Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour
New to the second edition:
- The chapter on memes has been replaced by a more general chapter on cultural evolution, which captures important theoretical and empirical developments in the field.
- More generally, the book has been updated, to take account of important research over the last 10 years
- Revised taking account of its frequent use on UG and PG courses--now includes key questions and points for discussion
Evolutionary theory is one of the most wide-ranging and inspiring of scientific ideas. It offers a battery of methods that can be used to interpret human behaviour. But the legitimacy of this exercise is at the centre of a heated controversy that has raged for over a century. Many evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and psychologists are optimistic that evolutionary principles can be applied to human behaviour, and have offered evolutionary explanations for a wide range of human characteristics, such as homicide, religion and sex differences in behaviour. Others are sceptical of these interpretations. Moreover, researchers disagree as to the best ways to use evolution to explore humanity, and a number of schools have emerged.
"Sense and Nonsense" provides an introduction to the ideas, methods and findings of five such schools, namely, sociobiology, human behavioural ecology, evolutionary psychology, cultural evolution, and gene-culture co-evolution. In this revised and updated edition of their successful monograph, Laland and Brown provide a balanced, rigorous analysis that scrutinizes both the evolutionary arguments and the allegations of the critics, carefully guiding the reader through the mire of confusing terminology, claim and counter-claim, and polemical statements.
This readable and informative introductory book will be of use to undergraduate and postgraduate students (for example, in psychology, anthropology and zoology), to experts on one approach who would like to know more about the other perspectives, and to lay-persons interested in evolutionary explanations of human behaviour. Having completed this book, the reader should feel better placed to assess the legitimacy of claims made about human behaviour under the name of evolution, and to make judgements as to what is sense and what is nonsense.
Reviews from the previous edition:
"This is a superb book."
- Johan Bolhuis, Trends in Ecology and Evolution
"Lucid and balanced, 'Sense and Nonsense' will hopefully reach a broad audience."
- Sarah Hrdy
"This is a remarkable book: succinct informative and very sensible. It strips away the polemic to map a way forward, and is worth reading by anybody interested in how best to analyse human behaviour." - Paul Harvey, T.H.E.S
"Laland and Brown are superb pilots for these treacherous waters. It is an altogether excellent book."
- Patrick Bateson
"A 'must read' for my undergraduate courses for the foreseeable future."
- Henry Plotkin
"I recommend that everyone with some influence or interest in popular culture read this book."
- Mark Pagel, New Scientist
"A welcome and incisive corrective to the disarray within evolutionary social theory."
- Herbert Gintis, Human Nature Review
2: A history of evolution and human behaviour
3: Human sociobiology
4: Human behavioural ecology
5: Evolutionary psychology
6: Cultural evolution
7: Gene-culture coevolution
8: Comparing and integrating approaches
Gillian R. Brown is a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of St Andrews. Her research focuses on sex differences in the behaviour of mammals, which she studies from neuroendocrine, developmental and evolutionary perspectives. She has published over 40 articles on sex differences, covering topics such as adaptive birth sex ratios, sex differences in infant and adolescent behaviour, parental investment and the evolution of mating strategies. She has held a Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellowship.
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