What Does The Future Hold For Psychology Psychology Essay


The lack of unification in psychology has been a topic of countless debate in the discipline over the years with many researchers believing it to be in a state of theoretical disarray. The numerous different perspectives in psychology, such as the cognitive, psychoanalytic and humanist perspectives, as well as their different methodologies have served to produce limitless theories all working in isolation and against one another. This is true for theories of the different perspectives as well as within each separate discipline, as consensus has failed to be reached about a variety of theories, which has in turn produced an abundance of mini-theories. ‘Although psychologists assume that the human mind is a whole and integrated unity, no metatheory subsumes, integrates, unites, or connects the disparate pieces that psychologists gauge with their differing calipers’ (Buss, 1995, p. 1). It is therefore apparent that psychology is in need of an exceptional idea in order to unite the separate perspectives and re-create a focus on the study of the human mind and behaviour. Many researchers believe this exceptional idea to be evolutionary psychology.

The evolutionary perspective suggests that the human mind is comparable to that of an information-processing machine, created through the process of natural selection, enabling us to solve adaptive problems (Cosmides & Tooby, 1997). Thus, all behaviour is dependent on an interaction of these information-processing mechanisms and their contextual input – so much so that it is believed that no organism’s behaviour is possible without them (Buss, 1995). Irregardless of the perspective taken, all theories in psychology suggest that these mechanisms do exist, although explicit explanations to the origin of them are rarely explored. Evolutionary psychologists make use of the principles and knowledge that evolutionary biologists have already made in order to research and understand the design of the human mind – an approach which they believe can be extended to explain any area within psychology (Cosmides & Tooby, 1997). One of the most prominently researched areas in evolutionary psychology, for example, has been that of sex differences and sexual selection.

According to evolutionary psychology, the purpose of human mating is the continuation of successful reproduction of offspring. The question that this perspective asks is: what attracts humans to the mates that they choose and why? According to Buss (2006) ‘successful mating requires solutions of a number of difficult adaptive problems’ (p. 239); we have to ensure that we find a fertile mate, compete with potential love rivals, ensure that the mate will not stray and that we are both sexually and socially fulfilling the needs of our mate in order to guarantee reproductive success. Humans engage in a variety of different long- and short-term mating strategies according to the desired outcome, dependent only on their sex (Buss, 2006). Clark and Hatfield (1989) carried out a study which involved recruiting both attractive male and female participants and asking them to approach members of the opposite sex in a college campus (in Gaulin & McBurney, 2004). After a short conversation, participants expressed their interest in the approached person and were then to ask them one of three questions: if they would like to go on a date, go to their apartment or have sexual intercourse with them. 75% of the males approached agreed to have sex with the stranger, compared with 0% of the females approached. Buss (2006) suggests that males crave more sexual variety than females and are thus more likely to pursue short-term mating strategies, which may be due to their subconscious desire to increase their number of potential offspring.

In female short-term mating strategies, however, the potential benefits must outweigh the costs due to the increased risks involved by engaging in these relationships, such as the loss of reputation, which for men would only serve to produce an increase in their perceived masculinity (Buss, 2006). According to Buss (2006), the predominant desires for females when choosing a short-term mate include immediate ‘resource acquisition’ (e.g. gifts and dinners), ‘mate switching’ (e.g. an affair to replace a current partner with someone believed to be more compatible) and ‘good genes’ (e.g. women have been found to be more attracted to symmetrical and masculine men). It is also believed that some females will cheat on their current partner in order to become impregnated by another male to ensure a better genetic make-up, however, choose to stay with their current partner for other reasons, such as financial advantage (Buss, 2002).

Additionally, there appears to be a different set of criteria for both sexes when employing long-term mating strategies. The theory of Good Parental Investment, for example, suggests that the sex who has to “invest more in offspring would be more choosy about mates’ (Buss, 2006, p. 242). Thus, due to the lengthy process of both pregnancy and childbirth, females are believed to invest more in their offspring and are consequently more selective about their mates compared with males. Furthermore, males are more competitive with one another in order to ensure access to these females. A number of studies have been carried out in order to assess what humans value in long-term partners (Buss, 1989, Hill, 1945, Hudson & Henzel 1969 in Gaulin & McBurney, 2004), producing fairly consistent results: females prefer partners with a good economic background and potential for a career and social states, whilst males prefer younger and physically attractive partners with a low waist-hip ratio, which can be seen as a sign of the female’s fertility (Gaulin & McBurney, 2004).

Alternatively, rather than males choosing younger females due to their greater potential for reproduction, Buller (2005) suggests that ‘males and females both prefer similarly aged mates, but that the preferred ages are adjusted for sex differences in age at reproductive maturation’ (p.215) – a hypothesis otherwise known as the hypothesis of adjusted age homogamy. Thus, a female will show preference to a mate who is a slightly older than herself, whereas males will show preference to a mate who is slightly younger. While the evolutionary psychology’s hypothesis suggests that, despite age, the male should give preference and attempt to mate with a female who is in her early twenties, the hypothesis of adjusted age homogamy suggests that a male will give preference and attempt to mate with a female who is a few years younger than himself, irrespective of age (Buller, 2005). Similarly, because most studies on women’s preferences have been carried out in university campus’, making the average participants of medium to high socioeconomic status, Buller (2005) suggests that their preference for males with high status may in fact be a mere reflection of status homogamy.

Jealousy, however, plays an important role in both long and short-term relationships and in both males and females. Buss (2002) carried out a study where participants were given two different conditions of infidelity and given time to make a choice about whether they found emotional or sexual infidelity more upsetting. The results, which have been confirmed cross-culturally, showed that 61% of males found sexual infidelity to be the most distressing, compared with only 13% of females, suggesting the use of jealousy as a defence mechanism (Buss, 2002). DeSteno (2004) suggests that males feel more threatened by sexual infidelity because of the risk of being tricked into caring for offspring that is not theirs, while women feel more threatened by emotional infidelity because of the threat of losing the resources, investments and social bonds that the males provide for both themselves and their offspring. As in any other perspective, however, there are competing and contradictory studies. DeSteno et al. (2002) conducted a replica study of Buss (2002) but did not allow the participants any time to consider their response to the two conditions of infidelity. They found that both males and females alike considered infidelity to be the most distressing, suggesting a non-genetic basis for Buss’ results, where women may have answered to make themselves appear in a better light (DeSteno et al, 2002).

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In light of the recent research, evolutionary psychologists suggest that the mating choices of humans are largely influenced by physiological and psychological influences, and are not necessarily a conscious process. The core finding for which there has been much empirical support, are that the preferences that males have for younger females and females have for high-status males for long-term mating are employed through modules that have been evolved to detect these features in the opposite sex. Human mating strategies are a complex set of processes for which more research is in need of being carried out. It is doubtful, for example that ‘the desire for fertile young women is as ineluctable a part of male psychology from puberty to death as Evolutionary Psychologists claim’ (Buller, 2005, p. 224). In fact, Buller (2005) suggests that there is a clear lack of evidence in these evolutionary claims, which cannot be ignored. Evolutionary psychologists use hypothetical claims as a form of evidence about successful reproduction in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA) where, for example, males who showed preference to females who were not at the height of reproductive potential would have shown less reproductive success than those who do show preference for such females. Hypothetical claims such as these cannot, however, be viewed as evidence and should consequently be viewed with scepticism (Buller, 2005). Despite their obvious need for more in depth research, evolutionary psychologists have thus far outlined the basic areas of human mating strategies and the differences in design for males and females, which they believe has served to eliminate the few rival hypotheses that there are (Buss, 2006).

Like Buller (2005), Lloyd (1999) similarly criticises the methods that evolutionary psychologists use to provide support for their claims. He suggests that rather than using evidence derived from experimental studies, evolutionary psychologists use the apparent link that they have to evolutionary biology in order to eradicate any competing hypotheses. ‘Once the exaggerated and ill-reasoned claims are removed, the experiments appear to support a non-evolutionary psychological theory at least as strongly: in fact, none of the usual burdensome evidential requirements for an evolutionary hypothesis are even attempted’ (Lloyd, 1999, p. 213). Thus, without consideration of evidentiary standards in both psychology and evolutionary biology, evolutionary biologists’ claims are used simply as a means to eliminate rival theories. Although it is evident that our knowledge of the past is limited and is nonetheless used by evolutionary psychologists to produce theories about certain phenomena, Kurzban (2000) points out that this does not hinder their ability to test the hypotheses in the same rigorous manner in which other perspectives do. Buss’ (1989) large scale cross-cultural study on mating strategies whereby he hypothesized that various variables in strategies would be different across cultures, for example, has been widely supported (in Kurzban, 2000). Kurzban (2000) suggests that this study is compliant with the standards in Psychology and should thus not be undermined purely because of the perspective taken. Additionally, Holcomb (1998) goes so far as to suggest that the improvements that evolutionary psychologists have made in order to test their hypotheses, such as ‘standard instruments… more extensive and detailed bodies of evidence… [and] statistically significant and replicable results’ (p. 303) as well as many others, are the grounds as to why evolutionary psychology has seen such quick progression.

Wilson (2009), however, believes that the supposed progression in evolutionary psychology is exaggerated and unfounded. In order for evolutionary psychologists to progress in their set agenda, the precise evolved information-processing mechanisms that are believed to exist and cause human behaviour need to be identified (Wilson, 2009). Although proving influential, the works of Cosmides and Tooby in which the nature of evolutionary psychology is explained has received criticism amongst and out with the scientific community who utilise the evolutionary perspective to study human behaviour (Wilson, 2009). Wilson’s critique and suggestions for improvement in evolutionary psychology began in 1994 and continue today. In his 2009 press release of Evolutionary Psychology and the Media: Rekindling the Romance he suggests five reasons for which Cosmides and Tooby’s account of evolutionary psychology is misguided. First, the solution to particular problems in the EEA has been depicted as the reason for which the human mind is made up of a set of numerous special-purpose modules. Second, the notion of the EEA is set in the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors – during our evolution as a species – but the time-frame does not extend further back to include adaptations in mammals, primates or vertebrae, nor does it extend further forward to take account of our species’ quick genetic evolution since then. Third, they make light of the importance of genetic variation that is shared amongst both sexes, instead placing larger emphasis on the nature of males and females as distinct beings. Fourth, they work to create a larger divide in psychology by creating a view whereby the Standard Social Science Model (in which the mind is suggested to be a ‘blank slate’ and evolves through one’s experiences) is seen as being ‘radically defective’ and the evolutionary perspective a way of replacing it (Cosmides & Tooby, 1997, p. 3). And lastly, there is very little mention about the way in which humans adapt to their current environments through the unlimited evolutionary process of culture (Wilson, 2009).

The evolutionary perspective has gained popularity in the last decades and has undoubtedly given rise to many new and innovative ways of thinking about psychological processes, such as mate selection. This has led many evolutionary psychologists to believe that this school of thought ‘may serve as the umbrella idea so desperately needed in the social sciences’ (De Waal, 2002, p. 187). However, the various theoretical and methodological weaknesses to the perspective as well as Derksen’s (2005) suggestion that the emphasis that evolutionary psychologists place on the limitations made compulsory by human nature ‘does not do justice to the intricacies of the relation between nature and culture’ (p. 158) have led both Derksen and this researcher alike to the conclusion that evolutionary psychology is simply not an adequate concept for the unification of psychology, nor that unification is in fact a necessity in the study of psychology. Due to boundaries and limitations created by their own set paradigms, despite being able to provide a full interpretation of the mind, no psychological perspective is able to give a precise explanation for all psychological phenomena and has consequently led to the belief that psychology is currently in theoretical disarray. Rather than employing an overarching theory in which various perspectives would not fit, employing a dialectic approach, whereby phenomena-driven rather than perspective-driven research is coupled with an ability for scholars to communicate with one another regardless of individual perspective, would serve to benefit the progress in Psychology in a more advantageous way (Drob, 2003).




Approximately 250 words