Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

Another challenge to evo psych

I have posted a few times about my massive disagreement with evolutionary psychology. Evo psych is the theory that aspects of human behaviour are the result of specific evolved 'modules' in the brain - they often use terms such as 'hard wired' to describe these. The alternative theory, which I subscribe to, is that human behaviour is more fluid. I believe common patterns of human behaviour are the result of the reinforcement or clash of broad generic drives (such as anxiety and sexuality), in a species with self-consciousness and imagination. So sex or food taboos are ways of managing the clash of anxiety with impulse, rather than behavioural modules.

An example is language development. The evo-psych explanation of language development is that a specific language processing function has evolved in the human mind. The 'generic drives' explanation argues that there is a generic cognitive bias towards regularity, which manifests itself in language. I would say that linguistic theory is the aspect of evo psych which is most intellectually respectable, and (unlike the 'racism is innate' type theories) is not closely associated with a political agenda.

Today the bbc site reports on a study which challenges the evo-psych model.
"(This study) is inconsistent with the dominant 'universality theories' of grammar; it suggests rather that language is part of not a specialised module distinct from the rest of cognition, but more part of broad human cognitive skills... We're not saying that biology is irrelevant - of course it's not. But the clumsy argument about an innate structure of the human mind imposing these kind of 'universals' that we've seen in cognitive science for such a long time just isn't tenable."

Pinker - one of the most prominent advocates of evo psych - of course disagrees.
"The [authors] suggest that the human mind has a tendency to generalise orderings across phrases of different types, which would not occur if the mind generated every phrase type with a unique and isolated rule.

"The tendency may be partial, and it may be elaborated in different ways in differently language families, but it needs an explanation in terms of the working of the mind of language speakers."

For too long evo psych proponents have argued that the alternatives are that biology has no impact, or that their 'hard wired module' theory is the only game in town. I am very pleased to see that research is being done to investigate alternative theories.
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