PSY 70: EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY
William C. Sanderson, PhD
Professor of Psychology
221A Hauser Hall
Office Hours*: Please email me to schedule a meeting if interested.
COURSE FEEDBACK FORM:Do not hesitate to provide ANONYMOUS feedback about any aspect of the course you are currently taking. No identifying information is accessible to me and I welcome feedback. Every group of students in a classroom is unique and I am willing to make modifications where appropriate. The feedback can include: (1) suggestions for improvement, (2) noting things that are problematic, or (3) noting things that you like about the course and/or my teaching style. PS: I am receptive to non-anonymous feedback as well (firstname.lastname@example.org) - but I am providing this option for those more comfortable with giving it anonymously to maximize the feedback I receive.
ANONYMOUS FEEDBACK FORM: https://forms.gle/EGJx7YwstSpTxdh48r
LIMITED ZOOM ATTENDANCE:
Everyone in class is allowed to use a Zoom option on 3 occasions (synchronous). Ideally you will save this for when you are not feeling well or if you test positive for COVID. If you are interested in doing so please complete the questions at the link below at least one hour prior to class so I know you will need to be "let in" to zoom. Please note that I can NOT always guarantee that the zoom will be working correctly (sometimes batteries are not working for sound as an example) but I will do my best to have it working properly.
LINK TO MAKE REQUEST: https://forms.gle/1aUkBjp11fay8RGQ7
PSY 70 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.
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.
(any publication year for these books is fine)
TWO IMPORTANT WARNINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE TAKING THIS CLASS:
Warning 1 (nature of material in this course):
This course presents evolutionary theories and data about emotionally-charged aspects of human behavior. It is possible that this information may upset you in some way. This is not necessarily a bad thing -- in fact I think it can be a good sign -- perhaps you are pushing your intellectual boundaries, leading you to question received wisdom, making you confront your biases and assumptions. This course covers emotionally charged topics such as sex differences, sexual behavior, infidelity, rape, jealousy, violence, warfare, family conflict, religion, free will, human selfishness and immorality. Also, this course may be personally challenging if you have a strong literal belief in the creation stories of various religions. Evolutionary psychology is based on evolutionary biology, the fossil evidence for human evolution, our behavioral similarities to other primates, and other theories and facts that can be hard to reconcile with ideas related to Creationism or the newer ‘Intelligent Design’ movement. Alternatively, this course may be challenging if you have strong post-modernist, relativist, secular beliefs about the role of culture, ideology, or gender roles in shaping human behavior. You may face some challenges in trying to reconcile those viewpoints with this course’s content which may at times go against some of those ideas as well as current notions of political correctness.
If you strongly adhere to these types of beliefs, you are more than welcome to take this course, however you will have to make your own decision about whether this course is right for you. I am more than willing to discuss any of your concerns about these topics. I attempt to balance presenting ideas that are religiously, culturally, or politically challenging in a respectful way while at the same time maintaining my right to academic freedom in teaching and adhering to a focus on empirical data and scientific theories.
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.
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.
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).
You will have one hour to complete each exam.
***Note. If you miss an exam you MUST take the final (4th) exam .
TENTATIVE EXAM DATES
1- M 3/6
2- W 4/12
3- W 5/10
4- (finals week)
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.
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.
GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE YOUR ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE:
Do not multitask (e.g., check Facebook, text messages) in class -- see the following for an excellent review:
Use handwritten notes rather than typing into a computer:
SHARED DRIVE FOR THIS COURSE FOR DISTRIBUTION OF MATERIALS:
Week 1 & 2
Introduction to the explanatory power of evolutionary psychology.
Human Nature: What our brain is built to accomplish (hint: not happiness and satisfaction)
Emotions: Motives to guide us to reach evolutionary success
Say goodbye to the blank slate hypothesis of the human brain.
Mismatch Theory: Modern society has us living in a "zoo"
The making of supernormal stimuli: Why our physical and mental health is declining rapidly.
Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer – Cosmides & Tooby: http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/primer.html
Biological Mismatch and illness: www.businessinsider.com/patients-and-evolutionary-history-2013-1
NOT required reading - but just cool to look at - Darwin's original On the Origin of Species online:
Introduction to evolutionary theory and how it applies to the human brain.
Conservatives and liberals both do not like what evolutionary psychology has to say.
Daniel Dennett: https://www.edge.org/conversation/daniel_c_dennett-show-me-the-science
Darwin: Ahead of his time: see pdf in shared drive for copy of this article
The Onion: http://www.theonion.com/articles/evangelical-scientists-refute-gravity-with-new-int,1778/
Human Survival and the Development of the Brain
Taste preferences: our love of high calorie, high fat, high sugar, high salt foods is killing us
Avoidance of predators and the existence of phobias
Avoidance of toxins and the disgust response
The Evolved Brain: Pre-programmed mental processes?
The Adaptive Function of Emotions: Good reasons for bad feelings.
(Wright: 1; Pinker: 1-5)
Men & Women’s Mating Strategies: Attraction & Love
Why males and females have similarities -- and differences -- in who they find attractive.
Collision of mating motives of males and females (they're quite different)
Forced copulation (rape)
Why are we so afraid to acknowledge sex differences?
(Wright: 2-6; Pinker: 18)
Parenting and Kinship
The nature and cost of parental investment
Do parents favor some children over others? If so, why?
Sibling rivalry can be fierce
Step-parents and potential hazards
Why genetic relatedness matters to people
Why do people have friends
(Wright: 7-8; Pinker 19)
Week 10 & 11
Cooperative Alliances in Living
Are humans an altruistic species?
Are humans a violent/aggressive species by nature?
Aggression and murder, domestic violence
(Wright: 9-10; Pinker 17)
Week 12 & 13
Status, Prestige, and Social Dominance
Consumerism/Materialism: What function does it serve and what problems does it create?
A selfish species: Distribution of resources throughout the world
(Wright: 13-14; Pinker: 20)
Why are we so afraid of the implications of an evolved human nature?
Who are we really? A realistic look in the mirror.
What are the practical implications of evolutionary psychology?
Are humans on the verge of self-created extinction?
--EXAM 4 - optional as noted above is during finals week (the time assigned for this class - 1 hour exam beginning at the start time).
**** 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 in PDF format to: email@example.com
I. DUE MARCH 10
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 APRIL 10
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 MAY 10
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.
Information about Academic Dishonesty; Student Access Services; Deadlines and Grading Policies; Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Misconduct; and Absences for Religious Observance, is available at this link: