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A critique of evolutionary psychology

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Evolutionary psychology is a relatively new paradigm and an interdisciplinary one that has engendered considerable debate, conflict and controversy among scholars of various disciplines. The purpose of this paper is to examine the sources of this conflict and to articulate the contested issues. Emerging from methodological and inferential differences among the relevant disciplines is the question of whether or not falsifiability need be a prerequisite for theories to be considered 'scientific.' Although universal consensus may substitute for falsifiability, the assumptions underlying the evolutionary psychology paradigm are neither falsifiable nor do they command universal consensus. Assumptions addressed in this paper include the nature of natural selection, the unit of selection, sources of variation, and the structure of the evolved human brain. Furthermore, the paradigm suffers from inherent contradictions: (a) the claim by evolutionary psychologists that knowledge of ultimate causes is necessary to accurately predict the consequences of proximate causes is contradicted when their hypotheses mimic those of learning theory; (b) when evolutionary psychologists conduct empirical research, results that contradict the paradigm are dismissed as invalid with the justification that current environments differ from ancestral ones; (c) although stating that data from non-human species are irrelevant, evolutionary psychologists utilize these data when convenient; (d) evolutionary psychologists acknowledge the role of ideology and politics in the formation and support of scientific paradigms but deny this influence in their own paradigm. Exacerbating the conflicts, some evolutionary psychologists present their paradigm as replacing, rather than coexisting with, current paradigms, alienating advocates of epistemological diversity. An alternative explanatory model is presented - one that is grounded in evolutionary theory, reflects recent advances in cognitive neuroscience and developmental psychology, and achieves a dialectical balance between nature and nurture.
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Keywords: critique; evolution; evolutionary psychology; natural selection; sex differences

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Southern Illinois University

Publication date: 01 August 2002

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