Friday, July 19, 2013

Evolutionary Psychology: What it is, how it works, what it says

Over at Cheese and Responsibility, Tree of Knowledge links this Skepchick post, which has both a video and a transcription of scientists and others talking about Evolutionary Psychology (and other coolness).

Among other things, this is interesting due to what it says about how the human brain works (two of the speakers, P.Z. Myers and Indre Viskontas, are neuroscientists).

But I'm also interested due to what it says about the whole male brains are different from female brains narrative that is so common on the Right these days -- one of the tools they use to justify their belief that women should be subordinate to men.

And what it says is what those of us who read in this area, even as non-neuroscientists, more or less understand: male brains and female brains are not, in fact, innately different, despite what your high school biology teacher or your preacher or whoever might have told you is so.

A couple of interesting passages:

GL: I know from my own reading and research that there are systems of behavior–complicated systems of behavior in which a set of outcomes over here [gestures with right hand] are obtained and a set of outcomes over here [gestures with left hand] are obtained, but the things that cause those outcomes are distinctly different.

One of the most dramatic examples I can think of is eating an antelope, killing and eating an antelope or a deer. In one system, wolves eat deer. In another system, humans domesticate dogs, and dogs do things to deer when you’re hunting. Only they’re not deer anymore. They’re now sheep, and the sheep are acting like prey animals, and therefore they can be herded by your domesticated wolves. In both cases, you sit down and you eat a steak, but in one case you’re using completely different sets animals are being [used].



And

GL: We know this, for example, that men and women test very differently on things that have to do with spatial relationships of objects until both males and females start growing up playing the same video games. And then they test the same way. So I think, yes, there are modules in our brains that are there that can be good at certain things, but I simply would argue that, for the most part, 90% of those modules emerge because of our experiential background, and 10% of genetic imperative or something, whereas the evolutionary psychologists would argue the opposite.

And

Audience question 2: I did. It’s more for Indre. Is the current position of where the evolutional brain is now as opposed to men and women. You can see that women are much better multitaskers, far better memory than men, stuff like that.

IV: No, you can’t. Absolutely not. There’s so much BS about female and male differences in the brain that it’s unbelievable.

Audience question 2: Well, we do our awards at college and stuff like that, and for the Phi Beta Kappa and stuff like that and consistency– The school has got the same amount of men and women, but five times more women than men are coming to the top of the scale of education. I’m just wondering whether you see that, that there’s some type of a difference between men and women, because clearly, what we’re seeing–

AM: Nobody denies that men and women are generally different. I mean, if they weren’t in our culture, you wouldn’t even be able to spot who was male and who was female on sight. But that’s not because of biology. A lot of that’s culture. I mean, why do women make different choices than men? Well, a lot of the time because that’s what is coded as female in our culture. 

And that is always adapting, so something like, you know, being bookish and spending a lot of time studying is something that, in the nineteenth century, was considered very masculine, and actually that women were not smart enough for that. Now our culture thinks women are kind of the smarter, more bookish sex because that’s something we associate with being kind of indoorsy, a little more personality submissive, whereas we encourage boys to run around and play.


And


PZ: Good studies, like I mentioned Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, who’s got a whole book on, for instance, the maternal instinct and basically shows it’s a bunch of bunk, that women do not have any sort of maternal instinct–that didn’t make it into the press for some reason. Not a feel-good sort of story that fits into our notions of motherhood.

The whole thing is cool.  Go read!

Update: a further discussion of EV Psych over at PZ Myers' blog.  (Hat tip Athena Andreadis.  Thanks, Athena!)

6 comments:

nicoleandmaggie said...

Awesome, thanks!

Comradde PhysioProf said...

And what it says is what those of us who read in this area, even as non-neuroscientists, more or less understand: male brains and female brains are not, in fact, innately different, despite what your high school biology teacher or your preacher or whoever might have told you is so.

This is incorrect. Male brains and female brains absolutely have differences that are completely genetically and developmentally determined. The question is whether those differences have any relevance to cognition, with the best answer right now being probably not.

delagar said...

Thanks for the correction, Comradde!

Athena Andreadis said...

"Male brains and female brains absolutely have differences that are completely genetically and developmentally determined."

The similarities greatly outweigh the differences in both quantity and quality. To point out just one obvious convergence at the smaller end of the scale, females and males have the same 45 out of 46 chromosomes. And so on up the scale (brain structures, etc).

Athena Andreadis said...

And for further discussion of plasticity, sexual hardwiring, etc, Myers did a second round on Pinker's evopsycho arguments: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/07/28/tackling-pinkers-defense-of-evolutionary-psychology/

Bottom line, evopsycho is still mostly garbáj.

delagar said...

Thanks for the link, Athena!