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The Human Nature Review Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 204-207 ( 17 May )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/mealey.html

Book Review

Evolutionary Psychology and Motivation:
Volume 47 of the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation
, edited by Jeffrey A. French, Alan Kamil & Daniel Leger. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2001

Reviewed by Linda Mealey, Psychology Department, College of St. Benedict and School of Psychology, University of Queensland. Dr. Mealey is author of Sex Differences: Developmental and Evolutionary Strategies, Academic Press, 2000.

If you are not already familiar with the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation series, this would be a good time to become so. The series appears as an annual monograph, each volume being the proceedings of a symposium with a special theme relating to some aspect of motivation. The theme of this volume (#47) is evolutionary aspects. The editors are Daniel Leger and Alan Kamil, ethologists in the well-known Behavioral Biology Group at Nebraska, Lincoln, who work on the evolution of predator-prey relationships, and Jeffrey A. French, behavioral endocrinologist at Nebraska, Omaha, who studies reproductive suppression and other social interactions amongst cooperatively breeding New World primates.

The structure of the book consists of an editor's introduction followed by six chapter-contributions. (There is no summary editorial at the end.) The selection of topics and authors was superlative. Each author is, to my mind, the best there is in their respective research area, and the combination of topics brought together here displays both the breadth of successes in "evolutionary psychology" (thought by some to be relevant only to issues of sex and mating) and the series' ongoing theme of "motivation".

The book begins with Martin Daly and Margo Wilson on "Risk-Taking, Intrasexual Competition, and Homicide". Daly & Wilson first address the evolutionary rationale behind the "taste for risk", and then the facultative nature of violence and homicide in this light. They update their well-known work on sex and age differences in risk-taking in general and aggression in particular (e.g. Daly & Wilson 1988; Wilson & Daly 1985), then close with updates of their less-known, more recent work on socio-economic correlates and policy implications (e.g. Wilson & Daly 1997). It is particularly exciting to see the fruition of this decades-long research program, in that one common criticism of evolutionary psychology is that its proponents support the status quo and make no effort to contribute to positive social change. This chapter belies that criticism.

The second chapter is by Steve Gangestad on "Adaptive Design, Selective History, and Women's Sexual Motivations". I rather expected this chapter to be a rehash of Gangestad and Simpson's (2000) article in Behavioral and Brain and Sciences; it is not. It is much better. Gangestad is one of a very few researchers who understands both behavioral genetics and evolutionary biology and who integrates both into his psychological research program (see also Bailey 1997; Mealey 2001; Segal & MacDonald 1998). The majority of pages in this chapter provide a lucid explanation of behavior genetics and evolutionary theory with regard to sexual selection in non-human animals; only the final 10 pages address humans. This chapter provides a much-needed change from the superficial and post-hoc Just-So stories of human sexuality that the popular press typically portrays.

The third chapter is by Martha McClintock, Suma Jacob, Bethanne Zelano, and J. S. Hayreh, on "Pheromones and Vasanas: The Functions of Social Chemosignals". Like the first two chapters, this one also updates work for which the (first) author is well-known (the phenomenon of "menstrual synchrony" in humans sometimes goes by the name of the "McClintock Effect") and makes new contributions, as well. This chapter is perhaps more difficult than the previous ones in that its content involves more pure biology than what is typical reading for most psychologists- but for those who are interested in the fascinating and complex implications of pheromones (the "social chemosignals" of the chapter subtitle), it's as exciting as a mystery novel that one cannot put down. Actually, the authors use this chapter to suggest that there are three forms of social chemosignals, of which pheromones are only one, with "odors" and "vasanas" (from the Sanskrit term "to perfume" and in Hindu philosophy, referring to the effect of a previous life on one's current life) being the other two. I am not fully convinced that this is the best way to conceptualize the diversity of chemosignals, but given my interest in anorexia as a possible outcome of female intrasexual competition (Mealey 2000, in press), I was a completely captivated reader.

Chapter four, by Gerd Gigerenzer on "The Adaptive Toolbox: Toward a Darwinian Rationality", seemed to me at first, to be out of place in a book on motivation. Of course this is because with my training in biology and animal behavior, I am prone to think of motivation as being more closely related to emotion than to cognition, but for many psychologists (and certainly almost all other social scientists), humans are considered to be creatures motivated primarily by thoughts and attitudes (what Gigerenzer and colleagues refer to disparagingly as Homo economicus). Gigerenzer's contribution is in fact, well placed, and serves to remind us that biology and psychology cannot be separated. In this chapter (a shortened, user-friendly subset of the material in Gigerenzer, Todd, et al. 1999), he describes our "adaptive toolbox" of mental heuristics as being "not logical, but ecological". Through examples ranging from medical triage, to catching a ball, to choosing a mate, to using multiple regression analysis, he shows dramatically that heuristics are not just second-choice short-cuts, but adaptations that have evolved by natural selection to perform important mental computations efficiently and effectively.

Chapter five gives us Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney on "Cognitive Strategies and the Representation of Social Relations by Monkeys". It seemed to me that this chapter was less updated (with respect to their marvelous 1990 book, "How Monkeys see the World") than the others- a fact which I attribute to the greater time it takes to do field work as opposed to analyzing archival (Daly & Wilson) or experimental (Gangestad, McClintock et al, and Gigerenzer) data. I really appreciated having read Gigerenzer's chapter just before this one, as Seyfarth and Cheney make clear how complicated and dynamic are the social relationships that monkeys seem to track with ease. Much more complex than the kinds of tasks monkeys (let alone rats) are ever asked to do in laboratory studies, tracking of kin, friendship, and power relations requires categorizing, coding, hierarchical ordering, chunking, recall memory-- essentially the same higher cognitive processes we humans use when we schematize information. Monkeys, like us, actively schematize their world, and their behavior is thus motivated by cognitions as well as emotions. Like the preceding chapter, this one again reminded me how and why cognition and emotion are not discrete constructs.

Last but not least is a chapter on "Motivation and Melancholy: A Darwinian Perspective" by evolutionary psychiatrist Randy Nesse. This chapter best represents what I thought the book would be exclusively focused upon- the emotional facet of motivation - and in that sense there were fewer surprises in this chapter. Nesse summarizes some of the key concepts and issues in evolutionary medicine as he and George Williams defined the field in their seminal 1991 article and 1994 book. He then applies these to evolutionary models of depression, most of which are related to Price et al.'s (1994) social competition hypothesis of depression-- and not incidentally, to Seyfarth and Cheney's chapter on schematizing of social relationships. Nesse closes his chapter (and the book) with "a brief digression" to the topic of emotional commitment, which left me hungering for more and writing a note to myself to get his newest book on this topic (2001).

In sum, I found that not only was the editors' selection of chapters superlative, so was each individual contribution. Each author is a great writer, and each seems to have well and truly sussed out the audience of this series. Each chapter has enough background on its topic to allow the (highly) educated non-specialist to follow, yet still has enough new material to engage experts as well. The reader is neither bored nor invited (because of difficulty) to perform a superficial skim. Furthermore, while each chapter stands alone (very much like journal articles), there is virtually no repetition across chapters. This means that chapters can be read in any order. Despite this, I found that by reading the chapters in the order they appeared, I got something different out of the later chapters than I would have if I had read them first, and I appreciated the editors' thoughtfulness in choosing this arrangement.

Frankly, the editors' Introduction is the only part of the book I did not particularly like. It introduces five criticisms/misunderstandings of evolutionary psychology and why they do not stand. These relate to: commission of the Naturalistic Fallacy; biological determinism - or interpreting the terms "evolved" or "genetic" to mean "inflexible"; confusing ultimate and proximate causation; telling Just-So stories of adaptation or making the mistake that something that was once adaptive is still adaptive; and the idea that the mind is like a "tabula rasa" or a general-purpose computer. I thought the introduction came off as defensive and over-rehearsed. Obviously the editors thought it was necessary. Perhaps it is. If so, I am saddened. The proof is in the pudding, and these six chapters have absolutely no need of defense.


Bailey, J. M. 1997. Are Genetically-Based Individual Differences Compatible with Species-Wide Adaptations? In: Segal, N. L., Weisfeld, G. E. & Weisfeld, C.C., eds., Uniting Psychology and Biology: Integrated Perspectives on Human Development, Washington, DC: APA Press.

Cheney, D. & Seyfarth, R. 1990. How Monkeys See the World: Inside the Mind of Another Species, Chicago: University of Chicago.

Daly, M. & Wilson, M. 1988. Homicide. N.Y.: Aldine de Gruyter.

Gangestad, S.W. & Simpson, J. A. 2000. The evolution of human mating: The role of trade-offs and strategic pluralism. Behavioral and Brian Sciences, 23, 573-587.

Gigerenzer, G., Todd, P.M. & the ABC Research Group (Eds.) 1999. Simple Heuristics that Make Us Smart. N.Y.: Oxford University.

Mealey, L. 2000. Anorexia: A "Losing Strategy"? Human Nature, 11, 105-116.

Mealey, L. 2001. Kinship: The Ties that Bind (Disciplines). In: Harmon R. Holcomb III, ed., Conceptual Challenges in Evolutionary Psychology: Innovative Research Strategies. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Mealey, L. In press. Anorexia: A "Dis-ease" of Low, Low Fertility. In: J.L. Rodgers & Hans-Peter Kohler, eds., The Biodemography of Fertility Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Nesse, R. M., (Ed.) 2001. The evolution of subjective commitment. N.Y.: Russell Sage.

Nesse, R. M. & Williams, G. C. 1994. Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine. N.Y.: Vintage.

Price, J., Sloman, L., Gardner, R., Jr. Gilbert, P. & Rohde, P. 1994. The social competition hypothesis of depression. British Journal of Psychiatry, 164, 309-315.

Segal, N. L. & MacDonald, K. B. 1998. Behavior Genetics and Evolutionary Psychology: A Unified Perspective on Personality Research, Human Biology, 70, 157-182.

Williams, G. C. & Nesse, R. M. 1991. The dawn of Darwinian medicine. Quarterly Review of Biology, 66, 1-22.

Wilson, M. & Daly, M. 1985. Competitiveness, risk-taking and violence: The young male syndrome. Ethology and Sociobiology, 6, 59-72.

Wilson, M. & Daly, M. 1997. Life expectancy, economic inequality, homicide, and reproductive timing in Chicago neighbourhoods. British Medical Journal, 314, 1271-1274.

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© Linda Mealey.


Mealey, L. (2002). Review of Evolutionary Psychology and Motivation edited by Jeffrey A. French, Alan Kamil & Daniel Leger. Human Nature Review. 2: 204-207.

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