"Love of Shopping" Is Not a Gene: Problems with Darwinian Psychology

Description

212 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
$24.99
ISBN 1-55164-256-5
DDC 155.7

Publisher

Year

2004

Contributor

Reviewed by William Glassman

William Glassman is a professor of psychology at Ryerson University in
Toronto.

Review

Explaining behaviour in terms of evolutionary processes is increasingly
popular, but as Dagg notes in this book, such explanations can be
problematical. It is extremely difficult to rigorously test evolutionary
theories about the origins of behaviour, and sometimes the evidence that
is offered is selective or otherwise limited in value. This book seeks
to re-examine the basis for current ideas.

Dagg, who has an M.A. in genetics and a Ph.D. in animal behaviour, has
written several books related to biology and behaviour, and draws on
this background in her discussions. In general, the book is engagingly
written, with clear explanations of basic concepts and occasional wit
and passion, as the title suggests. The author addresses a variety of
issues, including aggression, sexuality, and intelligence, and provides
an extensive list of sources. Dagg is usually at her best when focusing
on a narrow issue in detail, as in her discussion of male infanticide.
By contrast, the discussion of aggression is quite brief and
consequently incomplete.

“Love of Shopping” Is Not a Gene is a welcome counterweight to the
current enthusiasm among the popular media and even some academics for
theories about the evolutionary causes of behaviour. She challenges the
adequacy of these theories, particularly in terms of selective evidence
(e.g., male infanticide) and overgeneralizing from other species to
humans (e.g., rape). In particular, her re-examination of the original
sources for concepts (e.g., aggression in baboons) is very useful.

The book is not without weaknesses. For example, Dagg often intermixes
references to scholarly and popular sources in ways that some readers
will likely find inappropriate. She also argues that there is sometimes
a political dimension to evolutionary psychology, with pro-Darwinians
being right-wing and their opponents being left-wing. While it is
possible that such motivations exist, political arguments pose the same
difficulties of bypassing scientific standards that she criticizes in
others.

In the end, “Love of Shopping” Is Not a Gene provides an
interesting and passionate critique of evolutionary psychology—though
less passion might have made the book more convincing.

Citation

Dagg, Anne Innis., “"Love of Shopping" Is Not a Gene: Problems with Darwinian Psychology,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 29, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/31811.