Tag Archives: evolutionary psychology

Evolutionary theory: Fringe or central to psychological science?

By Danielle Sulikowski in Frontiers in Psychology, 24 May 2016. From the conclusion:

“Newer conceptualizations of EP are uncommitted to notions of massive modularity, look beyond the Pleistocene for the selection pressures that have shaped psychological mechanisms and incorporate developmental and cultural impacts into theories concerning the evolved functions of psychological mechanisms. It is clear however, that the massive modularity roots of modern EP still influence how many, including both advocates and critics, view the field. One message that is clear from the works presented in this volume, is that EP must mature and free itself of many of its early assumptions and assertions (as seems to be currently happening empirically, if not yet theoretically, Burke). Only if this occurs, will EP be placed to properly integrate with Evolutionary Biology and be in a position to cement evolutionary theory as a unifying meta-theory for Psychological Science. Whether such a New Evolutionary Psychology should incorporate computational theories of mind or reject these in favor of the newer e-cognition perspectives is an empirical question and not one whose answer needs to be decided before the weight of evidence has settled in either court (Stephen).

E-cognition is defined as “extended, embodied approaches which place emphasis on the role played by the whole organism and its environment in the decision-making process, rather than simply the brain.” Some examples are is Stotz’s extended evolutionary psychology:  “Combining evolutionary theories concerning genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and cultural systems of inheritance, developmental plasticity and niche construction, with e-cognition, Stotz outlines a truly integrative EP.” Barrett and Stulp et al. argue for the extended mind hypothesis which “places much emphasis on the sociocultural nature of human psychology and the external resources (cultural and technological artifacts) that form part of the modern human cognitive system. The Extended Mind Hypothesis offers the various forms of e-cognition, rather than EP, as the appropriate meta-theoretical perspective to succeed the computational theory of mind.”

Dynamical evolutionary psychology

Name of the article by D.T. Kendrick. The abstract:

“Dynamical systems and evolutionary theories have both been proposed as integrative approaches to psychology. These approaches are typically applied to different sets of questions. Dynamical systems models address the properties of psychological systems as they emerge and change over time; evolutionary models address the specific functions and contents of psychological structures. New insights can be achieved by integrating these two paradigms, and we propose a framework to begin doing so. The framework specifies a set of six evolutionarily fundamental social goals that place
predictable constraints on emergent processes within and between individuals, influencing their dynamics over the short-term, and across developmental and evolutionary time scales. These social goals also predictably influence the dynamic emergence and change of cultural norms. This framework has heuristic as well as integrative potential, generating novel hypotheses within a number of unexplored areas at psychology’s interface with the other biological and social sciences.”

Evolutionary psychology and embodied cognition

I’ve sensed some tension between these fields in our discussions of both topics.  As my knowledge of EP is minimal I’ve decided to do some research on the topic, hence my latest posts. It turns out there is a much broader and ongoing tension between these two fields as highlighted by this article, abstract following. Paul (and others) can let me know if their presentation is accurate and fair.

“Much recent work stresses the role of embodiment and action in thought and reason, and celebrates the power of transmitted cultural and environmental structures to transform the problem-solving activity required of individual brains. By apparent contrast, much work in evolutionary psychology has stressed the selective fit of the biological brain to an ancestral environment of evolutionary adaptedness, with an attendant stress upon the limitations and cognitive biases that result. On the face of it, this suggests either a tension or, at least, a mismatch, with the symbiotic dyad of cultural evolution and embodied cognition. In what follows, we explore this mismatch by focusing on three key ideas: cognitive niche construction; cognitive modularity; and the existence (or otherwise) of an evolved universal human nature. An appreciation of the power and scope of the first, combined with consequently more nuanced visions of the latter two, allow us to begin to glimpse a much richer vision of the combined interactive potency of biological and cultural evolution for active, embodied agents.”

Are We Racists?

BMAI friends. The following ramble is my first cut at making sense of the grave role racial (and other) bias is playing in the world today. This was prompted by comments I see daily from my family and friends on social media. Thinking about the great lack of self- and group-awareness many of the commenters display, I turned my scope inward. How do my own innate, evolved biases slant me to take my group’s and my own privileges for granted and make invalid assumptions about those I perceive (subconsciously or explicitly) to be ‘the other’? I put this forward to start a discussion and hope you will contribute your own insights and references. Feel free to post comments or even insert questions, comments, or new text directly into my text. Of course, you can create your own new posts as well. Thanks.

Two Levels of Racism
1. Population Group Level
Racism is an expression of group dynamics. Consider two levels of racism. First, there’s systemic racism where conditions in a population generally favor one race over others. One race (or maybe a few races) has greater access to material and cultural influence in the population. This does not occur accidentally, but through the ongoing efforts of the dominant group to achieve and expand its controlling influence.
2. Individual and Local-Group Level
That’s where the second level of racism comes in. How a person perceives any group’s efforts to attain equal access and influence depends on whether the person is in the dominant group or the aspiring group. There are many ways individuals and their affinity groups perceive and act within the racially unequal system to maintain or change the racial inequalities. The group in power perceives efforts in its favor as good, appropriate, justified, patriotic, necessary, ethical, moral, and even (when there’s a shared group supernatural narrative) ordained, holy, etc. When a member of an out-group appears to support (or at least not outwardly oppose) the in-group’s dominance, members of the in-group view that as a proof that they are rightfully on top.
The group in power perceives any questioning of its dominance in the larger population as suspicious, dishonest, lazy (attempts to gain more access than is deserved), subversive, unpatriotic (or even treasonous), or (through the lens of dogma) evil, anti-God, etc. Obviously, racism (and other efforts to maintain inequality) is at work when these perceptions are acted out by legislators, law enforcers, prosecutors, juries, judges, presidents and their staff members, the private sector, and individual members of the favored group.
Members of a group with less influence perceive their questioning of the dominant group’s power in opposite terms from how the dominant group sees their struggle. Members of lower-access groups experience their quest for equality on all fronts as expressions of their inherent right–even necessity–to pursue “life, liberty, and happiness.” They see the efforts of dominant groups to control and exclude them as unjustified oppression by people who abuse the power provided them within a biased system that clearly needs to be changed.
On the first (population) level, racism is an aspect of the in-group/out-group dynamics that are present in all of us. Our ‘hard-wired’ programming is to subconsciously favor those we perceive to be more like us (in outward appearance, views, and culture) and subconsciously feel some degree of aversion and suspicion (and often fear) of those whose appearances, views, and culture vary from ours. Groups (through the actions of their members and leaders) use their power to slant social and economic systems to favor their own power and influence and to decrease the influence of those they perceive as not members of their group(s). When this natural bias results in one racial group having greater access to resources (education, healthcare, emergency services, and other public services; jobs; legislative influence; judicial equality; media visibility; etc.), systemic or structural racism is in place.
A takeaway of all this is that we are all racists, in the sense that the human brain has evolved complex social navigation functions that include strong biases in favor of one’s perceived in-group and disfavoring members of all other groups. To the extent we are hard-wired to perceive people who (as a category) look superficially different from us as somehow less safe or worthy of inclusion and power-sharing, we are innately racist. When we make the effort to become aware of, challenge, and ensure our racial biases do not influence our words and actions, we are moving toward a less bigoted way of being.