Challenging evolutionary psychology: Philosopher attacks the field’s underlying scientific foundation

evolutionary psychology wide
Credit: Darwinian Medicine

It’s not often that a paper attempts to take down an entire field. Yet, this past January, that’s precisely what University of New Hampshire assistant philosophy professor Subrena Smith’s paper tried to do. “Is Evolutionary Psychology Possible?” describes a major issue with evolutionary psychology, called the matching problem.

[Smith: For example, one] hypothesis is that, in the environment of evolutionary adaptation, mate infidelity was costlier for males than it was for females. Presumably, it’s on account of the fact that, if you’re a man, you might end up taking care of someone else’s child. So college students were asked how likely it is that they’d have sexual intercourse with someone other than their current partner.

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Evolutionary psychologists posit that, based on these questionnaire answers, mate guarding behavior is driven by a hard-wired, domain-specific cognitive module whose function is to procure and protect one’s mate from extramarital relationships. But their evidence is nothing more than the responses given to these prying questions by contemporary college students. My worry is that it doesn’t begin to be a scientific study. There’s no way to move from the contemporary case to the prehistoric case, which is a hypothesized case about how prehistoric males behaved with respect to their mates and cheating.

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