Tag Archives: evolutionary-psychology

Marriage, Children, and Surnames

In most countries around the world it is convention that the wife take the husband’s surname at marriage. It is equally conventional for a child to then also take this same name. Evolutionary psychology is the reason behind this phenomenon, as discussed briefly in the book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters.

One of the author’s reflects further on this idea in a number of posts looking at why wives and children take their husband/father’s last name.

Nature may or may not help the father convince himself of his paternity by making the baby (kind of) resemble the father rather than the mother. However, […] people (especially maternal kin) appear to help, by telling the father that the baby resembles him, regardless of whether it does or not. […] After all, the maternal kin, unlike the paternal kin, have no interest in finding out the truth. They know that the baby is genetically related to the mother for sure – there is no such thing as maternity uncertainty – and all they want is to make sure that the father is convinced of his paternity enough to invest in the offspring, regardless of whether or not he is the actual genetic father.

The convention of giving the child the father’s last name is another means for the mother and her kin to convince the father of his paternity.

Why We Dream

After decades of research and speculation, the reasons for dreaming are still unknown. There are many theories, of course, as Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett notes as she reviews the most prevalent evolutionary theories for why we dream:

  • Brain Conditioning
  • External Vigilance
  • Threat Simulation
  • Costly [Genetic] Signalling
  • Problem-Solving

The article also notes how many “notable figures from all walks of life (including scientists) [have] arrived at their groundbreaking discoveries and insights through dreams”. To Barrett, this suggests that “a simple brain conditioning explanation for the existence of dreaming is shortsighted”.

The Evolutionary Grounds for Depression

Depression is an emotional response that has evolved to prevent us from experiencing mentally damaging events, a number of recent studies are starting to suggest.

As pain stops you doing damaging physical things, so low mood stops you doing damaging mental ones—in particular, pursuing unreachable goals. Pursuing such goals is a waste of energy and resources. Therefore […] there is likely to be an evolved mechanism that identifies certain goals as unattainable and inhibits their pursuit.

This ‘evolved mechanism’, it appears, is depression.

As one study showed, mild depression is actually a somewhat healthy response:

Those who experienced mild depressive symptoms could […] disengage more easily from unreachable goals. […] Those who could disengage from the unattainable proved less likely to suffer more serious depression in the long run.

It’s an interesting theory and the negative correlation between mild depression and serious depression later in life is a telling sign that there may be some truth in the theories.

Oh, and the image Intelligent Life is using on the article? A self-portrait of yours truly looking slightly dejected. So head on over and read the article/look at my ugly mug.

Female Sexuality Research: What Women Want

The question ‘What does a woman want?’ was, according to Freud, “The great question that has never been answered”. One person trying to answer this question, however, is Meredith Chivers—a psychologist specialising in sexual behaviour whose work was extensively discussed in The New York Times earlier this year.

The article, focusing on female sexuality, is eye-opening in many ways, especially in showing the gulf between male and female sexuality.

The men, on average, responded genitally in what Chivers terms “category specific” ways. […] The men’s minds and genitals were in agreement.

All was different with the women. No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men. […] With the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person.

via Green Oasis

Evolutionary Consumption

Geoffrey Miller, author of the excellent Mating Mind, has recently released Spent; a look at consumerism and marketing through his lens of evolutionary psychology.

With an existing knowledge of evolutionary psychology theories the ideas in Miller’s latest will come as no surprise. These two reviews are still worth perusing, however:

Jonathan Gottschall provides a concise overview of Miller’s arguments:

From Veblen’s classic Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), Miller appropriates the concept of “conspicuous consumption,” whereby people live and spend wastefully just to flaunt the fact that they can. From Darwin, Miller appropriates sexual selection theory—”costly signaling theory” in modern parlance—whereby animals compete by sending signals of their underlying genetic quality. As with the gaudy displays of peacocks, purchasing decisions frequently represent attempts to advertise “fundamental biological virtues” like “bodily traits of health, fitness, fertility, youth, and attractiveness, and mental traits of intelligence and personality.

Robin Hanson deconstructs Spent into five critical points, offering some fantastic quotes:

  • Signaling infuses most human activity.
  • “Consumer capitalism” marketers trick us into using unreliable signals.
  • We’d be better off to talk and customize more, and work and buy less.
  • Laws aren’t the answer; let’s make better social norms.
  • Let’s also adjust a consumption tax to compensate for side effects.

This looks like the crux of Spent:

We are social primates who survive and reproduce largely through attracting practical support from kin, friends, and mates.  We get that support insofar as others view us as offering desirable traits that fit their needs.  Over the past few million years we have evolved many mental and moral capacities to display those desirable traits.  Over the past few thousand years, we have learned that these desirable traits can also be displayed through buying and displaying various goods and services in market economies.

Update: John Tierney has written a wonderful review of the book for The New York Times.