Evolutionary psychology is not going quietly. It has had the field to itself, especially in the media, for almost two decades. In large part that was because early critics, led by the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, attacked it with arguments that went over the heads of everyone but about 19 experts in evolutionary theory. It isn't about to give up that hegemony. Thornhill is adamant that rape is an adaptation, despite Hill's results from his Ache study. "If a particular trait or behavior is organized to do something," as he believes rape is, "then it is an adaptation and so was selected for by evolution," he told me. And in the new book Spent, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico reasserts the party line, arguing that "males have much more to gain from many acts of intercourse with multiple partners than do females," and there is a "universal sex difference in human mate choice criteria, with men favoring younger, fertile women, and women favoring older, higher-status, richer men."
Hence, an evolutionary approach to human psychology must proceed by studying the cognitive mechanisms that underlie our behavior: "In the rush to apply evolutionary insights to a science of human behavior, many researchers have made a conceptual 'wrong turn,' … [which] has consisted of attempting to apply evolutionary theory directly to the level of manifest behavior, rather than using it as a heuristic guide for the discovery of innate psychological mechanisms" (Cosmides and Tooby 1987, 278–9). By sharply distinguishing between adaptive behavior and the cognitive mechanisms that are adaptations for producing adaptive behavior, Evolutionary Psychologists provide "the missing link between evolutionary theory and manifest behavior" (Tooby and Cosmides 1989, 37). [The drawback is that things become more complicated since "it is less easy to sustain claims that a trait is a product of natural selection than claims that it confers reproductive benefits on individuals in contemporary populations" (Caro and Borgerhoff Mulder 1987, 66). Section 2b shows how Evolutionary Psychologists try to cope with this difficulty, and section 5a discusses a version of evolutionary psychology that focuses on adaptive behavior.]
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Tom Wolfe has chronicled American popular culture for more than three decades. His best–selling books include The Electric Kool–Aid Acid Test, The ...