Tag Archives: evolutionary psychology

Baby, we were born to linkspam (12 February 2013)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Raiders of the Lost Linkspam (18 September, 2012)

  • Gender equality influences how people choose their lovers: Do men go for looks and women go for status? Not in the most gender-egalitarian countries.
  • Women Who Display Masculine Traits – and Know When Not to – Get More Promotions Than Men: “In the business world, women who are aggressive, assertive, and confident but who can turn these traits on and off, depending on the social circumstances, get more promotions than either men or other women, according to a recent study coming out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.”
  • Racism: It’s Elementary!: “However, some Sherlock fans, and others, are very fixated on the casting of Liu as Watson. They claim Watson can’t be a girl because that’s all wrong; he’s supposed to be a boy, you know… Yes, canonically, Watson is a man. However, there are a lot of departures from canon in adaptations of Conan Doyle’s work, because that’s what happens when you adapt work; you change it, you make it more interesting, you make it more dynamic, you take it in new directions.”
  • [Trigger Warning: Sexual Harassment] Hypermasculinity & Dickwolves: The Contentious Role of Women in the New Gaming Public: “Although the original gaming public’s identity is based upon the outsider group mentality, their in-group dynamics have expanded upon women-hostile concepts of masculinity within the larger social sphere. This discourse, as amplified across social networks and in public online spaces, allows for extreme and virulent lashing out against those who are perceived as others, most notably women. Such silencing warps the seemingly social spaces of Web 2.0 into tools for the exclusion and perpetuation of a male-dominated gaming social public.”
  • [Trigger Warning: Sexual Harassment] Let this be a lesson: “If you want to get a group of people together to laugh at two zebras mating and giggle at jokes at the expense of others because they’re “SO wrong, tee hee!”, you can do that! It’s called a group vacation! Don’t sell me a ticket to it.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Wednesday Geek Women: Mary Whiton Calkins and Elizabeth Spelke, psychological scientists

This is a guest post by Shauna, a psychologist, programmer, writer and blogger. This post appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.

For Ada Lovelace day I thought I’d go back to my roots and write about a psychological scientist. Being as I am prone to digressions, I ended up writing about two – one historical, one current. We’ll go chronologically.

Mary Whiton Calkins was born in the 1860s in Connecticut who studied classics and philosophy at Smith College. She took a job teaching Greek at Wellesley College after graduating, where by a combination of luck and talent she caught the eye of a psychology professor. He asked her to come teach psychology, but requested she spend a year studying it first. It was in this way that Calkins started taking classes at Harvard, and with William James himself among her tutors and mentors, it’s maybe not surprising that her interest in the field grew. She spent the next two years taking classes at Harvard and doing research into dreams with collaborator Edmund Sanford. Though their research would soon be eclipsed by Sigmund Freud (who did acknowledge and cite their work), their discovery that dream content could be influenced by external stimuli is much in line with our current theories of dreams.

In 1891 she returned to Wellesley to teach, and established there an experimental psychology laboratory, the first of its kind at any women’s college and only the twelfth in the United States. Over the next ten years, she trained hundreds of women in experimental psychology, putting out articles on subjects such as child development, aesthetics, and synesthesia. Hoping to continue her studies at Harvard, she also petitioned the university to become a graduate student, but the college did not allow female graduate students at the time and she was refused. Nevertheless, she continued to take classes, and three years later an unsanctioned committee of six Harvard professors awarded her an unofficial doctorate. Despite numerous petitions over the last 100+ years, Harvard has never awarded her an official one.

Calkins’ biggest research contribution is probably her work on paired association, a memory technique that is still used today. My favorite work of hers, though, is Community of Ideas of Men and Women, an article she published in 1891 in Psychological Review in response to one Dr. Joseph Jastrow. Jastrow had looked at lists of words generated by women and men, and claimed then men showed greater variety in word choice. This, he said, was evidence for the “Variability Hypothesis” – the theory that men have a greater range of abilities than women, with more men than women falling at the high and low ends of any given spectrum. Calkins and her student Cordelia Nevins replicated Jastrow’s study but not his results, and in their paper called into question the fundamental assumptions of his research:

[Jastrow et al] by the expression “masculine and feminine mental traits,’ attempt a distinction between masculine and feminine intellect per se, and this seems to me futile and impossible, because of our entire inability to eliminate the effect of environment. Now the differences in the training and tradition of men and women begin with the earliest months of infancy and continue through life. Most of the preferences which have been substantiated by both experimenters, for instance that of women .for the surroundings of a home, are obviously cultivated interests… The question of the essential difference between masculine and feminine mind seems to me, therefore, untouched by such an investigation.

Unlike the good scientists of that era, the Variability Hypothesis is not dead and buried. You may remember back in 2005 a controversy breaking out when Harvard’s then-president Larry Summers speculated in a speech that underrepresentation of women in science in general, and in tenured positions at top-tier universities such as Harvard in particular, might be due to innate differences between men and women. Specifically, he suggested that men have greater variability in mathematical ability than woman, leaving them overrepresented at the highest echelons (as well as in the lowest mathematical gutters.)

In response to this controversy, the Harvard psychology department set out to debate that claim on its merits. Summers’ claims were defended by Steven Pinker, a well known linguist and evolutionary psychologist, who faced off against Elizabeth Spelke, a developmental psychologist whose done a great deal of research on gender differences in children. From the debate:

Let me take you on a whirlwind tour of 30 years of research in one powerpoint slide. From birth, babies perceive objects. They know where one object ends and the next one begins. They can’t see objects as well as we can, but as they grow their object perception becomes richer and more differentiated.

Babies also start with rudimentary abilities to represent that an object continues to exist when it’s out of view, and they hold onto those representations longer, and over more complicated kinds of changes, as they grow. Babies make basic inferences about object motion: inferences like, the force with which an object is hit determines the speed with which it moves. These inferences undergo regular developmental changes over the infancy period.

In each of these cases, there is systematic developmental change, and there’s variability. Because of this variability, we can compare the abilities of male infants to females. Do we see sex differences? The research gives a clear answer to this question: We don’t.

I recommend reading or watching the whole thing, and/or reading Spelke’s more formal review of the literature in American Psychologist. I particularly like Spelke’s point at the end, when she talks about the role of competition in science:

You’ve suggested, as a hypothesis, that because of sexual selection and also parental investment issues, men are selected to be more competitive, and women are selected to be more nurturant. Suppose that hypothesis is true… What makes for better motives in a scientist?

What kind of motives are more likely to lead to good science: Competitive motives, like the motive J. D. Watson described in The Double Helix, to get the structure of DNA before Linus Pauling did? Or nurturant motives of the kind that Doug Melton has described recently to explain why he’s going into stem cell research: to find a cure for juvenile diabetes, which his children suffer from? I think it’s anything but clear how motives from our past translate into modern contexts.

Calkins went on to teach psychology for forty more years and in 1918 became the first woman president of the American Psychological Association. Spelke continues her child development research as a professor of psychology at Harvard University.

Information on Mary Whiton Calkins was gathered from Feminist Voices, Webster’s Women’s Contributions page, and of course, Wikipedia.

Creative Commons License
This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Want to highlight a geek woman? Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Magical linkspam sparkles (26th May, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The linkspam-industrial complex (15th December, 2010)

  • Call For Participation: Spectral Amoebas – A Blog Carnival about Asexuality and the Autism Spectrum: We are asexual bloggers on the autistic spectrum who want to explore the intersection between autistic and asexual identities. The basis of this project is to have a conversation about our unique experiences being autistic and asexual without looking for a cause.
  • Hillary Clinton Is Asked What Designers She Wears Moments After Making Point About Sexism: because it would be terrible if she forgot for a moment how important it is to be aesthetically pleasing!
  • “Where have all the men gone? Oh yeah, they’re still here – Men hold 84.3% of Fortune 500 board seats.” Catalyst releases a study examining “women’s representation in corporate governance at the largest companies in the United States.”
  • Women in Technology, Western Australia (WITWA) has launched techtrails, an initiative aimed at supplementing the technology sector with new talent. The program operates as a school incursion to raise awareness about program operates as a school incursion to raise awareness about technology careers. WITWA is looking for presenters, volunteers and sponsorship.
  • Women scientists must speak out: [Women’s choices] still cannot explain the near-total absence of women pundits. Sexism must be responsible too. Having both the inclination and the time to do media work myself, I have certainly found myself dropped for programmes and replaced by less-qualified men… Given this bias, I understand why many women might prefer not to get involved.
  • Blag Hag: Feminists’ selective science phobia (warning, substantial “those man-haters make us Good Feminists look bad” vibe in the comments). Evolutionary psychology gets a lot of flack from both inside and outside science. And to be honest, a lot of it is well deserved criticism – too much of evolutionary psychology is arm chair philosophizing and overly optimistic adaptationism, rather than hard data. But I still assert that’s no reason to write off the field as a whole… Unless it doesn’t mesh with your philosophy, of course.
  • IGN’s 2010 Gamer Girl Gift Guide recommends gifts to please men: … make sure to buy the gamer girl in your life a present that actually benefits you instead of her. She’ll love that.
  • (Trigger warnings: fictional rapes.) Rape in MY Anti-Tolkien?: Anti-Tolkien, I think, should be about upsetting the cis-white-male ghetto. It should be about subverting, breaking, and rejecting tropes that make this ghetto such a comfy cesspool to wallow in… It really shouldn’t be about women getting sexually assaulted and liquid brown hitting everything in sight.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Ms Geek’s Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Link Roundup (15th September, 2009)