Andrew (perspectivism) wrote,
Andrew
perspectivism

This week's edge.org feature helps clarify some controversial evolpsych:

[...] found that in every culture, the top two most desired traits in a mate, for both sexes, were kindness and intelligence. It wasn't physical appearance, it wasn't money, it wasn't status, it was these psychological traits, and these are universally important. They're also the two traits that Darwin tried to explain about our species�why are we so nice to each other and why are we so smart? Relatively nice, compared to other primates. And that's fascinating, that two of the major traits that distinguish us from other primates are the same traits that we search for in mates�that are currently under the strongest sexual selection. [...]

It's extraordinary what's been happening in biology, and so few people in the social sciences know about it. Over a century ago Darwin's idea of sexual selection through mate choice published in his best book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex�that was the full title�the book came out and this wonderful idea of female choice-the idea that female animals of many species choose their mates for all kinds of traits, not just physical appearance, but behavioral traits, songs, and dances, and courtship behaviors. A wonderful scientific theory that Darwin advanced hundreds of pages of evidence for, and it fell like a stone and was widely rejected by Victorian biologists, who refused to believe that this psychological process of female choice could be a causal force in evolution.

This theory of mate choice languished in a sort of scientific limbo for over a century, and it's only been revived in biology in the last 15 years, but its rise has been meteoric; it dominates the best evolution journals, the best animal behavior journals, and everybody who works in a biology department knows that the study of mate choice is now the hottest topic in the study of animal behavior. This revolution has passed psychology and social science by almost completely. All of psychology, anthropology, the humanities, political science, economics in the 20th century, developed without any understanding of how sexual selection could have shaped human behavior. It was just not on the table as an idea. Everything that we are, every aspect of human nature, had to be explained through survival selection�natural selection. And that imposed such serious restrictions on what we could explain�it seemed easy to explain tool making; it seemed hard to explain music. It seemed easy to explain parenting, but hard to explain courtship. All that's changed now. We've got from biology some powerful new principals about sexual selection that are just ripe for applying to human nature. That's what I'm trying to do; lots of other people are doing it as well, and it's the most exciting area to be working on in psychology at the moment.
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