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PSY 70

William C. Sanderson, PhD
Professor of Psychology
221A Hauser Hall
Hofstra University
Telephone: 516-463-5633
Office Hours*: Mon 12:00-1:00 , Weds 2:00-3:00
(*note: it is best to email me to make an appointment rather than just coming by)
Course Description
The primary focus of this course is: What is human nature (that is, why are we the way we are) and why did it develop the way it did? Some of the specific topics covered are:  Is monogamy natural for men? For women? Why do men and women differ so much in their interests?  Why do men and women respond to sexual cues so differently? Why do people care so much about status? Where does sibling rivalry come from? Why do parents and grandparents favor some children over others?  Why do people prefer fattening foods even though they create many problems such as obesity and cardiac risk?  Why do humans experience the emotions they do (e.g., love, pride, fear, jealousy, anger, sadness, disgust). Why are people so quick to form groups and label others as "outsiders."  Why is the world in a perpetual state of war?  Why is "morning sickness" in pregnant women a good thing?  Why do some people vomit on roller coasters?  How different (or similar!) is human behavior from animals?
 All of these questions will be answered from an evolutionary psychology perspective. Evolutionary psychology provides a scientific data base to understand the ultimate origins of human nature. Practical and political implications of findings from evolutionary psychology will be discussed.  Full syllabus is below.
Psychologists are using evolutionary arguments with increasing frequency.  The goal of research in evolutionary psychology is to discover and understand the design of the human mind. Evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind. It is not an area of study, like vision, reasoning, or social behavior. It is a way of thinking about psychology that can be applied to any topic within it.
In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This way of thinking about the brain, mind, and behavior is changing how scientists approach old topics, and opening up new ones.
The majority of this course will emphasize the scientific underpinnings of evolutionary psychology and will be primarily lecture, although class discussion is encouraged.  The last couple of classes will emphasize the practical implications of these findings:  What are their implications for the way think of the world and ourselves?
Primary Learning Objectives:
1) Students will learn the controversies related to teaching the theory of evolution.
2) Students will learn the research methods employed in evolutionary psychology.
3) Students will learn a theory of human nature based upon evolutionary psychology.

Required Books
Wright, Robert.  (1994). The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way we Are.  Vintage Press.
Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Viking Press.
Exams: Your grade will be based upon THREE exams.  Each exam will be worth 1/3 of your final grade (33 points each).  Exams will consist of multiple-choice questions (short answer may be included as well – you will be notified in advance about the exact format).  Any material covered in class lectures, assigned readings, videos played in class, etc. are “fair game” on the exams. There are NO make-up exams.
 The fourth (final) exam is optional.  If you are satisfied with your performance on the first three exams your grade will be based upon those.   However, if you miss and exam, or would like to replace your lowest score, you can take the final exam.  The final exam will also be worth 33 points – however, it will be cumulative (strong emphasis on material covered in class). 
***Note. If you miss an exam you MUST take the final (4th) exam .


Warning 1 (nature of material in this course): This course may challenge some of your preconceived notions about sensitive topics that pertain to human nature such as gender differences, sexual motivations, the nature of relationships, infidelity, aggression, child abuse, parenting,  rape, murder, war, etc.  Please note that this course views human nature in the context of evolutionary biology, so it may be personally challenging if you have a strong literal belief in the creation explanations of one of any of the various religious traditions.  If you are not comfortable learning about these topics in a scientific way, this is not the right course for you.  

Warning 2 (class attendance):   I do not regularly take attendance.  However, this is NOT because class attendance is not important -- quite the contrary. Almost all of the material covered in class is novel and rarely overlaps with the readings, so the class notes are absolutely essential.   Exams will emphasize material covered in class (90% of questions on exams will come exclusively from lecture material).    Getting notes from someone else will not always convey the nuances of what was covered in class as we will often view videos, graphs,  figures, etc.   Therefore, regular class attendance is absolutely necessary.  If you do not believe you will attend class regularly, especially since attendance is not taken, you should NOT take this class.  Please note that every semester I have several students at the end who regret their performance on exams because of their lack of class attendance asking for extra credit to raise their grade.  There is no extra credit.

Recommendation: Do not multitask (e.g., check Facebook, text messages) in class -- see the following for an excellent review:

On a positive note, if you come to class, pay attention, take decent notes, and do the assigned reading then the exams are easy and you should get a good grade in this course.   The questions on the exam are straightforward.

1-  3/6 M
2-  4/10 M
3-  5/10 W
4- 5/17 W (1:30-2:30) - final exams week

Grading scale:
Final grades will be assigned according to the following numerical equivalents:
90-100 = A
87-89   = B+
83-86   = B
80-82   = B-
77-79   = C+
73-76   = C
70-72   = C-
67-69   = D+
65-66   = D
Below 65 = F

For a description of what letter grades indicate see:
Please note that when you take an exam you must put your name and answers on BOTH the scantron sheet and the exam booklet itself. You also must sign the Hofstra Honor Code at the top of the exam. In the event of a dispute (e.g., a claim that the scantron was not scored correctly), for me to reverse the scoring on that item the correct answer must be on your exam booklet.

Academic Integrity:
Honesty is an essential aspect of academic integrity. Individual students are responsible for doing their own work and for not taking credit for the effort and ideas of others. This includes plagiarism, cheating, and not contributing to group projects. This obligation is based on mutual trust. Cheating of any type on exams, papers, or other graded work will not be tolerated.  Please familiarize your self with the Hofstra University policies on academic honesty. See below for details.

Week 1
Introduction to Evolutionary Theory & Evolutionary Psychology
Why is Evolutionary Psychology Important?
Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer – Cosmides & Tooby:

NOT required reading - but just cool to look at - Darwin's original On the Origin of Species online:

Week 2
Research Strategies in Evolutionary Psychology
Is Evolution Still Controversial in the U.S.?  Why?
  Evolution in the News: 
  Daniel Dennett:
  Darwin: Ahead of his time:
  Teaching Evolution:
  Teaching Evolution 2:
The Onion:,1778/
Week 3 & 4
Human Survival Problems and the Development of the Brain 
(acquiring food, taste preference, 
                avoiding predators, avoiding sickness, etc.)
The Evolved Brain: Evolved Psychological Mechanisms
The Adaptive Function of Emotions
(Wright: 1;  Pinker: 1-5)

--EXAM 1
Weeks 5-8
Men & Women’s  Mating Strategies: Attraction & Love
    Qualities and physical characteristics that males and females find attractive in a mate.
    Mating motives of males and females.
    Sexual Jealousy
    Why Are We so Afraid to Acknowledge Gender Differences?
(Wright: 2-6;  Pinker: 18)
--EXAM 2
Week 9               
Parenting and Kinship
   Parental investment, significance of genetic relatedness, parental  favoritism, sibling-rivalry, step-parents.
(Wright: 7-8; Pinker 19)
Week 10 & 11      
Cooperative Alliances in Living
    Aggression (physical confrontation, threats, murder) & Warfare
    Domestic Violence
 (Wright: 9-10; Pinker 17)
Week 12 & 13  
Status, Prestige, and Social Dominance
    Consumerism/Materialism: What function does it serve?
    Distribution of Resources Throughout The World
(Wright: 13-14; Pinker: 20)
Week 14             
Why Are We So Afraid of the Implications of  an evolved Human Nature?
Who Are We Really?
What are the Practical Implications of Evolutionary Psychology?
(Pinker: 12-15)

--EXAM 3

Exam 4 is during finals week (time assigned for this class).
   **** Please Note: The class schedule is subject to change depending on the length of class discussions, the time to cover certain material, and other unforeseen events that can often altar plans. The professor has the right to change the curriculum to best maximize learning.
Individual Honors Option Proposal – Evolutionary Psychology
Honors College students may choose this option with my permission (If interested send me an email asking to be added to the Honors Option).  Students will be required to write 3 brief papers (5 pages each - double spaced, 12 pt font, 1inch margins) discussing a controversy in the field. References must be cited on a separate page (minimum of 4 references required – at least two books and/or journal articles and no more than two internet sources).

--> EMAIL completed paper to: (ideally as a word file -- not as a pdf file).
I. Due one week after the first exam
Opponents of evolutionary theory are concerned with the broader implications of many of the theories.  For example, explanations of gender differences based upon evolutionary psychology (e.g., males are more physically aggressive than females) raises concerns about promoting “inequality” (sexism).  Discuss the specific concerns raised by opponents of evolutionary theory with regard to this issue.
II. Due one week after the second exam
Homosexuality, suicide, and altruism are phenomena that challenge evolutionary theory. Choose one and explain the problem that it creates for evolutionary theory.  Then, discuss attempts made by evolutionary theorists to explain the phenomenon you selected.
III. Due one week after the third exam
This course will expose you to many new ideas about human nature, some of which are considered very controversial.  Discuss whether the information you learned in each of the following areas changed your personal attitude about these issues. Explain why or why not for 3 of the following 5 issues (choose only 3).
1.        The nature of sexual relationships between males and females.
2.        The obesity epidemic in the United States.
3.        The occurrence of aggression/warfare between countries
4.        The causes of the most commonly occurring phobias
5.        The nature of parent-child relationships.


For specific policy wording relating to the following important matters: Academic Dishonesty; Student Access Services; Deadlines and Grading Policies; Absences for Religious Observance; Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Misconduct; see

For information about an array of Academic Support Services that you should be aware of see:


William Sanderson,
Apr 7, 2013, 8:42 AM
William Sanderson,
Feb 25, 2013, 4:39 PM
William Sanderson,
Apr 29, 2013, 5:59 AM