Evolutionary psychology is the theory our brains evolved to control our behavior to favor survival and reproduction, just like our bodies evolved for survival and reproduction. Evolution designed our feet with an arch to absorb shock, which makes us better runners, and so evolution designed men’s brains to like boobs, which makes us not have sex with cows.
In other words, evolutionary psychology is the science of the unconscious, or that innate part of your mind you cannot change.
The unconscious drives are like race. You’re born with a race and there’s nothing you can do about that. But it only affects you to the extent you pay attention to it. When men don’t create and feed their own, chosen values, race takes over. Nature abhors a vacuum—where no values exist, your psychology imbued in you by evolution will gladly take over and control your life.
One of the most well-received assertions of evolutionary psychology is humans are born with jealousy. But there’s no proof of this beyond a few rationalizations. We’re told humans are programmed to be jealous because humans who weren’t jealous would let their partner cheat and so their genes would be less likely to be passed on to the next generation. This is called mate guarding.
However, it turns out that both men and women who are less jealous are more likely to have children. In fact, less jealousy in males is associated with larger testicles. Not to brag, but I am not the jealous type—too bad lack of jealousy isn’t associated with bigger penises.
Sure, most people get jealous, but most people are poor. That doesn’t mean it’s the natural state.
EP bases much of its research in animal studies, and then applies these studies to humans. But even our closest relative, the chimpanzee, is biologically and psychologically much different than us. If you put a snake in the cage of a baby chimp, it will cry and scream until you take the snake away. If you put a snake in the crib of a human baby, it will be curious and interested and try to touch it and grab it.
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, the book that started evolutionary psychology (though Darwin hints at it), concludes it’s more useful for understanding animals than it is for understanding humans. Whatever evolutionary drives we may be born with, Dawkins writes, are only the fertilizer for our willpower—they do not construct our willpower. The point of The Selfish Gene is unrecognized in evolutionary psychology today.
It’s like how the Nazis misunderstood Nietzsche—they just took a few of his terms and ran with them in their own direction. Then they defaced Nietzsche by crediting him.
EP is a rationalization—an intelligent rationalization, but a rationalization nonetheless. If you’re having an anger or anxiety issue, it more than likely has nothing to do with your evolutionary past. I’ve heard psychologist try to justify social anxiety based on EP. Yet guys overcome their social anxiety all the time. Of course, psychologists are guys riddled with anxiety, so they love to come up with clever ways to explain it.
Psychology has a storied history of figuring out ways man is no good. The field came at the tail end of 19th century continental philosophy, which told us man is helpless. Evolutionary psychology is one more attempt to justify why men are helpless. It fits the narrative. After all, that’s the one problem with psychology—it seeks to validate our neurosis instead of teaching us to overcome them.
I wrote an article on the limits of evolutionary psychology four years ago. I made some good points, but I wrapped them up in too much jokey language. Though I’ve deleted the article, here is a snippet from it:
“Looking at psychology through an evolutionary lens is helpful because things we do that seem ridiculous begin to make more sense. Tractor pulls may seem like a huge waste of time, but if we learn to see them as a conspicuous display of wealth that signals to a lot of people in a short amount of time, “hey everybody, I’m rich and so have good genes, therefore you should mate with me,” then it starts to make more sense in places outside of Alabama. After all, logic is only as good as the principles it rests upon.
“Evolutionary psychology is great news. As men, we love making excuses, but the problem with making excuses is that it makes us look dumb. But if we employ evolutionary psychology, we can excuse our behavior while sounding smart at the same time.”
Then there’s this display of my infographic prowess:
Evolutionary psychologists make the mistake psychologists do all the time. They look at what most men do most of the time and then tell you about who you are based on those numbers. Instead, it would be better to look at the men who make good decisions, and then find out why.
A recent EP study shows that strippers make more money in tips when they’re ovulating. It won a bunch of awards, which demonstrates, even when at its best, evolutionary psychology is only cute.