PSYCH 459:  EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY                                                                              SPRING 2014                 

Prof. Michael Beecher (Guthrie 327, 543-6545,

Tues Thurs 12:30-2:20  ·  MGH 234                                                                                                     

Class website:        

updated 14 April 2014                                                                                                                                Evolutionary Psychology   London 1996

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The new field of evolutionary psychology explores whether and – if so, how – variation in human behavior can be explained as a result of biological evolution. This field is growing rapidly, and has attracted widespread interest from people in many fields, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology and law.  The course will cover core issues that are addressed by evolutionary psychology, including cooperation, communication, aggression, mating, reproduction and parental and family interactions. The course will encourage a critical, skeptical examination of research and theory in evolutionary psychology. For background, a prior course in animal behavior (e.g., 200 or 300) is strongly recommended.



Reading:  The core book for the course is Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. The book is much broader and more general than the title would suggest and in my opinion is superior to any of the current textbooks on evolutionary psychology. There will be considerable additional reading, mostly from the original research literature, of studies Haidt discusses (or at least footnotes) throughout his book; these readings will be posted on the course website.

General Format:  The course is not a lecture course.  Classes will be in ‘seminar’ format. I will post discussion questions for each chapter in Haidt. Sometimes the questions will be assigned to students (e.g., you might be expected to lead of the discussion on Q#6), other times we will leave them open-ended. Each student will pick one of the additional papers to give a seminar presentation (see next section). We may read some additional papers that are divided up among students in ‘jigsaw’ fashion.

Student-led seminars (standard format):  The seminar will be led by a student (or probably a pair of students if we reach or are close to the 25-student capacity) and should be given in PowerPoint (ppt) format (see guidelines at bottom of this paragraph). The presenter should assume that the audience has read the paper and should therefore concentrate on boiling down and summarizing the main points of the research. The presenters should leave room for discussion, both during and after the presentation. A seminar’s effectiveness can be judged (in part) by the amount of discussion it generates (though the paper itself of course must get a lot of the credit/blame for this). Hints for students in the audience on how to make the most of these seminars: First, read the paper before the class. If you are pressed for time, at least skim it for its essence. Ask questions about the paper in the seminar. Try and relate it to what you’ve learned to that point in the class, to the Haidt core book in particular, and to your knowledge of psychology generally.

               ppt guidelines               student email list

Student-led seminars (jigsaw format): This is a general-discussion format in which the material is split into small parts with 2 to 5 students assigned as experts on each bit. For example, a research paper can be divided into intro, methods, results and discussion; sometimes the results can be further divided (e.g., figure 1, 2, etc., or experiment 1, 2, etc.). Or sometimes a journal will publish a series of smaller papers commenting on another paper (critiquing it) or presenting different viewpoints on a topic. In these ‘jigsaw’ format classes, students read all the material, but are expert commentators/reporters only on the particular part of the jigsaw assigned to them.

‘Field Trip’:  Step out of you moral matrix and into another. Take a field trip to a church if you’re an atheist, or to a church outside your faith (ideally way outside) if you are a believer, to a LGBT meeting if you are socially conservative, to LaRouche political meeting … You get the idea. Details are here:  Moral psychology fieldwork   A short report on this trip will happen in class – in an informal discussion format – and should be posted on the class Discussion Board (see below) as well (nothing too fancy required).

Summary of EP 2013 Field Trips                        Outside MarLa’s moral matrix                       Outside Jen’s moral matrix

Comments & Suggestions for Haidt:  The idea here is to collect comments that (with some editing) we will send to Haidt. These would critique some aspect of his theory or his supporting evidence or the book in general. Or they can be suggestions for future research or for a revision of the book. There are roughly four (overlapping) categories:

·         Suggested revisions of the text (corrections, amplifications, clarifications).

·         Substantive criticisms, e.g., of interpretations of (or over-extrapolation from) others’ studies; or of the general logic of the approach and the theory.

·         Possible studies (experiments or field studies) that would relate to the theory.

·         Significant omissions you find in the theory or in the book in general.

Submit these to the group as a whole on our Discussion Board. Do this as you go along – don’t wait until the last week of class! Group members can then comment on your comments:



Class Assignments and Grading: Grade weights (as %s): attendance 20%; participation 10%; seminar presentation 15%; ‘field trip’ 10%, each exam 20%, Haidt comments 5%. Attendance scale: figuring 20 class periods, that comes to 2 weight points (1 % points) per class. Health-related absences are permitted of course, but must be verified. Participation:  The way the class is set up, with jigsaw and seminar presentations, everyone automatically participates, so don’t worry too much about this. Seminar grades: 30 points for perfection (requires a really novel presentation that makes the paper much clearer than it was when we read it); 28 points for near-perfection, 26 points for really good but containing a flaw. Unless something really bad happens (e.g., you fail to show up), I expect everyone to get 25 points or more. In a two-person seminar, both students get the same grade. The average grade for the course grade last year (and the year before) was 3.5. Total points -to- Final Grade conversion: (a) 140 points = 3.0, (b) 150 points = 3.2; (c) above 150, grade is scaled (curved).





‘Field   Trip’

Exam 1

Exam 2

Comments on Haidt















 Reading in Haidt or other general reading

Additional Reading (*seminar presentations starred)


Tu 01 Apr

Haidt Introduction     ppt


Th 03 Apr

Haidt 1  Where Does Morality Come From?

   DQs Ch1    KEY

Schmidt & Sommerville 2011 Fairness Expectations and Altruistic Sharing in 15-Month-Old Human Infants  (Note 7, Ch 1)  ppt


Tu 08 Apr

Haidt 2  The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail

   DQs Ch2     KEY

De Waal (2005) Morality and the Social Instincts: Continuity with the Other Primates.   (Note 21, Ch 2)

Th 10 Apr

Tooby & Cosmides: Evolutionary Psychology                     DQs

Silverman et al (2007) & New et al (2007) on gender differences in spatial abilities


Tu 15 Apr

Haidt 3  Elephants Rule    DQs Ch3     jigsaw

*Greene et al (2001) An fMRI study of emotional engagement in moral judgment.  (Note 41, Ch 3)  C.J. & Noralie

Th 17 Apr

Haidt 4  Vote for Me (and Here’s Why)

*Westen et al (2006) Neural bases of motivated reasoning: An fMRI study of emotional constraints on partisan political judgment in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election.  (Note 40, Ch 4)  Adele & Kevin


Tu 22 Apr

Haidt 5  Beyond WEIRD Morality

Haidt 6  Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind

Kurzban et al (2012): Hamilton vs Kant: Adaptations for altruism vs adaptations for moral judgment  Chi-Yu & Ana

Th 24 Apr

Haidt 7  The Moral Foundations of Politics

*van Vugt et al (2007): Gender differences in cooperation and competition : The Male-Warrior Hypothesis  (Note 20, Ch 7)  Megan & Matt


Tu 29 Apr

Summing up…


Th 01 May





Tu 06 May

Haidt 8  The Conservative Advantage

*Graham, Haidt & Nosek (2009): Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations  Go Eun & Patricia

Th 08 May

Haidt chapter 8 – continued

*Fehr & Gachter (2002): Altruistic punishment (Notes 45-48, Ch 8)             Clemente & Nguyen


Tu 13 May

Haidt 9: Why are we so Groupish?

*Almas et al (2010): Fairness and the development of inequality acceptance  (Note 51, Ch 8)   Maleny & Tatiana

Th 15 May

Haidt chapter 9 – continued

*Kurzban et al (2001): Can race be erased?  (Note 51, Ch 9)  Adam & Anne-Lise


Tu 20 May

Haidt 10: The Hive Switch

*De Dreu et al (2010): Oxytocin regulates parochial altruism (Note 34, Ch 10) Erika & Thanh-Thao

Th 22 May

Haidt 11: Religion as a Team Sport

*D. S. Wilson (2004): Testing hypotheses about religion  (Notes 39-43 Ch 11) InKee & Juliana


Tu 27 May

Haidt chapter 11 – continued

    Jasmine & Vikki

*Sosis (2000) & *Sosis & Bressler (2003) on communes (Note 30-31, Ch 11)

*Peoples & Marlowe (2012): Subsistence & evolution of religion

     Erin & Charles

Th 29 May

Haidt 12: Can’t we all Disagree More Constructively?

*Koleva et al (2012): How moral concerns help explain culture war attitudes

    Andy & Jessica


Tu 03 June

Summing up…

Graham et al (2012): Onward and upward with moral foundations theory

Th 05 June



Exam Week

All other assignments (field trip report, comments on Haidt) due by midnight Thurs 12 June

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