Evolutionary Psychology is Pseudoscience

“I love science!” Men exclaim this after reading a pop lit book on evolutionary psychology. They never actually read the original journal articles about social and evolutionary psychology to see if those studies have any validity. Can you trust politically correct academic departments to tell you how to be a dominant man?

I’ve actually read dozens of articles and they are pseudoscience at best.

A recent article at The Art of Manliness offers a perfect example of the pseudoscience of evolutionary and social psychology. What you’ll find when you dig into these studies are three commonalities:

  • Undergraduates are the test subjects. The behavior of white, middle-to-upper class children is then generalized population wide.
  • Undergraduates are asked what they think about some scenario. Their behavioral or hormonal response is not measured.
  • The undergraduates do not observe the animals in the wild. Instead, they watch videos or read poorly-written short stories.

If you want to understand dominance, beware of scientific studies. 

Scott Barry Kaufman is a leading voice in social and evolutionary psychology. He has a PhD from Yale and is a head honcho at Penn. Indeed, as his bio notes, “Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute and a researcher in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.”

(Scott Barry Kaufman is an expert on male dominance.)

alpha male or beta male

He recently wrote an article titled, “The Science of Dominance.” In this article, he purports to explain what type of dominant behavior women find attractive in men.

An article on the science of dominance would include a study on behavior and hormonal changes in the test subjects.

Maybe he’d ask women to observe a vanilla gorilla in his habitat. Instead of asking women what they think of such a beast, the women would be wired with electrodes to see how their various body parts responded.

Perhaps a scientific study of dominance would measure hormones such as cortisol and testosterone in men, and oxytocin in women. Maybe you’d have a big dominant man hug a woman and see if she felt connected and prepared to pair bond (again, as measured by objective criteria such as her hormonal response.)

Maybe you’d place some nodes on the skin of men and women to see how their parasympathetic nervous system responds to various stimuli. Take saliva and sweat samples of cortisol.

How do men and women respond hormonally when a dominant man is in his or her presence?

Does a woman’s pulse quicken when a dominant man is in front of her? Does she smile and twirl her hair? Does she find herself drawn to him and slowly lean towards him, as if being attracted by a magnet?

Do beta males cringe and bring their legs closer to together? Do dominant men take up more space with alpha male posture?

(Mike Danger does not have a single scientific credential.)

alpha or beta gorilla

Perhaps not. Here is what is a well-designed scientific study in the field of social and evolutionary psychology:

The researchers presented their participants with videotaped and written scenarios depicting two men interacting with each other. The scenarios varied on whether the male acted “dominant” or “nondominant.”

I suppose you can tell if someone is being dominant or non-dominant, if you have amazing actors. What if you’re using undergraduates who are reading a script and told to pretend to be dominant. What then?

And written scenarios? That is laughable on its face. It gets worse when you read the short stories.

Let’s look at the written scenario.

Any writer will immediately know you what’s wrong with it:

His serve is very strong and his returns are extremely powerful. In addition to his physical abilities, he has the mental qualities that lead to success in tennis. He is extremely competitive, refusing to yield against opponents who have been playing much longer. All of his movements tend to communicate dominance and authority. He tends to psychologically dominate his opponents, forcing them off their games and into mental mistakes.

Good writers show, not tell. That is a description filled with loaded terms. You are told he is dominant.

Yet your body is going to respond differently when you’re told rather than shown something. Good stories suck you in and play with your emotions. (Red Wedding, anyone?) That scenario is a dry, textbook description that would not elicit any emotional response in the reader.

If you want to provide a written text for women, give them a romance novel and see how their various body parts respond. Or at least hire a decent writer. Maybe write something like:

The arms of his shirt clung to his showers and cinched up, exposing firm biceps. His eyes focused intently on the ball. He smirked as he tossed the ball up and lifted his racket, as if he were telling himself that victory was a foregone conclusion. As his arm stretched up, the ball exploded against the racket. The man immediately leaned forward, ready to volley.

That’s not Shakespeare, but it does actually tell a story that allows a person to create an image in her head.

Why is the “science” of dominance based on written scenarios?

Would you provide a written scenario about wolves or apes or gorillas? Or would you observe them in the wild?

Would you ask women to read a description of a man and ask he if she thought he was attracted? Or would you put a man in front of her and see how her body responded?

Here is what the “scientists” did in their experience:

Enter a study by Jerry Burger and Mica Cosby. The researchers had 118 female undergraduates read the same descriptions of John the tennis player (dominant vs. submissive), but they added a crucial control condition in which some participants only read the first three sentences of the description (see italics above).

As part of this well-designed study, women read a story and then were asked whether they were attracted to a man. They didn’t actually see the man’s body language, smell his pheromones, or interact with him. They read a poorly-written story and then answered a few questions about what they thought – even though attraction is based on how a person feels.

Does this sound like real science to you?

  • Full Tilt

    Funny, I remember doing studies like this in college for beer money, and rolling my eyes as I raced to finish the questionnaire. Who would have guessed that garbage begets garbage.

    • Danger & Play Blog

      Yep. Then those studies are summarized, put into books, and accepted as truth by “red pill” men. What a laugh.

      • Bob Wallace

        The Manosphere is full of a bunch of wimps who obsess with these masturbatory studies. It’s the male adolescent version of female romance novels.

        • Danger & Play Blog

          You are spot-on correct.

  • Andrei

    Nietzsche said that the most advanced form of intelligence is INSTINCT. Science is, even in the best of cases, an interpretation of reality. This study proves nothing. Who the fuck funds these useless experiments? Anyway, that’s why we come places like this to learn about dominance, and not from scientists like the gentleman above. It makes me chuckle actually.

    • Danger & Play Blog

      Yes, getting in touch with ours instincts is the biggest challenge we men face. Most of my stuff on sex, dominance, etc. resulted form me learning how to listen to my instinct and then reverse engineering it/putting it into words.

    • Kronos1978

      You are right with your first sentence, but your statement about science is plain wrong. Science, correctly hypothesized, planned and executed is the only known way to acquire general knowledge about the world/the universe/living organisms etc.
      Don’t mix up instinct, which allows you to make the “right” decisions for your own life, with correct and reliable scientific knowledge, which is always quantifiable and in many cases allows predictions of future events (think solar eclipse, reaction to drugs,…)

      This is not to insult you, there are just two different layers of knowledge

      • Andrei

        It’s not the only way, not in my view at least, but as you said, when executed properly it can create reliable models through which to look at the world. It’s still a model though. My point is that nowadays a lot people have a dogmatic view towards science. Science said it’s like this or like that, so it must be true. While it may not always be the case. A lot of these studies have agendas behind them. A lot of them are rubbish, like the one above.

  • bear

    Mike ,you are a master of stirring up the pot. I love it!

    • Danger & Play Blog

      Two things I’ve always had – a big mouth and bad attitude.

  • XCSkierBen

    “Does this sound like real science to you?”

    You mean it isn’t? Why, the next thing you are going to tell me is that fluoridated water isn’t good for me, there are problems with genetically modified foods, the planet is NOT in the midst of global warming and BPA plastics are bad for me.

    Cripes.

    I think the hubris of some of today’s scientific community is beyond the pale. What passes for scientific study and theory seems to be so intertwined with government policy and messaging that it is hard to separate the two. Science is what government says it is these days. Go against it? They will ostracize you and make an example out of your work. I think more than a few scientists have been treated in this manner in the past few years. I fully expect that one day in this country, in the not too distant future, that they will try someone just like they did Giordano Bruno. Maybe even with the same punishment. It seems our society is devolving into that realm.

    I like Mike’s metrics for studying dominance. I think there was more science in those few
    statements than the other articles. With any scientific study involving humans, I think one of the best indicators is….

    The eyes.

    Ever seen a woman’s pupils dilate when they see a desirable man? Shit, my wife’s baby blues get pretty big whenever she sees Patrick Swayze, Bruce Willis, Jon Hamm or Arnold. She even likes the old style 70’s bodybuilders. The one’s with real bodies and not freaks she would say.

    Measure the eyes.

    http://www.bodylanguageexpert.co.uk/what-do-dilated-pupils-mean.html

    And measure everything else. I think we can all agree that there are better ways to study male dominance and attraction.

  • http://remysheppard.com/ Remy Sheppard

    I had no idea we published these articles at the same time. I like that we went at it from two different angles, though. Good read. I am ashamed to say I never questioned the validity of these studies on the grounds of real scientific testing. I assume a lot of them are shams to push an agenda, but when you bring up the point that there aren’t any objective criteria being measured it’s a wake-up call.

    • Danger & Play Blog

      I got the idea from you. I linked to you in the post and tweeted you out. I don’t read Art of Manliness, as it’s not a worthwhile site for me.

      As far as reading studies goes…When you study TRT as I do, you have to read the underlying studies. You learn that the media lies and manipulates the findings. Worse, you learn that the scientists perform poorly designed experiments to create a study that will lead to headlines and attention for them.

      Here is a perfect example of “hard scientists” deliberately crafting a poor study in order to get results that would draw the attention and affection of the politically correct media.

      http://www.dangerandplay.com/2014/04/08/testosterone-therapy-heart-attacks/

      • http://remysheppard.com/ Remy Sheppard

        I pay attention.

  • Pieter C.

    Yes, these kind of studies are BS, and even worse are pharmaceutical trials that don’t add up when scrutinized. Trials done by pharma companies that are used to approve medication in the US, that are used as proof for prescribing medication for the next 2 or 3 decades. I used to read a blog called Pharma Gossip and the stuff they published looked unreal!

    • Kronos1978

      One should be very cautious with generalizations like this. Undoubtedly, big pharma is a big mafia and lots of things are going veeeery wrong, motivation always being shitloads of money for overpriced medications. Nevertheless, the clinical methodology per se is good and stringent and so far, the FDA and the EMA (european counterpart), are mostly good “watchdogs”, which products are allowed on the market.

      Needless to say that there is drastic overtreatment nowadays, but don’t forget that these pharmaceutical trials, which you badmouth,
      also led to many medications which indeed help patients and
      significantly improve their lives.

  • Kronos1978

    One look at this scientist (unfit, female hairline, stupid smile) is enough to know that he has no real idea of what dominance or social dynamics are…

    • Mcgoohan1971

      In his defence neither does Tyler Durden of RSD – but he is generally lauded is he not?

  • Kronos1978

    The scientific literature is full of good research about EP, although most of it is done in animals, not humans, due to experimental manipulations, which one can just not do in humans. But as all D&P readers know: we ARE animals :-)

    One out of many, many examples is this:
    http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v10/n8/full/nn1928.html

    Basically, when female mice smell dominant males, parts of their brain, which are responsible for mate preference, grow, making dominant male mice even sexier to them…
    Maybe that partly explains, why women never can go back to boring, subordinate males, once they encountered and enjoyed a dominant man.

  • http://joselromero.com/ Jose L Romero

    WOW! So much emphasis in finding out how a man works that they spend millions of dollars on tests that are full of biases. Why so much mystery when all we have to do is look at ourselves!

    Great post!

  • anon1

    I am or was quite into evo psych (sperm wars, red queen all that stuff) but can see what you mean about the failure of academic institutions in the social sciences. They often dress up ‘vague guesses’ under clean lab conditions as scientific fact. I definitely am a proponent of behavioural psychology and economics (predictably irrational, the paradox of choice etc) but am reminded of the failures of academic institutions in a variety of disciplines.

    To nick a quote off nassim talebs Facebook ” The experiment illustrates the ludic fallacy (that is, a reduction of real life to an oversimplified, domain-dependent experiment giving results often opposite to reality). “

  • lemmycaution

    This book convinced me that hunter-gatherers had to be careful about trying to dominate other men:

    http://www.amazon.com/Hierarchy-Forest-Evolution-Egalitarian-Behavior/dp/0674006917

    The biggest gorilla can dominate the smallest gorillas without the smaller gorillas being able to do much about it, but with the advent of the spear any man could kill any other man. Men who tried to hard to dominate other men had to watch their back.

    Dominance and hierarchy comes back with the rise of the state after agriculture.

  • bear

    So, just for shits and giggles I showed the picture of Kaufman to my wife and asked “if you were still single and this guy approached you and began talking about male/female dynamics and male dominance – what would you do” Her response was ” eeewwww yucky, I would just hope he wouldn’t say anything and go away ”
    Well – there you have it folks!

  • Robert

    “Watch what women do, not what they say”

  • Carlos Geijo

    Social Sciences are all pseudosciences… most are descriptive at best, with more or less 0 predictive power. A lot of these “scientist” are self-deluded charlatans. A monkey tossing a coin would get the same chances of being right. Modeling human behavior at micro and macro levels is not an easy task.

    • Eureka Foong

      Although Mike brings up a good point with these particular studies, I think it is too broad to write off all social sciences as pseudoscience. As you said it yourself, modeling human behavior is a difficult task. All the more need, then, for a psychologist to conduct rigorous – and scientific – studies.