EvoPsych: what's good and what's not
#1
Here is a recent post on how to distinguish good studies on EP from bad studies.
[+] 1 user Likes Pratibha's post
Reply
#2
(15-Feb-2013, 11:13 AM)Pratibha Wrote: Here is a recent post on how to distinguish good studies on EP from bad studies.

Thanks for this useful bookmark. It maybe a useful exercise to examine the good and bad evolutionary psychology in talks like this one which seem to lend blogosphere credibility to this approach.
http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_dennett_cut...funny.html

Some methodological improvements could come in handy to prevent bad ev psych of the sort warned against in the article.
(i) Use of 'feature selection' techniques developed in the context of Machine Learning to identify better 'proxy variables'
(ii) Obtaining subject pools from wider demographics using say, Amazon Mturk or online questionnaires like yourmorals.org (While these too aren't free from selection biases, they may at least be less dominated by WEIRD subjects.)
(iii) Including in tutorials about hypothesis testing a note of caution about formulating alternate hypotheses that explicitly invoke teleological arguments, assume genetic determinism or are gleefully indifferent to the Problem of Induction.

In short, some Philosophy of Science training maybe a useful complement to the routine statistical and laboratory-techniques training. However, this may require a considerable cultural shift in academia, because as things currently stand, principal investigators often intent on hiring 'technicians' in the guise of grad students may not see much of a stake in training 'philosophers of science'.
[+] 1 user Likes arvindiyer's post
Reply
#3
The Dennett talk is a bit difficult to dissect. It's short and it's tough to know when he's being serious and when funny. But here's my analysis:

1. Sweet: I'm skeptical about this theory of humans having evolved to like sweet taste. Just take a look at the traditional Kerala Sadya, and there are all sorts of tastes in there. There's a lot of spice, some dishes taste sour, some are bland, some are bitter, and some are sweet. There's no reason to suppose that the taste of the Payasam is appreciated any more than that of the other dishes.

2. Sexy: This part is the most difficult to digest. If sexiness has been evolutionarily selected for in the Pleistocene, we should have uniform standards for this trait across cultures. We don't really see that, do we? The factors that constitute "sexy" have undergone a substantial change within the past century in most all cultures.

3. Cute: People tend to think that babies are cute. I cannot decide how much of this is genetic and how much of it is cultural conditioning. After all most people also tend to think that kittens and pups are cute. I don't see what possible evolutionary advantage that could provide.

4. Funny: Didn't make any sense. Probably needs a reading of that book.
Reply
#4
(16-Feb-2013, 02:03 PM)Pratibha Wrote: 3. Cute: People tend to think that babies are cute. I cannot decide how much of this is genetic and how much of it is cultural conditioning.

As to whether or not finding babies cute is a product of cultural conditioning, can't we answer it by finding if "finding babies cute" is universal to all cultures. Not sure if there are any cultures that do not find babies cute.

A plausible explanation for evolutionary advantage of finding babies cute could be that you don't beat it to a pulp when it cries. Those who did not beat up the babies had their babies grow up and have babies of their own that they found cute..... Thus finding babies cute is a trait that evolved in humans.

(16-Feb-2013, 02:03 PM)Pratibha Wrote: After all most people also tend to think that kittens and pups are cute. I don't see what possible evolutionary advantage that could provide.

Human trait to find babies cute also made them use "cuteness" as a trait in domestication. Hence the cute kittens and puppies. Evolutionary advantage is for the cats and dogs.
Reply
#5
(16-Feb-2013, 02:03 PM)Pratibha Wrote: 1. Sweet: I'm skeptical about this theory of humans having evolved to like sweet taste. Just take a look at the traditional Kerala Sadya, and there are all sorts of tastes in there. There's a lot of spice, some dishes taste sour, some are bland, some are bitter, and some are sweet. There's no reason to suppose that the taste of the Payasam is appreciated any more than that of the other dishes.

Better arguments are needed for why 'sweetness' is singled out as a case study of evolutionary advantage, than saying that it is about a preference for high-cal foods which itself raises the question of why a similar preference for high-protein foods did not earn such a distinction for 'umami'. However this singling out does seem impressively cross-cultural,noting that sweetness in most Indo-European languages is treated as synonymous with pleasure even in non-food contexts, and is the taste of choice for symbolically celebratory foods. This cultural (or cross-cultural) embrace of sweetness seems fairly recent (or at least post-agricultural) since the Paleolithic Diet (adopted religiously by proponents of Evolutionary Gastroenterology if you will) seems quite umami-centric, upsetting a smooth narrative from a fruit-loving primate to a confectionery-guzzling human.

(16-Feb-2013, 02:03 PM)Pratibha Wrote: 4. Funny: Didn't make any sense. Probably needs a reading of that book.

As for the part on 'funny', Dr. V S Ramachandran among others holds the view that we enjoy jokes because the process of 'getting a joke' activates opioid reward pathways associated with pattern-learning and recognition. This so-called "Aha! moment" explanation is the evo psych argument that the evolutionary advantage conferred by being able to detect lions obscured by the savannah grass, explains the popularity of art or stories involving some peek-a-boo, suspense or Where's-Waldo-type camouflage-puzzles.

(16-Feb-2013, 02:03 PM)Pratibha Wrote: 2. Sexy: This part is the most difficult to digest. If sexiness has been evolutionarily selected for in the Pleistocene, we should have uniform standards for this trait across cultures. We don't really see that, do we? The factors that constitute "sexy" have undergone a substantial change within the past century in most all cultures.

VSR's view that 'aesthetic universals' maybe discerned in art notwithstanding confounding overlaid cultural diversity, remains more neurophilosophical than neuroscientific for the simple reason that the effect of 'cultural evolution' isn't readily deconfounded or even tenably distinguishable from 'biological evolution'. For instance, it is hard to find an empirical handle to questions like 'Would the Chola sculptor's proportions match those of a hypothetical Pleistocene pinup? Even if there maybe similarities between the Chola bronzes and today's norm of the supermodel, were they liked in their societies for the same reasons?'

(16-Feb-2013, 07:49 PM)Captain Mandrake Wrote: Evolutionary advantage of finding babies cute could be that you don't beat it to a pulp when it cries. Those who did not beat up the babies had their babies grow up and have babies of their own that they found cute..... Thus finding babies cute is a trait that evolved in humans.
....
Human trait to find babies cute also made them use "cuteness" as a trait in domestication. Hence the cute kittens and puppies. Evolutionary advantage is for the cats and dogs.

The assumption that 'babies are found cute by adult humans' may miss the point about healthy babies preferred by potential providers, a preference taken to extremes in societies like Sparta. The attributes abstracted as 'cuteness' and also of the supposed 'benevolence' it invites, may have more to do with the greater estimated payoffs of the infant human/dog/cat when it is grown rather than during infancy. Even in religio-cultural imagery, a 'calf' or a 'lamb' is used to evoke affection, more so than a 'cow' or 'sheep' both of which are seen as objects of recruitment in some way, either for veneration or evangelization.

What aspects of a healthy phenotype are chosen for abstraction into a norm of 'beauty' or 'cuteness' is not entirely biologically determined, and cultural differences in which aspects are chosen maybe significant. For instance, Renaissance painters emphasize buccal fat to convey cuteness of cherubs, whereas Puranic poets emphasize the luxuriant curls of the infant Krishna's hair.

Dignifying as settled science evolutionary-psychological speculation about why certain norms of beauty acquired the staying power they did, carries the risk of underestimating how mutable such norms may be by processes of socialization of the sort that begins in kindergarten.
[+] 2 users Like arvindiyer's post
Reply
#6
Quoting from the article linked in the OP:

Quote:WEIRD stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. This particular subset of humans, despite the experience of so many of us who work at universities, is actually not the majority worldwide. The lived experience of being WEIRD means a particular kind of access to resources in terms of money, vaccines, food, school, and government.

All too often, mainstream media takeaways from Evolutionary Psychology studies present the findings as pertaining to 'human nature', applying across cultural divides. Such a view of 'human nature' though, flies in the face of known anthropology as the following article elaborates.
Is There Such a Thing as "Human Nature"?, Ethan Watters (25th October 2013, Adbusters)
In particular, the Machiguenga study reported in the article challenges foundational assumptions underlying such (behavioral economic) experiments, and indeed underpinning the entire fields of economics and psychology: that humans all share the same cognitive machinery –  the same evolved rational and psychological hardwiring. The upshot was that those assumptions, ostensibly demonstrated in WEIRD settings, did not generalize to a Peruvian indigenous people participating in similar experiments.

Besides the demonstrable lack of geo-cultural universality, another limitation of Evolutionary Psychology is historically inherited from the pre-occupations of Enlightenment philosophers who tended to view certain human traits or activities as defining of human nature, to the exclusion of others. Jeremy Rifkin provides several examples in his RSA lecture on The Emphatic Civilization:

Quote:My sense is that the problem lies with the fact that our business leaders, our government leaders, and for that matter, the rest of us; we are continuing to rely on 18th and 19th century ideas about human nature and the human journey. They were spawned at the beginning of the Market Era, the Nation State Era, and in that period of time we had a great discussion : the Enlightenment...

For fifteen hundred years, the Church had the last say about human nature; and the Church was very clear : the little baby is born in sin, depraved and if we want salvation, we must wait for Christ and the next world to come. End of story. The Enlightenment philosophers took on that worldview and challenged that shibboleth and came up with a different equation for what human nature is all about. And of course there was a debate even then, but let me go into some of the key arguments.

John Locke, the great political philosopher of the Enlightenment; he said, look, babies are born tabula rasa (blank slate); they are not born in sin. But he did leave a little opening; he said, however there is a predisposition to acquire property. Somebody should have caught him on that. Adam Smith, the great Scottish economist in the Enlightenment said that our little babies do have an inclination for moral sentiment (He wrote a great book on moral sentiments and sympathy); but he said that our key nature is that we are born with a drive to be autonomous and to pursue our material self-interest in the market (the very basis of classical economic theory). Later in the 19th century, Jeremy Bentham said that little babies are actually born with a desire to have pleasure and to avoid pain and that we are driven by utilitarian desires. Later in the century, Charles Darwin said, every organism, their drive is to secure their survival by reproducing themselves. And finally, the capstone of that century, Sigmund Freud at the end of that 19th century said, actually, little babies are born with an insatiable sexual appetite and want to extinguish their libido.

May I ask: how many parents here? ...Well what do you think? Is that what it's all about? When that little baby came out, and mom and dad looked in their eyes, is that what we were seeing: evil, depraved, rational, calculating, detached, autonomous, self-interested, driven by materialism, utilitarian to the core, and seeking to extinguish their libido?

Of course, a knee-jerk rejection of reductionism and an adoption of 'mysterianism' by considering human nature ineffable would also be a mistake and would be scarcely instructive. The limitations of each of those 'models' as it were of human nature can be usefully viewed as reminders of the epistemic challenges posed by complexity and the problem of induction. An examination of the background assumptions of Evolutionary Psychology is only part of the advantage of undertaking a broader critique of the Enlightenment archetypes of human nature, thus allowing a comprehensive re-imagination of the project of advancing human welfare.
[+] 1 user Likes arvindiyer's post
Reply




Users browsing this thread: 6 Guest(s)