PSYC 358

Evolutionary Psychology


Things that Matter Most within the Assigned Readings


[The things that you are reading for this course cover a lot of material. You’d be wise to read all of it, carefully. Still, the fact is that some of that material is central to the objectives of this course whereas other bits aren’t quite as important, and I will be constructing the exams accordingly. 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. I’ll be updating this document regularly as we proceed through the course.]


[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


Course syllabus

 All of it!


Cosmides & Tooby, 1997 (“Evolutionary psychology: A primer”)

 Three complementary levels of explanation in evolutionary psychology

 Difference between evolutionary psychology and the “standard social science model”

 Five basic principles underlying research in evolutionary psychology

 The function of the brain

 Adaptive problems and their defining characteristics

 Modules and functional specificity

 The properties of reasoning and learning circuits

 Why it is that our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind

 Environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA)

 Adaptationist logic (and its implications for understanding “nature” and “nurture”)


Confer, Easton, Fleischman, Goetz, Lewis, Perilloux, & Buss, 2010 (“Evolutionary psychology: Controversies, questions, prospects, and limitations”)

 Natural selection

 Adaptations, by-products, and noise

 Ultimate explanations and proximate explanations

 The concept of “design features”

 Shortcomings of explanations based on domain-general mechanisms

 Domain-specific learning mechanisms (“learning adaptations”)

 How recent environmental novelties affect human evolved psychology

 The role of genes in evolutionary psychology

 Limitations of evolutionary psychology


Part 1:  Gene’s-eye view of human cognition and behavior


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 definition is useful)

 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


Gangestad,Thornhill, & Garver-Apgar, 2005 (“Adaptations to ovulation: Implications for sexual and social behavior”)

 Evolutionary rationale for attraction to mates with “good genes”

 Evolution of “sexually antagonistic adaptations”

 The ovulatory shift hypothesis (and its underlying logical basis)

 Psychological research testing the ovulatory shift hypothesis


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 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


Dunbar, 2014 (“The social brain: Psychological underpinnings and implications for the structure of organizations”)

 The social-brain hypothesis

 Theory of mind

 Relation between species-typical group size and neocortex size

 Relation between individuals’ social network size and mentalizing ability

 Structure of human social networks


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


Part 2: Psychological adaptations pertaining to survival and sexual reproduction


Öhman & Mineka, 2003 (“The malicious serpent: Snakes as a prototypical stimulus for an evolved module of fear”)

 Fear of snakes in humans and other primates

 Research documenting the learning of fear responses to snakes

 Research documenting how snakes capture attention

 The concept of a fear module


LoBue, Rakison, & DeLoache, 2010 (“Threat perception across the life span: Evidence for multiple converging pathways”)

 Research documenting biases for threat perception in humans of various ages

 The role of learning in threat perception

 Multiple pathways through which humans perceive threat


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 7 (“Family planning”)

 Bearing and caring as reproductive strategies

 Costs and benefits associated with the production of greater numbers of offspring

 The “Beau Geste Effect”

 Logic underlying the “selfish gene theory” explanation (as opposed to a “group

    selection” explanation) for population regulation


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

 Parental investment

 Parent-offspring conflict

 Robert Trivers

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


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


Schmitt, et al., 2012 (“A reexamination of sex differences in sexuality: New studies reveal old truths”)

 Sexual strategies theory and what it does (and doesn’t predict)

 Research documenting sex differences in mate preferences

 Research documenting sex differences in desired number of sex partners


Bjorklund & Shackelford, 1999 (“Differences in parental investment contribute to important differences between men and women”)

 Reasons for, and benefits of, fathers’ parental investment in offspring

 Psychological implications of sex differences in obligatory parental investment

 Psychological implications of maternity certainty / paternity uncertainty


Fink & Penton-Voak, 2002 (“Evolutionary psychology of facial attractiveness”)

 Specific facial features that influence judgments of facial attractiveness

 Possible reasons why symmetrical faces and “average” face are attractive

 Facial features associated with hormone levels and possible reasons

   why those “hormone markers” are attractive

 Effects of menstrual cycle on female preferences for male facial features

 The multiple-message hypothesis and the redundant-signal hypothesis

Buss, 2001 (“Cognitive biases and emotional wisdom in the evolution of conflict between the sexes”)

 Error management theory and its implications for evolution of cognitive biases

 The “sexual overperception bias” and the “commitment skepticism bias”

 Strategic interference theory and its implications for the arousal of various emotions

 Research documenting sex differences in jealousy


Buss, 2017 (“Sexual conflict in human mating”)

 Sexual deception strategies and anti-deception defenses

 The “commitment skepticism bias” as an anti-deception defense

 Sexual exploitation and defenses against sexual exploitation

 Research documenting sex differences in sexual regrets


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


Daly & Wilson, 1996 (“Violence against stepchildren”)

 Research documenting violence against stepchildren

 Possible explanations for step-parent investment and for conflict within step-families

 Practices that help solve the problem of conflict and violence within step-families


Lieberman & Smith, 2012 (“It’s all relative: Sexual aversions and moral judgments regarding sex among siblings”)

 Negative implications of incest for offspring health and survival

 Psychological mechanisms that serve the function of incest-avoidance

 Cues that help to distinguish siblings from non-siblings, and their implications

 The “Westermarck effect” (and research on the Westermarck effect)


Schaller, 2018 (“The parental care motivational system and why it matters (for everyone)”)

 The parental care motivational system and how it works

 Research documenting implications for risk-averse responses to potential threats

 Research documenting inhibitory relationship between mating and parenting motives


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


Delton & Robertson, 2016 (“How the mind makes welfare tradeoffs: Evolution, computation, and emotion”)

 The equation (analogous to Hamilton’s rule) associated with reciprocity theory

 The concept of a welfare tradeoff ratio (WTR)

 The concept of internal regulatory variables, and how they influence a WTR


McCullough et al., 2008 (“An adaptation for altruism? The social causes, social effects, and social evolution of gratitude”)

 The three characteristic features of gratitude that are relevant to prosocial behavior

 Research documenting gratitude as a prosocial emotion, distinct from other emotions

 Theory and research linking gratitude to the evolution of reciprocal altruism

 The concept of upstream reciprocity and how gratitude might be linked to it


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


Dawkins, Chapter 11 (“Memes: the new replicators”)

 Cultural evolution, and ways in which it is (and isn’t) analogous to genetic evolution

 The concept of the meme, and ways in which it is (and isn’t) analogous to a gene

 How longevity, fecundity, and copying-fidelity apply to memes

 Competition between memes

 Ways in which memes and genes can reinforce each other, and oppose each other


Li et al., 2018 (“The evolutionary mismatch hypothesis: Implications for psychological science”)

 The concepts of evolutionary mismatch and adaptive lag

 Sources, types, causes, and consequences of mismatches

 Implications of mismatches for relationship satisfaction and for selection of leaders


Schmalor & Heine, 2019 (“In genes we trust: On the consequences of genetic essentialism”)

 The concepts of psychological essentialism and genetic essentialism

 Research on the consequences that can occur when people genetically essentialize

   gender, race, sexual orientation, criminality, illness, and obesity

 Things that can reduce genetic essentialism


Lewis et al., 2017 (“Evolutionary psychology: A how-to guide”)

[This reading is optional. You won’t be tested on it. You might find it useful

sometime, especially if you’re interested in actually doing evolutionary

psychological research; and, if so, I think that I should leave it to you to identify

which parts of it might matter most to your future endeavors.]