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Evolutionary Psychology

February 23, 2011

Evolutionary Psychology is a joke. Or, in the words of Steve Jones, “the biggest load of hogwash ever foisted on an unsuspecting public.” (I think this is accurate. It’s in The Single Helix.) Sadly, its unscientific attempt to explain all human behaviour in terms of hypothesised lifestyles in the Palaeolithic has a huge impact in popular culture. Perhaps the most infamous example was the ‘research’ into why boys like blue and girls like pink. The explanation was that men used to hunt under blue skies while women gathered pink berries. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Actually, I think you could (after all that is basically what these researchers did, made it up) so here are my own explanations for certain human behaviours based on good hard empirical research (i.e. stuff that I have seen or heard about) and the inarguable premise that human brains are so complex, subtle and adaptable that every single human trait must be hardwired by natural selection and could not possibly be explained by the influence of culture.

Stone age arrowhead

Queuing

The highly respected polymath and researcher Bill Bryson points out an interesting behavioural gender difference which is backed up by my own extensive observation. (I think it appears in Notes from a Small Island. If it’s not it must be in something else I read around the same time.) While queuing in a shop, men will use the the time to prepare the money they will need to pay, often finding the exact amount of change required. Women, by contrast, stand idly staring into space and daydreaming about babies and find the sudden expectation of payment flustering and surprising. Every single time.

Why should this be? Our male ancestors survived by hunting. Hunting requires a great deal of preparation and split-second timing. A man had to have his spear ready to throw the moment prey appeared. Women, meanwhile were just wandering around, gossiping and daydreaming, plucking berries whenever they happened to chance upon them. No forward planning was required and no tools were needed except for some kind of receptacle carried manually; a ‘hand-bag’, if you will.

Lipstick

Women around the world wear lipstick. Certainly it is used by women in Europe, the United States and Australia (which are about as far apart as you can imagine). This is despite the fact that it is inconvenient and leaves an oily residue on cups and glasses. It also makes kissing a sticky business. Women wear lipstick because men find it attractive (and women, with their empathic brains think only about relationships).

So, why do men like women who wear lipstick? When our ancestors returned from their strategic and highly mathematical day’s hunting the women were returning from gathering berries. Anyone who has been fruit-picking knows that it is impossible to resist eating a few of your finds as you gather. Women who had redder lips, stained by berry juice, were obviously the most successful gatherers and therefore most likely to be picked as sexual partners by the men.

Lavatories

We all know that women relieve themselves in groups. It is impossible for a woman to go to the toilet without taking at least one other female. This can be observed in any bar, at any time here in Britain and also occurs in American movies. Conversely men always go alone and a significant proportion find urination impossible in the presence of other men.

There is an important anatomical difference to take into account here: men can go standing up. During hunting expeditions a man could urinate behind a tree (still a popular pastime among men today) and remain alert to any danger. Predators were common on the African savannah but the man was able to run at a moment’s notice as he scanned his surroundings for danger. Women, on the other hand, must sit. A woman squatting on her own in the bush would make an easy target for a passing leopard so it made sense to take another woman with her to act as lookout. They almost certainly took it in turns to micturate with the other keeping guard, possibly while smearing her lips with juice from the berries in her hand-bag.

Flowers

The reason that women love flowers has remained a mystery. Their love of flowers, however, is enough to sustain a multi-million pound industry and induces them to wear clothes with symbolic representations of them on. (For full evidence of this being universal see here.) Men, by contrast, show little interest in flowers and the fact that they view a love of flowers as ‘girly’ proves that the trait is inherently a female one. Earlier hypotheses that women are in fact more closely related to bees than to humans have been rejected since 2003.

While hunting, men must concentrate hard and remain focused on the task in hand. They do not have time to indulge in superficial activities or be distracted by pretty colours. Women, on the other hand, were gathering berries. Flowers were a useful signal to them because they precede the arrival of fruit. Any woman who found herself drawn to flowers would also find a potential source of food and so be more likely to survive. The man with such a tendency might well find that he became a lion’s lunch while bending down to smell a violet.

Evolutionary psychology

For some reason the great revelations of evolutionary psychology are welcomed much more by men than by women, despite the fact that they portray women in such a positive way (more caring, more nurturing, better at talking). Here for example is a typical woman on the subject. Men on the other hand embrace the new insights and try to gain a greater understanding of the world from them.

Hunting requires great analytic ability particularly when it comes to tracking. What process could have resulted in these marks being here, a hunter had to ask himself, and how can I use that information to improve my picture of the world? Men are still asking these questions but now it is called ‘science’. Women did not have to track berry bushes for miles across the plains. Instead the bushes remained where they were and the gatherers could take their hand-bags to the same locations day after day and fill them with berries in a process remarkably similar to what we now call ‘shopping’. Any woman who stopped to wonder about why the berries were there or where they came from was wasting valuable gathering time.

If you have any other problems you want me to explain in this way I will be happy to try. If you would like to commission a book which combines barely humorous observational comedy with dating tips and references to half-digested research please leave contact details below.

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From → Humour, Satire

5 Comments
  1. This is hilarious.

  2. I agree that evolutionary psychology is a load of tripe. (That’s actually how I found this blog; I was reading another one where evo-psych was mentioned, and you’d commented.) It just looks like…people trying to justify unjust status quos by claiming that it’s ~*all in the genes*~. Even if ethnic, gender and other human characteristics *were* all biologically determined, rather than being a mixture of nature and nurture, that still doesn’t justify discrimination against other people. Too many evo-psych adherents use their spurious ‘findings’ to talk about how social programmes should be cut to ‘punish’ women and ethnic minorities, or how they should be able to discriminate against those groups because they’re genetically ‘superior’.

  3. I think people will look back on the ‘scientific’ sexism of today much as we look back on the ‘scientific’ racism of the past. These myths need to be challenged for the reasons you mention but also because they feed into a vicious cultural cycle. As we are constantly told that girls can’t do maths we lower our expectations of them and fulfil the prophecy, despite the fact that the best evidence suggests that cultural stereotyping and expectations play a far more determining role in apparent behavioural difference than sex, race, etc. (I have written a short piece about gender and education which you might find interesting.) I’ve just started reading a book about all this and will probably write more on it when I’ve finished.

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  1. Science proves gender is a social construction. « Viola tricolor hortensis

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