de Waal, 2002

This isn’t just one of the #papersIlike, it’s one of my FAVORITES.

I’ve read a lot of evolutionary psychology and I’ve read a lot of papers debunking the worst of evolutionary psychology. In the latter group, this is my favorite: Frans de Waal’s 2002 paper in “Current Directions in Psychological Science, “Evolutionary Psychology: the Wheat and the Chaff” (PDF).

In 5 easy-reading pages, de Waal, as gifted a writer as he is a primatologist, explains how evolution actually works and how some of the dafter ideas in ev psych get evolution wrong.

Think rape might be an adaptive trait? Or infanticide? Nope. He even – and this one is for Andrew and Sabrina – spends a couple paragraphs gently but thorough eviscerating the idea of “brain modules” as selected traits in humans.

He says… well, let me just quote him:

What evolutionary psychology needs to develop is a taste for multilevel thinking in which attention freely shifts between immediate (proximate) explanations of
behavior, which are the traditional domain of psychology, and evolutionary (ultimate) explanations. In other words, it needs to address both the “how” questions of how
things work and the “why” questions of why evolution favored a particular behavior—to put a little less evolution and a little more psychology into its explanations.

This paper was written a decade ago. As far as I can tell, evolutionary psychology has more or less ignored his wisdom. (I’d be happy to learn otherwise, if anyone can tell me some examples!)