Evolutionary Psychology: A Review

4. Experimental Successes of
Evolutionary Psychology

Book cover: The New Cognitive Neurosciences by ed M. Gazzaniga

Using the functional analysis approach, Evolutionary Psychologists have conducted a number of studies which, they contend, lends empirical support to their hypothesis. The most well known and readily accepted are these.

The seminal series of studies was that of Cosmides and Tooby's testing of the cheater detection hypothesis. In this study, they used Wason selection tasks [Wason 1966; Wason and Johnson-Laird 1972] to test the hypothesis that logical reasoning in humans is specialized to specific content domains. In particular, their study found that when subjects were asked to test for breaches of a social contract using logical rules, they found that they performed much more accurately (65–80%) compared with more general tests (25%) [Cosmides 1985, 1989; Cosmides and Tooby 1989, 1992].[6]

Silverman and Eals [1992] hypothesized that the superior spatial abilities of men compared with woman found on psychological tests dwarfs women's ability to recall the locations of objects. This locating skill, they said, was a function required by stone-age woman to locate and gather thousands of plants. Their tests confirmed that women consistently remembered more items and their locations more accurately than their male counterparts.

In a series of studies, Buss tested the hypothesis that the differences in the way males and females selected sexual partners and expressed jealously are due to selection pressures in the stone-age environment. For example, he thought that male ancestors regarded the sexual infidelity of their partners more seriously than the loss of their emotional attachment because of the investment they made in their genetic offspring. On testing his hypothesis, he found that on average his male test subjects were more upset by the prospect of sexual infidelity (51%) compared with his female subjects (22%) [Buss 1992, 1994, 2000; Buss and Schmitt 1993].[7]

In spite of these successes, Evolutionary Psychologists have come in for a fair amount of criticism on a number of fronts. In the next section, I will outline what I think are the most significant challenges faced by the Evolutionary Psychology research programme.


  1. [6] For a discussion, see [Tooby and Cosmides 1997; Walter 2014: §3; Buller 2005a: §5].
  2. [7] For more information, see Walter [2014: §3].

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