[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]
Something is afoot in the story of us.
Well it’s pretty cool when we can see scientific viewpoints turning, slowly of course. Also known as a paradigm shift. Right now, it appears evolutionary psychology is under mainstream fire.
Put simply, evo psych posits that favorable traits during our hunter-gatherer days persisted in our modern contexts. Natural selection carved our behavior and locked it in place. For example: so-called rape genes are passed on to modern males because the cave dwellers who carried rape genes sired more offspring and thus passed on that trait or adaptation to more descendents than those without the trait. And so that’s why we have rape today. This is obviously an oversimplification, but you get the idea.
The public is drawn to evo psych because it provides a most desired thing: a neat reason, or excuse, for who we are; how we behave. That is not easily questioned, because it’s essentially unverifiable. We can’t go back in time to prove it.
These authors break the fanfare with two hits: evo psych depends on a relatively static environment over millennia, which evidence shows not to be the case. Our environment changes, and so the potential to engage genetic potential changes, dependent on the environment. Secondly, neuroplasticity appears to be firmly established, and the brain has extraordinary malleability and is able to adapt to different contexts over time. In short, the authors and their quoted researchers say the core of human nature lies in its “variability [across cultures and contexts] and its flexibility.”