Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sex, Guns, and Evolutionary Psychology

Well... 'sex' and 'evolutionary psychology', anyway. Aaron Goetz and Kayla Causey have jointly published the results of recent studies on sex differences in perceptions of infidelity. The studies found that men were significantly more likely to suspect infidelity than females – fifty percent of men versus twenty eight percent of women in the first study; seventy-four percent of men versus sixty-five percent of women in the second study. These results are consistent with the stereotype that men care more about the physical aspects of relationships, while women care more about the nonphysical, ie. emotional.

Goetz and Causey – whose other recent work includes an article on the “comprehensive understanding of partner rape” – hypothesize that this difference is attributable to the higher costs to males of infidelity than females. They list a variety of factors that could account for these higher costs, most revolving around reputational damage because of the stigma attached to cuckoldry. (Interestingly, they also listed sexually-transmitted diseases, which should be sex-blind, or in certain circumstances more disadvantageous to females.)

Those skeptical of evolutionary psychology – and I admit that I am one of them – will note significant shortcomings in methodology. Neither study was conducted to attract a diverse group of participants: the first study was advertised at a research portal on a university department website; the second study also drew from a pool of university students. While the studies’ results might demonstrate some profound truths about college dating, the conclusion that these differences are the result of “evolutionary” pressures seems to overstep the data. Rather than expressing any sort of biological differences, it seems that Goetz and Causey have uncovered the product of historical-cultural contingencies. Also notably, the researchers seemed quick to attribute their results to “design features” despite the notoriously opaque relationship between the physical structure of the brain and mental attitudes. However, they did not hypothesize exactly what sort of physical features would cause this difference in perception. While these concerns do not constitute a comprehensive rebuttal of the studies’ conclusions, they demonstrate that those conclusions should not be accepted unreflectively.

Interestingly enough, the journal also published a recent study on the magnitude of sex differences, which concludes that the gap between males and females with respect to personality traits and communications styles is wider than previously believed. (The study concludes that females are more prone to neuroticism.) Interesting in light of Paula's presentation two weeks ago, which was critical of evolutionary psychology, especially where sex was concerned.

Ben Picozzi

1 comment:

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