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The Human Nature Review Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 509-511 ( 2 November )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/campbell.html

Book Review

A Mind of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women 
by Anne Campbell
New York: Oxford University Press, 2002

Reviewed by Maryanne L. Fisher, PhD Candidate, York University, Toronto, Canada.

Anne Campbell’s book, A Mind of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women, is an excellent analysis of the differences between aspects of women’s and men’s lives, as interpreted using evolutionary theory. Although this discussion is interesting in itself, the true value of the book lies in the examination of a much neglected area of evolutionary psychology: differences in intrasexual competition. She attempts to demonstrate that women, who are less physically aggressive and less risk-prone than men, must use indirect forms of aggression due to parental investment. Women have more invested in a given offspring compared to men, and hence, must monitor their behavior in order to remain alive and be able to provide the necessary parental care.

In Chapter One, Campbell briefly reviews research on sex differences for the purpose of demonstrating that these differences cannot be accounted for by environmental, social, and cultural factors. Instead, she presents a well-supported rationale for using the evolutionary perspective. In a series of responses to “charges”, she defends evolutionary psychology from claims that it is equal to biological determinism, overly reductionistic, tautological, and legitimizes the status quo. This chapter is potentially useful as an introduction to the field for an upper-year undergraduate or graduate course.

The necessity of maternal care to offspring survival is the topic of Chapter Two. Women invest more in offspring, whether it is in terms of gamete size or postpartum care, relative to men. Although males contribute to the care of offspring in terms of protection and resource allocation, varying on their level of paternal certainty, females are often ultimately responsible for offspring survival. At the end of the chapter, Campbell sets the stage for her work on female intrasexual competition. She proposes maternal survival is crucial for offspring survival, and thus females cannot afford to engage in violent, risky, and dangerous competition, such as that undertaken by males.

Sex differences in intrasexual competition are the focus of Chapter Three. A key component of her argument is that women have as much to gain from competition as men. However, women must use low-risk and indirect forms of aggression in order to ensure their own, and hence their offspring’s, survival. She suggests fear, and specifically fear of injury, has evolved as an emotional trigger to provide restraint from direct forms of aggression. This theory is difficult to verify experimentally. Although Campbell provides an extensive review of the hormonal underpinnings of aggression-inhibition and risk aversion, the reader is left with many unresolved questions about how fear moderates forms of aggression and strategies for competition. That said, the chapter contains a well-researched review of aggression studies, especially from a developmental perspective, and a cursory examination of human and non-human primate dominance research.

In Chapter Four, sex differences in dominance and status are addressed. Vast amounts of literature indicate that women are not as physically competitive as men, and rarely engage in direct physical aggression. In contrast to men, women infrequently assume positions of dominance, and instead attempt to appear humble in order to avoid the resentment of others who might initiate conflict. This conflict may involve physically dangerous interaction, or may cause ostracism from a social group which is potentially dangerous in light of the need of friends for safety from males.

Female intrasexual relationships are examined in Chapter Five. Women typically transfer to non-kin groups in the majority of cultures, including hunter-gatherer societies. This transfer, according to Campbell, has resulted in the need for women to establish kin-like, communal relations with non-kin females called ‘friends’. Once separated from kin, women need safety from male aggression, and turn to their female friends for dependable protection and support. Therefore, women form alliances with other women for safety and not due to a lack of dominance or a preference for cooperating with others.

Chapter Six is a discussion of women and competition. After a concise review of the ‘sexy son hypothesis’ and the ‘good genes approach’, Campbell presents the concept that females actively choose males depending on their expression of traits such as attractiveness, resource accruement, dominance, warmth, and likelihood of committing to a relationship. Since attractiveness, as defined by a youthful body and face, is the primary criteria used by men for mate selection, women engage in intrasexual competition to be the most attractive. Competing with other women to be attractive can be indirect and low-risk in that there may not be a direct or potentially lethal interaction. However, being attractive can incite jealousy within competitors which may result in violent interactions.

Women and the crimes they commit, relative to men, is the topic of Chapter Seven. Men commit more crime than women, but both must secure their own resources. Therefore, the forces that cause men to commit crime also effect women, resulting in a direct relationship between the incidence rates of men and women. There are two types of crime according to Campbell: property crime, which she argues is an attempt to secure one’s own resources, and violent crime, which is intrasexual competition for ‘good’ mates. Using a wide variety of references and examining many different types of crime, this chapter is a particularly interesting inclusion and reflects Campbell’s renowned research in this area.

Marriage and intersexual relationships are the topic of Chapter Eight. Campbell reviews topics such as the benefits and costs of monogamy, reasons for marital dissolution, the importance of fidelity, and the influence of small children in regards to relationship maintenance. Throughout the chapter Campbell demonstrates that the reproductive interests of men and women are at times antagonistic and at other times synergistic.

The final chapter, Chapter Nine, deals with individual variation. After the lengthy discussions on behavior generalization contained in previous chapters, this chapter is a refreshing examination of individual differences from the evolutionary perspective. Campbell covers much theoretical ground, making this chapter potentially useful for an upper-level course designed to introduce current concepts in evolutionary psychology.

In general, A Mind of Her Own demonstrates the resourcefulness that women have used to keep themselves and their offspring alive, and the effects that this has on facets of daily life. Without a doubt, Campbell has drawn attention to the previously overlooked topic of female intrasexual competition. Furthermore, Campbell’s work has interested the research community as demonstrated by the 27 commentaries that were concurrently published with her 1999 article on women’s intrasexual aggression. This book will likely be of interest to the readers of this discussion as it is a further elaboration on her perspective, and includes many new concepts such as the importance of status, varieties of female friendships, and the implications of attractiveness.

Although Campbell’s arguments are quite convincing, one difficulty with the claim that maternal importance is a deterrent for violent or direct competition is that not all women are a significant maternal figure to their offspring. Hrdy (1999) has demonstrated that some women make the decision to have other individuals provide the majority, or all, of the childcare. These women are not few in number when one considers the historic prevalence of wet nurses and the contemporary use of daycare facilities. Campbell’s theory does not easily account for these individuals, or the consequences these decisions have on subsequent behavior. Campbell’s argument is further challenged when one considers that some women do not demonstrate any maternal instinct, and that maternal love is “anything but automatic or universal” (Hrdy, 1999, p.26).

As a minor comment, the reference style employed by the publisher was a consistent source of frustration. The reader must examine the individual chapter references rather than find the author name in an index. Without chapter headings at the top of each reference page, the process of locating a reference can become time-consuming.

Overall, A Mind of Her Own is a highly enjoyable and informative read. Campbell’s examination of differences in intrasexual competition, using the evolutionary perspective, provides a unique view on this much neglected topic. While the book will appeal to the general public, scholars will find it a detailed reference and a valuable addition to their library. 


Campbell, A. (1999). Staying alive: Evolution, culture and women's intra-sexual aggression. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 22, 203-252

Hrdy, S. B.(1999). Mother nature: A history of mothers, infants, and natural selection. NY: Pantheon Books.

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Fisher, M. L. (2002). Review of A Mind of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women by Anne Campbell. Human Nature Review. 2: 509-511.

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