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Evolutionary psychology: Promiscuity among primates and humans

A friend wrote to ask me about “evolutionary” psychology claims that humans are promiscuous because of our evolutionary history with chimps and bonobos.

I replied:

Those people stoop to just about anything, don’t they?

As per your summary, “Evolutionary biologists consider that bonobos and chimps are the most closest species according to our evolutionary tree or bush, and since both species are very promiscuous, they infer that this behaviour was present in our common ancestor with them, and that promiscuous behaviour among modern humans is therefore an inevitable consequence of our evolutionary history. ”

Let’s picture ourselves in the Toronto Zoo’s primate sanctuary. It comes out that one enterprising bonobo male has impregnated all the females, willing or no. So? It’s inconvenient, because the zookeepers will need to find new homes for most of the expected offspring. If they think it’s a big enough problem, they can always put the females on the Pill hereafter, right? Or put him in a separate enclosure. Otherwise, as we say here, that’s just life wandering its way through time.

Okay, now let’s picture ourselves in a courtroom at the Old City Hall Courthouse. The judge is hearing oral arguments from the defense lawyer for a serial rapist. The defendant’s lawyer says that due to the behaviour of chimpanzees and bonobos, “promiscuous behaviour among modern humans is therefore an inevitable consequence of our evolutionary history,” so we should go easy on his client.

I think the judge and the prosecution would be competing to interrupt at that point, and most local jurors and onlookers would be aghast.

What’s missing from the analysis is that lots of characteristics may be part of our evolutionary history, but humans uniquely possess the ability to select among characteristics which ones we think we should encourage.

A guy could be a serial rapist – or he could take a folk dancing class and meet a nice girl. The former choice will likely get him a set of leg irons at the Courthouse and the latter a rental tux and free carnation at the City Hall wedding chamber.

It is not an argument for any form of human behaviour whatever that it may have been in our evolutionary history, because all sorts of behaviour has been in our evolutionary history, including a great many behaviours never practiced by chimps or bonobos.

Also, at The Mindful Hack:

Neuroscience: You can’t have a second chance if you never had a first one

Spirituality: If you want to ride the carousel, go to the circus

Neurolaw: The most sophisticated method of punishment ever?

Psi effect: The Teton Mountain Stomp! Stamp! has not worked, I guess …

Help wanted ads: God wanted – only for climate change – no other responsibilities
Neuroscience: You can’t have a second chance if you never had a first one

Spirituality: If you want to ride the carousel, go to the circus

Neurolaw: The most sophisticated method of punishment ever?

Psi effect: The Teton Mountain Stomp! Stamp! has not worked, I guess …

Help wanted ads: God wanted – only for climate change – no other responsibilities

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7 Responses to Evolutionary psychology: Promiscuity among primates and humans

  1. Hi Mrs O’Leary,

    I’m in agreement that “my genes made me do it” is no excuse. But since I’m not up on all the evo-psycho research, do you have a reference for a researcher actually expressing the opinion that your friend assumes to exist, and that you responded to?

  2. “promiscuous behaviour among modern humans is therefore an inevitable consequence of our evolutionary history”

    This can mean so many things. One possible meaning is that we have evolved a drive to promiscuity that is so strong we cannot resist it in the same sense we cannot resist our drive to eat and that this is a mitigating factor when we do bad things. I very much doubt that any evolutionary psychologist has ever held this view (although some crackpot intrepreter might have).

    A more likely interpretation is this:

    Unlike many species, members of homo sapiens often want multiple sexual partners. The hypothesis is that this desire evolved in a common ancestor between ourselves and other apes with promiscuous behaviour patterns.

    This is simple a scientific hypothesis which may or may not be true. It makes no moral statement. In particular it does not mean we cannot overcome this desire or that the strength of this desire is a mitigating circumstance should it lead to bad behaviour.

    The line:

    Those people stoop to just about anything, don’t they?

    Is a wild extrapolation of something a friend said in an e-mail about evolutionary psychologists.

    the hypothesis that that our species to desire to have multiple sexual partners may wedesire to be pro

  3. Whoops sorry about the junk final paragraph in #2. Is there any way to edit your comments after you send them?


  4. A friend wrote to ask me about “evolutionary” psychology claims that humans are promiscuous because of our evolutionary history with chimps and bonobos.

    Let me add my voice to Nakashima’s to say that it would be helpful, as he asked, if you could cite some examples of evolutionary psychologists saying any such thing.

  5. Here is some insights about the evolution of promiscuity from Psychology Today:

    “Okay, but why should our pair-bonding program cause us to hesitate in partying like our playboy/playgirl Bonobo cousins? Because it appears that our ancestors’ brains changed in order to shift them from standard mammalian promiscuity to pair bonding. The changes make sex and love with a new partner so thrilling that pair-bonders generally hear rhapsodies, see stars…and want to stick around each other for a while.

    Unfortunately, the changes also appear to leave pair-bonder brains more sensitive to seeking highs from addictive substances and activities than the brains of more typical mammals, which don’t pair bond. This became evident when scientists offered amphetamines to two vole species. The species are apparently identical but for the fact that one pair bonds and the other is cheerfully promiscuous.”
    http://www.psychologytoday.com.....ole-models

    So there we have it. That explains the root cause of drug addiction. Because we have shifted from being promiscuous like our Bonobo cousins to pair bonding that is why humans use and abuse drugs. I guess then the cure drug abuse is to become more promiscuous? Isn’t it?

    Are these people smart or what?

  6. OT: Anyone know what to make of this? Is that not incredibly bizarre?

    My first hunch was that Darwinists will use this as further “evidence” for their “theory” (shocking proposal, I know).

  7. OT: Anyone know what to make of this? Is that not incredibly bizarre?

    *Poof*

    :P

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