic characteristics are said to have become relatively fixed. But there are important differences in gendered behavior, including sex deference, sexual preferences, and male “control” of female mates, across the historical time period that comes after the EEA. Thus the constant the article seeks to explain really isn’t a constant at all!

This is true synchronically as well as diacronically. The studies cited, as is common in psychology, are based overwhelmingly on US college students from the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This may be less of a problem in standard psychological studies (though of even that I’m not convinced) but it’s a huge problem when what you want to demonstrate is that something is a human constant!

If, in fact, male sexual domination is essentially a variable instead of a constant, it follows that whether it is conscious or subconscious, it can’t be explained by a constant (fitness during the EEA).

It seems to me that the only way an article like this can be said to demonstrate its claim is if we take that claim to be a valid premise–that is, if we begin with the assumption that humans are essentially evolved actors, their behavior a more-or-less clear reflection of adaptation during the EEA, then we can arrive at that conclusion as well. But if we allow even the possibility that culture is an independent force of its own, distinct from the individual predispositions inherited from the EEA, I don’t see how we can arrive at the point of understanding evolution during the EEA as the essential cause of human behavioral patterns.

what’s a fan to do?

My Tar Heels are miserable this year. Barely above .500, they are all but certain not to make the NCAA tourney (unless they win the ACC tourney, which would require acts of several deities acting in concert), and frankly will only be invited to the NIT because the UNC franchise is so valuable that Carolina probably brings in more TV dollars losing than, say, George Mason does winning. It’s been a difficult year in the southern part of heaven.

So why did I watch the whole debacle on Saturday when the Dark Side avenged four years of losses to the Good Side on their home court with a whipping of historic proportions? What’s a fan to do? My wife wanted to fast-forward on the TiVo. My older son, who really does consider the Duke-Carolina rivalry an epic battle between good and evil, felt more like I did: waves of horror punctuated with the kind of rapt attention that a grisly road accident commands.

I am a relatively recent convert to sports at all, having paid no attention whatsoever before moving to Chapel Hill 10 years ago. Soon after we moved here, the day after the Heels were knocked out of that year’s NCAA tournament, a disheveled homeless man sat down across from me on a Chapel Hill city bus, stretched out, and declared, “I’m ashamed to be associated with this town.” I understand why we cling to political and moral ideals even when they’re losing, which I’ve done plenty of times beginning with the Mondale-Ferraro defeat in 1984. I am, and remain, Tar Heel faithful. I’m just not clear on the social psychology of why I was and am proud to root for the Heels during and after this awful season.

a thing of beauty

We’ve all had them: those annoying students who arrive to class late, leave early, fall asleep during lectures, and step out of tests so that they can get a big gulp from the local 7-11.* We put up with this bad behavior largely because it comes with the academic territory. Sometimes, though, our less than ideal students choose to chastise us for not allowing them to be even more less than ideal. And sometimes, just sometimes, one of us responds in a way so beautiful, you just have to be impressed. This is one of those times.
Continue reading “a thing of beauty”

ok go, science, and silliness

If you haven’t seen the latest OK Go video (even though Jenn Lena tweeted that you should, as did I, retweeted by Beth Duckles–probably your grandma also, because she is down with the twitter too), please take a moment to enjoy this amazing Rube Goldberg machine timed to this catchy OK Go song. Continue reading “ok go, science, and silliness”

rights and responsibilities

Mom (a pseudonym; it’s not my actual mother) once gave me the excellent idea for celebrating Kid’s birthday by making a declaration of the new Rights and Responsibilities that come with being each age.  Since then, we’ve made good use of this tool, giving him responsibility for making his own bed, pick his own clothes, etc., and giving him exciting rights like choosing family activities on the weekend. We make up a fancy certificate and hang it up on his wall.

It’s that time again, and I’m down one right, after being called out by both Mom and Husband for putting “serve your own breakfast” into the rights column.  Any ideas for a 6 year old?

it’s a trap!

“You know, no matter how many votes he garners, Admiral Ackbar is never going to be the mascot.”

“Because it’s Mississippi and it sounds like he’s Arab?”

“No, because of a little thing called ‘copyright.’ There’s no way Lucasfilm would agree to grant the rights.”

“Well, maybe George Lucas will be nice. But then there’d still be the problem that it sounds like he’s Arab.”

“I would think the fact that Ackbar is essentially a fish-man* would put a stop to that. Unless people think that Arabs ARE fish-men, in which case we have a much bigger problem than I thought.”


* Yes, yes, I know: Admiral Ackbar is a Mon Calamari and, therefore, is more of a squid-man. Seriously, give me a break.