Feminist perceptions of evolutionary psychology: an empirical study
Cowan, Laura Katherine
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Evolutionary psychology has become increasingly popular over recent years, as evidenced by the growing presence of the theory in research, classrooms, and as specialization in doctoral programs. Within the field of psychology, there have been mixed reactions to the burgeoning existence of evolutionary psychology as a framework for understanding human behavior. It appears as though some psychologists, on one end of the spectrum, have eagerly endorsed evolutionary psychology as an over-arching and uniting meta-theory to explain patterns found in human behavior. Conversely, it would seem that other psychologists have been dismissive of the theory or highly wary of the consequences for embracing evolution as an umbrella theory for understanding human psychology. Perhaps one of the most visible and consistent movements to criticize evolutionary psychology has historically been feminism. While there has been discussion in the literature of feminist critiques of evolutionary psychology, social scientists have not yet systematically examined the impact of psychologists' feminist attitudes on their perceptions of evolutionary psychology. Given the increasing presence of evolutionary psychology within the field of psychology and the apparent conflict in relation to feminist theory, it appears as though further exploration of the issue would have the potential to increase awareness of the exact nature of the discord. To investigate these relationships, the present research study compared 88 female psychologists' identification with various aspects of feminist theory and their perceptions of evolutionary psychology. The participants answered questions on an online survey comprised of a basic demographic questionnaire, three subscales of the Feminist Identity Development Scale, as well as researcher-generated questions about perceptions of evolutionary psychology theory. Results were examined with regression analyses, a principle component analysis, and a Cronbach's alpha test was utilized to determine the internal consistency reliability of the evolutionary psychology questionnaire. Results from the study revealed that psychologists who identified with the highest phase of feminist identity endorsed more negative perceptions about evolutionary psychology, preferred nurture explanations over nature explanations for patterns in human behavior, and possessed a higher mistrust in science than their colleagues identifying in the lowest and middle ranges of feminist identity. Moderate to high internal reliability was found for the perceptions of evolutionary psychology questionnaire and three components emerged within the measure: (1) concern related to the so-called status quo criticism; (2) mistrust in the field of biology; and (3) support for the social construction conceptualization of gender. Findings are discussed in terms of future areas for potential research, implications for theory and the integration of feminism and evolutionary psychology, clinical applications, as well as the training of psychologists.