Evolutionary psychologists expose the "shoddy" treatment of their discipline by textbooks

The Gendered Society contained 12 errors
about evolutionary psychology, more
than any other book in this evaluation.

Evolutionary theory is universally accepted among the mainstream science community. And yet, when the evolutionary perspective is applied to human behaviour, the approach continues to meet with resistance, and in some cases outright disdain.

A team led by Benjamin Winegard thinks part of the reason is because of the misrepresentation of evolutionary psychology in textbooks, especially social science textbooks on the topics of sex and gender. Based on their analysis of eight types of error in 12 widely used books in this genre, the researchers conclude that the treatment of their subject is “shoddy”.

Winegard and his colleagues chose to focus on sex and gender textbooks that were published since 2005 and that are used widely on sociology and psychology university courses in the US. Among the books studied: The Psychology of Gender (4th ed.) by V.S. Helgeson and Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective (5th ed.) by L. Lindsey.

The categories of error that the researchers looked for included the claim that evolutionary psychologists think biology determines or explains all of behaviour, or that evolutionary psychologists think some phenomena are influenced by nature while others are influenced by nurture (rather than reflecting an interaction between the two). Other error categories: that evolutionary psychologists have a conservative ideological agenda; that they endorse the “naturalistic fallacy” (that the natural way of things is morally desirable); and that evolutionary psychologists think people consciously attempt to boost their “evolutionary fitness” and are aware of the “evolutionary logic” of their behaviour, an error known as the “intentionalistic fallacy”.

There was an average of 5.75 errors per book and all contained at least one error. The most common type of error was miscellaneous and placed into a general “straw man” category (for example, the mistaken claim that evolutionary psychology ignores and cannot account for homosexuality). The next most common type of error related to biological determinism and nature/nurture, and after that came the Naturalistic and Intentionalistic Fallacies.

For each error, the researchers provide examples from the texts they studied, and then they provide refutational evidence, either citing from works by evolutionary psychologists, or by pointing out straight facts, such as that there are many female evolutionary psychologists (countering the claim in one textbook that the field is androcentric), and that a survey of evolutionary psychologists found their political views matched those of social scientists in general (countering the claim that the field has a conservative agenda).

Winegard and his team said their analysis has furnished “a well-defined catalog of errors in the presentation of evolutionary psychology and [demonstrated] that these errors occur frequently in undergraduate sex and gender textbooks.” They added: “Evolutionary psychologists have frequently addressed these errors, but our results demonstrate that, despite these efforts, errors persist.”

_________________________________

Winegard BM, Winegard BM, & Deaner RO (2014). Misrepresentations of evolutionary psychology in sex and gender textbooks. Evolutionary psychology : an international journal of evolutionary approaches to psychology and behavior, 12 (3), 474-508 PMID: 25299988

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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