This graduate-level seminar is a new core course for the evolutionary psychology Ph.D. program. It is open to graduate students in psychology, anthropology, and biology, and to advanced undergraduates with the instructor’s permission. We will read most of the Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (2005) edited by David Buss, and discuss its chapters in class. There will also be three short take-home essay exams. Graduate students, but not undergraduates, will also write a term paper.
The key topics covered by the course will include:
Evolutionary psychology as a science: its history, concepts, controversies, and methods
Sexual selection, strategies, attractiveness, conflict, and coercion
Mating, pair-bonding, parenting, children, kinship, and family conflict
Social relationships within and between groups
Adaptive cognition, rationality, and heuristics
Life history theory, trade-offs, alternative strategies, and personality traits
Mental health, mental disorders, social norms, and law
We will meet once a week for two and a half hours. I expect punctuality. There will be a 10-15 minute break about half way through each meeting. If you have to miss a class for any reason, please let me know by email as soon as you know you’ll be absent. Unexplained absences will reduce your grade. The course readings – all chapters from the textbook – will require about 1 to 3 hours per week outside class.
Note for students who have taken previous graduate seminars with me: the course requirements and grading procedures are rather different for this course, so please read this syllabus carefully.
Buss, David M. (Ed.). (2005). The handbook of evolutionary psychology. New York: Wiley. (c. $133 hardback)
Each week we will read and discuss a chapter or two from the textbook. Please do not take this course if you cannot commit an average of two hours a week to the readings. The average weekly reading assignment is only about 40 pages, but the pages are quite dense. They must be read slowly and carefully; they cannot be skimmed quickly. The course’s educational benefits depend on you completing the readings on time, so you can participate effectively in the class discussion. If you don’t read them, you won’t learn much; if you do read them attentively, you’ll learn a lot. I expect all of each week’s required readings to be completed well before class, so you have time to digest them, think about them, compare and contrast them, and prepare intelligent comments and questions about them. Last-minute reading will not result in good comprehension or good in-class discussion.
Suggested further reading: If you want a little more background or context than the primary textbook offers, have a look at these additional, optional sources:
Steven Pinker (2002) The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. NY: Penguin Books.
Geoffrey Miller (2000). The mating mind: How sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. NY: Doubleday.
Steven W. Gangestad & Jeffry R. Simpson (Eds.). (2007). The evolution of mind. NY: Guildford Press.
Robert Boyd & Joan Silk (2005) How humans evolved (4th Ed.). NY: Norton.
Dr. Geoffrey Miller, Assistant Professor, Psychology, Logan Hall 160
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-1161, USA
30%: three take-home essay exams. See section 7 below.
For graduate students, the final course grade will depend on three parts:
40%: class attendance, discussion, and point-lists. See section 6 below.
30%: three take-home essay exams. See section 7 below.
30% of grade: one longer-term writing assignment. See section 8 below.
6. Class attendance, discussion, and point-lists
(70% of course grade for undergrads, 40% for grad students)
I expect regular attendance, knowledge of assigned readings, active participation, intellectual engagement, and thoughtful points. Each week, every student should bring to class two copies of a ‘point-list’ – a list of discussion points, thoughts, questions, and/or comments about the assigned readings for that week. Keep one copy and give me one copy. I will then select random points from random students’ lists to start the class discussions.
These point-lists should not review the textbook chapters. Instead, they should articulate your own thoughts, reactions, and questions in response to the readings. The point-lists by graduate students are expected to show a more sophisticated comprehension of the material, and to make more insightful, novel, and integrative points. Please make at least three or four substantive comments on each reading – not simply summarizing the reading’s main ideas, but offering some sort of critical analysis of the reading’s ideas, or comparison to other readings, etc.
Each point-list should be printed out ahead of class. It should be just one page, in 11 point Arial or Times Roman font. At the top should be your name, the date of the class, and the textbook chapter(s) covered.
7. Three take-home essay exams
(30% of course grade for all students)
At roughly equal intervals throughout the semester (Feb. 13, March 26, April 30), I will distribute an exam consisting of 6 short essay questions. Example essay questions might look like this:
Identify two “intuitive ontologies” that have not yet been well-studied in evolutionary psychology, but that may shape human inferences in some important adaptive domain.
What would be three effective ways to minimize date rape, given current evolutionary models of sexual coercion?
Explain how you could use a virtual reality system such as Second Life or World of Warcraft to study the psychology of inter-group conflict.
Identify two major ‘mismatches’ between ancestral and modern life that might explain high rates of depression among contemporary teenagers.
You will take the exam home, write the essays, and turn them in the following week. Undergraduate students should pick 3 out of the 6 possible essay questions to answer; graduate students should answer 5 out of the 6 essay questions. Graduate students are expected to give more informed, insightful, and well-written answers to the questions. Each answer should be about 300 words (roughly one double-spaced computer-printed page). Feel free to do some background research for each answer (e.g. finding out how current date rape prevention methods try to work, or what ‘Second Life’ is). You can read additional material from books, journal articles, or websites; you can email researchers and ask them questions; etc.
The first exam will be passed out on Feb. 13, and answers are due back on Feb. 27.
The second exam will be passed out on March 26, and answers are due back on April 2.
The third exam will be passed out on April 30, and answers are due back on May 7.
8. Graduate term paper
(30% of course grade for graduate students; not required of undergraduates)
Graduate students will write one term paper in three successive stages. The final version of the paper should be very concise, about 10 pages double-spaced (c. 3,000 words). But, it should be intellectually sophisticated, conceptually and methodologically oriented, including a critical assessment of a research literature, and an outline of a possible study. You can choose any topic related to the course content and course readings. To make sure that you are thinking, researching, and writing the paper on a good schedule throughout the semester, the term paper is due in three stages. Late work will be penalized. After each stage is turned in, I will write comments and suggestions on it, which you should use in revising your term paper for the next stage.
Due Feb. 27: provisional title, abstract (one paragraph), and bibliography (about 10 references). This will determine 5% of your final course grade. The provisional abstract should just let me know what you think you’ll probably write about. If you change your mind, no problem, just tell me in an email later. But I want you to have some topic in mind by this date. Pick a topic that you feel passionate about – you’ll have to live with it for several months! The bibliography should list about 10 references in standard APA reference format (see APA Publication Manual). They should be things that you have actually read (not all just chapters from the textbook!), with brief notes about their relevance to your paper. (A good note for a reference would be “This meta-analysis reviews 38 papers showing generally small positive relationships between general intelligence and facial attractiveness”; a bad note would be “Reviews facial attractiveness and intelligence”.)
Due March 26: revised title, abstract, and bibliography, and a detailed outline. This will determine 10% of your final course grade. The title, abstract, and bibliography should take into account my feedback concerning your previous submission. The revised abstract should be clearer, better focused, and take stronger stands on your paper’s key issues. The annotated bibliography should now list about 20 APA-format references that you have actually read, with good notes on their relevance to the paper. The detailed outline should be a couple of pages long, clearly showing the term paper’s planned structure, major points, and flow of argument. Each outline entry should be a clear, detailed, specific statement (e.g. “Evidence from 5 studies showing short-term boosts in testosterone following male exposure to attractive female confederates”), not just a short, vague phrase (e.g. “testosterone changes across time”).
Due April 30: final term paper. This will determine 15% of your final course grade. It should be in standard APA research paper format. This means computer-printed, double-spaced, single-sided, in 11 point Arial (preferably) or Times Roman font, with a proper title page, abstract, references, and page numbering. The main text (excluding abstract and bibliography) should be very concise – about 3,000 words long (10 pages double spaced). I care more about clarity, insight, research, and the flow of argument than about length per se. This should be a highly polished document in correct format with no spelling or grammatical errors. It should represent the culmination of three months of research, thinking, and writing about a topic that passionately interests you. I will try to grade final drafts by the last day of exams.
The final term paper should include these elements:
Title page: a decent, descriptive, memorable title, and all other information required for APA format
Abstract page: a concise, punchy abstract that interests the reader in your paper
Introduction: Start with a bang. Pose the problem that interests you, and how you’ll approach it. Say where you stand, and why the reader should care. Be specific and clear; mix the theoretical and methodological level of discourse with real-life examples and issues; know when to be funny and when to be serious.
Body of the paper: depending on what you’re writing about, this could include a literature review, a series of arguments, an overview of relevant ideas and research from a related area or field, a series of methodological analyses, criticism, and suggestions, or anything that advances your points. If you include literature reviews, don’t do generic overviews – review the literature with a purpose, critically, as it pertains to your topic.
Research proposal: ideally, towards the end of your paper, you could sketch out a new empirical way to resolve one or more of the issues you’ve raised in your paper. This could be a brief outline of an experiment, an observational method, a meta-analysis or re-analysis of existing data, or any other method you think would be appropriate.
Bibliography: Only include things you’ve read. If you haven’t read them and have only seen them cited by others, then use this format: “(name, date; as cited in: name, date)”. If your bibliography includes good, relevant papers and books that I haven’t seen before, I will be impressed.