- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (April 26, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465020445
- ISBN-13: 978-0465020447
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 39 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,303,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing our View of Human Nature 1st Edition
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“Several decades ago, Doug Kenrick married evolutionary biology to social psychology and he has been a leader in this important field ever since. Unlike many scientists, he sees the big picture and writes with humor, wisdom, and verve. I’m eager to read his book!”
“Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life helps us understand our complex, odd and quirky nature. It is a fascinating journey that brought us here and Douglas Kenrick is a master in helping us understand our real nature.”
“Kenrick’s gift for speaking directly to the reader and making the abstract concrete through humor and homely examples make [Sex, Murder, and The Meaning of Life] an accessible and engaging exploration of how human behavior is connected to the behavior of our primitive ancestors.”
“Kenrick’s irreverent potpourri of personal anecdote, background science and catchy experiments makes evolutionary social psychology both entertaining and profound. Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life is a disturbing and fascinating read. It will make you wonder who you are.”
“Douglas Kenrick is one of the most important scientists studying the evolutionary shaping of human drives and emotions. By highlighting the author’s own research, this lively book introduces readers to new evidence on how the mind works, presented in a cohesive framework.”
“Douglas Kenrick is a brilliant thinker, gripping speaker, and a writer whose style is so engaging, probing, and full of irreverence and wit that is unmatched by anyone I know in academia. On top of his profound mastery of the study of evolution and behavior, he has a fascinating and quirky life story that adds color and richness to his academic expertise. He is also that rare individual with whom you’d be equally likely to want to have a drink and/or seek out to obtain keen insights into human motivation and behavior (and ideally both at the same time).”
“One of the Founding Fathers of modern evolutionary psychology, Doug Kenrick is also regarded as one of the most brilliant, creative, and accessible scholars in all of the social sciences. But a conventional scholar he is not: One part academic, one part comedian, and one part street fighter from Queens, Kenrick has ruffled a few feathers in his time. His crisp and witty writing, and his willingness to put scientific correctness before political correctness, will make readers think, laugh, and blush all at the same time.”
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I realize that there are some people out there who continue to insist that evolutionary psychology is bogus and consequently not their cup of tea, but I would challenge them to read Prof. Kenrick's book and find a better - more rational - theory of human nature than evolutionary psychology. I would also venture to say that Kenrick is definitely one of the better spokespersons for it. By the end of the book I was really at home with his laid-back, breezy, and humorous style of writing. I also appreciated the brevity with which he covered the topics; he covered many issues. For instance, Modularity of the Mind (Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind), the Prisoner's Dilemma (SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed), Decision Making (Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious), and our Basic Human Needs (The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice).
Lastly, as far as an answer to the Meaning of Life question, Prof. Kenrick has really hit the nail on the head when he writes, "I am not suggesting that we all ought to go forth and multiply, ignoring the problem of overpopulation, or that you rush out to make five hundred new Facebook "friends." What I am suggesting instead is that you let yourself enjoy the natural pleasures of taking care of the intimate associates you already have. You can regard time spent with family and friends as a distraction from the central task of life, or you can slow down and let your brain's social mechanisms savior the experiences." I think that's pretty sound advice. I highly recommend this book.
Here is a quick run-down of the chapters: Ch. 1 - Standing in the Gutter: How did an innocent young student accidentally fall in with a band of intellectual revolutionaries?; Ch. 2 - Why Playboy is Bad for Your Mental Mechanisms: When is beauty bad for you?; Ch. 3 - Homicidal Fantasies: Why have most of us had at least one fantasy about committing murder; Ch. 4 - Outgroup Hatred in the Blink of an Eye: Why can't we all just get along; Ch. 5 - The Mind as a Coloring Book: Why doesn't cultural variation support the blank-slate view of the mind? Ch. 6 - Subselves: The three faces of thee; Ch. 7 - Reconstructing Maslow's Pyramid: Where are the missing bricks in the classic pyramid of needs?; Ch. 8 - How the Mind Warps: Why do men and women forget different people and regret different things?; Ch. 9 - Peacocks, Porsches, and Pablo Picasso:Why do men go out of their way to avoid a Consumer Reports Best Buy?; Ch. 10 - Sex and Religion: When is godliness just another mating strategy?; Ch. 11 - Deep Rationality and Evolutionary Economics: Why are behavioral economists only half right when they say that our economic choices are irrational?; and Ch. 12 - Bad Crowds, Chaotic Attractors, and Humans as Ant: Why your parents were right about the company you keep.
There are plenty of interesting original experiments reported in Sex, Murder
and the Meaning of Life that make this a particularly valuable addition
to your collection about figuring out who we are.
Early on in the book is a discussion about why Kenrick tossed the Playboy's.
This discussion is one reason I find his writing so fascinating even when
I personally disagree with his assessment.
For example in one experiment Kenrick notes that men report being less
in love with their partner after having viewed centerfolds. Therefore
Kenrick suggests tossing the Playboy's in order to make the relationship
with the flesh and blood better.
And I would need a lot more than self report on something as critical as
the long term relationship. For years people thought viewing porn increased
the crime of rape. That is now a known fallacy. In fact current research
shows that pedophiles viewing child porn reduces the actual actions
between pedophile and child. The point of course is that self report in
the moment is not necessarily a good bet to be true for the long term.
In the moment, you are viewing the centerfold and then you are asked your
commitment level to your partner and say it is less controls. That makes
sense. Whether the upside of viewing beauty (motivation, impulse to action)
is worth the possible self report reduction in commitment is something
that would be worth pursuing long term.
On the flip side, women report that after viewing photos of dominant
men, they report less commitment to their partners. Thus it would
make sense to not let the female partner think about or enter the
proximity of socially dominant men would be the solution...but I suspect
that isn't going to happen. It also seems very possible that there
are achievement benefits to both partners for women to observe socially
If the outcome of life was to always be "comfortable" then Kenrick
would be correct. But if the goal was for people to achieve I suspect
he may not be.
Meanwhile Kenrick does another experiment where men shown images
of socially dominant men feel less desirable as partners as women
do shown images of beautiful women. These are wonderful experiments
but I suspect the results can provide impetus for motivation, drive
and achievement and further experimentation their to see how
performance is impacted would be fascinating as well.
In the very next chapter...just after questioning my author
on his perception of the results of his experiments, everything
changed. Kenrick's experiments with men and women and how they
report homicidal fantasies. It begins with 3/4 of men and 2/3 of
women reporting that they have had homicidal fantasies. I suspect
most of those who reported they don't...lie about other things as well.
What happens next is truly interesting. Women and men both fantasize
but in very different ways. Men report methodical point by point
planning and execution of their plans over significant amounts of
time. Meanwhile a woman's homicidal fantasy was typified by
"I wish he'd just drive off the cliff and die." Women and men
are very similar....while being different.
Ah, and who do men (85%) and women (65%) want to kill?
You guessed it. Men. Kenrick explores this subject in depth
and reports on his experiments are quite interesting as he
breaks down just what kinds of men and women we want to kill.
This was worth the price of admission.
The following chapter follows through with the touchy subject of
hatred and prejudice. Kenrick even handedly navigates a complex
subject and presents material that should be taught in high
school. What? Your feelings are normal.
Kenrick saves the discussion of Subselves for mid-book.
An extremely important metaphor for who we are is dealt
with brilliantly. Subselves is a controversial and complicated
discussion about who we are...and this chapter will enlighten
those who didn't study Ego States (John Watkins) in psychology.
And religion...want people in your church to express a greater
belief in God? Show them photos of attractive people of their
sex. It's something I never would have thought of putting to the
test but Kenrick figured it out and you'll want to know why.
Kenrick is an excellent writer who you feel you know after
reading the book. Honest, open, flawed and wise.
The book is absolutely a must read.
Kevin Hogan PsyD
Author of The Psychology of Persuasion
I really enjoyed this book it is a decent introduction to Evolutionary Psychology written in an accessible manner. Some have mentioned they didn't like the authors writing style and anecdotal references to his life story. That didn't bother me but sometimes people do offer anecdotal evidence to lend authority to their premise(s). The author could, indeed, be guilty of using this as a tool to convince the reader. But along side of the anecdotal materials are references to studies done by himself and others.
So is Evolutionary Psychology the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything... no but it is pretty compelling. Lets give it a decade or so more and see what comes of it. Time is the best test of good ideas.