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Males' superior spatial ability likely is not an evolutionary adaptation
Date:2/19/2013

to "creation stories" that seek to explain sexual phenomena like the female orgasm, rape or menopause by hypothesizing that they evolved because they provided an evolutionary advantage. Some evolutionary psychologists describe rape, for example, as an alternate mating strategy for males who otherwise are reproductively unsuccessful. Others say menopause evolved in women to enhance the survival of their genes by increasing the time spent nurturing their grandchildren. Some of these hypotheses seem intuitive, Rhodes said. "But these stories generally are not testable."

Researchers tend to overlook the fact that many physical and behavioral traits arise as a consequence of random events, or are simply side effects of other changes that offer real evolutionary advantages, he said.

"For example, women have nipples because it's an adaptation; it promotes the survival of their offspring," Rhodes said. "Men get it because it doesn't harm them. So if we see something that's advantageous for one sex, the other sex will get it because it's inheriting the same genes unless it's bad for that sex."

Similarly, scientists who claim that the different spatial skills in men and women are adaptive must explain why women failed to inherit the superior spatial skills of their navigationally enhanced fathers, Rhodes said.

"The only way you will get a sex difference (in an adaptive trait) is where a trait is good for one sex and bad for the other," he said. "But how is navigation bad for women? This is a flaw in the logic."

"When people hear arguments made or stories told, particularly about human behaviors being products of adaptation, I think they should ask the question: 'Where is the evidence?' " Rhodes said.

Rhodes is an affiliate of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.


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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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