Are Creationists More Receptive to Evolutionary Psychology?Published 17 May, 2011
An interesting paper by three people at Swarthmore (including Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice) was just published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, entitled, “Who Likes Evolution? Dissociation Of Human Evolution Versus Evolutionary Psychology.” Lead author Andrew Ward and collaborators were interested in the relationship between people’s support for evolutionary theory, in general, and the application of evolutionary ideas to people, in particular, human mating behavior.
Specifically, they were interested in the possibility that people who believe strongly in the theory of evolution by natural selection would be more strongly opposed to evolutionary explanations for human mating behaviors – especially sex differences in these behaviors – than people who were opposed to evolutionary theory. They don’t have a theoretical framework to explain why this might be the case but, if it’s true, this would, perhaps, begin to make sense of resistance from people who one might otherwise have expected to be persuaded by evolutionary explanations for human behavior, including some of our friends in evolutionary biology.
Now, one might wonder if the method they used really addresses the issue of how much one likes evolutionary psychology in general. Here’s what they did. First they administered a questionnaire assessing endorsement of evolutionary ideas (e.g., in Study 2, one item was “Humans are the product of evolution,” answered on a nine point scale of agreement/disagreement). They used responses on this questionnaire to identify strong supporters and strong opponents of evolutionary theory. Subsequently, they asked subjects to agree or disagree with items such as, “Men generally value physical attractiveness in a dating partner or mate more than women do,” which they gloss as “endorsement of principles consistent with evolutionary psychology,” but which to me look a bit more like empirical patterns than principles.
The question they posed is whether strong support or opposition according to the first questionnaire predicted the extent to which subjects said that the evolutionary psychology scale items – really, sex differences in mating – were “accurate.”
Looking only at one set of the data (for brevity), and summarizing, as the authors put it, “opponents of evolutionary theory reported significantly higher endorsement of the evolutionary psychology items (Mean composite score = 7.20, SD = 1.31) than did endorsers of evolutionary theory (Mean composite score = 5.30, SD = 1.51), F(1, 246) = 87.51, p < .001.” That is, people who think that humans were created rather than evolved more readily agreed to items such as the one above, that men value attractiveness more than women do in a dating partner.
The authors begin their Conclusion section this way:
A philosopher colleague is fond of quoting the familiar aphorism, “Never let the data get in the way of a good theory” (see also Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979). The evolution supporters in our study seemed to hold to this maxim, refusing to alter their relatively lukewarm endorsement of evolutionary psychology even in the face of information linking it to a biological theory they strongly endorsed.
Now, as I say, I think one can worry a lot about the method here. As I indicated above, the dependent measure is assessing agreement with a series of items about sex differences. It seems to me – and the authors seem aware of this – that endorsement of these items isn’t exactly the same as “liking” evolutionary psychology. One might say that believers in evolution are less likely to agree that there are sex differences in mating psychology; can one say a lot more than that?
Well, there does, at least, seem to be a real difference here. The authors allude to an interpretation of this difference in the context of third variables. Suppose that liberals are more likely to believe in evolution, generally (probable), but resist the idea that there are sex differences in mate preferences (plausible).
That could give rise to the pattern of data reported in this paper and could, I suppose, explain why some people who one might have thought would endorse the idea that human mind is the product of evolution by natural selection sometimes seem to be resistant to it…