January 14. Theoretical Foundations Evolutionary Psychology and Sexual Selection

January 14. Theoretical Foundations Evolutionary Psychology and Sexual Selection

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Goal of course: To understand the basic design of brain mechanisms that generate human mating psychology and behavior – Premise of course that human brains contain specialized machines that govern our mating psychology Physiological machines well-established: example, machines that increase hunger when glucose falls but produce satiety after food intake – Analogously, we possess machines that regulate mating psychology: what we find attractive, what we are motivated to do to attract mates, when we get jealous, etc. – Central question of course is an engineering one: how are these machines designed to work? No different from asking how hearts work or how livers work. – Implicit in the social sciences is an alternative perspective: that specialized mating mechanisms do not exist; instead, general learning mechanisms produce somewhat arbitrary standards of beauty, courtship practices, etc.
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Goal of course: To understand the basic design of brain mechanisms that generate human mating psychology and behavior General assumption that these brain mechanisms evolved by natural selection b/c they solved specific problems (i.e. have specific functions) Course from perspective of ‘evolutionary psychology’
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What is Evolutionary Psychology? Metatheoretical position that the human brain contains a collection of specialized processing mechanisms designed by natural selection to address specific problems encountered by our ancestors over the course of human evolution Examples of Adaptive Problems: Visual scene analysis Food choice Mate choice/attraction Predator avoidance Navigation Parenting
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Specialized Mechanisms General properties of specialized mechanisms: 1. Develop by design No argument that specialized machines are fully formed at birth – develop over time EP not deny importance of learning: proposes specialized learning
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SPECIALIZED LEARNING EXAMPLE Bird song learning Juvenile songbirds show ability to pick out own species’ song from medley of songs from different species Sensitive period: Must hear song by age of 7 weeks in order to produce good imitation 3 periods: sensitive period (acquisition), subsong (feedback tuning), crystallization (deafening has no effect) “…we gave hand-reared sparrows of both species a chance to learn from tapes of their own species or tapes of the other species. As we had expected, the birds learned almost exclusively from tapes of their own species. The rare cross- species imitations are important, however: they show that songs of other species can physically be sung, and that the normal tendency not to learn the song of another species comes from the birds’ inattentiveness to such songs rather than from inability to produce them.”
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Are these examples of bird-song learning instances of “nature” or “nurture”? Why? Evolutionary psychology does not argue for the
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This note was uploaded on 09/09/2011 for the course PSY 146 taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '11 term at UCSB.

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January 14. Theoretical Foundations Evolutionary Psychology and Sexual Selection

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