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Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex #2

Posted by gregdowney on July 18, 2008

A while back, I posted a piece on recent evolutionary psychology research on human sexuality, specifically Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex #1. The previous post discussed a couple of research projects that have found a correlation between the ‘dark triad’ of narcissism, psychopathology, and manipulative Machiavelianism at low levels and the number of sexual partners that college-aged men reported having. The conclusion, baldly stated: chicks dig jerks, according to the researchers.

Today, I’m going to discuss a different set of articles, this time on ‘female guilt,’ sparked by research done by Prof. Anne Campbell, a psychologist at Durham University. Prof. Campbell surveyed people online and found that women regretted ‘one-night-stands’ more than men. This has led her to argue that women are ‘ill adapted’ for promiscuity, that the ‘sexual and feminist revolutions’ didn’t work because women couldn’t shake their inherent nature, which is to long for committed relationships and loathe themselves if they act like cheap floozies.

I delayed posting on this because I cannot get to the original article (my university library has a six-month delay on the journal Human Nature; Springer press release here). I hate posting on second-hand versions, but I feel like I don’t want to wait six months to write #2 in my series on ev psych stereotypes…. I mean, ‘perspectives’ on human sexuality or to put in my own two cents worth of opinionation. So I have to base most of my discussion on the press release from Durham University about Prof. Campbell’s recent article.

I can’t imagine that I’m EVER going to persuade the hardened core of evolutionary psychologists that there is not a thing called ‘human nature’; I’m not opposed to the concept for political, feminist reasons but because I don’t think living organisms have ‘essences,’ especially when it comes to behaviour. Nothing I can say, no theoretical point or comparative data from around the world of human variation, will convince the evolutionary psychologists because they know, they just know, that human nature — especially sex — has been shaped by evolution, hardened and set in our genes (or brains or hormones…), to rear it’s head when we do something against our nature (like a woman having sex and not trying to find a mate).


But if you’ve clicked through the link, you’ve signed on, at least for a bit, so I’ll try to be mildly entertaining.

To repeat my most serious objections to the ‘bad boys get more action’ research from my previous post (there were eight, although several had multiple points), they included: a confusion about how one would test ‘reproductive success,’ questions about whether jerk traits are actually genetically determined, and whether there were other, more proximate, less strained explanations than ‘evolution’ for why these ‘dark’ men reported more sexual partners than ‘nice guys.’ Although I’m no authority on sex research, I brainstormed a few ideas that didn’t require resorting to Mother Evolution, such as the men’s expressed intention to have many partners might lead to them having more partners (but evolution is so much more plausible as an explanation…), the men’s potential inability to maintain long-term relationships, women discovering men had the ‘dark triad’ and throwing them out…

Ev Psych: Repeating stereotypes, making headlines

Even with these problems, however, the ‘girls dig bad boys — evolution makes it so’ story had great legs, showing up all over the place. Likewise, today’s story — we’ll call it, ‘bad girls feel regret’ — got around faster than a greased pig in a sausage factory. The BBC, for example, discusses it under the headline, Sexes split over one night stands, The Telegraph offers, Women have more regrets than men over one night stands, Salon gives us, Men: Score! Women: Whoops! (having fun with the title), and The Independent gives us the resounding, Men like casual sex more than women – scientific fact (and an Indy Blog entry, too). I’d link to more, but the articles are virtually identical, evidencing the way that a story like this can circulate with minimal critical comment being able to get traction.

Bloggers also picked up the study published in Human Nature, although they are much more critical: check out Echidne of the Snakes, The Dawn Chorus, Noli Irritare Leones (and again the next day), and Dante and the Lobster (nice blog name!). I’ll try not to just repeat some of the many objections that these bloggers raise to this study, but there’s a lot of good ones being offered.

What does the study say?

According to the press release put out by Durham University, and echoed verbatim by virtually every major press outlet to pick up the story:

THE sexual and feminist revolutions were supposed to free women to enjoy casual sex just as men always had. Yet according to Professor Anne Campbell from Durham University in the UK, the negative feelings reported by women after one-night stands suggest that they are not well adapted to fleeting sexual encounters. Her findings are published online in the June issue of Springer’s journal, Human Nature.

Okay, men have ‘always’ enjoyed casual sex? Really? Always? Are you sure? No society anywhere, at any time, has had anxiety about ‘casual sex’ among men? You get what I mean…

And, in addition, before I go further, was the ‘feminist revolution’ really about enjoying casual sex? I seem to remember something about equal pay, property rights, suffrage, you know… like things other than casual sex…

Prof. Campbell explains that her research is designed to test two opposing views of how women would have been shaped by evolutionary pressures. An older evolutionary psychology idea held that women should be very choosy and demand fidelity out of men with whom they mated because pregnancy and child rearing were such intensive, demanding processes. More recently, some biologists who have studied genetic evidence of paternity (and found that many ‘monogamous’ species are much less so than once thought) have argued that female promiscuity might be adaptive; as Campbell explains, women’s promiscuity ‘would increase the genetic diversity of their children and, if a high quality man would not stay with them forever, they might at least get his excellent genes for their child.’

To test whether women were adapted to casual sex, Campbell surveyed people after they had a one-night stand: 1743 people answered questions about how they felt after a ‘one-night stand.’ Now this is where I REALLY regret not having access to Human Nature; I can’t really answer any of the many questions I have about the data collection. An on-line survey about feelings after a one-night stand? Really? And how did they know it was a ‘one-night stand’ if they reported immediately following the event? Oh, the mind races…

But let’s stick with the study. The results were compelling, irrefutable: ‘Eighty per cent of men had overall positive feelings about the experience compared to 54 per cent of women.’ Wait, 54% had overall positive feelings?! Somehow, I don’t think that the headlines are going to be ‘Majority of women pretty okay about one-night stands’ or, for that matter, ‘One-fifth of men programmed by evolution to regret meaningless nookie.’

According to Campbell’s survey, in addition:

Men were more likely than women to secretly want their friends to hear about it [the one-night stand] and to feel successful because the partner was desirable to others. Men also reported greater sexual satisfaction and contentment following the event, as well as a greater sense of well-being and confidence about themselves.
The predominant negative feeling reported by women was regret at having been “used”. Women were also more likely to feel that they had let themselves down and were worried about the potential damage to their reputation if other people found out. Women found the experience less sexually satisfying and, contrary to popular belief, they did not seem to view taking part in casual sex as a prelude to long-term relationships.

We’ll come back to these interesting wrinkles, details that don’t fit under the heading, ‘evolution means girls don’t just want to have fun.’ With all of these conflicting, intriguing facts from an Internet survey, fortunately we have evolution to explain everything.

Why women just aren’t down with the sexual revolution: ev psych explains

Prof. Campbell helpfully explains how ‘evolution’ gives us emotions so that we do what’s good for us:

Evolution often acts through positive or negative emotions which draw us towards adaptive behaviours or drives us away from harmful ones. For example, we enjoy other people’s company but get depressed if we spend too much time alone. Basic emotions guide us down pathways that have been advantageous for our ancestors. It seemed obvious that if our female ancestors really were adapted to short–term relationships they ought to enjoy them, just like men do.

That sound you hear is me pulling clumps of hair from my scalp and running around the room shrieking; yes, I’m far away in Australia, but listen carefully… Okay, let’s try this again: are we using the Internet survey on our female ancestors?

Seriously, where do I begin on this one. Let’s do it nicely, if we can. For this to be true, the following would have to hold:
1) All or at least the vast majority of emotions would have to correlate with being ‘good for us’ (uh-oh, see recent story on ‘part of the brain’ which allegedly makes us want to ‘try new things,’ like say, those delicious-looking red mushrooms with white spots in my yard).

2) Emotions would need to be pretty inflexible in their development and it shouldn’t be too easy to develop strong emotions about irrelevant issues for survival (like, say, shame at being naked or phobias about things that didn’t seem to correlate to survival issues, like fear of the number ’13′ or of elevators).

3) It would be helpful if there weren’t more proximate causes for the social emotion that might better explain it, like, oh say, hundreds or maybe even thousands of years of religious teaching, literature, popular stories, social mores, patriarchal structures, and the like that might, just might, be a viable way to explain why someone might feel a bit ‘negatively’ about ‘casual sex’ (which already seems to me like a term that casts the behavior in a negative light; how about ‘entrepreneurial sex’ or ‘adventure sex’ or ‘high efficiency sex’ or ‘New Sex Lite with a 1/3 less commitment!’…).

4) If ‘evolution’ made it so, then it should be pretty uniform in the species, right!? So why do 54% of women and 80% of men feel positive about casual sex? If evolution makes it so, why isn’t that closer to, I don’t know, 0% and 100% respectively?

5) I know ‘basic emotions’ are supposed to lay down clear instructions for life, but there’s another possibility for women being almost evenly split after a one-night stand: maybe their feelings depend on the quality of the event. Or, maybe people feel ambivalently about ‘one-night stands.’

5) And although this isn’t really in the whole ‘evolutionary psychology’ framework: isn’t the press release confusing two different arguments? What was that stuff about the ‘feminist and sexual revolutions’ changing attitudes towards sex? We don’t have an internet survey on one-night stands done in 1880 or anything, but do you think there’s a chance that, if we did, the numbers might look a little different?

Ignoring the loose ends: Ev Psych goes silent

Buried in the later parts of the press release, unexplained by the ‘evolution makes chicks choosy’ argument, are all these little bits that never show up in the popular press version. For example, according to Campbell, ‘Women found the experience less sexually satisfying and, contrary to popular belief, they did not seem to view taking part in casual sex as a prelude to long-term relationships.’ Hmmm… Is this another potential explanation for the disparity in how men and women felt? Perhaps 80% of men had a good time, and 46% of women found the whole event ‘less sexually satisfying’ than the blokes.

That is, if you went in with a different framework for explanation — like, ‘too many guys in one-night stands don’t know how to satisfy women’ or ‘women are better at sex than men’ — you could construct another story around this data that was equally plausible — no, more plausible — than women are programmed to want long-term relationship (errrr… except for the majority 54% who had positive experiences and the fact that they didn’t see casual sex as a prelude to long-term relationships. Again, can someone explain to me why the evolutionary-programmed fembots were doing one-night gigs at all as it is inherently against their programming?).

The kicker for me in the press release is the discussion of what emotions the women actually did feel. Did they feel emotions that were clearly linked to mating and reproduction, to those driving ‘basic emotions’ programmed into us by evolution to lead us down ‘pathways that have been advantageous for our ancestors.’ No, they felt mostly social emotions and some complex ambivalence about their own sense of identity:

The predominant negative feeling reported by women was regret at having been “used”. Women were also more likely to feel that they had let themselves down and were worried about the potential damage to their reputation if other people found out. Women found the experience less sexually satisfying and, contrary to popular belief, they did not seem to view taking part in casual sex as a prelude to long-term relationships.
“What the women seemed to object to was not the briefness of the encounter but the fact that the man did not seem to appreciate her. The women thought this lack of gratitude implied that she did this with anybody,” Professor Campbell explained.

This account seems to me to be far richer than ‘Mama-evolution-makes-girls-feel-guilty-about-getting-jiggy.’ The emotions described are not ‘basic emotions.’ Those would be fear, anger, happiness, anxiety, panic, surprise… Instead we have complex social emotions like regret at having been used, worry about potential damage to reputation, a sense of having ‘let themselves down,’ objecting to being under-appreciated, and concern that a lack of gratitude suggested they were indiscriminate in sexual choices. That last one requires a pretty sophisticated sense of self, desire to been seen in a particular way by others, and attribution to others of specific attitudes. As I reread it, I’m not even sure that I can follow it, let alone feel it in the compelling sort of way that it can guide me on the right ‘pathway.’

The survey wouldn’t really tell us anything terribly new without the ‘evolution’ framework propped up around it; in fact, I was kind of surprised to hear that only 46% of women regretted ‘one-night stands,’ that distinctly anxiety-producing Western sexual encounter, so often defined in the negative and fueled by booze in the bizarre forums where unmarried people try to sort out sexual lives. (And by this, I don’t mean to imply that married ways of sorting out sexual lives are any less bizarre, just that they don’t tend to get sorted out in the same places — I can’t say whether booze is more or less likely to be involved.) Campbell’s data is still interesting, but a bit of longitudinal leverage might give us a clearer sense of whether attitudes toward ‘one-night stands’ are changing among men or women.

But I can imagine that the only reason that this piece got the mileage it did was because the ‘evolution’ story was tied to familiar sex-role stereotypes. I’ve already had a couple of goes at evolutionary psychology for tagging labored evolutionary ‘explanations’ onto normal (often stereotyping) psychology research (for example, Bad brain science: Boobs caused subprime crisis and Craving money, chocolate and… justice). It’s hard to know sometimes whether to just laugh at the stuff or to cry, but when stories like this get so much attention, it’s hard not to wind up with the weepies.

Finally, I just have to take issue with the title of one of the popular accounts of Prof. Campbell’s research. The Daily Record (UK) titled its piece, Science finds evolutionary reason behind women’s hatred of one-night stands. Let’s just get this clear: ‘Science’ didn’t find the ‘evolutionary reason,’ like it was hidden behind the shrubs or fallen between the couch cushions, or even like one ‘finds’ a new species or a neurotransmitter. Evolutionary psychologists tend to assume from the very first moment that social phenomena will have ‘evolutionary reasons,’ and then discover them. All Prof. Campbell found was what her survey data gave her; she interpreted it the way she did — the ‘evolutionary reason’ — although there are other, at-least-as-plausible non-evolutionary reasons that the data might look this way. As a genetics researcher recently said in an article I discuss in a later post (Bench and couch), ‘finding’ this sort of explanation is sort of like packing your own lunch box and then getting surprised by what you find when lunch rolls around.

References

Campbell, Anne. 2008. The morning after the night before. Affective reactions to one-night stands among mated and unmated women and men. Human Nature 19(2) 157-173. doi: 10.1007/s12110-008-9036-2

Credit: Graphic from Despair Inc., Demotivators (Regret).

Cartoon from www.gapingvoid.com archives. Hugh MacLeod is great — check out his site.

27 Responses to “Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex #2”

  1. Very well said. This is the sort of stuff that runs through my head every time I see media reports about evolutionary psychology (I almost wrote “phrenology”). . . .

  2. One minor technical point: Are you saying that complex human behaviors and thought processes aren’t shaped by evolution and can’t possibly have a genetic component? I wouldn’t go that far.

    Aside from that question, though, I agree completely with your analysis. The trouble is that it’s too much fun to play the “What makes this behavior adaptive?” game. But you’ve explained quite well the problems with assuming that there’s a simple answer (for a given behavior) that can be determined by a survey. It’s frustrating to see the label “Science Says!” stamped on research where the behavior data is already questionable and the evolutionary explanation component is fundamentally speculation.

  3. Azkyroth said

    You’re welcome, Blake. (Did I actually post that coinage on Pharyngula? I know I did on Dispatches…)

  4. Azkyroth said

    One minor technical point: Are you saying that complex human behaviors and thought processes aren’t shaped by evolution and can’t possibly have a genetic component? I wouldn’t go that far.

    I don’t think anyone’s saying that here. I don’t think anyone credible has ever said that (at least since the modern synthesis). I do think I’m sick and tired of reading that stupid strawman every time someone second-guesses the blatant bias-confirmation that passes for science in the eyes of the public by comprising the bulk of what’s labeled “evolutionary psychology.”

  5. Alyssa said

    This makes me ill. Does evolutionary psychology actually teach that all women and all men think the same? Maybe the men feel more satisfied after a one-night stand because it’s simpler for them to get off…because they’ve evolved to have a less complex sexual response?

  6. Azkyroth said

    This makes me ill. Does evolutionary psychology actually teach that all women and all men think the same?

    From what I’ve read of evolutionary psychology, its proponents probably don’t teach that; they seem to treat it as a self-evident fact so obvious that it doesn’t even need to be stated explicitly.

  7. [...] Someone with a clue rips into a rather lax study on men, women, and [...]

  8. ekzept said

    @Alyssa, Azkyroth,

    well, surely, there are types and categories of people, even if there are thousands of such types and categories. each could be related to a certain tactic for achieving an evolutionary end, even if a person needn’t always use the same tactic from the same category.

    but i don’t want to defend bad science. it seems to be that a lot of the work from modern economics shows people don’t report motivations accurately. i’d rather believe people expressing preferences for certain things by voting with points or money than by talking. talking can very readily get caught up on what passes the self-image censor.

    see this article for some intelligent discussion of the experimental complexities and their ramifications.

  9. Pierce R. Butler said

    The title of Campbell’s study implies that the “subjects” (bit of a stretch to apply that term to internet poll respondents) of this study were both “mated” and “unmated”.

    It would be interesting to know the different reactions between those groups – and even more interesting if the data collection process was worth a damn.

    My own unscientific conclusion(s): women are harder to satisfy; men need more education (& motivation) toward doing so.

  10. K. Signal Eingang said

    Two things strike me here…

    First is I generally agree with the evo-psych position that there is a set of characteristics called “human nature”, but I think it’s an extremely varied and malleable thing – a set of tendencies, or averages, that we all share in part but none of us in full. Pretty much all humans are born with two eyes and ten fingers (although there are exceptions!) because these are universally useful things and deviations from the norm can be highly life-threatening. A considerably larger number of people, however, seem to get by with outside-the-norm psychology. Most of us are grieved by the death of a child, even if it is not our own, and I don’t think that’s something we have to learn. Yet some people don’t. Most of us court members of the opposite sex, too, and I think the fact there’s an evolutionary reason for that is self evident, but some considerable percentage of the population does not and all evidence points to the fact that this has always and will always be the case, everywhere.

    But we would be surprised if we found out that 80% of the population reports positive feelings at the news of a child’s death, or we discovered a society where heterosexual, reproductive sex was considered an abomination and homosexual sex was the norm, and inasmuch as that is the case, an evolutionarily shaped human nature does exist. Which brings me to my second point…

    If evolutionary forces as naively understood by the study were actually at play, this study appears to prove the opposite of what the headline says it does. It does provide some confirmation; 80% vs 54% obviously points to some significant gender difference, whether learned or innate. However, the fact that a majority of women reported positive feelings about casual sexual encounters suggests to me that either the evolutionary penalty for casual sex is not particularly great, or that human attitudes towards sex are shaped more by social realities than evolutionary forces.

  11. Ryan said

    This really makes it sound like you support that “straw man” position of total nurture instead of a nuanced view of the itnerplay between nurture and nature:

    “I can’t imagine that I’m EVER going to persuade the hardened core of evolutionary psychologists that there is not a thing called ‘human nature’; I’m not opposed to the concept for political, feminist reasons but because I don’t think living organisms have ‘essences,’ especially when it comes to behaviour.”

    You are correct that much of ev psych has huge problems and that the part of the discussion that deals with the sexual revolution is ill-advised and not directly pertinent to this research anyway.

    However, let’s think through things…why are men happy to have people think they’d sleep with anyone while women aren’t? (I think we both agree that was an appropriate finding of this study and numerous other studies.) Is it the patriarchy? That is a funny explanation as despite your protestations that “Okay, men have ‘always’ enjoyed casual sex? Really? Always? Are you sure? No society anywhere, at any time, has had anxiety about ‘casual sex’ among men? You get what I mean…”, men really do universally appreciate the opportunity for “sneak” copulations. And is it really that hard to figure out why that would be? Is it hard to imagine the that basic nature (i.e. that a man can invest 5 minutes into having a baby while a women AT MINIMUM must invest 9 months and a birth in which she has a good (about 3-5%) chance to die (at least for our evolutionary relatives) plus at least a few years of breastfeeding and social support in order for the baby to have a chance to survive) might have some differential effect on male and female behavior? That the fact women know their babies are theirs while men don’t wouldn’t have an impact?

    While a patriarchy may reinforce (and even reverse) certain aspects of behavioral tendencies, are you really suggesting that, in the face of enormous comparative data from different species and very different human societies, males and females don’t approach sex with differing amounts of discrimination for important reasons? Perhaps men have created systems to repress female sexuality because they have a need to try to guarantee that the offspring they invest their entire lives into (at least in most pre-industrial societies) are theirs? Whereas females do not have to have the same guarantee since they already have it from nature. Of course, there are plenty of reasons for females to get jealous of romantic rivals as well, but it seems incredible that you hold such little faith in evolution to shape our psyches. Evolution rarely works in absolutes; there is likely to be many situations where complexities fog simple understanding and lots of wiggle room for nurture to modify some aspects of behavior, but I think this is going a bit too far in that direction. I also think it’s interesting and useful to think about why societies are structured as they are; while I don’t think “evolution did it” should be the assumed answer, I do not think that society usually develops from nothing for no reason.

  12. zarathustra said

    I have to agree that the lower percentage of women with positive feelings about one-night stands is due in great part to social conditioning. Civilization throughout most of history has turned a blind eye to “tom-catting”, whereas women have been held to a higher standard of conduct, often at the cost of their lives. ( Of course, there are some exceptions, i. e. the Etruscans.) Also, the social pendulum has swung toward conservatism since Reagan. I’m willing to bet that the survey results would be much different if given to college-age women of the late sixties-early seventies.

  13. Azkyroth said

    That is a funny explanation as despite your protestations that “Okay, men have ‘always’ enjoyed casual sex? Really? Always? Are you sure? No society anywhere, at any time, has had anxiety about ‘casual sex’ among men? You get what I mean…”, men really do universally appreciate the opportunity for “sneak” copulations.

    I don’t.

  14. gregdowney said

    Interesting discussion. Where would I even begin.

    First, on comment #10, I’d say that the ‘enormous amount of comparative data’ that you reference, Ryan, contradicts the point you seek to make. For example, check out Olivia Judson’s very funny and enlightening, Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creatures. The comparative data is hardly compelling that there is some cross-species pattern for male-female sexuality. Far from it, mate; there’s some freakish and amazing reproductive behaviour out there, animals that can switch sexes, and on and on. There’s even enormous variation among primates, as Frans de Waal’s work on bonobo sexual interaction has abundantly demonstrated.

    And, no, I don’t think ‘men really do universally appreciate the opportunity for “sneak” copulations,’ no matter how obvious that may be to some men. We have ABUNDANT evidence to the contrary, such as the Catholic Church (which recently descended on Sydney for World Youth Day); there’s a whole lot of guys (and women) who are very anxious about ‘sneak copulations’ in that mob. And then there’s gay men, individuals like Azkyroth who may not ‘appreciate’ these for personal or hedonistic reasons, gay men, married men like me (which is not all married men, of course), societies where men are very anxious about any sexual encounter with women (and in some, for this reason, prefer contact with other men)… we could go on and on.

    The point is not that the ‘nature’ of men is to be faithful (or promiscuous), heterosexual (or gay or bisexual or other) — I would say that NO single pattern is so dominant as to establish itself as ‘the nature.’ But, like I said, I can present this data til I’m blue in the face, and some people are still going to say, ‘yeah, but, human nature is X…’

    So often, in the camp of sexuality, we argue that what ‘feels natural’ (to us — unless we realize that we are profoundly in the minority) must therefore BE natural. I have happily married friends who likely think it’s ‘natural’ to be happy married, others who insist it’s ‘natural’ to want to screw around.

    It feels very ‘natural’ to me to speak English, but I would never make the argument that I was ‘essentially’ or ‘genetically’ an English-speaker. In fact, my brain, ears, and other senses have become finely physiologically attuned to English — in that sense, it is now my ‘biological nature’ — but that is because of the way I have developed in an ecological niche that included English. Brains develop in a stew of influences, some generated by our genes and bodies, some generated by our environment; the brain doesn’t neatly divide these, as we have discussed in probably around 200 posts here on Neuroanthropology.

    I’m not one to divide everyone into two camps and say ‘you sound like you’re in favor of nature and against nurture (or vice versa).’ The problem is this kind of thinking. I quite simply don’t believe in ‘nature’ — not because I’m some radical cultural determinist — but because I think I understand a bit more about how genes work and organisms develop. (We’ve got lots of posts on things like epigenetics, genetic contributions to emergent traits, and the like here at Neuroanthropology — just check on the category cloud to the left).

    The problem is the idea that there is an ‘essence’ to men and women. That’s not how organisms work. (If you need a longer, more technical discussion, see Susan Oyama’s The Ontogeny of Information, still one of the best works on the topic.) Much of what shapes us need not be within us because it is reliably outside of us. For example, our bones need mechanical forces to form — there is no ‘essence of bone’ somewhere in our genes which can produce our skeletons in the absence of gravity, muscles pulling on our bones, activity patterns, and the like. Eyes need to be stimulated by light for our brains to learn to make sense of the nervous stimulation they provide, even to receive all the stimulation that they provide. So if you were to say ‘this is the essence of the bone,’ or ‘this is the program our eyes follow,’ and then argue if I couldn’t see that I was in the camp of ‘nurture,’ I’d say you didn’t understand my argument, nor did you understand how bones form or eyes work. How could sexuality, including behavioural dimensions, self-consciousness, and things like post-sex guilt, be LESS complex in origin than bones or eyes?!

    Same thing goes with genes. If you say ‘mating patterns are in our genes,’ I’d say a) prove it, don’t just assert it, and b) that’s utterly inconsistent with any scientifically informed account of behavioural genetics, as well as being completely out-of-step with empirical data. In this case, even empirical data allegedly in SUPPORT of the argument turns out, on closer examination, to prove the opposite. If you’re going to argue for ‘human nature,’ you better come with the proof that such a thing exists, mate, because I’d say that the cards look pretty stacked against you.

    Like I said, some people are just NOT going to think this way; they are what you might call ‘folk Platonic thinkers,’ or something like that. Every THING must have an ESSENCE, a NATURE, an inner cosmic soul that it remains true to… I don’t know. I’m making this stuff up because I do not think this way. It’s not science; it’s a philosophical perspective, and seen through this lens, genes and evolution look like the answer. But if there’s one damn thing that Darwin was arguing, it’s that species don’t have an ‘essence.’ Natural selection produces changes in organisms, not essence.

    But if all a person can see is ‘two teams,’ one for ‘nature’ and one for ‘nurture,’ please count me out of that game. I’d rather stay on the bench and wait for a more interesting game to come around…

  15. Ryan said

    #13: I don’t mean all men everywhere all the time. I mean that, in every culture well-studied (and there have been hundreds), men, on average, tried to increase their number of sexual partners in a wider variety of circumstances than females. There are good reasons for men to sometimes be faithful and, if you believe present research, even to sometimes be gay as it seems the sisters of gay men have higher fecundity. Which doesn’t necessarily mean there is a gay gene or a faithfulness gene at all, but these can be caused by environmental influences in the womb (which seem to probably have a genetic component), etc. There can be heritable differences in development, or do you not believe in epigentics and the like?

    Thank you comment 14 for caricaturing my position (from #11 though you say #10) and providing an easily refutable post. I’ll go paragraph-by-paragraph:

    “First, on comment #10, I’d say that the ‘enormous amount of comparative data’ that you reference, Ryan, contradicts the point you seek to make. For example, check out Olivia Judson’s very funny and enlightening, Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creatures. The comparative data is hardly compelling that there is some cross-species pattern for male-female sexuality. Far from it, mate; there’s some freakish and amazing reproductive behaviour out there, animals that can switch sexes, and on and on. There’s even enormous variation among primates, as Frans de Waal’s work on bonobo sexual interaction has abundantly demonstrated.”

    —-First off, I’ll tell you I have read Olivia’s book and, unlike de Waal who has never seen a wild bonobo, not only have I read his book on bonobos, I have also studied them in the wild. Most of what is written about them, especially by de Waal whose interpretations are often off-the-wall, is not entirely true. But yes, they are exceptional in their sexuality. It’s interesting you call them “freakish” implying that it is considerably outside-the-norm, except that you don’t believe in norms, apparently. So how are they freakish if nothing is statistically more likely than anything else? And if some things are statistically more likely, does that mean nothing to you? Or are the vast majority of animals just encultured that way? The beauty of science is finding patterns in data and finding exceptions to those patterns and being able to explain both within the same framework. The Darwinian framework can, and it embraces both the patterns and the exceptions. Yes, you can find all sorts of animals with odd natural history, but you still run into the fact that almost all animals behave differently. And the fact of the matter is, bonobo females *are* more picky about who they mate with when they are maximally fertile than bonobo males are. Just because they use sexuality for coalition-building doesn’t mean they don’t largely conform to the same statistical patterns as almost every non-monogamous primates. But they are just that, statistical patterns. There is room for flexibility, no one is saying otherwise.

    “And, no, I don’t think ‘men really do universally appreciate the opportunity for “sneak” copulations,’ no matter how obvious that may be to some men. We have ABUNDANT evidence to the contrary, such as the Catholic Church (which recently descended on Sydney for World Youth Day); there’s a whole lot of guys (and women) who are very anxious about ’sneak copulations’ in that mob. And then there’s gay men, individuals like Azkyroth who may not ‘appreciate’ these for personal or hedonistic reasons, gay men, married men like me (which is not all married men, of course), societies where men are very anxious about any sexual encounter with women (and in some, for this reason, prefer contact with other men)… we could go on and on.”

    —The fact that you cite a strong institution threatening your soul as the reason many men are wary of sneak copulations is telling. Early priests of most churches had many sexual partners. If you look across cultures at men who have held despotic power, they also have had many wives/concubines…many more than the average man. Even now, in socieities that allow polygyny, it is the powerful men who practice is. You try to cite single examples to refute piles of data both within and outside of humans. All in the face of logic as well—the most successful (from a reproductive success standpoint) men have had ~1000 offspring (probably more, but that tends to be the top for “legitimate” offspring) whereas the most successful females have had ~35. Why do you think men are, on average, bigger than women? Is that enculturation too? It has to be because *some* men are smaller than *some* women, right? Statistical patterns are meaningless? Assuming that seems like a poor way to do science. Do you really think that heterosexuality is not partially rooted in our genes? I’m not claiming it to be resistant to maternal effects, upbringing/environment/culture (though the gay lobby by and large does claim it is resistant to that), etc. And, as recent studies (which are linked to specific underlying factors) have shown, having some gay offspring may sometimes increase an individual mother’s RS. You know that bull’s horns, men’s testicles, women’s ovaries, our hands, size sexual dimorphism, etc also require the right environment to develop, but would you argue that those are all just encultured decorations? No, even though they have an enviromental component, they still have genetic bases. By the way, I am bisexual and married and haven’t cheated on my wife. I don’t just think that what I think is “normal”. But further, I don’t think that what is “normal”, if such exists, means it is right. You are committing the naturalistic fallacy and it is limiting you. You are not willing to accept that some perfectly acceptable (or even commendable) behaviors are “abnormal” in the sense that they may be in the minority, statistically, or that they reduce the reproductive success of individuals who have them. Why can culture not have worked to reduce men’s desire to stray to the point that many men feel they no longer have that desire?

    “The point is not that the ‘nature’ of men is to be faithful (or promiscuous), heterosexual (or gay or bisexual or other) — I would say that NO single pattern is so dominant as to establish itself as ‘the nature.’ But, like I said, I can present this data til I’m blue in the face, and some people are still going to say, ‘yeah, but, human nature is X…’”

    —There is no single behavior that is “human nature”. Anyone intelligent when using the term “human nature” would mean a pattern of behaviors which are complex, malleable and likely to be able to adapt to different circumstances. I believe it IS appropriate to say that human beings are bipedal despite the fact that *some* humans are born without two legs or otherwise without the ability to ever walk on two legs. I believe that human males are more likely to be larger than 6 feet than human females, and that has a genetic component. I believe that you can actually claim that human beings have 10 fingers even though we don’t all have 10 fingers (some from genetics, some from environmental influences). There is no simple “human nature” such as the one you caricature. I believe that there are evolutionary reasons why the majority of people choose to engage in heterosexual sex and why they enjoy it. The fact that some people don’t doesn’t change that. To claim otherwise is to deprive evolution of its beauty and its explanatory power. And through this thread, most of the paces where I say “I believe”, there is good data. As you haven’t cited any for your position and this is already taking me too long to write, I’m not bothering to grab all the refs, but they’re easy to find.

    “So often, in the camp of sexuality, we argue that what ‘feels natural’ (to us — unless we realize that we are profoundly in the minority) must therefore BE natural. I have happily married friends who likely think it’s ‘natural’ to be happy married, others who insist it’s ‘natural’ to want to screw around.”

    — This is a nice, subtle character attack (i.e. that everyone arguing my “position” —ie that nature/nurture is a false dichotomy and that evolution has worked on how genes are expressed in statistically likely environments such that there is no identifiable “nature” versus “nurture” but there are statistically significant relevant tendancies that have been evolved)— is labeled as a “cheater” or someone arguing for the status quo. Look, what “is” is not what “ought to be”. You take the position that because you think what “is” must be what “ought to be” then you have to argue that what “is” is what you want to be. But that puts you at odd with the bulk of the evidence. What is “natural” doesn’t matter in the argument of what we should do. And why can it not be natural for there to be more males who value extra-pair copulations than females, but that neither is absolute? I am a happily married person who thinks it’s perfectly natural for both men and women to be monogamous sometimes and not at others. But that doesn’t mean the set of conditions under which it would pay for men to be monogamous versus women to be so is the exact same. And discovering those sets *is* interesting. Just because behavior is complex and usually not caused by single alleles of great effect (but then again most cancers and such are not either, but that doesn’t change the fact you can find genes that might increase your chances by a statistically significant .3% or so) does not mean it isn’t gentically influenced or that evolution did not act on those genes. Evolution isn’t perfect. Just as our eyes could be better adapted and that many children are born with cleft lips, hearing problems, etc, doesn’t mean they weren’t evolved. In fact, it would be really weird if such complex behaviors as those that underlie human sexuality weren’t incredibly sloppy. But still, finding the statistically significant differences can be interesting and illuminating in terms of understanding our evolution.

    “It feels very ‘natural’ to me to speak English, but I would never make the argument that I was ‘essentially’ or ‘genetically’ an English-speaker. In fact, my brain, ears, and other senses have become finely physiologically attuned to English — in that sense, it is now my ‘biological nature’ — but that is because of the way I have developed in an ecological niche that included English. Brains develop in a stew of influences, some generated by our genes and bodies, some generated by our environment; the brain doesn’t neatly divide these, as we have discussed in probably around 200 posts here on Neuroanthropology.”

    —Indeed, it is complex how our genes, extra-genetic factors, maternal environment and environment combine to make us who we are. The fact is, you *are* genetically adapted to have a physiology that *can* speak A language and even to the point where babies attend to human voices, music, etc. Other animals (including our closest relatives) do not attend to those stimuli unless they have gone through lots of training to or are domesticated. Babies are extremely well adapted to learning a language and are adapted to incorporate their environment into their physiology. Isn’t it amazing how well evolution can cause complex adaptations that rely on environmental influences? If you raise a baby in a speech-deprived or music-deprived environment, it doesn’t develop normally. I would argue this then means that evolution has relied on us being raised in the relevant, statistically probably environment which is a community with speech and music, not that evolution hasn’t had an impact on our ability to use language. And I would argue (as studies have shown) that specific genes and brain regions have been adapted to use language. No, not to use English, but a language. There are limits to what languages/sounds people could learn and use. We can’t use sounds like bat echolocation in our languages. In fact, there are some elements that tend to be found in many languages and these seem to be related to evolutionary pressures. If there were no patterns between languages, what would linguists do?

    “I’m not one to divide everyone into two camps and say ‘you sound like you’re in favor of nature and against nurture (or vice versa).’ The problem is this kind of thinking. I quite simply don’t believe in ‘nature’ — not because I’m some radical cultural determinist — but because I think I understand a bit more about how genes work and organisms develop. (We’ve got lots of posts on things like epigenetics, genetic contributions to emergent traits, and the like here at Neuroanthropology — just check on the category cloud to the left).”

    — I don’t divide everyone into those camps either because anyone who sees it as a dichotomy or especially anyone who takes one side is an idiot. You understand how genes work and organisms develop better than who? Me? If that’s what you’re claiming, you should know who you’re talking to before making such a statement. I’ll be honest that I don’t know your qualifications, but you shouldn’t assume others either unless it is obvious.

    “The problem is the idea that there is an ‘essence’ to men and women. That’s not how organisms work. (If you need a longer, more technical discussion, see Susan Oyama’s The Ontogeny of Information, still one of the best works on the topic.) Much of what shapes us need not be within us because it is reliably outside of us. For example, our bones need mechanical forces to form — there is no ‘essence of bone’ somewhere in our genes which can produce our skeletons in the absence of gravity, muscles pulling on our bones, activity patterns, and the like. Eyes need to be stimulated by light for our brains to learn to make sense of the nervous stimulation they provide, even to receive all the stimulation that they provide. So if you were to say ‘this is the essence of the bone,’ or ‘this is the program our eyes follow,’ and then argue if I couldn’t see that I was in the camp of ‘nurture,’ I’d say you didn’t understand my argument, nor did you understand how bones form or eyes work. How could sexuality, including behavioural dimensions, self-consciousness, and things like post-sex guilt, be LESS complex in origin than bones or eyes?!”

    —Our eyes reliably develop in a certain, fairly complicated, way in the kinds of environments people have lived in for millenia. In fact, it’s interesting to note that non-parasitic eye problems (in terms of nearsightedness especially) are much rarer in societies without as much electronics (which evolution hasn’t had time to “account for”) than in industrial societies. Evolution acts on how genes work in statistically likely environments. That doesn’t change the fact that evolution works on the genes that underlie traits such as the eye, bones or even behaviors. My infant son roots around. It’s a behavior that I believe evolution has acted on. If he developed in a maternal environment full of cocaine, maybe he would not have the structures to make use of his rooting behavior or maybe the behavior itself would have developed differently. But evolution provided that behavior to him because most of the time it develops correctly, has the correct structures to make it work and infants are usually near lactating mothers. Why do you believe that things that can be modified by environment or cultural influence do not have a genetic basis that is accessible to evolution or that showing there’s incredible amounts of slop in certain behaviors means evolution did not act on them? That seems like an incredible claim that would need incredible amounts of data to back up.

    “Same thing goes with genes. If you say ‘mating patterns are in our genes,’ I’d say a) prove it, don’t just assert it, and b) that’s utterly inconsistent with any scientifically informed account of behavioural genetics, as well as being completely out-of-step with empirical data. In this case, even empirical data allegedly in SUPPORT of the argument turns out, on closer examination, to prove the opposite. If you’re going to argue for ‘human nature,’ you better come with the proof that such a thing exists, mate, because I’d say that the cards look pretty stacked against you.”

    —Actually, saying that our genes influence our mating behaviors is not utterly inconsistent with behavioral genetics or the empirical data. As you have provided no data, I won’t bother to go through and get citations for you. However, how about this: having a Y chromosome leads to hormonal surges in the womb that cause the development of penis and testicles, the latter of which continues to produce testosterone throughout life, especially at puberty. Having typically (as in, on average, not that all males have it or anything like that) male levels of testosterone, which is significantly correlated to having a Y chromosome, is correlated to many behaviors including being more likely to desire having sex with women and more likely to find women attractive. Interestingly, after pair bonding, a man’s testosterone level reliably decreases. After having a child, it decreases even more (assuming that the man lives with the woman he’s bonded with in the former and lives with the child in the latter). As for “this case”, I haven’t read this particularly study so I won’t defend it. The quote that’s being bandied about about the sexual revolution is way over-interpretation and useless, so on those measures, I’d treat the study with skepticism. Internet data frequently has problems as well. Anyone who knows anything would agree that sometimes it would pay, even evolutionarily, for women to be promiscuous, and sometimes it would pay for men to be monogamous. I wouldn’t put a whole lot into this one study then (or many other ev psych studies), but I do think it is fair to say the data are consistent with men being more likely to be fulfilled by casual (ie “one-night-stand”) sex. Maybe men are just easier to get off. Why? Do you think that’s just a historical accident? Or does maybe the fact that men *have to* get off in order to produce offspring while women don’t somehow relevant? In fact, if men typically have had patriarchies and forced women’s sexuality, it creates the perfect environment for evolution to work in that way…women’s pleasure becomes less important for evolution to ensure than men’s. Why can’t culture affect genetic evolution again? That’s a pretty bold (if only implicit) argument that you’re making.

    “Like I said, some people are just NOT going to think this way; they are what you might call ‘folk Platonic thinkers,’ or something like that. Every THING must have an ESSENCE, a NATURE, an inner cosmic soul that it remains true to… I don’t know. I’m making this stuff up because I do not think this way. It’s not science; it’s a philosophical perspective, and seen through this lens, genes and evolution look like the answer. But if there’s one damn thing that Darwin was arguing, it’s that species don’t have an ‘essence.’ Natural selection produces changes in organisms, not essence.”

    — What do you mean by “essence”? All I’ve ever claimed is that organisms have statistically likely behaviors in certain circumstances. Not every behvaior and often with a lot of slop and environmental influence. In fact, it’d be pretty “dumb” not to allow environment to influence how traits develop…what pays in one environment may not pay in another (not that I’m claiming evolution is actually thinking). You use essence in many different ways though, trying to tie together things that are not the same, e.g. how Darwin and his 17th-19th century predecessors in biology used essence, some sort of Platonic essence and a nuanced view of how evolution works. You can argue well against Platonic essence because it’s a straw man for the nuanced view of how evolution works. You have yet to provide a single bit of evidence against the idea that evolution can work on how genes are expressed in their statistically likely environments or that behavior is immune to evolution. Do you agree that some babies cry more than others, some may even cry maladaptively too much, and that babies differ in their breastfeeding successes at first, but that evolution still has acted on their behavior to make them likely to cry when they are hungry or otherwise in trouble and make them able to breastfeed (and attend to relevant sounds like human voices and things like human faces)? Or is it just that behavior magically becomes immune to evolutionary influence after a certain age? If you admit that behavior can be influenced by genes, then wouldn’t it logically make sense that the most directly applicable behaviors to reproductive success—ie mating, pair bonding, child rearing—should be those that are most amenable to study and most likely to be affected by natural selection?

    “But if all a person can see is ‘two teams,’ one for ‘nature’ and one for ‘nurture,’ please count me out of that game. I’d rather stay on the bench and wait for a more interesting game to come around…”

    —It’s interesting because you are the one who seems incredibly one-sided in this argument. Any good evolutionary psychologist thinks that there’s a lot of slop in behavior and that environment has an important role, but thinks that evolution has had *some* impact on behavior via genes…acting of course on phenotype, or how those genes are, on average, expressed in statistically likely environments, not just on genotype.

  16. gregdowney said

    Ryan –

    I’m not going to ‘strawman joust’ with you — we can both attack ferociously things the other did not say. I clearly said some things very carelessly in my comment, rhetorical flourish doing little to help any effort at communication. You probably need a blog posting of your own, as your comments evidence thinking and effort that don’t deserve to be buried in the comments on someone else’s post, especially when many of them add significantly to the breadth of the discussion (and also bring up issues that I never intended to be making statements about — do you really think that I would say that there’s no genetic influence on physiological traits? Do really come across as THAT stupid? No, don’t answer that; I’m a bit fragile).

    Look, the original post makes two basic points: 1) the reporting on the ‘girls feel guilty’ and the press release (although I don’t have access to the original article) strongly suggest that the research is dodgy, the conclusions are probably unwarranted, ham-handed, and shaky, and yet, because of the subject, the uptake in the popular press has been very enthusiastic; and 2) one reason for the basic problems in the study under discussion is an essentialist fallacy, an assumption that underlying genetic diversity, behavioural variation, and developmental emergence is some unchanging shared core — I call it ‘essence,’ but it could also be called ‘nature’ or ‘universal traits’ or something similar. The danger is exacerbated because language that may mean one thing to a specialist audience gets persistently misinterpreted by a nonspecialist audience.

    If I wanted to continue jousting, I’d just go back to the original press release and material and treat your comment as a defense of that article (which is the subject matter I have been talking about all along). You say that ‘any intelligent person’ (or something like that) uses ‘human nature’ to mean more of a pattern of statistically more likely behaviour given certain circumstances. But Ryan, I’m talking about this goddamned study, which I’ve christened ‘girls feel guilty.’ You say I’m creating a ‘straw man,’ but I’m not making this stuff up (although, as I freely admit, I can’t get the original article because I’m not willing to pay $15 or whatever they want for it).

    So, no, Ryan, it’s not a ‘strawman.’ I’m responding to a freakin’ virtually-impossible-to-kill steamroller of folk interpretation that seems to rear its ugly head around any popular press account of this research. I’d call it a kind of black hole of misinterpretation, and I’m trying to point it out so that more research doesn’t get sucked into it. You are welcome to enlighten me with sophisticated version of evolutionary psychology theory, but that’s not what I was writing about. (Ironically, at this moment, I’ve got several evolutionary psychology textbooks and recent other works on my desk at home for a completely unrelated article I’m working on, but I haven’t gotten very deep into them as I’ve got an MA and a couple of other things I need to get through.)

    I have no IDEA what percentage of the stuff coming out of cultural anthropology is shlock, but I would feel no inclination to defend it. In fact, I tend to be a pretty bitter critic of my own discipline, perhaps even more bitter than of others. So, if you WANT TO, you’re welcome to defend this ‘girls feel guilty’ research, but I’m not going to assume guilt by association (although my previous comment suggested this, which I regret).

    Although YOU (Ryan) and other smart people may have a very sophisticated understanding of ‘human nature’ as meaning a something more like ‘statistically likely behaviours in certain circumstances,’ that is NOT the way that word (‘nature’ ) is being understood in the articles I’m discussing in the post. You’re welcome to your own definition of the word (it seems like a good one), but I feel like the usage of ‘nature’ contributes to the problem of misunderstanding. That’s probably because I’m arguing against simplistic interpretations of evolutionary theory being used to advance dubious arguments about normative human nature, especially around sexuality.

    You’re clearly arguing against some theoretical position. In fact, you might be arguing against something you’ve identified as ‘my position,’ but judging from the beliefs you attribute to me, I’d say that I wouldn’t be comfortable with this characterization. The point is that, because you’re arguing with something else — say, a position that evolution or genes have no effect on human behaviour (again, that’s *not* my position), you’re less worried about this terminological issue than others. I’m not right and you’re wrong — we’re trying to make different points. I think that the expression ‘human nature’ is too dangerous, too likely to be misunderstood to be useful. You don’t agree with me. I can live with that. I’ll still keep trying to persuade you not to use the term, if for no other reasons because I think you’re own research will get misreported when you try to talk to the public about it. You can be thinking ‘statistically likely behaviours in certain circumstances’ every time you say ‘human nature,’ but I suspect a fair portion of your audience will be hearing something else (exhibit a: the guilty girls articles).

    If every person talking about psychological traits being influenced by evolution were content to discuss, as you put it, ‘statistically likely behaviours in certain circumstances,’ I wouldn’t be so damn belligerent about the terminological niceties. I’m much happier with the notion of likely behaviours and an acknowledgment of the circumstances in which they take place, although I tend to focus more on the ‘development’ half of the ‘evo-devo’ synthesis (difference in emphasis, but not kind).

    But, Ryan, seriously man, I’m not making up ‘strawmen’ to attack (even though I have obviously misrepresented your perspective in my comment, and for that I apologize): for chrissake, this damn story about girls being programmed to feel guilty by evolution ran in DOZENS of international newspapers. And although I haven’t managed to read them all, I seriously doubt a single one mentioned ‘statistically likely behaviours in certain circumstances’ or anything else half as balanced or nuanced. They were all discussing the inherent sexual ‘nature’ of men and women. I’m NOT making up targets. I’m NOT offering a one-sided argument, mate, I’m responding to what I’m reading. If ‘any good evolutionary psychologist thinks that there’s a lot of slop in behaviour,’ then you should feel no necessity to defend the absolute shlock being peddled by some practitioners. God knows I wouldn’t defend the truckload of shlock that comes out of cultural anthropology!

    Beneath the ‘strawmen jousting,’ we probably would disagree about certain things. IF ( I said, ‘IF’ ) you are thinking that I am arguing against genes having ‘any influence’ on behaviour — I seem to remember something like that — than I would say that only a clown would take this position.

    However, IF you are saying that I’m probably pretty skeptical of arguments that genes ‘determine’ any specific behaviour, you’re right: I’m going to be a pretty hard sell. I would cite some of the very same material you do on testosterone, for example, to try to argue for a more dynamic systems approach to behaviour. But if you think that, by arguing against me, you’re arguing against someone who denies any role for evolution, selection or genes, you’re just going to have to find someone whose going to give you the push back you need.

    I’m a hard sell for evolutionary psychology, not because I’m opposed to thinking about how evolution might shape behaviour, but because I think the usual mechanisms proposed for how this might work, most often proposed by evolutionary psychologists (especially psychologists who aren’t very well trained in either genetics or evolutionary theory) are not plausible. I have a problem with the ‘massive modularity’ thesis, for example, because I think that the specifics of the model laid out by folks like Pinker are inconsistent with the overlapping configuration of neural stimulation in different cognitive functions (for example, the various ways in which the premotor cortex is involved in a range of neural activities).

    And I’m not posting another long comment here because the comments tend to get lost to regular readers. Besides, our semester starts next week…

  17. Ryan said

    Hi,

    Don’t worry, I won’t write another long comment, but I did want to let you know that I appreciate your reply to my last comment. I did not try to attack a straw man argument but what was seeming to be your argument from the previous reply to me (and what I sometimes hear from cultural anthropologists where I’m at). While I did not think you actually believed genes had no influence on even physiology, it came across that way to me, but that may be a case where I was seeing what wasn’t there, so sorry for that. I think you make several points. My intent in commenting was more to try to get out your more nuanced view that I knew must be lurking there; your post seemed overly broad in its criticism and was based on popular press accounts of the research, so I did feel that the criticism was a bit unfair. You may be right that “nature” and “nurture” both are two terms that are no longer useful to use in describing research. I have to admit not totally getting why people are so concerned with what is “natural”…I’m not saying you feel this way, but it seems many people think what’s natural is right. Basing moral decisions on empirical questions about evolution (and usually sloppy ones at that) is such a horrible idea for so many reasons and really I think that is what should be fought against by every scientist in any area touching on these issues. If we fixed that misperception, I think everything else about this discussion would become close to quibbling since the popular press and people wouldn’t be so keen to overinterpret these studies. Anyway, maybe I should take you up on your offer to start a blog of my own…I am going to Borneo this week, so maybe I cold find one or two interesting things to post.

  18. [...] that night. Whether you did so, too, or not – head over to http://neuroanthropology.net for an even more detailed discussion about this topic. And while you’re at it, also check out the dissection of the “only [...]

  19. eldra said

    I have two questions. Do you equate guilt with regret? Women may regret a one night stand but not all of those who do feel guilty about it.The other question is does guilt only arise from something you did voluntarily? It is my experience that feelings of guilt can be experienced by victims. Or is that self disgust rather than guilt?

  20. [...] to some dramatic fantasy of evolutionary selection — we’ve been here before (say at Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex #2 or Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex [...]

  21. [...] spicy article from Bitch, a beautifully argued post from Neuroanthropology (part one & part two) and just for you Mark, give Palin a break? TeH interwebs = [...]

  22. [...] discussions are piling up much quicker than I can deal with them.  Put this and this on the docket for my after-finals-and-meetings-and-analysis-and-applications [...]

  23. [...] Risk (2) Synesthesia & Metaphor – I’m Not Feeling It (3) Poverty Poisons the Brain (4) Girls Gone Guilty: Evolutionary Psych on Sex #2 (5) About Neuroanthropology (doesn’t really count! so I’m doing the Spinal Tap 11 – our [...]

  24. [...] in ‘Human evolution and diversity’: Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex #1, Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex #2, along with Bad brain science: Boobs caused subprime [...]

  25. Heddy said

    When Ev-psych goes trrbbllly wrong, someone is always there to cite it.

    Have a look at this:
    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2011/03/05/the-workplace-should-be-segregated-maybe/

    It’s revolting.

  26. Jennifer said

    this article just keeps getting better – i keep referring back to it.

    especially after reading this today: vagina having student somehow completes engineering degree

  27. long distance relationship…

    Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex #2 « Neuroanthropology…

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