Monday, May 26, 2008


The Sunday Times News Review has stories on Evolutionary Psychology on both its front and back pages. In the humour section at the back, Bruce Chorlton of Newcastle University is gently ridiculed for suggesting it’s not surprising that universities disproportionately recruit from the upper and middle classes, as on average these are more intelligent. Gosh, Dr Chorlton, how positively stone-aged!

Rod Liddle, in the main paper, knows that ‘lawyers are more intelligent than the guys who hose blood off the abattoir walls’ but thinks that this doesn’t say anything about the intelligence or otherwise of the wives. Wake up Rod! Assortative mating!*

Of course, it is well known that in any society with meritocratic tendencies, higher social class and IQ are correlated - as you would expect. However, the population classified as underclass + working class + lower middle class is larger, so we can’t really draw conclusions about the absolute numbers of gifted individuals from different social strata without further empirical research. Perhaps Dr Chorlton pointed this out in his remarks, or maybe he didn’t. The ST doesn’t tell us, in its ignorant superiority.

The front page article purports to demonstrate that evolutionary psychology supports infidelity. It’s the usual argument about men seeking to have more offspring via indiscriminate mating at low cost to themselves, while women apparently try to mate surreptiously with alpha males, producing alpha children who their unsuspecting husbands then bring up.

I think we can all do plausible-sounding scenarios. How about this? Consider ancestral groups where teamwork was a matter of life and death. Specifically in cold climates around the ice ages where male team hunting was the only source of food in the plant-free winter months.

In such a team environment, individuals who mate with other men’s wives are cheating not only on their own wives but also on their cuckolded team-mates. I suspect they would have ‘accidents’ or at the very least, team cohesion and effectiveness would suffer.

In a similar manner, women who strayed and were then rejected - for good genetic reasons - by their cuckolded husbands would not survive too long without a new hunting provider. These outcomes generate strong selective pressure for fidelity, plus social disapprobation for the unfaithful, which you would expect to see exhibited most strongly in the most cold-adapted populations.

So which story do you prefer? I prefer the one backed up by empirical research.

* “An interesting finding from genetic research, which Mackintosh mentions, only in passing, as posing a problem in the estimation of the heritability of g, is that there is greater assortative mating for g than for any other behavioural trait; that is, spouse correlations are only ~.1 for personality and only ~.2 for height or weight, but the correlation for assortative mating for g is ~.4.” From a review of “IQ and Human Intelligence”, by Nicholas J. Mackintosh. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998 - here.