PSYC 358

Evolutionary Psychology

Things that Matter Most within the Assigned Readings


[The readings—books and articles—that you are reading for this course cover a lot of material.  Some of that material is highly relevant to the objectives of this course; but some of the material isn’t quite so important.  I’m putting together this document to help you identify the things in the readings that matter most—so that can sensibly prioritize the amount of time you devote to reading, re-reading, studying, and thinking about the various different pieces of information presented in these readings.]

[This list is specific to the readings.  As for lecture material:  You can pretty well assume that the more time I spend on something in a lecture, the more I consider it to matter.  The lecture “outlines” that I post on the class website are also designed to highlight lecture material that matters most.]


Introduction to the course


Buss, chapters 1 and 2

 Natural selection

 Sexual selection

 Inclusive fitness

 Tinbergen’s four kinds of questions

 Common misunderstandings about evolutionary psychology

 The cognitive revolution in psychology

 Adaptations (what they are and what they aren’t)

 Environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA)

 Levels of evolutionary analysis in evolutionary psychology

 Evolved psychological mechanisms (and the properties that characterize them)

 Strategies for identifying adaptive problems/challenges

 Strategies for generating hypotheses in evolutionary psychology

 Strategies for testing hypotheses in evolutionary psychology


Part 1:  Gene’s-eye view of Human Psychology


Dawkins: Chapter 1 (“Why are people?”):

 What Dawkins means by “selfish”

 Key misunderstandings / misconceptions / fallacies to avoid 

 Distinction between the function and consequence of reproduction

 Individual selection and group selection

 The gene as the unit of heredity


Dawkins: Chapter 2 (“The replicators”):

 How “survival of the fittest” relates to “survival of the stable”

 The concept of a replicator

 Longevity, fecundity, and copying-fidelity 

 Why competition matters

 Organisms as containers / vehicles / survival machines


Dawkins: Chapter 3 (“Immortal coils”):

 Two important things that DNA molecules do

 Alleles as rivals

 The concept of a gene pool

 The definition of a “gene” that Dawkins uses (and why that way of defining a gene is useful here)

 What it means to say that there is a gene “for” something

 How and why differences matter in the competitive struggle to survive

 The concept of a “good” gene

 Selection of genes for mutual compatibility

 Connection between evolution and frequencies of genes in the gene pool


Dawkins: Chapter 4 (“The gene machine”):

 Relationship between genes, cells, and bodies

 Linkages between sense organs, cognition, muscle movements, and fitness

 Adaptive benefits of memory

 How genes control the behavior of their survival machines

 Adaptive solutions to time-lag problems

 Adaptive solutions to the problem of making predictions in unpredictable environments

 Evolutionary bases of memory, learning, mental simulation, communication

 Communication and altruism

 Communication and deception


Nairne & Pandeirada, 2008 (“Adaptive memory: Remembering with a stone-age brain”)

 Functional analysis of memory, and why it’s useful

 The likely and unlikely characteristics of evolved memory mechanisms

 The effects of survival processing on recall


Dawkins: Chapter 5 (“Aggression: Stability and the selfish machine”):

 Other ‘survival machines’ as part of the EEA

 John Maynard Smith

 The importance concept of an “evolutionarily stable strategy” (ESS) 

 How the concept of ESS relates to the concept of “good genes”

 How an ESS analysis helps to explain aggression and non-aggression


Dawkins: Chapter 6 (“Genesmanship”):

 Green Beard Altruism

 William Hamilton

 Kin selection

 Kinship and the degrees of relatedness

 Cost/benefit analysis as applied to altruistic decision-making

 Uncertainty in “knowing” who kin are, and the implications

 Cuckoos and other brood parasites 

 Mimicry and evolutionary arms races


Dawkins: Chapter 8 (“Battle of the generations”):

 Parental investment

 Parent-offspring conflict

 Robert Trivers

 Aging, menopause, and the concept of “grandchild altruism”



Part 2: Psychological Adaptations to the Challenges of Survival and Sexual Reproduction


Buss, Chapter 3 (“Combatting the hostile forces of nature”)


 Adaptive responses to disease (disgust, pregnancy sickness, spices, fever, etc.)

 Hunting, as it relates to provisioning, social exchange, and showing off

 Hunting, gathering, and sex differences in spatial cognition

 Shelter and the “savannah hypothesis”

 Antipredator adaptations

 The links between fears / phobias and adaptive problems

 Evolved navigation theory and the descent illusion


Schaller & Park, 2011 (“The behavioral immune system (and why it matters)”)

 The “behavioral immune system”

 The smoke detector principle and the principle of functional flexibility

 Research documenting implications for psychological phenomena

 Research linking the behavioral immune system to cross-cultural differences


Dawkins: Chapter 9 (“Battle of the sexes”):

 Gamete size and the evolution of divergent sexual strategies

 Sex differences in obligatory parental investment

 Sex differences in mating behavior

 Female strategies that reduce likelihood of male exploitation

 Evolutionary stable strategies in the context of courtship and mating

 Handicap principle


Buss, Chapter 4 (“Women’s long-term mating strategies”)

 Parental investment, sexual selection, and implications for mate preferences

 Specific things that women prefer in a mate (and the linkage to reproductive fitness)

 Results of Buss & Schmitt’s cross-cultural studies of mate preferences

 Context effects on women’s mate preferences

 Effects of women’s preferences on men’s behavior


Buss, Chapter 5 (“Men’s long-term mating strategies”)

 The reasons why men might benefit from long-term commitment

 Fertility, reproductive value, and how they relate to men’s mate preferences

 Specific things that men prefer in a mate (and the linkage to reproductive fitness)

 Paternity uncertainty and why it matters

 Context effects on men’s mate preferences

 Effects of men’s preferences on women’s behavior


Buss, Chapter 6 (“Short-term sexual strategies”)

 Costs and benefits associated with short-term mating (for men, and for women)

 Specific kinds of evidence for men’s short-term mating

 Specific kinds of evidence for women’s short-term mating

 Context effects on short-term mating


Haselton & Gildersleeve, 2011 (“Can men detect ovulation?”)

 Psychological hypotheses that follow from an evolutionary analysis of female ovulation

 Research documenting effects of ovulatory cycle on women’s social behavior

 Research testing whether men respond to women’s ovulation cues


Part 3: Other Challenges, Other Adaptations, Other Implications


Buss, Chapter 7 (“Problems of parenting”)

 Fitness benefits and costs of providing parental care to offspring

 Sex differences in parental care

 Paternity uncertainty and its implications

 Implications of trade-offs between parental care and other adaptive problems

 Genetic relatedness (parents vs. stepparents) and its implications for child abuse

 Parent-offspring conflict and its implications


Buss, Chapter 8 (“Problems of kinship”)

 Inclusive fitness and Hamilton’s rule

 Universal aspects of kinship

 The kin recognition problem, and the things that people use as cues to kinship

 Kinship for helping behavior

 Kinship for vigilance over romantic relationships

 Kinship and patterns of inheritance

 Investment by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins

 Ecological constraints, familial benefits, and Emlen’s theory of the family


Dawkins: Chapter 10 (“You scratch my back, I’ll ride on yours”):

 The concept of the “selfish herd”

 Alarm calls and the various theories for why they occur

 Mutualism (symbiosis) involving multiple species

 Evolutionary origins of reciprocal altruism within a species

 Psychological requirements for delayed reciprocal altruism

 The “Sucker,” “Cheat,” and “Grudger” strategies.

Buss, Chapter 9 (“Cooperative alliances”)

 The theory of reciprocal altruism

 The Prisoner’s Dilemma and the tit-for-tat strategy

 Social contract theory

 Cosmides & Tooby’s research on cheater-detection and logical reasoning.

 Memory for cheaters

 Costly signaling theory

 The evolutionary bases of friendship

 The evolutionary bases of cooperative coalitions


Buss, Chapter 10 (“Aggression and warfare”)

 The evolutionary bases of aggression (and implications for context-specificity)

 The recalibration theory of anger

 Sex differences in aggression (and implications for context-specificity)

 Cosmides & Tooby’s analysis of the evolutionary psychology of warfare

 Sex differences in psychological mechanisms relevant to war and intergroup conflict

 Evolutionary perspectives on homicide


Buss, Chapter 11 (“Conflict between the sexes”)

 The two key components of strategic interference theory

 Cognitive biases in sexual mind reading

 Evolutionary perspectives on rape and other forms of sexual aggression

 Sex differences in jealousy

 Mate retention tactics, and the contexts that influence these tactics


Buss, Chapter 12 (“Status, prestige, and dominance”)

 Reproductive benefits associated with dominance / prestige / status

 Prestige signaling

 Leadership and followership

 Sex differences in status striving

 Social attention holding theory

 Testosterone and dominance

 Self-esteem and its linkages with social status


Shariff & Tracy, 2011 (“What are emotion expressions for?”)

 Functions served by the emotion expressions

 Specific physiological functions of various emotion expressions

 Specific communicative functions of various emotion expressions


Buss, Chapter 13 (“Toward a unified evolutionary psychology”)

 Evolutionary perspectives on heuristics and biases

 Evolutionary perspectives on language

 Evolutionary perspectives on moral emotion

 Life history theory and its implications

 Frequency-dependent adaptive strategies and their relation to individual differences

 Evolutionary perspectives on psychological dysfunction

 Evoked culture