Evolutionary Psychology at the 2009 Meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association

The Midwestern Psychological Association conference is impressive in both the quantity and quality of its content. For many years, the Meeting has been held in downtown Chicago and the close of the conference at lunchtime on Saturday allows attendees to explore the biggest US city between the coasts without skipping out on the academic sessions. This strategy likely underlies why so many from the Midwest and other regions make their annual academic and cosmopolitan pilgrimage.

 

I gave my first evolutionary presentation at MPA many years ago and have been following the conference proceedings ever since. In 2009, both the evolutionary and competing social constructivist perspectives were well represented in sessions scattered across the large program. There were invited talks by Gerd Gigerenzer (Homo Heuristicus: Why Biased Minds Make Better Inferences) and Kim Wallen (Monkey Tales: Are Sex Differences in Behavior and Cognition Gender Differences?). There was also an invited paper in one of my sessions by Terri Conley, who argued that Clark and Hatfield’s casual sex proposal phenomenon was based on male and female differences in the level of enjoyment expected from a hypothetical act of sex, rather than any evolutionary basis in reproductive strategies.

I was struck by how many presenters could have used an evolutionary framework to explain their results, but chose not to or were unaware of relevant theory. The paradigm of socially constructed norms was frequently mentioned as the proper explanation for differences between men and women. One person presenting a talk on sex (or rather gender) differences in navigation strategies even included a slide on the evolutionary basis in foraging strategies, but quickly skipped over it as if the topic was too vulgar to cover in a public setting. Indeed, an outside observer might have concluded that terror management theory was the closest thing psychologists had to a unified framework. This meeting served to remind me that evolutionary theory is still controversial for or considered irrelevant by many in the field. Still, there are also many expressing interests in and presenting on evolutionary research, including those who do not attend any evolutionary oriented conferences. It is also pleasing to note the decent level of interest in evolutionary psychology amongst undergraduates, as some of them represent the future of the field.

 

Daniel Kruger

About Daniel Kruger

Daniel Kruger is a Social Psychologist at the University of Michigan. He studies several areas from an evolutionary perspective, including altruism, cooperation, competition, economic and consumer behavior, health outcomes, mortality patterns, risk taking, and reproductive strategies. Many of his projects are united by life history theory. He has interests in basic research as well as practical applications for social and ecological sustainability.
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