Test your understanding of evolutionary psychology with this rigorous quiz

What, you never heard of “droit de teneur”?


As someone with degrees in both psychology and biology and who has studied the evolution of our nervous system for years:

Evolutionary psychology is mostly bullshit pseudoscience.
Its basic premise is trying to “study” evolution by looking at a single species and waxing philosophic about what might have lead to its current state


Maybe this berry? :cherry_blossom:

Help, I confused!


Any “scepticism” that does not include a very healthy dose of don’t believe everything you think isn’t.


There is a strange juxtaposition of this takedown and https://boingboing.net/2019/05/07/why-birds-fly-in-a-v-formation-2.html

The critique of evolutionary psychology fine, I think, but as a scientist it needs also to apply to biology, because “evolution” as an explanatory construct is as weak as “DNA” or “the brain”. In the migration story, an accurate explanation for why birds fly south in a V is “Evolution”. Had someone found a part of the bird brain that when resected would selectively prevent flying in Vs, they might then claim “They fly that way because it is in their brain”. Or if someone could isolate a gene they could claim “they fly that way because it is in their DNA”. None of these are technically wrong, as is the case for most of evolutionary psychology. In each case, it is about the type of explanation we are satisfied with. For the bird migration, the video produces a candidate one about mechanics, which is plausible, but it is probably not true that birds fly that way because of the forces, but rather because evolution created genes that expressed brain networks that produced the behavior. Actually, my favorite explanation for why birds fly south in the V pattern is because it is too far to walk.



So life is like Speed?

By the way, I enjoyed the screed. At no point did you exceed the posted screed limit.


Anyone who watched that movie and didn’t see it as a metaphor for the human condition was blind!


I read Cory’s post this morning before coffee and somehow completely missed that it was satire. After coffee, that seems remarkably dumb on my part. Oh well, carry on


“Its basic premise is trying to “study” evolution by looking at a single species and waxing philosophic about what might have lead to its current state”.
That’s untrue. Actual evolutionary psychologists such as Stephen Pinker, etc (as opposed to shoddy popularizers such as Peterson with his ridiculous lobsters) study our closest relatives, the Apes, and look for cross-species behavior. It’s rather hard to explain how great ape behavior correlates with human (also technically a great ape) without reference to evolutionary forces, since there is no cultural crossover.

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Does this help any?


The “because” answer need not be exclusive; the correct answer is “both of the above” (and others as well). Birds fly in a V because the mechanics make it more efficient, AND because evolution has selected them to do so instinctively (rather than having been to flight school and learned that it is the most efficient way).




While some skepticism is warranted about the worst of the “just-so” stories, at times it seems like dislike of evo-psych approaches evolution denial. Humans are apes, and it is not unreasonable for Dan Dennet’s explanatory “universal acid”, evolution, to be a default explanation, especially in cross-cultural and cross-species behavior. Evolution does not stop at the neck.

Steven Pinker is irrelevant to this. He’s a cognitive linguist not an evoutionary psychologist and has never actually studied non-humans

My first 3 research jobs were studying human cognition, non-human primate cognition, and comparing the brains of human and non-human primates. Its not that I think Evolutionary Psychology is inherently bullshit. I believe that the human nervous system is the result of evolvution, that human behavior and psychology similarly are rooted in our evolution and that by better understanding that evolutionary history we can better understand our own psychology.
When I first encountered the term “evolutionary psychology” I was excited and thought that it might be a good field for me. In practice, though, I’m yet to see any genuine study of evolution from the field.

All of Evolutionary Psychology I’ve personally encountered has been disingenuous folk psychology that consisted of looking at people and describing what feels true about us, and then searching the biology literature for data that fits the hypothesis to add a veneer of science, but without ever testing the hypotheses at all.


It really does feel that a lot of the people promoting “Evolutionary Psychology” are more or less doing what the old myth makers used to do, where you take something in the world and concoct a reason for why it is happening. (e.g. lighting and thunder is Zeus.)


a single Uberlobster, who reigns under the sea on a throne of barnacles and blood

Überlobster is my new term for Euron Greyjoy on GoT, thanks!



Thank you! That definitely helps!
Obviously those are pink things must be berries, they are my favorite color as determined by evolution after all.



  1. Why does this quiz only attack strawmen? Why does it fail to address very serious claims, like (((human biodiversity))), or how young women are genetically programmed to prefer older men even though older men’s dicks don’t work? Where can I address my angry emails? Are you making fun of me? Evolutionary psychology is very serious business! I AM TALKING TO YOU. MEN ARE TALKING.”

He’s definitely an evolutionary psychologist, he has studied the evolution of language (for example, “Natural language and natural selection”, 1990). While he personally hasn’t studied other primates, language abilities in other primates are part of the argument that language ability is an evolutionary adaptation rather than a spandrel. The political “pop” aspects of evo-psych as promoted by non-scientists such as Peterson should not discredit the entire field. I can’t say that I’ve ever watched one of Peterson’s videos, but if he attempts to get an “ought” from an “is” then he commits the naturalistic fallacy, which also seems to be behind much of the opposition to evo-psych. There doesn’t seem to be much controversy over evolutionary explanations for why we like sugary drinks or why stop signs are red, because they are non-political.

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The problem is that people like Peterson are the field. While Pinker’s work deals with psychology and evolution, that does not make him an evolutionary psychologist. The term “evolutionary psychology” is generally used to mean a specific (pseudo-)discipline, not any research that involves both disciplines in some capacity. The difference between Pinker and evolutionary psychology is the difference between someone who catalogs asteroids and a UFOlogist; they both deal with unidentified flying objects, but UFOlogy has developed a specific meaning.