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Cultural evolution, social psychology, and diversity

One aspect of my research work focuses on cultural evolution, so over last few years I have been getting acquainted with all the different branches of human evolution research. It's been a bit of struggle to understand the material in the area, but the work itself is rewarding, especially in my social psychological research.​


Social psychologist, particularly those working in diversity-related research are often viewed as being ignorant of biological/genetic processes because they want to put forward a "narrative" that is pro-minority groups or anti-privilege. This, I feel, is a reductionist POV. I am by no means a defender of social psychology, but given the ideas explored in social psychology, I think it encompasses a broad range of topics, including some very informative works from cultural evolution researchers. A quick google search of individuals like Rob Boyd, Cristina Moya, and Ara Norenzayan, shows the different topics that have been addressed within this framework. Of course, they don't always provide the answers that social psychologists "want". For example (in basic terms), one major aspect of cultural evolutionary work shows that humans evolved from hunter-gatherers societies to large-scale settlements and those settlements, over time, provided the foundations for social inequalities to form. Show these findings to most social psychologist and I'm confident most will not deny these origins of social inequalities.


​However, this evolutionary trajectory doesn't preclude discussing the ethical implications of evolved adaptations. Wilson, Dietrich, & Clark (2003) say this better than I can (in their discussion of the naturalistic fallacy in the Thornhill & Palmer's look at sexual violence as an evolved adaptation). The whole article is worth a read to see how they bring together the factual and the ethical, as a way to show that just because something is "natural" doesn't mean it should stifle discussions of what's ethical. Particularly useful is you're ever in discussions/debates concerning evolutionary psychology. I'm also wary of "debating" everything of course, because it's easy to become an armchair psychologist in the process, especially in areas one doesn't have much knowledge about. But, as a PhD student attempting to build my expertise, I also need basic tools to help put my knowledge, understanding and thoughts forward.


The seminal W.E.I.R.D paper is a good example of how psychological work, particularly social and cultural work, has only just starting addressing diverse experiences. Personally, I'm cautiously optimistic that there is still a place for diverse social and cultural psychological works, especially if more cultural evolutionary works in integrated into that understanding.

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