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Sociologists have drawn considerable criticism over the years for their failure to integrate evolutionary biological principles in their work. Critics such as Stephen Pinker (200254. Pinker , Steven. 2002 . The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature . New York : Penguin Books . View all references) have popularized the notion that sociologists adhere dogmatically to a “blank slate” or cultural determinist view of the human mind and social behavior. This report assesses whether sociologists indeed ascribe to such a blank slate view. Drawing from a survey of 155 sociological theorists, we find the field about evenly divided over the applicability of evolutionary reasoning to a range of human tendencies. Although there are signs of a shift toward greater openness to evolutionary biological ideas, sociologists are least receptive to evolutionary accounts of human sex differences. Echoing earlier research, we find political identity to be a significant predictor of sociologists' receptiveness. We close by cautioning our colleagues against sociological reductionism and we speculate about the blank slate's political-psychological appeal to liberal-minded social scientists.
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Whither the Blank Slate? A Report on
the Reception of Evolutionary Biological
Ideas among Sociological Theorists
Mark Horowitz
, William Yaworsky
& Kenneth Kickham
Behavioral Sciences Department , University of Texas at
Brownsville , Brownsville , Texas , USA
Political Science Department , University of Central Oklahoma ,
Edmond , Oklahoma , USA
Published online: 13 Oct 2014.
To cite this article: Mark Horowitz , William Yaworsky & Kenneth Kickham (2014) Whither the
Blank Slate? A Report on the Reception of Evolutionary Biological Ideas among Sociological
Theorists, Sociological Spectrum: Mid-South Sociological Association, 34:6, 489-509, DOI:
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Whither the Blank Slate? A Report on the Reception of
Evolutionary Biological Ideas among Sociological Theorists
Mark Horowitz and William Yaworsky
Behavioral Sciences Department, University of Texas at Brownsville, Brownsville, Texas, USA
Kenneth Kickham
Political Science Department, University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, Oklahoma, USA
Sociologists have drawn considerable criticism over the years for their failure to integrate
evolutionary biological principles in their work. Critics such as Stephen Pinker (2002) have popular-
ized the notion that sociologists adhere dogmatically to a ‘‘blank slate’’ or cultural determinist view of
the human mind and social behavior. This report assesses whether sociologists indeed ascribe to such
a blank slate view. Drawing from a survey of 155 sociological theorists, we find the field about evenly
divided over the applicability of evolutionary reasoning to a range of human tendencies. Although
there are signs of a shift toward greater openness to evolutionary biological ideas, sociologists are
least receptive to evolutionary accounts of human sex differences. Echoing earlier research, we find
political identity to be a significant predictor of sociologists’ receptiveness. We close by cautioning
our colleagues against sociological reductionism and we speculate about the blank slate’s political-
psychological appeal to liberal-minded social scientists.
Pronouncements of a sociology in crisis can be heard far and wide by evolutionarily-oriented
natural scientists and their sympathizers within the field. Although passions have cooled since
the early years of the sociobiology controversy, critics recurrently impugn sociologists for their
hostility to biology and their failure to integrate evolutionary principles in their research (Alcock
2001; Ellis 1996; Lopreato and Crippen 2002; Lustick 2005; Machalek and Martin 2004, 2010;
Pinker 2002; Sanderson 2001, 2012; Tooby and Cosmides 1992; Van den Berghe 1990, 1995;
Wilson 1998). Some of the most caustic comments come from the inside: ‘‘Will sociology
selected out of the population of academic enterprises, a product of obsolete design?’’ ask
Lopreato and Crippen (2002:74) in their blistering critique. Van den Berghe (1990:177) adds
that sociologists are ‘‘militantly and proudly ignorant’’ of biology. He notes, nonetheless, that
sociology will probably survive ‘‘a few more decades’’ as ‘‘intellectual bankruptcy never
spelled the doom of an academic discipline’’ (185).
Address correspondence to Mark Horowitz, Behavioral Sciences Department, University of Texas at Brownsville,
Brownsville, TX 78520, USA. E-mail:
Sociological Spectrum, 34: 489–509, 2014
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0273-2173 print/1521-0707 online
DOI: 10.1080/02732173.2014.947451
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Not all of the criticism is strident (see, e.g., Machalek and Martin 2010). No doubt the
impassioned tone reveals more the mark of isolation, as that smattering of Darwinian-oriented
sociologists has had to fight a rearguard battle to be heard in a conventionally inhospitable intel-
lectual milieu. To be sure, it has been over a decade since Douglas Massey gave his Presidential
Address to the American Sociological Association, calling on his colleagues to end their
‘‘hostility to the biological sciences’’ and to integrate ‘‘well-understood biological foundations
of human behavior’’ in their theories (cited in Kaye 2003:49). Whether Massey’s charge is a sign
of a biological awakening in the profession remains to be seen. As it stands, however, only a
handful of sociologists have alerted their brethren of a deepening crisis of legitimacy should they
continue to disregard the ‘‘Darwinian revolution’’ of the sciences.
For critics, the heart of the intellectual problem remains an ideological adherence to the
increasingly implausible view that human behavior is strictly determined by socialization. This
perspectivevariably dubbed ‘‘cultural determinism’’ (e.g., Alcock 2001), the ‘‘standard social
science model’’ (e.g., Tooby and Cosmides 1992), or, more popularly, the ‘‘blank slate’’ (e.g.,
Pinker 2002)views the mind as wholly molded by the cultural environment and without any
‘‘built-in’’ biological tendencies. For Pinker (2002:6), the blank slate doctrine ‘‘set the agenda’
in the social sciences for a century, not least due to its progressive philosophical appeal. Severing
social institutions from any hint of biological determination was the academic complement to a
wider cultural assault on old racial, colonial and sexist pretexts for entrenched social hierarchies.
Should such hierarchies result strictly from culture, then the possibilities for an egalitarian future
were seen to be as open and boundless as our ever-malleable brains might imagine.
The problem, allegedly, is that good politics made for bad science. A wave of research in
biology, psychology and neuroscience illustrates that neither the human brain nor human beha-
vior generally should be understood as all-purpose clay (we will turn to this research below,
though see Laland and Brown 2011 for a sweeping overview). Indeed, critics underline a variety
of ‘‘built-in’’ psychological, cognitive, and even moral predispositions deeply rooted in humans’
evolutionary heritage. Anthropological evidence reveals as well that beneath the rich diversity of
human cultures are widespread social practices consistent with evolutionary explanation (e.g.,
Brown 1991; Kenrick et al. 2009). To critics both within the field and without, sociologists cannot
afford to ignore the vast theoretical and empirical advances in evolutionary science.
Yet do contemporary sociologists actually adhere to a ‘‘blank slate’’ view of human nature?
Do they reject the possibility that natural selection shaped certain key features of the human mind
and behavior? If so, how do sociologists explain their rejection? Which variables (age, gender,
etc.) correlate with their rejection or acceptance? In brief, to what extent has evolutionary reason-
ing made inroads into the discipline of sociology?
Although our paper is principally an empirical report, we will provide our own tentative expla-
nation of the state of the field with regard to evolutionary theory.
We will unpack the mixed signs
of a field that still largely disregards evolutionary explanation in practice, while appearing to
Among sociologists, Emile Durkheim is perhaps most often targeted for holding a blank slate view in his discussion
of social facts. Anthropologists of the Boas circle, most prominently Margaret Mead, also receive considerable criticism.
When we refer throughout this paper to ‘‘evolutionary theory,’’ ‘‘evolutionary scientists,’’ and ‘‘evolutionary
explanations,’’ we have in mind evolutionary biology and related approaches (sociobiology, human behavioral ecology,
evolutionary psychology, gene-culture co-evolution, etc.) that apply the logic of natural selection to human behavioral
tendencies. We do not mean to include wider social-scientific theories of ‘‘evolutionism’’ shorn of Darwinian selection.
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some extent open to it in principle. Indeed, sociologists appear about evenly divided over the
plausibility of evolutionary accounts of human behavior, with less support, however, for explana-
tions bearing on sexual differences and patriarchy. The picture, as will be seen, is more complex
than the blank slate metaphor suggests. We agree with critics that something akin to ‘‘tribal
loyalty’’ (Wilson 1998:199) is likely to be at play among sociologists. Yet talk of the blank slate
or a ‘‘standard social science model’’ is overstretched at best.
The firestorm of debate that followed publication of E.O. Wilson’s, Sociobiology: The New
Synthesis, is a telling case study of the normative aspects of scientific knowledge production.
Grabbing headlines as the ‘‘sociobiology wars,’’ prominent biologists, philosophers, anthropol-
ogists, and others assailed both the scientific underpinnings and political implications of the
fledgling evolutionary paradigm (e.g., Harris 1979; Lewontin, Rose, and Kamin 1984; Montagu
1980; Sahlins 1976). Indeed, sociologists were hardly the most visible dissenters to the evolution-
ary agenda that Wilson hoped would one day subsume the social sciences.
In her sweeping chronicle of the controversy, Segerstra˚le (2000) shows how many of the
sociobiology’s staunchest critics engaged in what she refers to as ‘‘moral reading.’’ That is, they
extracted from sociobiological texts their most nefarious political implications (if not their
authors’ hidden motives). The result was widespread charges of political bias, genetic determin-
ism, and reductionism. In the view of critics, sociobiological reasoning serves to justify social
hierarchies (wittingly or otherwise) by reducing complex, emergent phenomena to presumably
underlying genetic bases. Hence Rose (1979:160) would write that the struggle for a better world
without famine or war runs into sociobiology’s ‘‘hard-nosed realism.’’ ‘‘What is, is what must
be. It is only human nature. Offered a vision of Utopia, the realist defenders of the status quo
substitute sociobiology.’’
To be sure, the disapproval was not solely political. Yet disentangling the scientific and nor-
mative dimensions of the debate is difficult. Among the best known critics were Wilson’s Harvard
colleagues, Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin. Gould famously referred to sociobiology’s
‘‘Panglossian’’ vision, where every human behavior is seen as an optimal adaptation to prehis-
toric conditions. ‘‘Men wage war and dominate women,’’ Gould wrote sardonically, because
‘‘the Darwinian imperative specifies it as optimally adaptive for individual reproductive success
in our original ecological niche’ (1978:284). Gould and Lewontin (1979) would assail the
‘‘adaptationist paradigm’ in a celebrated essay on architectural ‘‘spandrels.’’ Citing Darwin as
their authority, they stressed that natural selectionalthough crucialis not the only force in
evolutionary history. Diverse processes such as developmental constraints, evolutionary bypro-
ducts, ‘‘exaptations,’’ and genetic drift work in tandem with natural selection to form a more
complex picture of evolutionary change than sociobiology suggests.
Over the years, Gould, Lewontin, Rose, and other biological ‘‘pluralists’’ would speak the
language of complexity, holism, dialectics, and the like in criticizing what they saw as the
reductionism of gene-centered approaches to human nature and evolution. (Dawkins’ The Selfish
After several pages of critique of sociology as the ‘‘stronghold of the Standard Social Science Model,’’ Wilson
(1998:204–205) goes on to acknowledge that it is rare today. He provides no evidence for his claim beyond personal
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Gene [1976] was certainly the most popular in this vein.) Although the details of the debate are
intricate, time and again critics would hold out a deeply socialized image of human nature, subject
decisively to wider cultural forces. Sympathetic anthropologists (e.g., Harris 1979; Sahlins 1976)
concurred by underscoring the rich diversity of human social and sexual practices not meaning-
fully reducible to genetic ‘‘fitness’’ (e.g., Sahlins’ stress on societies where social obligations to
culturally-defined ‘‘kin’’ were greater than to their ‘‘blood’’ relatives). In the end, critics’ essen-
tially sociological view of human nature dovetailed with their rejection of the notion that culture
is ‘‘ultimately’’ reducible to the genesan idea sensationalized by detractors after Wilson’s
(1978:172) claim that genes ‘‘hold culture on a leash.’’ Such an emphasis on the autonomy of
culture would be integral to more sophisticated models of ‘‘gene-culture co-evolution,’’ as well
as the more unconventional ‘‘memetic’’ approaches.
Here is not the space to rehash every point and counterpoint of what would become a jagged
(though fascinating) debate. In retrospect, however, we can say that the debate became polarized
right out of the gate. In the flurry of competing claims of biological and cultural determinism, it
is easy to lose sight of the fact that few if any took such extreme positions. Yet the criticism
endures. The situation may be especially perilous to sociologists given the conventional and
media-abetted popularity of all the latest genetic explanations of human behavior. If Pinker,
Lopreato, and others are correct that sociologists persist in their ‘‘blank slate’’ opposition to
Darwin, might the discipline’s days indeed be numbered?
As we note above, the blank slate metaphor fails to capture the intricacy of sociologists’ views.
In the following section we address sociology’s traditional detachment from biology. As prior
research and surveys reveal, sociologists’ eschewal of biology goes beyond formal training (as
few take biology courses in their graduate studies), to paradigmatic commitment to examination
of emergent social phenomena. Attending to such phenomena as collective belief systems, social
structural regularities, economic value relations, and the like, sociologists customarily weave a
complex causal tapestry of historically specific social forces seen to shape human conduct.
Biological or genetic factors, from this standpoint, are generally ignored. Yet it is one thing
for sociologists to disregard biology from facts that are properly understood at the level of the
social. It is quite another for them to categorically reject evolutionary reasoning applied to human
beings. It is only the latter, anti-scientific impulse that would merit the epithet of the ‘‘blank
slate,’’ as we will discuss in our methods section below.
Existing research on sociologists’ openness to biological reasoning does not paint a friendly
picture. Critics condemn sociologists’ ignorance and fear of biology (e.g., Ellis 1996; Machalek
and Martin 2004; Van den Berghe 1990), while marshalling a variety of evidence that the field is
hopelessly out of touch with the nascent ‘‘Darwinian Revolution’’ in the sciences.
Stephen Sanderson and colleagues carried out surveys of sociologists in the 90s that bear in
part on their attitudes toward evolutionary biology (Sanderson and Ellis 1992; Lord and
Sanderson 1999). Of 168 sociologists surveyed by Sanderson and Ellis (1992), only 2.5% identify
sociobiology as a primary or secondary theoretical perspective in their work. That number
dropped to 1.9% in a later survey of 375 sociological theorists surveyed by Lord and Sanderson
(1999). Although both studies address the larger question of fragmentation in the field, each
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reveals useful data on the correlates of sociologists’ receptiveness to sociobiology. The overriding
variable in each case is political ideology. Both surveys find political outlook to be the best
predictor of acceptance or rejection of evolutionary theory, with radicals being the most highly
anti-biological. Perhaps surprisingly, gender is not significantly related in either study to respon-
dents’ receptiveness. Lord and Sanderson do find, however, that women are significantly less
likely than men to acknowledge that sociobiology has made at least a modest contribution to
the field.
The Sanderson and Ellis survey is particularly useful in highlighting sociologists’ rejection of
the role of genes as a major influence in shaping human behavior. They find that sociologists
view biology as playing a very small role in a range of human behaviors, including gender
differences in occupational interests, sexual orientation, criminal behavior, nurturance, and
more. Indeed, more than half of their sample attributes 15 percent or less of the variation in such
behaviors to biological causes (Sanderson and Ellis 1992:26).
A related indicator of sociologists’ aloofness to evolutionary science is their antiquated char-
acterizations of sociobiology in introductory textbooks. Machalek and Martin (2004) examine the
20 best-selling introductory sociology books in the United States. They find that of the 14 that
discuss sociobiology at all, the textbook authors characterize the field as mired in reductionism
and genetic determinism. People appear as little more than ‘‘automatons’’ propelled to act rigidly
by their genes and impervious to cultural context (458). The textbook authors evince no aware-
ness of the current state of sociobiological inquiry. They fail to discuss the overwhelming consen-
sus that human behavior is shaped by a complex interaction between multiple genes and the social
environment. Lacking such basic concepts as ‘‘epigenesis,’’ ‘‘gene ensembles,’’ and the ‘‘norm
of reaction,’ sociologists present an inexcusable ‘‘straw man’’ given decades of advances in
sociobiological theory and research (458–459).
Given the prior findings, our working hypothesis as we developed our own questionnaire was
that sociologists would tend to reject sociobiology and that political outlook would be the best
predictor. Our speculation was reinforced in part by our review of sociology theory books
published from 2000–2011. Of the 18 books we could find with a contemporary theory focus
or component, two covered sociobiology or evolutionary psychology (Johnson 2008; Turner
2006), while 16 did not (Adams and Sydie 2002; Allan 2006; Andersen and Kaspersen 2000;
Applerouth 2010; Baert and de Silva 2010; Calhoun 2002; Delanty 2006; Applerouth and Desfor
Edles 2007; Elliott 2009; Flecha, Puivert, and Gomez 2003; Harrington 2005; Mann 2007; Reed
2006; Ritzer 2007, 2009; and Ritzer and Smart 2001). In other words, we found that most students
will not encounter sociobiology in their standard theory textbooks. It is reasonable to infer that if
sociologists do not find sociobiology to be significant enough to merit discussion in a theory text,
it is unlikely that they lend much credence to evolutionary explanations of human behavior.
Our report here builds on Sanderson and colleagues’ prior surveys, though we focus expressly
on sociologists’ reception to evolutionary reasoning. Evolutionary theory covers a wide array of
perspectivessociobiology, human behavioral ecology, evolutionary biology and psychology,
memetics, and gene-culture co-evolutioneach with its own degree of theoretical development
and methodological sophistication. Our aim is not to assess sociologists’ familiarity with these
distinctive approaches. More narrowly, we look beyond each perspective to the evolutionary
reasoning underlying them all. Most basically, we ask sociologists whether they agree that
evolutionary reasoning can in principle be applied to human beings. That is, to what extent do
sociologists accept the idea that natural selection has acted upon human genes in ways that affect
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human behavior in nontrivial ways? This is the overriding question we address in our report,
though along the way we will have much to say about the state of the field with regard to the wider
‘‘Darwinian reawakening’’ in the sciences.
Sample Selection and Data
Following Lord and Sanderson (1999), we have confined our study to sociological theorists
rather than sociologists in general. We found 613 sociology professors listed as specialists in
theory in the 2010 ASA Guide to Graduate Departments of Sociology. We removed 70 names
from the original list due to repetitions and inaccessible or invalid e-mails (including those who
were deceased), for a revised list of 543 professors. After an initial e-mail survey and follow-up
in summer 2012, we obtained 155 usable surveys, for a 29% response rate.
We have a number of rationales for using a purposeful survey of sociological theorists in
graduate programs. First of all, our inclusive sample of all self-identified theorists provides a solid
opportunity of obtaining data representative of all sociological theorists. Secondly, our aim is to
take stock of the field’s reception to evolutionary reasoning in a changing context. To the extent
that sociologists have been influenced by the transdisciplinary wave of Darwinian research, we
suspect that theory specialists would most likely be at the forefront (as applied sociologists
may not be as attentive to theoretical developments). Finally, our focus on sociologists in graduate
programs may afford us a more reliable glimpse into the direction of the field, as such theorists are
directly training students for tomorrow’s academic positions. Needless to say, we recognize the
limits of our sample and we welcome investigation of sociologists in other positions and with
other disciplinary specialties.
The basic demographics of our sample are as follows. There are 116 men (76.3%) and 36
women (23.7%). The youngest member of the sample is 33, and the oldest is 87. Thirty-one
respondents are between the ages of 30–45 (22.3%), 40 are between the ages of 46–61
(28.7%), and 68 are 62 years or older (48.9%). Eighty-six are Full Professors (62.8%), 33 are
Associate Professors (24.1%), and 18 are Assistant Professors (13.1%).
Social theorists’ familiarity with evolutionary theory suggests something of a mixed bag. On
the one hand, only 13.7% have experience carrying out research that draws substantially from an
evolutionary perspective; and only 25.5% claim to have substantial or expert knowledge of an
evolutionary perspective. On the other hand, 41.7% report that they have taught at least one
evolutionary biological perspective in class. (Given its absence in theory textbooks, this figure
struck us as surprisingly high, though we do not know how affirmatively the material is taught.)
Finally, just under half of the respondents (48.3%) is actively or potentially considering teaching
Note that the data reported in the paper may leave out an incidental number of missing cases. We should add that we
received a total of 191 signed consent forms, though 35 respondents entered the survey without answering a single
question, and one respondent answered fewer than 20% of the questions. Given the amount of negative responses to
our survey, which we address later, we speculate that the high number of post-entry refusals (19%) were likely to have
been unfriendly to our project. If this is the case, our sample may have some self-selection bias in favor of sympathizers
to evolutionary reasoning, though we are unable to verify this.
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an evolutionary perspective in a future course. Prima facie, these substantial numbers appear to
contradict the widespread allegation of ‘‘biophobia’’ among sociologists.
Table 1 provides a sense of respondents’ overall attitudes towards applying evolutionary ideas
to social life. Although we acknowledge the problem of potential conceptual overlap in the
responses, the forced choices still afford some insight into sociologists’ standpoints. Note that
37% of sociologists are either interested in applying evolutionary perspectives or already actively
embrace their substantive contributions to the field. It is perhaps not surprising, hence, that a com-
parable number of respondents (41%) agree or strongly agree with the view that sociologists have
allowed ideology to blind them to the major significance of evolutionary biological processes in
shaping human social behavior and organization.
Following Sanderson et al., we also asked respondents to indicate their preferred theoretical
perspectives in their research. Among a list of 13 options,
we found that 5.3% identify evolution-
ary biology=sociobiology as their primary or secondary theoretical perspective (and 8.3% include
sociobiology among their top three perspectives). Although this still represents a small fraction of
sociologists, it is a notable increase from the 1.9% and 2.5% of evolutionarily-oriented respon-
dents in Sanderson and colleagues’ earlier surveys. What we appear to find, hence, is some move-
ment among sociologists toward increased acceptance of sociobiological ideas. If sociologists are
in fact experiencing a gradual ‘‘change of heart,’’ it is not surprisinggiven their conventional
lack of training in biologythat comparatively few are prepared to list sociobiology as a formal
research strategy. We would expect that academic practices lag behind changing attitudes should
there indeed be an emergent trend.
Let us turn now to the heart of the project: sociologists’ receptiveness to Darwinian reasoning
applied to human beings. To examine whether sociological theorists reject even the possibility
that natural selection played a role in shaping significant aspects of human behavior, we present
Sociologists’ Perceptions of Evolutionary Biological Ideas
Which of the following positions best characterizes your attitude toward applying evolutionary
biological ideas to human social behavior and organization?
Evolutionary perspectives are a rehash of old ideas that wittingly or otherwise serve to justify
social hierarchies.
5.3% 8
I am resistant to including evolutionary ideas. Human social behavior and forms of social
organization are too variable for biology to play a significant role.
8.6% 13
I am open to considering evolutionary ideas but I am not sure that much of human social
behavior and organization can be explained by evolutionary processes.
49% 74
I am interested in including evolutionary perspectives and hopeful that such ideas will shed
light on phenomena that sociologists have not considered from a biological perspective in
the past.
23.8% 36
I embrace evolutionary perspectives and I believe they make a vital contribution to explaining
key aspects of human social behavior and organization.
13.2% 20
We asked respondents to rank order their top three theoretical perspectives from the following: Conflict
theory; Critical theory; Evolutionary biology=Sociobiology; Exchange=Rational choice; Feminism; Functionalism=
Neofunctionalism; Marxism; Phenomenology=Ethnomethodology; Postmodernism=Post-Structuralism; Symbolic
interactionism; Weberianism; World systems theory; No preferred perspective=eclectic.
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them with a range of behaviors typically explained by evolutionary science (e.g., emotions,
feeding behavior, perceptions of beauty, etc.). We ask respondents to judge whether
evolutionary biological explanations of such behaviors appear to them to be ‘‘Highly Plausible,’’
‘‘Plausible,’’ ‘‘Implausible,’’ or ‘‘Highly Implausible.’’
The actual survey questions are as
1. People’s taste for foods containing fat and sugar is hardwired into our brains by evol-
ution. Such high-energy foods were important in human’s ancestral environments,
where access to stable food was by no means certain. Hence people evolved the
impulse to gorge on such foods for fat storage.
2. Men have a greater tendency toward promiscuity than women due to an evolved
reproductive strategy (men in humans’ ancestral past without such a tendency would
produce fewer offspring).
3. The widespread fear of snakes and spiders across cultures indicates an evolved
psychological tendency toward predator avoidance.
4. Although beauty standards vary historically, there is a biological underpinning
connected to health indicators. People have evolved to find such characteristics as
symmetrical features and smooth skin physically attractive due to their health and
reproductive indicators.
5. Feelings of sexual jealousy have a significant evolutionary biological component.
6. Men’s greater likelihood than women to engage in violent crime is determined by
culture and learning. There is no significant evolutionary biological component.
7. The widely observed tendency for men to try and control women’s bodies as property
(e.g., veiling, virginity cults, etc.) has a significant evolutionary biological component.
8. Men’s greater use of pornography relative to women results from culture and learn-
ing (norms of ‘‘objectification’’ of women, etc.). There is no significant evolutionary
biological component.
We included three additional questions that were not framed in evolutionary terms per se,
yet indicate sociologists views of biological differences with regard to intelligence, sexual
orientation, and cognition:
9. Although the environment affects the range of one’s intellectual development, some
people are born genetically with more intellectual potential than others.
10. Sexual orientation has biological roots.
11. Observed differences between women and men in such skills as communication and
spatial reasoning are linked to biological differences in female and male brains.
Let us begin with questions 9–11 above (see Table 2). Here we examine sociologists’ views of
basic biological differences. Pinker (2002:149) mocks academics for their purported rejection
Respondents may also mark ‘‘undecided.’’ Note that sociologists were not asked whether they believe the evolution-
ary hypotheses are likely to be true, but merely plausible. We believe the language of plausibility sets the bar lower for
sociologists to accept evolutionary reasoning (with rejection of such suggesting, a fortiori, a blank slate standpoint).
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of the existence of intelligence.
Yet as can be seen, the vast majority (82.1%) of respondents
accept the plausibility of genetic roots to intellectual differences. Given the comments we received
on this question, it appears that at least some of those who were undecided or found the idea of a
biological intelligence implausible (18.8%) were considering multifaceted aspects of intelligence
beyond abstract reasoning (e.g., aesthetic, social, etc.), as well as varying, culturally-specific con-
structions of ‘‘intelligence.’’ We would respond, however, that an interactive view of biological
and societal influences on intelligence gives weight to each (even if precise quantification is
not possible). Moreover, we imagine that doubters on this issue did not have in mind Down
Syndrome, Martin-Bell, or other genetic conditions resulting in intellectual disabilities.
Turning to sexual orientation, we again see a strong majority of sociologists (70.2%) affirming
the plausibility of biological roots. A couple of respondents objected to the framing of the ques-
tion, as it excluded environmental influences. One respondent wrote, ‘‘The items were sometimes
phrased in too simplistic a form, i.e., ‘has biological roots,’ that I had to disagree, since biological
causes cannot be isolated from social=cultural environmental factors.’’
We did in fact use the
language of roots to exclude cultural influences on sexual orientation. It appears, in any case, that
the large majority of sociologists, with whom we agree, affirm the plausibility of a biological
basis for sexual orientation. Moreover, sociologists appear to have shifted substantially on this
question since Sanderson and Ellis’ 1992 survey. Sanderson and Ellis found that sociologists
attributed only 26.2% of people’s sexual orientations to biological factors (including genetic,
natal, and nonsocial postnatal influences). With only 9.3% of our respondents denying the plausi-
bility of biological roots, it appears that sociologists are much more open to the role of biology in
shaping sexual orientation today.
Finally, we explore sociologists’ views of a possible link between ‘‘female’’ and ‘‘male’’
brains and differences in such skills as communication and spatial reasoning. Here we see a
Sociologists’ Perceptions of Biological Roots of Intelligence, Sexual Orientation and Cognition
Plausible (%)
Implausible (%)
1. Although the environment affects the range of one’s intellectual
development, some people are born genetically with more
intellectual potential than others.
81.2 9.7 9.1
2. Sexual orientation has biological roots. 70.2 20.5 9.3
3. Observed differences between women and men in such skills as
communication and spatial reasoning are linked to biological
differences in female and male brains.
42.8 22.4 34.9
He writes, ‘‘I find it truly surreal to read academics denying the existence of intelligence. Academics are obsessed
with intelligence. They discuss it endlessly in considering student admissions, in hiring faculty and staff, and especially in
their gossip about one another .... In any case, there is now ample evidence that intelligence is a stable property of an
individual, that it can be linked to features of the brain ...’’ (emphasis his).
We included in our survey a final open-ended question allowing respondents to elaborate on their view of the blank
slate criticism and respond to any of the survey questions in depth. We were delighted to receive 98 comments in 12
pages of single-spaced text.
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much smaller percentage affirming the plausibility of biological influence (42.8%). Sociologists’
responses are somewhat surprising given the substantial body of literature demonstrating the
implications of brain differences by sex for cognitive abilities (see Halpern 2011 for a solid over-
view of the literature).
We cannot be certain whether sociologists’ biological skepticism on this
question is due to simple ignorance of the research, or an ideological (‘‘blank slate’’) opposition,
or perhaps ignorance borne of ideological opposition. Whatever the case, we cannot forget that
the history of brain research is not free of biased or sloppy science, and common exaggerations
in the popular press do not help matters (see Fine 2010 for a spirited critique). We submit,
however, that scientific errors or popularizations do not justify denial of basic developments
in brain research today.
Moving on to the focal point of our report: How do sociologists regard the application of
evolutionary biological reasoning to human behavior? Table 3 tallies responses to questions
1–8 above. It is immediately apparent that substantial percentages of sociologists accept the
plausibility of evolutionary accounts for several human tendencies, including just under 60%
with regard to people’s taste for fats and sugars. On the other side of the coin, however, this still
leaves a majority of sociologists unwilling to acknowledge even the plausibility of evolutionary
explanations for seven of the eight behaviors. Why the reluctance?
If we consider question 2 on animal fears, there is ample literature going back decades dem-
onstrating what psychologists refer to as ‘‘prepared learning’’ (e.g., Davey et al. 1998; Marks
1987; Ohman and Mineka 2001; Seligman 1971). Such ‘‘biological constraints’’ on learning have
been widely demonstrated in the laboratory and cross culturally. To put the matter simply, it takes
scarcely any effort to ‘‘teach’’ people to fear spiders or snakes. Yet electrical sockets or automo-
biles, which are objectively quite dangerous, hardly elicit an emotional response (much less a
phobia). It appears, again, that many sociologists are at best unaware of this literature. It is likely,
however, that commitment to a blank slate (cultural determinist) view of human emotions is play-
ing a role as well.
We should note that we agree with one respondent who pointed out that such differences are ‘‘average’’ differences
between men and women, and that the question could have been clearer had we indicated such. We can only speculate
that it would not have altered the findings in a significant way.
Sociologists’ Perceived Plausibility of Evolutionary Biological Explanations
Evolutionary component Plausible (%) Implausible (%)
1. Taste for Fats=Sugars 59.8 19.1
2. Fear of Snakes=Spiders 49.4 27.3
3. Beauty as Fitness Indicator 47.0 28.4
4. Sexual Jealousy 44.1 26.4
5. Male Promiscuity 36.4 37.8
6. Male Violent Criminality 32.3 39.5
7. Male Pornography Use 27.1 49.7
8. Veiling=Virginity 22.7 53.4
Note. Sociologists’ receptiveness to evolutionary explanations declines steeply
with politically sensitive questions that bear on the implications of sex differences.
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Our presumption regarding sociologists’ blank slate standpoint is bolstered by the most
salient feature of Table 3: the relevance of the topic of sex differences to respondents’ percep-
tions. Note that the four questions that specifically address behavioral differences between the
sexes scored the lowest in terms of the ‘‘plausibility of a significant evolutionary component.’’
It is plain that sociological theorists are most inclined to reject evolutionary reasoning when it is
employed to explain behavioral differences between women and men.
We see no other interpretation for this variation in responses than political outlook. Why
would natural selection be limited to feeding behavior or animal phobias, but not to a range of
emotions bearing on human sexuality? We do not aim in this report to validate evolutionary
accounts writ large. Yet it is telling that so few sociologists acknowledge the plausibility of an
evolutionary biological component for such behaviors as men’s use of pornography (27.1%)or
their desire to control their partners’ sexuality (22.1%). Our questions, after all, do not preclude
the role of culture, as revealed by our stress on biology as a component of behavior. More than a
few theorists, nonetheless, decried the ‘‘simplicity’’ and ‘‘reductionism’’ they believed were
implicit in our survey methodology. One respondent wrote: ‘‘These terms present a false and over
simple dichotomy. There is little in the brain that manifests itself in actual social behavior that is
unaffected by experience.’’ Another warned: ‘‘While I would caution against an oversocialized
view of humans, I would caution against these kinds of survey questions. I have a hard time
thinking about sexual promiscuity, intellectual potential, body as property, violent crime, beauty
standards, communication skills, and similar social phenomena outside of social context.’’ We
wholeheartedly concur that social context is crucial in shaping human behavior. Yet our survey
was designed not to dismiss the social but to tap into sociologists’ recognition, in least in part, of
the biological.
By examining respondents’ written comments, it is not difficult to discern their political
preoccupations. Indeed, a few expressed their worries openlythat recognition of biological
difference would undermine efforts to bring about social justice and equality. Consider the
following comments:
By emphasizing hard wiring due to evolution, there is an implicit acceptance of the behavior as if there
is nothing or very little that can be done to alter the behavior or as if any such attempts are doomed and
misguided. There is no incentive to consider the possibility of altering social environments to reduce
the likelihood of fighting, or bullying, or raping, or veiling=segregating women, etc.
This way of posing the issue might be unproductive. For me, the more important question is the kind
of political possibilities and the ethical imperatives the two oppositional perspectives (sociobiology
vs. cultural determinists) make available. The cultural determinist view offers more progressive
possibilities alive to issues of social justice, while the biological determinist view undermines human
agency and is most often enlisted to justify hierarchy.
Biological history is no excuse for violating norms or allowing injustice because humans have choice
and are responsible.
The above remarks demonstrate the unease that sociologists feel about acknowledging less
‘‘wholesome’’ aspects of human nature. They reveal as well what Pinker (2002) refers to as
the fears of ‘‘imperfectability’’ and ‘‘determinism.’’ The basic misconception is that if certain
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human traits are seen as innate then they must be unchangeablerendering efforts at progressive
change hopeless. Moreover, there is the fear that if a tendency is seen as determined even in part
by the genes, people would be free of responsibility for their actions.
In our view, such fears are both unfounded and detrimentalironicallyto efforts at social
reform. It does poor service to social change to subordinate truth to politics. Let’s presume, for
example, that sociobiologists are correct that males have evolved a psychological proclivity to
experience sexual jealousy and to strive to monopolize the fertilization of their mates (Alcock
2001:135). Should this be true, it would be one factor that steered cultures in the direction of
traditions that regulate women’s sexuality and prize their virginity. Should it also be true that
this norm is not universal (and has eroded in modern Western societies), then we would see that
people are not merely subject to primal instincts. They are equipped with deliberative faculties
and conditioned in their behavior by cultural development. In fact, recognition of people’s
higher capacities does not require that we relinquish any conception of their evolved impulses.
Perhaps Pinker (2006:6) says it best:
Even if people do harbor ignoble motives, they don’t automatically lead to ignoble behavior, as we
saw from the ubiquity of homicidal fantasies, which needless to say rarely result in homicidal beha-
vior. That disconnect is possible precisely because the human mind is a complex system of many
parts, some of which can counteract others, such as a moral sense, cognitive faculties that allow us
to learn lessons from history, and the executive system of the frontal lobes of the brain that can apply
knowledge about consequences and moral values to inhibit behaviors.
Plainly, we should not fear taking the range of human nature seriously. Nor must we deny the
animal to aspire to our highest ideals of cooperation and justice.
The political roots of sociologists’ resistance to evolutionary explanation is evidenced by our
OLS analysis of the correlates of their receptiveness. We constructed our dependent variable
by subjecting survey questions 1–8 to principal components analysis to reduce them to a single
indicator reflecting how plausible the respondent finds evolutionary explanations to be. One fac-
tor with an eigenvalue greater than 1 emerged, and this factor accounts for 57.6% of the variation
among respondents on these eight items. We used respondent scores on this factor as the depen-
dent variable, with higher values representing more plausibility being attributed to evolutionary
biology. Therefore, the dependent variable is a composite measure of the perceived plausibility of
evolutionary arguments.
Respondents were also asked to self-identify with respect to their political identities. ‘‘Con-
servative,’’ ‘‘moderate,’’ ‘‘liberal,’’ and ‘‘radical’’ were offered as independent yes or no items,
and a composite was constructed based on the responses to these political items. Our composite
variable, which we call ‘‘radicalism,’’ is coded 0 for conservative, 1 for moderate, 2 for liberal
and 3 for radical. Theoretical perspectives were scored 3 when named as the first choice, 2 if
second choice, and 1 if third choice.
We ran a number of regression models with our measure of perceived plausibility as the depen-
dent variable, and other survey responses as independent variables. Omitting several variables
that were not reliably associated with the dependent variable, we report what we believe to be
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the best fit of the data and theory. We retained for the final model those variables showing
coefficients consistent with theory and statistically significant. Table 4 below shows the descrip-
tive statistics for the variables in our final model.
Table 5 illustrates our findings, including regression coefficients, standard errors, t-scores and
p values. Like Sanderson and Ellis (1992), our results suggest no significant effect from gender on
perceptions of the plausibility of evolutionary accounts. Nor was age of respondent significant.
However, political outlook was a significant predictor, as expected. Our ‘‘radicalism’’ variable
takes a negative coefficient (.227; p < .05), suggesting an inverse relationship between radical-
ism and perceived plausibility of evolutionary biological accounts.
Respondents’ preferred theoretical perspectives of ‘‘feminism’’ and ‘‘sociobiology’’ were
significant as well, and in the expected directions. As one would anticipate, a preference for
sociobiology as a theoretical perspective is positively associated (.510; p < .001) with perceived
plausibility of biological accounts. The feminist perspective, on the other hand, shows a negative
association (.323; p < .01).
We arrive at the conclusion, hence, that the theorists least inclined to find evolutionary
accounts plausible are those who identify as politically radical and those who examine the social
world principally through a feminist theoretical lens. This finding would hardly surprise sociol-
ogy’s critics. But the question cuts both ways. For Okasha (2002:125–126), ‘‘Few would deny the
trend’’ that sociobiology’s advocates ‘‘tended to be politically right-wing,’’ while its critics
‘‘tended to come from the political left.’’ Whatever the validity of his claim
(for which he offers
no support), it raises the knotty issue at the heart of this report: the politics of knowledge
production. Must political ideology shape one’s reception of evolutionary theory? Might we
acknowledge an often blurred line between facts and values without surrendering the pursuit
of scientific truth? We will close by reviewing our findings in light of these larger epistemological
Variables and Characteristics
Variable Mean Std. dev. Minimum Maximum
Dependent variable
Perceived plausibility of Sociobiology .047 .998 2.404 2.336
Age 58.79 13.65 33 87
Male (1 ¼ yes; 0 ¼ no) .786 .412 0 1
Political orientation
Radicalism 2.09 .78 0 3
Preferred Theoretical Perspectives
Feminist .344 .821 0 3
Evolutionary Biology=Sociobiology .191 .681 0 3
Note. Valid N ¼ 131.
We are unaware of any broad-based surveys on the politics of sociobiologists. However, we are skeptical that they
lean to the political right. See Sanderson (2001: 138, note 3) for discussion of the left-of-center politics of leading
sociobiologists. Two surveys were carried out recently of evolutionary-oriented graduate students in psychology and
anthropology (Tybur, Miller, and Gangestad 2007; Lyle and Smith 2012). The results show that evolutionary students
are as liberal as their non-evolutionary cohorts. We thank a reviewer for directing us to this literature.
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concerns. In the process we will venture tentatively into contemporary research in political
Sociology is a house divided. Just over half of the theorists in our sample deny the role of natural
selection in shaping a range of human tendencies. Many more are unwilling to acknowledge the
plausibility of evolutionary arguments applied to sex differences. Plainly, we see appreciable
support for the blank slate critique popularized by Pinker.
One the other hand, we see signs
of change. Thirty-seven percent of our sample either embrace evolutionary theory or are hopeful
of its promise to shed new light on social phenomena. Moreover, respondents’ open-ended
responses repeatedly stress the need for an interactionist perspective. Statements such as these
It seems to me the current work of geneticists points to the complex interplay between genetic
preconditions and environmental conditions.
[Sociologists] should be open about biological conditioning, limiting, and interacting with
socio-cultural learning and social structural impacts.
The blank slate assumption is not plausible. Biological factors have effects. It is just that their effects
interact with sociological factors. Unpacking such biosocial processes is the next great challenge for
the social sciences.
Accounting for Variation in Perceptions of the Plausibility of Evolutionary Accounts:
Ordinary Least Squares Regression Results
Independent variables Coefficient Std. error t-score P
Age .003 .006 .530 .597
Male (1 ¼ yes; 0 ¼ no) .129 .225 .576 .566
Political Orientation
Radicalism .227
.100 2.272 .025
Preferred Theoretical Perspectives
Feminist .323
.109 2.949 .004
Evolutionary Biology=Sociobiology .510
.114 4.474 .000
Constant .620 .405 1.531 .128
Note. N ¼ 131; Adjusted R
¼ .261; F ¼ 10.200
p ¼ .05;
p < .01;
p < .001.
One of our reviewers suspects that sociologists’ aversion to evolutionary biology is much greater than our survey
suggests. The reviewer notes our modest response rate (29%) and the likelihood of self-selection bias, given the large
number of post-entry refusals that we acknowledge in note 4 above. Should it be the case that declining the survey indi-
cates rejection of evolutionary ideas, then our survey may indeed overstate sociologists’ receptiveness. As we are limited
to the data we have available, we would welcome further investigation of the ‘‘evolving’’ state of the field.
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One respondent admitted that he had ‘‘bought the blank slate theory,’’ but he ultimately rejected it
‘‘in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.’’ Three respondents specifically referred to the
blank slate metaphor as a ‘‘straw man,’’ with one doubting that ‘‘any reasonable number of sociol-
ogists hold to that view.’’ Indeed, the general tenor of such responses is that the biological and
social sciences should nourish each other around a complex, biosocial conception of human nature.
Whether the discipline takes the charge to integrate evolutionary reasoning remains to be
seen. To affirm the importance of biology in the abstract is hardly the same as reevaluating
the assumptions of one’s field. As we note above, the most common charge leveled against
evolutionary theory is its alleged reductionism and genetic determinism:
[S]ociobiology can be very reductionistic, thus ignoring the contributions of other factors to the
explanation of social phenomena.
While there are certainly biological tendencies, these are mediated by cultural experiences and social
expectations. I don’t believe that biological tendencies are useful for explaining specific behaviors.
There is no religion gene or honesty gene. Nor is there an ingrown biological tendency to like or
dislike broccoli.
[B]ecause how we know the ‘world’ is first and foremost through language, knowledges [sic], and
social meaning the question of what is purely natural or what would nature look like stripped of the
social is simply unanswerable. When we try, it leads to reductionism.
We stress throughout that our aim is not to endorse evolutionary theories. After all, no field is
exempt from poor scholarshipand the media’s regular ballyhooing of the latest ‘‘gene for’’ this
or that behavior is certainly cause for skepticism. Yet for those with even a basic appreciation of
the current state of evolutionary theory, concerns about single genes rigidly determining behaviors
are unwarranted. Evolutionary theorists regularly stress the complex ensembles of genes triggered
in varying ways by environmental and cultural conditions. The old nature vs. nurture dichotomy
has long been discarded in favor of precisely the kind of interactive view many respondents cham-
pion in their comments. Culture and genes co-evolve. The cultural environment influences
changes in the genes just as the genes influence the construction of the cultural environment.
Some of respondents criticisms of sociobiology border on what could be called sociological
reductionismthe mechanical rejection of the possibility that genes or any extra-social factor
play a constituent role in a given human tendency. Notice the assurance of the respondent above:
‘‘There is no religion gene or honesty gene. Nor is there an ingrown biological tendency to like or
dislike broccoli.’’ To be sure, as a cultural practice, the specific content of religious beliefs is not
genetically shaped. Yet might aspects of personality that make religious narratives more attractive
to some people than to others have a biological component? Cultures certainly harvest diverse
foods in wide-ranging historical and ecological contexts. Yet might sugary and fatty foods have
a universally more compulsive appeal than broccoli due in part to our primordially-evolved
Moss’s (2013) investigative critique of how the food giants invest in quantifying the precise salt, sugar, and fat
content in their processed foods is revealing. The consumers’ sugary ‘‘bliss point’’ is especially profitableand insiders
acknowledge that their industry would cease to exist without millions of veritable ‘‘addicts.’ Needless to say, we are
unaware of evidence of a ‘‘bliss point’’ of compulsive consumption of broccoli or asparagus.
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We should address the reductionism critique of evolutionary science directly. Let us
conceptualize, rather prosaically, the climb from physics up through chemistry, biology,
psychology and sociology as rungs on a ladder. We would expect scientific inquiry at the level
of multiple rungs to be rarer given disciplinary specialization and the security of ‘‘normal
science’’ in the Kuhnian sense. Going beyond one’s formal training and comfort zone to con-
verse across rungs is difficult. Yet it is here that we might expect some of the more exciting
research. This appears to be the case today as evolutionary reasoning sheds new light across
a range of social phenomena formerly deemed independent of such influence.
If we continue to borrow from Kuhn, and think of the blank slate as a paradi gm, sociologists’
rejection of evolutionary reasoning can be understood as a reflection of disciplinary custom
reinforced by commitment to the preferred theories and methods of the field. In this sense,
dedication to examining strictly emergent phenomena is a marker of one’s group membership
(we will return to this argument below). To be sure, the large majority of questions to which
sociologists attend are appropriately examined at the level of the social. It would be unhelpful
to bring genes into discussions of, say, the volatility of the business cycle, the variation in states’
immigration policies, or the mechanisms perpetuating global inequality, among countless more.
‘‘Sociobiology will never replace traditional sociology,’’ Alcock (2001:130) notes, ‘‘because the
two disciplines focus on different levels of analysis.’’ Yet there are questions that may implicate
the different levels. To investigate, as sociologists do, the ‘‘proximate’’ causes of human beha-
vior should not preclude by ideological fiat attention to possible evolutionary or ‘‘ultimate’’
causes as well. It is no service to science to mechanically reject explanations at higher or lower
rungs of the ladder.
We can elucidate the matter by returning briefly to the respondent’s comment about broccoli. It
is obvious that if people gorged more on broccoli than cheeseburgers we would hardly face such a
severe obesity problem. When researchers investigate the many causes of obesity, it strikes us that
historically specific, social factors are decisive. Capitalist profit maximization, the ready avail-
ability of fast and processed foods, sedentary lifestyles, and agricultural subsidies are a few of
the key proximate causes of the epidemic (Eisenhaur 2001; Guthman 2011; Katzmarzyk, Jannsen,
and Arden 2003; Pollan 2006; Powell et al. 2007). Yet attention to such societal factors should
not preclude consideration of evolutionary factors. Evolutionary biologists emphasize the
‘‘mismatch’’ in the modern world between our evolved biology and the current socioeconomic
environment (e.g., Gluckman and Hanson 2006). In human prehistory, nature conferred a survival
advantage on those with the ability to store energy in adipose tissue during good times for use
during later, leaner times. Yet a taste for fat and sugar in a modern environment of fast food
and sedentary jobs spurs serious health repercussions.
Plainly, an adequate accounting of the obesity problem entails attention to biological, psycho-
logical and social factors. The same applies to human sexual behavior, notwithstanding sociolo-
gists’ apparent discomfort in acknowledging it. The expressions of feelings of attraction or
jealousy are certainly bound up with cultural conditions, yet we doubt that they are devoid of
evolved biology. We should again stress here that people are not helplessly subject to their
impulses. People have the capacity, for example, to consider long-term health consequences as
they resist that additional ‘‘guilty’’ portion of ice cream. The same case can be made for sexual
behaviors. A variety of research has found that men have a greater likelihood than women to
misperceive friendly interactions as indicators of sexual interest (Abbey 1982; Haselton 2003;
Perilloux, Easton and Buss 2012). Haselton (2003) interprets such findings from an evolutionary
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standpoint, suggesting that males have been evolutionarily primed to sexual ‘‘overperception’’ to
maximize mating opportunities. Whatever the plausibility of the evolutionary account, men could
use the knowledge of such a tendency to reduce unwanted sexual advances toward women (Buss
Of course, evidence from our survey suggests that sociologists will be least inclined to
acknowledge the existence of evolved sex differences in behavior, let alone productive ways
to respond to such differences. Such an anti-evolutionary stance with regard to sex differences
is peculiar. We suggest above that sociologists’ outlook is due in part to a disciplinary tradition.
The kinds of questions asked are simply higher up the ladder (beyond the rungs of biology and
psychology). Moreover, the gamut of sociological trainingfrom multivariate statistics to
comparative-historical methodputs a premium on attention to manifold proximate factors. It
is perhaps not surprising that 71.5% of our sample agreed that they are ‘‘not committed to
any theoretical tradition’’ and that they ‘‘take an eclectic approach’’ in their research.
We suspect, however, that more than disciplinary custom is at play in sociologists’ outlook.
Indeed, sociologists appear to reject biology as a marker of group identity. Being a professional
sociologist entails allegiance to a view of human beings as cultural beings first and foremost.
‘‘Nurture is our nature,’’ states a popular introductory textbook (Macionis 2005:119). As cul-
tures and social arrangements change, so does human nature. From this standpoint, affirmation
of the blank slate by a majority of sociological theorists may serve certain emotional and psycho-
logical needs of the group.
We are venturing now onto the contentious terrain of political psychology. We can only offer
a tentative sketch of a few potentially relevant considerations. Let’s remember that
evolutionary-minded sociologists regularly chide their colleagues for political bias. Sanderson
and Ellis (1992:40) write:
As we have seen, sociologists lean markedly to the left on the political spectrum. They are strongly
committed to principles of social justice and equality, and this makes them highly unreceptive to the
idea that basically unalterable biological factors contribute much to the organization of society.
Our report suggests that we cannot deny this link between political identity and anti-
evolutionism among sociologists. After all, the results confirm that theorists who identify as
radicals or feminists are the most inclined toward a blank slate view.
From a political-psychological standpoint, what is surprising about the findings is that the
apparent rejection of science is not typically the province of the political left. Indeed, conservative
personality traitssuch as a need for cognitive closure, the management of uncertainty and threat,
strong group loyalty, and authoritarianismhave been consistently linked to science denial (e.g.,
Chirumbolo 2002; Garvey 2008; Jost et al. 2003; Mooney 2012). It is not uncommon, as we
know, for conservatives to dismiss the scientific consensus on such diverse issues as climate
change, air and water pollution, and evolutionary theory as a whole. Political psychology helps
explain such behavior by showing that people do not respond to scientific claims in a vacuum. On
the contrary, people often interpret the ‘‘facts’’ through the lens of their group identities. More-
over, when the facts run counter to their groups’ moral instincts, people appear trigger-ready to
rationalize them away (see Haidt 2012).
Sociologists are, of course, overwhelmingly liberal. Just over 85% of our sample identify as
either liberal or radical. (Around 77% of sociologists identified as such in Sanderson and Ellis
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1992). Psychological research suggests that a defining trait of the liberal mind is ‘‘openness to
experience,’’ which is linked to a greater tolerance of ambiguity and the inclination to reevaluate
one’s ideas in light of new or conflicting information. Yet liberals are plainly not immune to bias.
They also reject or misinterpret the science on issues they care about, though apparently to a much
lesser extent than conservatives do. Mooney (2012) points to what he sees as liberals’ often exag-
gerated response to genetically engineered foods and ‘‘fracking’’ technology as two cases in point.
It appears that evolutionary reasoningespecially as it relates to sex differencesis one of the
issues that pushes liberals’ emotional buttons (Mooney 2012:97–98). From the start of the socio-
biology controversy, evolutionary ideas have been met with strong emotional resistance by social
scientists. Indeed, sociologists’ rejection of sociobiology appears to reflect more than simply
intellectual disagreement over the prospects of a more egalitarian social order. More pointedly,
sociobiological ideas likely provoke liberals’ deep-seated moral instinctsincluding a strong
commitment to fairness and an empathetic impulse to protect the vulnerable from harm.
liberals feel intensely that people are equal and should be treated so, ideas that appear to them
to in any way ‘‘naturalize’’ inequality or social domination are deemed repugnant. In this view,
the disciplinary distance between biology and sociology likely bolsters classic ingroup-outgroup
behavior. That is, many sociologists may reject evolutionary biology less for the plausibility of
the ideas than for the collective threat they feel such ideas pose.
Must people’s political ideologiesand underlying moral instinctsdistort their interpretation
of scientific evidence? Are sociologists’ evolutionary critics (or at least those ‘‘unsullied’’ by
deep ideological commitments) simply appraising the biological facts more objectively?
We are doubtful that knowledge production can ever be extricated from the currents of
cultural and political life. There is, after all, no Archimedean pointleft, right, or centerfrom
which to appraise the facts pristinely. Postmodern feminism maintains that members of different
genders, ethnicities and locations understand the world in distinct ways (Harding 1986). We
would add that the same holds for scientific communities. Yet the sociology of knowledge need
not lead us to an extreme form of epistemological relativism. It is feasible, we hope, to navigate
the poles of positivism and relativism.
We have admonished our sociology colleagues in this paper for their mechanical dismissal of
evolutionary reasoning. Yet the sword is no doubt double-edged. If we are correct in the presump-
tion that group identity and personality impact how scientists read evidence and construct knowl-
edge, further research into potential biases in other scientific communities (such as evolutionary
scientists) would be valuable. ‘‘It is high time,’’ one of our respondent’s asserts, ‘‘for sociologists
The lead author of this report encountered animus from peers and mentors from graduate school for his budding
interest in evolutionary biology. Bizarre disputes with such colleagues over whether E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins
are closet Social Darwinists, or if sexual orientation were a purely social construct, were a partial motivation for this
survey research.
The handful of hostile comments we received from respondents suggests that the survey was provocative to some.
One respondent referred to the questions on gender as ‘‘idiotic’’ and not to be ‘‘dignified [with] a response.’’ Another
revealed ‘‘no confidence in [our] capacity or willingness for a disinterested, careful analysis.’’ On balance, we should
note that we received numerous positive comments, including much interest in the results.
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and sociobiologists to engage in nonpartisan intellectual exchange.’’ The prospects for that
exchange may be enhanced by examining the institutional and social-psychological roots of
our partisanship.
Mark Horowitz (PhD, University of Kansas, 2004) is Associate Professor of Sociology at the
University of Texas at Brownsville. He is a specialist in social theory with research interests
in globalization, social psychology and the U.S.-Mexico border region. His previous articles
have appeared in Critical Sociology, the Journal of Social Justice, and the Journal of Border-
lands Studies.
William Yaworsky (PhD, University of Oklahoma, 2002) is Associate Professor of
Anthropology at the University of Texas at Brownsville. His research interests include social
organization and political violence in Latin America. His previous articles have appeared in
the Journal of Anthropological Research, Mexican Studies=Estudios Mexicanos, the Journal
of Strategic Studies, Small Wars and Insurgencies, and the Latin Americanist.
Kenneth Kickham (PhD University of Oklahoma, 2000) is Associate Professor of Political
Science at the University of Central Oklahoma. His research interests include public administra-
tion and welfare reform. His previous articles have appeared in Social Science Quarterly,
Publius, Public Administration Review, and the Policy Studies Journal.
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... Our results mesh well with a recent survey of sociologists, a discipline that has been cited as being particularly "left-wing" (Winegard & Winegard, 2017), which found that more than 80% of respondents endorsed a role of genetics in determining people's intellectual potential (Horowitz, Yaworsky, & Kickham, 2014). This clear endorsement of heritability among people seen as predominantly "left-wing" is not compatible with the suspicion that this particular scientific evidence might be dismissed in favor of ideology among people on the left. ...
Some scientific propositions are so well established that they are no longer debated by the relevant scientific community, such as the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are altering the Earth's climate. In many cases, such scientifically settled issues are nonetheless rejected by segments of the public. U.S. surveys have repeatedly shown that the rejection of scientific evidence across a broad range of domains is preferentially associated with rightwing or libertarian worldviews, with little evidence for rejection of scientific evidence by people on the political left. We report two preregistered representative surveys (each N > 1000) that (1) sought to explain this apparent political asymmetry and (2) continued the search for the rejection of scientific evidence on the political left. To address the first question, we focused on Merton's classic analysis of the norms of science, such as communism and universalism, which continue to be internalized by the scientific community but which are not readily reconciled with conservative values. Both studies show that people's political worldviews are associated with their attitudes towards those scientific norms, and that those attitudes predict people's acceptance of vaccinations and climate science. The norms of science may thus be in latent conflict with the worldviews of a substantial segment of the public. To address the second question, we examined people's views on the role of inheritance in determining people's intelligence, given that the belief in the power of learning and environmental factors to shape human development is a guiding principle of leftwing thought. We find no association between core measures of political worldviews and people's view of heritability of intelligence, although two subordinate constructs, nationalism and social dominance orientation, were associated with belief in heritability.
... Die Gesamtschau einiger weiterer Umfragestudien unter Soziologen und Sozialpsychologen konturiert das Bild jener sozialwissenschaftlichen "Kulturalisten", bei denen der Austausch mit Evolutionisten an seine Grenzen stößt (Buss und von Hippel 2018;Jonason und Schmitt 2016;Horowitz et al. 2014;Geher und Gambacorta 2010). Grundsätzlich ist in weiten Teilen der Sozialwissenschaften unstrittig, dass Entstehung und Wandel der belebten Natur dem darwinschen Evolutionsalgorithmus unterworfen sind. ...
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Zusammenfassung Kommunikation und Kooperation zwischen sozialwissenschaftlicher und evolutionär-anthropologischer Forschung ist durch einige Verständigungsbarrieren erschwert. In diesem Beitrag werden die wichtigsten dieser Probleme systematisch geordnet und auf die folgenden Fragen hin analysiert: Wo stehen der Annäherung sozialwissenschaftlicher und evolutionär informierter Anthropologie nur Missverständnisse, Falschauffassungen oder ideologisches Misstrauen im Wege; wo sind es unterschiedliche methodologische Herangehensweisen oder paradigmatische Grundüberzeugungen; und wie lassen sich diese Hindernisse interdisziplinärer Theorieintegration überwinden?
... Part V | Chapter 1 between male and female humans and even… nonhumans (I kid you not) (Geher and Gambacorta 2010;Horowitz et al., 2014;Martin, 2015;Winegard et al., 2014). ...
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Evolutionary Psychology is in line with evolutionary biology and offers testable hypotheses and retrodic- tions. EP has become a multidisciplinary research domain, gathering the brightest re- searchers from different fields of study, including biology, anthropology, medicine, and psychology. Evolutionary psychology provides new ways of thinking about literally every topic in psychology and thus can be used as a framework to serve as a first test for midlevel or mini theories. If we really want to know how our psychology works, we need to study biology and the in- teraction of biology with our environment, just as biologists need to know chemistry and physics. Understanding human nature better will help us find strategies to counter phe- nomena we dislike such as warfare, racial or sexual discrimination, workplace bullying, unsound internal competition reducing the beneficial outputs of collaboration, etc.
... By contrast, the mean ratings for the propositions that "women's brains evolved to be more verbally talented" and that "men's brains evolved to be more mathematically talented" were at 40% and 30%, respectively. In another survey of sociologists, Horowitz, Yaworsky, and Kickham (2014) found that 43% of respondents found it plausible or highly plausible that "differences between women and men in such skills as communication and spatial reasoning are linked to biological differences in female and male brains". A further 22% were undecided and only 35% found this possibility implausible. ...
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Some issues that have been settled by the scientific community, such as evolution, the effectiveness of vaccinations, and the role of CO2 emissions in climate change, continue to be rejected by segments of the public. This rejection is typically driven by people's worldviews, and to date most research has found that conservatives are uniformly more likely to reject scientific findings than liberals across a number of domains. We report a large (N>1,000) preregistered study that addresses two questions: First, can we find science denial on the left?Endorsement of pseudoscientific complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) has been anecdotally cited as being more consonant with liberals than conservatives. Against this claim, we found more support for CAM among conservatives than liberals. Second, we asked how liberals and conservatives resolve dilemmas in which an issue triggers two opposing facets of their worldviews. We probed attitudes on gender equality and the evolution of sex differences---two constructs that may create conflicts for liberals (who endorse evolution but also equality) and conservatives (who endorse gender differences but are sceptical of evolution). We find that many conservatives reject both gender equality and evolution of sex differences, and instead embrace ``naturally occurring'' gender differences. Many liberals, by contrast, reject evolved gender differences, as well as naturally occurring gender differences, while nonetheless strongly endorsing evolution.
... By contrast, the mean ratings for the propositions that "women's brains evolved to be more verbally talented" and that "men's brains evolved to be more mathematically talented" were at 40% and 30%, respectively. In another survey of sociologists, Horowitz, Yaworsky, and Kickham (2014) found that 43% of respondents found it plausible or highly plausible that "differences between women and men in such skills as communication and spatial reasoning are linked to biological differences in female and male brains". A further 22% were undecided and only 35% found this possibility implausible. ...
Some issues that have been settled by the scientific community, such as evolution, the effectiveness of vaccinations, and the role of CO2 emissions in climate change, continue to be rejected by segments of the public. This rejection is typically driven by people's worldviews, and to date most research has found that conservatives are uniformly more likely to reject scientific findings than liberals across a number of domains. We report a large (N>1,000) preregistered study that addresses two questions: First, can we find science denial on the left?Endorsement of pseudoscientific complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) has been anecdotally cited as being more consonant with liberals than conservatives. Against this claim, we found more support for CAM among conservatives than liberals. Second, we asked how liberals and conservatives resolve dilemmas in which an issue triggers two opposing facets of their worldviews. We probed attitudes on gender equality and the evolution of sex differences---two constructs that may create conflicts for liberals (who endorse evolution but also equality) and conservatives (who endorse gender differences but are sceptical of evolution). We find that many conservatives reject both gender equality and evolution of sex differences, and instead embrace ``naturally occurring'' gender differences. Many liberals, by contrast, reject evolved gender differences, as well as naturally occurring gender differences, while nonetheless strongly endorsing evolution.
Prejudice against citizens with right-aligned political views in western cosmopolitan cities was explored, and possible interventions proposed. Literature and theories were reviewed, with social psychological and sociological theories compiled that explain the reasons for this prejudice and an intervention to solve this problem. Scientific research in social sciences is dominated by bias from left-aligned researchers in social psychology and psychology. Dysfunctional scientific processes prominent in this area of sciences are due to the sacralization of social science. A significantly small percent of social and personality psychologists identify as politically conservative. A significant amount of errors and distortions were found in sociology textbooks. Media and corporation biases toward left-aligned political views were found, and right-aligned individuals are out-group members in cosmopolitan cities. Inoculation by media assignments and critical literacy education is proposed, that could prevent school students from being influenced by stealth messages and propaganda. Media campaigns targeting the full spectrum of political views is proposed, that could help reduce biases of citizens. A family and community health class is proposed, that could improve student's psychological, family, and social health. Youth and adult clubs are proposed, that could help reduce animosity between social groups, and promote solidarity and community health.
We argue for the superiority of biologically informed models of human behavior and behavioral variation relative to their purely sociocultural/environmental competitors. It will be shown that opposition to models of the former type emanates largely from scientific ignorance, political motivations, and tacit (but critical) assumptions about the roles of “nature” and “nurture” in human behavior. Chapter 2 surveys a very wide set of empirical and theoretical work that attests to the explanatory power of these biologically informed models. A further matter that this chapter addresses is the substantial collective academic effort to block dissemination of biobehavioral theories of human behavior. We argue that this stems mostly from the substantial overrepresentation of those on the political left in academia, a fact that several researchers have noted.
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In recent decades the field of anthropology has been characterized as sharply divided between pro-science and anti-science factions. The aim of this study is to empirically evaluate that characterization. We survey anthropologists in graduate programs in the United States regarding their views of science and advocacy, moral and epistemic relativism, and the merits of evolutionary biological explanations. We examine anthropologists’ views in concert with their varying appraisals of major controversies in the discipline (Chagnon/Tierney, Mead/Freeman, and Menchú/Stoll). We find that disciplinary specialization and especially gender and political orientation are significant predictors of anthropologists’ views. We interpret our findings through the lens of an intuitionist social psychology that helps explain the dynamics of such controversies as well as ongoing ideological divisions in the field.
An evolved module for fear elicitation and fear learning with 4 characteristics is proposed. (a) The fear module is preferentially activated in aversive contexts by stimuli that are fear relevant in an evolutionary perspective. (b) Its activation to such stimuli is automatic. (c) It is relatively impenetrable to cognitive control. (d) It originates in a dedicated neural circuitry, centered on the amygdala. Evidence supporting these propositions is reviewed from conditioning studies, both in humans and in monkeys; illusory correlation studies; studies using unreportable stimuli; and studies from animal neuroscience. The fear module is assumed to mediate an emotional level of fear learning that is relatively independent and dissociable from cognitive learning of stimulus relationships.
Sociology is experiencing what can only be described as hyperdifferentiation of theories - there are now many approaches competing for attention in the intellectual arena . From this perspective, we should see a weeding out of theories to a small number, but this is not likely to occur because each of the many theoretical perspectives has a resource base of adherents. As a result, theories in sociology do not compete head on with each other as much as they coexist. This seminal reference work was brought together with an eye to capturing the diversity of theoretical activity in sociology - specifically the forefront of theory. Contributors describe what they themselves are doing right now rather than what others have done in the past. The goal of this volume is to allow prominent theorists working in a variety of traditions - who wouldn't usually come together - to review their work. The chapters in this volume represent a mix of theoretical orientations and strategies, but these these theories are diverse and represent the prominent theoretical discussions in sociology today. Some areas included are: Section I: Theoretical Methodologies and Strategies Section II: The Cultural Turn in Sociological Theorizing Section III: Theorizing Interaction Processes Section IV: Theorizing from the Systemic and Macrolevel Section V: New Directions in Evolutionary Theorizing Section VI: Theorizing on Power, Conflict, and Change SectionVII: Theorizing from Assumptions of Rationality This handbook will be of interest to those wanting a broad spectrum and overview of late 20th - early 21st century sociological theory.
We have built a world that no longer fits our bodies. Our genes - selected through our evolution - and the many processes by which our development is tuned within the womb, limit our capacity to adapt to the modern urban lifestyle. There is a mismatch. We are seeing the impact of this mismatch in the explosion of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. But it also has consequences in earlier puberty and old age. Bringing together the latest scientific research in evolutionary biology, development, medicine, anthropology and ecology, Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson, argue that many of our problems as modern-day humans can be understood in terms of this fundamental and growing mismatch. It is an insight that we ignore at our peril.
This book is arguably the definitive undergraduate textbook on contemporary social theory. Written by one of the world's most acclaimed social theorists, Anthony Elliott provides a dazzlingly accessible and comprehensive introduction to modern social theory from the Frankfurt School to globalization theories and beyond. In distilling the essentials of social theory, Elliott reviews the works of major theorists including Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Anthony Giddens, Pierre Bourdieu, Julia Kristeva, Jurgen Habermas, Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek, Manuel Castells, Ulrich Beck, Zygmunt Bauman, Giorgio Agamben and Manuel De Landa. Every social theorist discussed is contextualized in a wider political and historical context, and from which their major contributions to social theory are critically assessed. This book is essential reading for students and professionals in the fields of social theory, sociology and cultural studies, as it is both an original enquiry and a consummate introduction to social theory.
"My graduate students thought it was very-well written, clear and organized. Several left class saying they have a much better understanding of theory as a result of the text. So, continued kudos and thanks for the great book for my MA level theory course." Mike McMullen, University of Houston-Clear Lake. Contemporary Sociological Theory: An Integrated, Multi-level Approach. by D. Paul Johnson, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX. This book covers the major theoretical orientations that have been influential in American sociology since the mid-twentieth century. These include symbolic interaction, phenomenological sociology and ethnomethodology, social exchange and rational choice theories, sociology of emotions, functionalism and neofunctionalism, conflict and critical theory, selected feminist theories, structuration theory, systems theory, sociobiology, selected sociology of culture perspectives, and major themes from postmodern orientations. The distinctions between micro, meso, and macro levels serve as the organizing framework, with the micro/macro distinction related to the contrast between agency and structure. The various theories and theorists are compared, contrasted, and integrated as appropriate in portraying the complex and multidimensional features of the social world. Everyday life examples enable students to apply these abstract ideas to personal experiences and current social issues. Distinctive features include: · Summaries of major ideas of the classical stage theorists which serve as a foundation for contemporary theories, including previously neglected contributions of women theorists; · A chapter on formal theory construction, with discussion of its relevance to both quantitative and qualitative data analysis and to the status of sociology as a multiple-paradigm discipline; · Coverage of communities, complex organizations, markets, and socioeconomic classes as distinctive meso-level social formations; · Integration of rational choice theory and sociology of emotions, with application to communities and complex organizations; · Focus on contrasting perspectives within each major theoretical orientation, plus conceptual and analytical linkages among these different orientations; ·Cultural systems and sociobiological characteristics covered in separate chapters distinct from the micro/meso/macro levels of the social world; ·Explicit attention given to individual identities, personal relationships, social networks, groups, residential and other kinds of communities, internal and external organizational relations, impersonal market transactions, socioeconomic class distinctions, institutional structures, and international relations. © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
'This book contributes to the growing debates about social theory and its role through a discussion of the ways in which gender and race contributed to the exclusion of important thinkers from the sociological canon' - John Hughes, Lancaster University Who makes up the 'canon' of sociology - and who doesn't? And does sociology need a canon in the first place? Beyond Social Theory offers an innovative and passionate contribution to current debates on the history and development of sociology and the exclusion of theorists - who are female, black, or both - from the mainstream of social theorizing. With compelling biographical sketches bringing the dynamics behind the 'canon' to life, Kate Reed focuses sharp analysis on the exclusion of theorists on race and gender from important debates on inequality. An important contribution to the debate on non-exclusionary theory, this book critically examines existing accounts of the history of the discipline, situating the development of social theory within a wider social and political context.
Weighing In takes on the "obesity epidemic," challenging many widely held assumptions about its causes and consequences. Julie Guthman examines fatness and its relationship to health outcomes to ask if our efforts to prevent "obesity" are sensible, efficacious, or ethical. She also focuses the lens of obesity on the broader food system to understand why we produce cheap, over-processed food, as well as why we eat it. Guthman takes issue with the currently touted remedy to obesity-promoting food that is local, organic, and farm fresh. While such fare may be tastier and grown in more ecologically sustainable ways, this approach can also reinforce class and race inequalities and neglect other possible explanations for the rise in obesity, including environmental toxins. Arguing that ours is a political economy of bulimia-one that promotes consumption while also insisting upon thinness-Guthman offers a complex analysis of our entire economic system.
An adaptationist programme has dominated evolutionary thought in England and the United States during the past 40 years. It is based on faith in the power of natural selection as an optimizing agent. It proceeds by breaking an oragnism into unitary 'traits' and proposing an adaptive story for each considered separately. Trade-offs among competing selective demands exert the only brake upon perfection; non-optimality is thereby rendered as a result of adaptation as well. We criticize this approach and attempt to reassert a competing notion (long popular in continental Europe) that organisms must be analysed as integrated wholes, with Baupläne so constrained by phyletic heritage, pathways of development and general architecture that the constraints themselves become more interesting and more important in delimiting pathways of change than the selective force that may mediate change when it occurs. We fault the adaptationist programme for its failure to distinguish current utility from reasons for origin (male tyrannosaurs may have used their diminutive front legs to titillate female partners, but this will not explain why they got so small); for its unwillingness to consider alternatives to adaptive stories; for its reliance upon plausibility alone as a criterion for accepting speculative tales; and for its failure to consider adequately such competing themes as random fixation of alleles, production of non-adaptive structures by developmental correlation with selected features (allometry, pleiotropy, material compensation, mechanically forced correlation), the separability of adaptation and selection, multiple adaptive peaks, and current utility as an epiphenomenon of non-adaptive structures. We support Darwin's own pluralistic approach to identifying the agents of evolutionary change.