Evolutionary Psychology 307; Fall 2012; syllabus

NOTE: This online version of the syllabus is the OFFICIAL and UPDATED version of the syllabus for this course. REVISED vis a vis Hurricane Sandy.

Psychology 80307:  Evolutionary Psychology

SUNY New Paltz

Fall 2012

Professor:  Glenn Geher

• Office: JFT 314

• Office hours:





*For my T and Th hours, an appointment must be made via Psych secretary Jane Lehman (lehmanj@newpaltz.edu; 845.257.3470)

• Office phone number: 257-3091

• Home phone number: 255-1992

• E-mail:  geherg@newpaltz.edu

• Web address: http://www.glenngeher.com

EvoS web address: www.newpaltz.edu/EvoS



Required reading materials:


Journal Articles / Book Chapters


Bingham, P.M.; Souza, J. (2009). Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe. South Carolina, USA: BookSurge.


• Buller, D. (2005). Evolutionary Psychology: The emperor’s new paradigm. Trends in Cognitive Science.


• Buss, D. M. (2003). The evolution of desire. New York: Basic Books. Chapters 2-3.


• Buss, D. M., Haselton, M. G., Shackelford, T. K., Bleske, A. L., Wakefield, J. C. (1998). Adaptations, exaptations, and spandrels. American Psychologist, 53, 533-548.


• Buss, D. M., & Haselton, M. G. (2005). The evolution of jealousy: A reply to Buller. Trends in Cognitive Science.


• Chang, R. S., & Thompson, N. S. (2011). Whines, cries, and motherese: Their relative power to distract. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 5(2), 131-141.


• Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., Fiddick, L., & Bryant, G. A. (2005). Detecting cheaters. Trends in Cognitive Science.


• Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (2005). Letter to the editor of Trends in Cognitive Science.


• Dawkins, R. (2005). Afterword to D. M. Buss (Ed.), The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology.New York: Wiley.


• Gallup, G.G., Burch, R.L., Zappieri, M.L., Parvez, R.A., Stockwell, M.L., & Davis, J.A.  (2003). The human penis as a semen displacement device. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 277-289.


• Gangestad, S. W., & Simpson, J. A. (2000). The evolution of human mating: Trade-
offs and strategic pluralism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 573–644.


Geher, G. (2011). Evolutionarily informed parenting: A ripe area for scholarship in evolutionary studies. EvoS Journal: The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium, 3(2), 26-36.


• Geher, G. (2006). Evolutionary psychology is not evil … and here’s why … Psihologijske Teme (Psychological Topics); Special Issue on Evolutionary Psychology.

•  Geher, G., & Kaufman, S. B. (2011). Mating intelligence. In (R. Sternberg & S. B. Kaufman, Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence. Cambridge.

• Geher, G., & Kaufman, S. B. (2013). Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Mind’s Role in Sex, Dating, and Love. Chapter 9. New York: Oxford University Press.

• Keller, M. C. (2008). The role of mutation in human mating. In G. Geher & G. F. Miller (Eds.), Mating Intelligence: Sex, Relationships, and the Mind’s Reproductive System.Mahwah,NJ:Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


• Ketelaar, T., & Ellis, B.J. (2000).  Are evolutionary explanations unfalsifiable?

Evolutionary psychology and the Lakatosian philosophy of science. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 1-21.


• Kruger, D.J., & Nesse, R. M. (2007). Economic Transition, Male Competition, and Sex Differences in Mortality Rates. Evolutionary Psychology, 5, 358-374.


• Miller, G. F. (2000). The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature. Chapter 9.New York: Doubleday.


• Miller, G. F., Tybur, J., & Jordan, B. (2007). Ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by lap-dancers: Economic evidence for human estrus? Evolution and Human Behavior, 28, 375-381.


• Schmitt, D.P., & Pilcher, J.J. (2004).  Evaluating evidence of psychological adaptation: How do we know one when we see one?  Psychological Science, 15, 643-649.


• Smith, D. L. (2008). The most dangerous animal. (Chapter 1). St. Marten’s Press.

• Volk, A. A. & Atkinson, J. (2008). Is child death the crucible of human evolution? Journal of Social and Cultural Evolutionary Psychology, 2, 247-260.

• Wilson, D. S. (2006). Human groups as adaptive units: toward a permanent consensus. in The Innate Mind: Culture and Cognition. P. Carruthers, S. Laurence and S. Stich.Oxford,OxfordUniversity Press.

• Wilson, D. S. (2007). Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.

• Wilson, D. S., O’Brien, D. T., & Sesma, A. (2009). Human Prosociality from an Evolutionary Perspective: Variation and Correlations on a City-wide Scale. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30, 190-200.


All readings are found via the BlackBoard site for this course.




Course Background and Objectives:

Welcome to Evolutionary Psychology! Are human beings products of evolutionary forces such as natural and sexual selection? Is the human nervous system, thus, a product of organic evolution? Is human behavior a product of the workings of the nervous system?
Evolutionary psychologists answer yes to all these questions. Further, we believe that understanding the intricacies of evolution has the potential to advance our understanding of psychology by leaps and bounds. Understanding behavior from this perspective, as I see it, allows for a deeper and more coherent understanding of psychology than is afforded by alternative perspectives on psychology.


The ideas included herein have the potential to radically improve our understanding of each and every domain of psychology. As I see it, there is simply no kind of psychology that is NOT, ultimately, evolutionary in nature. This course has extraordinary potential to open minds to new ways of understanding behavior (across species).


Given how important this course is to me, I put a ton into it. Further, I expect a ton out of my students in this class. This class may be the most rigorous of the courses I teach. The readings are many – and they are not easy. Further, it is essential that all students do all the readings on time. I want the students in this class to be 100% dedicated. If you feel that this kind of experience, for whatever reason, is not something for which you are currently prepared, I recommend that you drop the course (I won’t be offended!).


The primary goal of this course is to expose you to the basic premises of evolutionary psychology.  In moving toward this goal, you will complete several readings dedicated to the basics of evolutionary psychology.


An additional goal is for you to learn the content of evolutionary psychology (including ideas and research on topics of parenting, mating, altruism, sexual orientation, aggression, and more).


Further, you will learn about major controversies that surround the field – as well as the likely future of evolutionary psychology.


The material in this course is often considered controversial for a variety of reasons. Evolutionary explanations have been criticized from multiple perspectives.  Some critics have claimed that such explanations are tautological, and ultimately non-explanatory in nature. Others have suggested that evolutionary psychology serves to promote a male-biased world-view. Still others have argued that evolutionary psychology is tantamount to genetic determinism. While several evolutionary scholars have addressed such concerns, it is important for students to be exposed to such criticisms.  As such, a core part of this course will address criticisms of evolutionary psychology. Such controversial issues that we will address include:


A. Is EP sexist?

B. Is EP a biologically defensible doctrine?

C. Is EP eugenicist in nature?

D. Is EP evil?

E. Do the basic ideas of EP necessitate a massively modularistic view of the human mind?

F. Can you believe in evolution and believe in true altruism concurrently?

G. Can an evolutionary psychologist believe in group selection?

H. Is EP relevant to individual differences between people?


Like every last one of us, my understanding of human nature is in progress. I expect that will be true for the rest of my days. I am excited about the controversies that surround EP and I always try to keep an open mind when presented with new, challenging ideas regarding the nature of human nature.


An additional, practical goal of this course is for you to express ideas about evolutionary explanations of behavior in your writing.  Thus, this class will require that you engage in writing.  This expression-of-ideas goal is based largely on my philosophy that knowing things without being able to express them to other people is akin to not knowing anything at all.


Each and every class you take should change your worldview – if even slightly – in some way. This class should be no exception. The journey will not be easy – the many readings will be high-level – the writing assignments will be graded with a critical eye – and the exams will be no joke. If all goes right, the successful student in this class will be rewarded intellectually for his or her hard work – and will carry with him or her important insights into human nature for years to come. I want that to be you. Welcome.


Course Requirements:


1.  Examinations (2; 30 points each):  Each exam will include essay questions and/or multiple-choice questions. Study guides will be posted ahead of time – students will be encouraged to go over the study guides with me (GG) and/or the TAs ahead of the exams.


2.  BRIEF Research Proposal (20 points):


Evolutionary psychology is a research-based enterprise. And learning about evolutionary psychology tends to lead people to develop hypotheses about human nature. For this assignment, you are to write a brief paper that does the following:

  1. Articulates a hypothesis based on evolutionary reasoning.
  2. Describes methods that would test this hypothesis.
  3. Predicted outcomes and implications.


Importantly, this paper is to be no more than two pages – printed on two sides of a single page. And it should be double-spaced.


This kind of assignment, forcing you to get your ideas reduced in a small space matches the kinds of assignments that professionals have all the time – this assignment will help prepare you for this kind of assignment in your future.


A sample research proposal is linked from the course website, and is found here:



Note that you are strongly encouraged to bring drafts to my office hours (or to the hours of one of our TAs) to go over this work before it’s due. We want to help!


3. Blackboard postings (10 total points; 1 point for each successful posting – for grading, the total number of points will be converted to a percentage (e.g., if you have completed 7 postings, you will get a 70% on this component of the course)).


You will be assigned to one blackboard group overseen by one of the TAs for this course. For each week with reading content assigned, a blackboard forum will be created. You will be required to post at least ONE content-oriented posting. Acceptable postings will be written in full sentences and will accurately cite specific ideas/findings from the readings (e.g., “I think that Miller’s ideas on altruism as resulting from sexual selection are fascinating – and I have seen several examples of altruistic behavior that seem to relate to courtship in people I know …”). In questionable cases, the TAs will consult with me (GG) regarding whether a posting fits the criteria.


Of the 11 weeks with BlackBoard forums, you need to complete 10. Importantly, the postings must be submitted PRIOR TO THE SUBSEQUENT WEEK’s class period to count. For instance, to have a posting count for the reading on the article by Schmitt and Pilcher (assigned 9/24), your posting must be submitted via BlackBoard prior to 4:30 p.m., 10/1.



            Grading:  Grades for all assignments will be converted to percentages.  The following equation will be used to determine your final grade:


• Final grade =

(Exam1 * .35) + (Exam2 * .35) + (Paper * .20) +  (BlackBoard postings * .10)


Your final grade will be on a scale from 0 to 100.  Final grades will be converted to letter grades using the following criteria:


94 – 100 = A

90 – 93  = A-

87 – 89  = B+

84 – 86  = B

80 – 83  = B-

77 – 79  = C+

74 – 76  = C

70 – 73  = C-

67 – 69  = D+

64 – 66  = D

60 – 63  = D-

Below 60 = F

Course Calendar


Date Topic Readings

8.27(1) Welcome to class!This syllabus


9/10(2) Examples of Evolutionary Psychology Research

BlackBoard Forum

Gallup et al. (2003);

Miller, Tybur, & Jordan (2007),


9/24(3) Evolutionary Psychology in the landscape of academia

BlackBoard Forum

Geher (2006);

Ketellar & Ellis (2000)

Buss et al. (1998);

Schmitt & Pilcher (2004);

10/1(4) Human mating

BlackBoard Forum

Buss (2003; chs. 2-3)


Human Mating Part 2

BlackBoard Forum

Gangestad & Simpson (2000);

Keller (2008)

10/15 (6) Mating Intelligence

BlackBoard Forum

Geher & Kaufman (2011)

10/22(7) EXAM 1

11/5 (was … 10/29 (per Hurricane Sandy) 8) Parenting from an Evolutionary Perspective

NO BlackBoard Forum

Chang & Thompson (2011);

Volk & Atkinkson (2008);

Geher (2011)

11/5 (as originally stated) (9) Altruism

BlackBoard Forum POSTPONED until next week (per Hurricane Sandy)

Miller (2000); Wilson (2006);

11/12(10) Aggression, War, and Human Nastiness

BlackBoard Forum for the TWO prior units (per Hurricane Sandy)

Bingham and Souza (2009); Smith (2008)

11/19(11) Religion and the Human Animal

BlackBoard Forum

Wilson (2007; Chaps. 28 and 29)

11/26(12) Social Problems and Applied Evolutionary Psychology

BlackBoard Forum




Kruger & Nesse (2007); Wilson et al. (2009); Geher & Kaufman (2013; Ch. 9)

12/3(13) Let the critics speak! A discussion of Buller’s critique of EP

BlackBoard Forum

Buller (2005); Buss & Haselton (2005); Cosmides, Tooby, Fiddick, & Bryant (2005); Daly & Wilson (2005); Dawkins (2005)




12/10 (14) Evolutionary Psychology SHOW AND TELL!:


For this final class period, we’ll have an open-ended discussion regarding multiple topics and the future of evolutionary psychology. Students are requested to find and review ONE of the following:


A. an interesting article based on evolutionary ideas – not discussed prior.

B. a reading that takes issue with some component of evolutionary psychology (also not discussed prior).

C. information on where to study evolutionary psychology at the graduate level.

D. or something else related to EP that seems cool to you.


During our open-ended discussion, students will be asked to discuss the particular contributions that they have brought in – think of it as “show and tell!”

Final Exam (Exam 2)Monday, DEC 17
Final Exam (Exam 2)


Course policies:

1.  Cheating.  DO NOT CHEAT.  Any student caught cheating on an exam will automatically fail that exam and, perhaps, the course.  Possible penalties include failing said examination and/or having an academic dishonesty complaint filed against the student in question. Failure of the entire class is also possible.


2.  Plagiarism.  Plagiarism occurs when material is taken from a source without proper citation.  If you quote something directly (i.e., if you use another authors EXACT WORDS), you must use quotation marks.  If you borrow an idea and reword it, you must report your source. Possible penalties include failing said assignment and/or having an academic dishonesty complaint filed against the student in question. Failure of the entire class is also possible. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE.


3.  Missing exams.  A Make-up exam may be given if there are extenuating circumstances AND it (the make-up exam) is (ideally) officially scheduled before the scheduled examination.  If such circumstances are shown to exist, you may be able to take a make-up exam.  Special arrangements will be made as to the time and place of any make-up exams. If a student requests a make-up exam after the scheduled examination, and especially extenuating circumstances (e.g., a serious illness) are demonstrated to exist, scheduling of a make-up exam might be considered.


4.  Feedback on paper. 


You are encouraged to meet with me (GG) and/or the TAs to obtain feedback on ideas or a draft of your paper before it’s due. For me, it would be best if you could bring me a hard copy of your work directly to my office hours.


ABSOLUTELY NO PAPERS WILL BE ACCEPTED AFTER THE LAST DAY OF CLASS (NOT THE FINAL EXAM). Further, any such late papers must be handed in at the meeting of the last class (not through a friend, etc.).


5.  Course conflicts.  If you have a regular scheduling conflict with this course (e.g., you will have to leave every class before the end of class because of work, you have another course scheduled that overlaps with this course, or you will be going to Rome for 2 weeks during the term) you should not take this course.


6.  Your paper for this class may NOT be based on a paper you have written for another class.


7. NO ELECTRONIC DEVICES (including, but not limited to: laptops, cellphones, text-messaging devices, Sony Playstations, etc.) may be turned on during examinations. Possible penalties include failing said examination and/or having an academic dishonesty complaint filed against the student in question. Further, such items are NOT to be USED during class (notetaking with a laptop is OK – but note that surfing the web during class is just all wrong).


8.  Attendance policy. You are encouraged to attend this class. Doing so can only help your grade. Attendance is not mandatory.


9.  SUNY New Paltz’s ADA Policy Statement


Students with documented physical, learning, psychological and other disabilities are entitled to receive reasonable accommodations.  If you need classroom or testing accommodations, please contact the Disability Resource Center (Student Union Building, Room 205, 257-3020).  The DRC will provide forms verifying the need for accommodation.  As soon as the instructor receives the form, you will be provided with the appropriate accommodations. Students are encouraged to request accommodations as close to the beginning of the semester as possible. See the following link for my official statement on ADA issues:




As a teacher I feel that my role is to help you learn, not to grade you, so please feel free to come see me or call me throughout the term if you have any concerns or questions.  I mean it.  Have a great semester.


Writing tips.


No papers with an abundance of the following errors will receive a grade of an ‘A.’


1.  USUALLY affect is a verb and effect is a noun.


e.g., This variable affects several things.

e.g., That other variable produced a very large effect.


2.  If the subject of your sentence is singular, the verb and subsequent pronouns referring to the subject must be also.


e.g., The participant then provided HIS OR HER (NOT “THEIR”) background


e.g.,  The point of these studies WAS (NOT “WERE”) blah, blah, blah … (point is singular).


3.  NEVER use the word “PROVE” in a psychology article.  While psychologists do many things, proving is virtually never one of them.


INCORRECT: These results prove that Schmedley’s hypothesis was correct.

BETTER: These results support Schmedley’s hypothesis.

BETTER STILL: These results support the hypothesis that Schmedley should change his name … just kidding.


4.  BE SUCCINCT.  Do not use a lot of words to make a point if you can make the same point with fewer words.  If two papers make the same points, the one with fewer words is, by my definition, better.


BAD:  Asch’s research on conformity is very interesting because it includes interesting research and has important ideas that are very meaningful.


BETTER: Asch’s research on conformity is interesting for several reasons.


5.  AVOID 1st person and, especially, opinions (unless they are asked for).


BAD: I am writing a paper on conformity.  In this paper, I will talk about how social psychologists have studied conformity and why I am so interested in this interesting topic.


BETTER: This paper will address conformity as it has been studied in social psychology.




BAD: Subjects were asked if they’d administer an electric shock.

BETTER:  Subjects were asked if they would administer an electric shock.



7.         It’s means it is (but you should not be using contractions anyway).


            Its is a possessive pronoun referring to a noun that possesses something.

e.g., The frog grabbed the fly with its tongue.   (here its means the frog’s)


8.  Punctuation marks go INSIDE quotation marks (when at the end of the sentence).


BAD:  Then the experimenter said, “Oh Boy”.

BETTER:  Then the experimenter said, “Oh Boy.”

BETTER STILL:  Then the experimenter said, “Golly!”


9.  Always follow the word “this” with a specific noun.  Otherwise, your writing will be unclear.


BAD: Changes will be made at all levels of management.  The impact of this will be enormous.

BETTER: Changes will be made at all levels of management.  The impact of this restructuring will be enormous.


10.  i.e., means “in other words.”  e.g., means “for example.”


e.g., These people are thought to be cerebral in nature (i.e., they tend to think a lot).

e.g., Their diet includes several kinds of flowers (e.g., roses).


11.  Here are some helpful word substitutions for you:


Change from                                    to

looked at                                examined

got                                           obtained

did                                           conducted


12.  Only use the word “correlation” if you are referring to a specific relationship between two different variables.  Do not just throw this word around because it sounds good.


GOOD: A positive correlation was observed between number of hamburgers eaten and the size of one’s bellyache.

BAD: A correlation between these different ideas can be found.  (This sentence simply does not mean anything).