PSYCH 448:  EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY                        WINTER 2010                                   rev 11/06/2009


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

MGH 288 Tues Thurs 12:30-2:20

Class website:



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 basic text is David Buss, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of Mind,  3rd edition, Allyn & Bacon (don’t get one of the earlier editions!). In addition, there will be original readings (posted to the course website) throughout the class.

Format:  The course will be partially in the ‘seminar’ format. About half the classes (a ‘class’ generally refers a 50-min segment of our 1:50-hour class period) will be led by the instructor and the other half by 2 students. Instructor-led classes will focus on a chapter of the text and/or one or two original papers on a particular topic (e.g., parental care and child abuse). The papers selected by the instructor or the student leader will be posted on the class website. The classes led by the instructor will focus on the basic concepts for that part of the course, and will parallel the corresponding chapter from the text and will use animal models on which those concepts are based, or to which they clearly apply. When possible, we will link these instructor-led sessions with a student-led session covering similar concepts or content (e.g., mate choice, reciprocity, concealed ovulation); for certain very specific topics, this won’t always be possible (e.g., homosexuality, menopause, eating disorders).

Student-led seminars:  Student seminars will focus on particular research papers (many readings and topics are listed in the Potential Topics link). I would like these seminars to consist primarily of discussion, but two students will be in charge of picking the readings (consulting with me) and giving a summary of the work at the beginning of the class session. To provide balance, and to encourage a critical attitude, I ask one member of the team to focus on the positives of the paper, and the other on the negatives. We will not treat this as a debate – a conclusion drawn from a piece of science is either correct (on balance) or not (on balance), and though in this course we usually won’t really be sure which is the case, the truth is not an issue that can be settled by debate. In some cases – because many of these topics are quite controversial – you will be able to find a pro paper and a con paper on the same topic (you will find some pro vs. con examples in the Potential Topics list).

Lecture notes:  Lecture will be minimized, and provided only where I feel the need to supply background. In those cases, I will post lecture notes on the website (follow the links in the Topics column).

Class Assignments and Grading:  In addition to the student-led seminars, there will be a take-home exam and a paper. The paper will be due on Weds, March 18 and will be based on one the topics that the student presented in class. There will also be one short assignment: a 1-2 page review of one of the IPEM seminars (see link below); an alternative will be provided for those unable to attend an IPEM seminar. Grade weights: attendance 20%, paper 30%, IPEM talk review 10%, exam 40%. Attendance scale: 4.2 if you make every class, 4.0 if you miss just one, -0.3 for every miss beyond one.

Paper instructions

Potential Topics and Papers:  In addition to the papers listed here – a very arbitrary and non-exhaustive set – you can find many more in the first 3 journals listed below, and in the textbook reference list. The first two journals you can reach through the University of Washington electronic library (so you have to work from your UW account, or log into UW if you’re working from home or the coffee shop). The third journal is open-source, but it is not as good in general as the first two. Start thinking now about which topics you’d like to work on.


Here, as an example, is the 2009 schedule.   Links to papers and lecture notes in underlined blue.                        

Seminar sessions in blue (‘mdb’ = ones I will lead). Seminar papers to be added > 1 week ahead of time).






 Original Source Reading


Tu 06 Jan

Evolutionary background



Th 08 Jan

What is “evolutionary psychology”?


Cosmides & Tooby: EP Primer


Tu 13 Jan




Child abuse and infanticide (mdb)


Daly & Wilson 1985

Th 15 Jan

Problems of survival

Buller versus evolutionary psychology


Buller 2005

Daly & Wilson rebuttal

Sex differences in spatial ability (mdb)


Silverman et al 2007

New et al 2007


Tu 20 Jan

No class – Inauguration Day (and/or work on choosing and researching your seminar papers!)

Th 22 Jan

ADHD & Migration (Victoria & Lorin)


Chen et al 1999

Mating Strategies




Tu 27 Jan


5, 6

Optional:  Kokko & Jennions 2008

                 Gonzalez-Voyer et al 2008

Th 29 Jan

Jealousy (Raymond & Megan)


Buss et al 1992;  Buller 2005;  Buss reply

Mate Choice




Tu 03 Feb

Homosexuality (Kelly, Bo & Max)


Bailey et al 2000;   Zietsch et al 2008

Theories of Homosexuality



Th 05 Feb

Pair-bonding (Sarah, Rachel, Lauren)


Quinlan & Quinlan 2008    Marlowe 2003

Altruism & Cooperation: Kinship

8, 9



Tu 10 Feb

Aggression and warfare



Coalitional aggression (mdb)


Wilson & Wrangham 2003

Th 12 Feb

Aggression (Vasilis & John)


Wilson & Daly 1985

The Hiwi (mdb)


Hill et al 2007


Tu 17 Feb

Reciprocity, dominance & status (Max & Megan)


Pradel et al 2009

Altruism & Cooperation:  Reciprocity

13 (pp 385-407)


Th 19 Feb

Language (Kynlan & Zach)


Pagel et al 2007

Language, mating systems & cultural transmission (mdb)


Holden & Mace 2003


Tu 24 Feb

Risk-taking (John & Raymond)


Wang et al 2009

Early pregnancy: risk-taking?


Wilson & Daly 1997

Th 26 Feb

Fears & phobias (Eric & Victoria)


Gerdes et al 2009

Personality & abnormal psychology

13 (pp 407-416)



Tu 03 Mar

Schizophrenia (Bo & Kelly)


Shaner et al 2004

Post-partum depression (Rachel & Eric)


Hagen 2002

Th 05 Mar

Autism (Lauren & Sarah)


Shaner et al 2008

Psychopathy (mdb)


Lalumiere et al 2001


Tu 10 Mar

Culture & Religion 1 (Zach & Kynlan)


Heinrich et al 2008

Culture & Religion 2 (Lorin  & Vasilis)


Weeden et al 2008

Th 12 Mar

Psychopathy (concluded)



Critique of Evolutionary Psychology

13 (pp 416-422)

Daly & Wilson 1999

Smith et al 2000



Useful Links:

Evolution and Human Behavior (formerly Ethology and Sociobiology)

Human Nature

Evolutionary Psychology:  An International Journal 

Human Behavior and Evolution Society 

Center for Evolutionary Psychology (Cosmides, Tooby et al) 

IPEM Seminar Series (Thursdays at 3:30, Denny 401)