Tagevolutionary psychology

Hardwired to Nurture: What the New Testosterone Study Really Says About Men

Still playing catchup:

An intriguing new long-term study of Filipino men has discovered that becoming a father lowers a man’s testosterone level. More specifically, what really drops male testosterone is the amount of time spent caring for children; men who spent three hours or more per day caring for a child had significantly less testosterone than those dads who were less involved with their children. It’s not that men with lower testosterone were “naturally” more inclined to be caregivers in the first place; based on the voluminous longitudinal data, it’s the act of caring itself that reduced testosterone significantly.

An otherwise reasonable New York Times piece on the study begins with the somber warning, “This is probably not the news most fathers want to hear.” But as several researchers in the article point out, this is actually great news for dads—and for all men. One of our great enduring myths about males is that we are biologically hardwired for violence and promiscuity, and that any attempt to encourage us to take on a nurturing, tender role is destined to end in failure. The “Caveman Cult” crowd, which includes a great many popular writers on gender, suggests that female physiology is optimized for caregiving while male physiology is optimized for conquest. And when pressed to cite the chief factor in this supposed male inability to care for children, these defenders of traditional gender roles almost invariably cite the overarching influence of testosterone.

Full Story: The Good Men Project: Hardwired to Nurture: What the New Testosterone Study Really Says About Men

Reason Is Used for Justification, Not to Determine Truth


For centuries thinkers have assumed that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth. Rationality allowed a solitary thinker to blaze a path to philosophical, moral and scientific enlightenment.

Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth.

The idea, labeled the argumentative theory of reasoning, is the brainchild of French cognitive social scientists, and it has stirred excited discussion (and appalled dissent) among philosophers, political scientists, educators and psychologists, some of whom say it offers profound insight into the way people think and behave. The Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted its April issue to debates over the theory, with participants challenging everything from the definition of reason to the origins of verbal communication.

New York Times: Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth

(Thanks Bill)

This evolutionary psychology explanation is (like most evol pysch) speculative. Regardless of whether reason evolved “for” the purposes of argument, or merely reached a point where it was flawed but “good enough” we may never know. But I do think most people use reason more to defend their positions rather than to arrive at accurate positions (what does that mean for me, and my arguments?) To quote Michael Shermer in Why People Believe Weird Things, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons” (via that Cracked article).

See also Systematic Ideology and Cultural Cognition.

E.O. Wilson Proposes New Theory of Social Evolution


For decades, selflessness — as exhibited in eusocial insect colonies where workers sacrifice themselves for the greater good — has been explained in terms of genetic relatedness. Called kin selection, it was a neat solution to the conundrum of selflessness in what was supposedly an every-animal-for-itself evolutionary battle.

One early proponent was now-legendary Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, a founder of modern sociobiology. Now Wilson is leading the counterattack. [...]

The researchers offer their own alternative theory, based on standard natural selection, but with a twist: After starting with a focus on a single founder, selection moves to the level of colony. From this perspective, a worker ant is something like a cell — part of a larger evolutionary unit, not a unit unto itself.

“Our model proves that looking at a worker ant and asking why it is altruistic is the wrong level of analysis,” said Tarnita. “The important unit is the colony.”

Wired Science: E.O. Wilson Proposes New Theory of Social Evolution

700-year-old Brain Found Preserved

700 year old preserved brain

ResearchBlogging.orgEvolutionary psychology tends to receive harsh criticism, and often rightly so. One of the main reasons for this is the severe lack of evidence for many of it’s proposals given that the paucity of fossilised brains fails to bolster many a case. And it isn’t even anyone’s fault. That’s just the way it goes sometimes, that the brain is a jelly-like substance that is subject to decay after death, and there’s no way we can objectively analyse or verify any differences in brains of long ago with brains of today.

This isn’t set to change anytime soon, but the remarkable discovery of a medieval child’s brain was the subject of a Neuroimage paper published recently. This is extremely exciting on many counts: the brain has been so fantastically preserved that it is possible to identify the frontal, temporal and occipital lobes, and even the sulci and gyri, the grooves and furrows channeled into brains.

However it is only the left-hemisphere that survived and not the entire brain, which had also shrunk to about 80% of it’s original weight due to the (natural) mummification process.

Neurowhoa: 700-year-old Brain Found Preserved

Culture Is More Important Than Genes To Altruistic Behavior In Large-scale Societies

Socially learned behavior and belief are much better candidates than genetics to explain the self-sacrificing behavior we see among strangers in societies, from soldiers to blood donors to those who contribute to food banks.

This is the conclusion of a study by Adrian V. Bell and colleagues from the University of California Davis in the Oct. 12 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Altruism has long been a subject of interest to evolutionary social scientists. Altruism presents them with a difficult line to argue: behaviors that help unrelated people while being costly to the individual and creating a risk for genetic descendants could not likely be favored by evolution: at least by common evolutionary arguments.

The researchers used a mathematical equation, called the Price equation, that describes the conditions for altruism to evolve. This equation motivated the researchers to compare the genetic and the cultural differentiation between neighboring social groups. Using previously calculated estimates of genetic differences, they used the World Values Survey (whose questions are likely to be heavily influenced by culture in a large number of countries) as a source of data to compute the cultural differentiation between the same neighboring groups. When compared they found that the role of culture had a much greater scope for explaining our pro-social behavior than genetics.

Science Daily: Culture Is More Important Than Genes To Altruistic Behavior In Large-scale Societies

Conformists may kill civilizations

Robert Anton Wilson explained this years ago:

The capacity to learn from others is one of the traits that have made humans such a global success story. Relying on it too much, however, could have contributed to the demise of past populations, such as the Maya of southern Mexico in the eighth and ninth centuries and Norse settlers in Greenland 1,000 years ago.

Over-hunting, deforestation and over-population are well-worn routes to societal collapse. Now, Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and Pete Richerson of the University of California, Davis, have modelled how different learning strategies fare in different environments. They found that conformist social learning — imitating and emulating what the majority are doing — may also cause the demise of societies. When environments remain stable for long periods, behaviour can become disconnected from environmental demands, so that when change does come, the effects are catastrophic1.

Environments often change in unpredictable ways and over timescales from the seasonal to millennial. Rainfall and temperature change both seasonally and annually; populations of predators, prey and pests rise and fall; soil conditions change.

Biology News: Conformists may kill civilizations

(via Weird Fiction via Blustr)

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