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Location: B116  |  Thursday, February 7  |  8:00 AM - 4:30 PM

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The 17th Annual Evolutionary Psychology Preconference provides a forum for discussing research examining how social and reproductive challenges over evolutionary history shaped human psychology and behavior. The preconference will host several invited speakers, and will accept abstract submissions for data blitz talks and poster presentations.


Theoretical risks, theory development, and empirical robustness: Reflections pertaining to the progress of evolutionary psychology

Theory and observation move science. Theory plays a role in generating systematic observation as well as explaining it. Popper, among others, argued for the value of bold and broadly generative theory that produces risky predictions—ones that, absent the theory, are unexpected. The achievements of evolutionary psychology partly stem from the fact that evolutionary biology inspires such theory. Naturally, reliable and reproducible observation is needed to test and refine theory. The replication crisis in psychology demands that we do more to ensure reliability of reported observations. We now better appreciate, for example, that robust effect sizes estimates require large sample sizes, within or across studies. At the same time, as others have noted, some responses to ensure observational reliability may, through trade-offs, have unintended consequences that potentially hinder broad theory development. These consequences may suppress the advance of evolutionary psychology especially, given its strengths partly lie in rich, novel theory development. I elaborate on these points and illustrate specific claims with recent research examining hormonal effects on women’s sexual interests. I offer provisional suggestions for how trade-offs may be optimally managed for scientific progress.

Examining the importance of biosocial trade-offs in understanding female sociality

Forming alliances with same-sex peers is a fundamental part of human sociality. For girls and women in particular, the underlying dynamics of these relationships are important for well-being, social status, and likely even reproductive and other fitness-linked outcomes (e.g., infant survival). Yet compared to males’ well-studied same-sex alliances, females’ alliances can also be unstable and difficult to navigate. Especially for females, then, it seems that social bonds are at once incredibly beneficial as well as incredibly stressful. In this talk, I present a body of work that examines sex differences in social stress responses, zeroing in on those that may underlie men’s and women’s differential susceptibility to psychosocial stressors and important health-related outcomes. Building on the tend-and-befriend model of response to threat, I then extend this logic to specific dynamics of women’s friendship formation, maintenance, focusing on the underlying activity of the stress response systems. I will discuss how and why individuals may initiate a stress response to a friend’s stressor, and the role that may have in bonding. These results suggest that mainstream psychology has failed to account for the biosocial trade-offs associated women’s friendships. By accounting for sex differences in the underlying function of these relationship dynamics, we gain a better understanding of female sociality.

Seeing the forest for the trees: What infants’ responses to plants reveal about the evolution of learning systems

Learning accounts are frequently discussed as being separate from and antithetical to proposals of evolved cognitive architecture. However, for many ancestrally-recurrent adaptive problems, it is not possible or beneficial to pre-specify all of the necessary information in cognitive architecture over the course of phylogeny alone. In such cases evolution instead builds learning mechanisms to acquire information over the course of ontogeny. In this talk I will present an example of an ancestral problem for which the predicted design solution is a learning mechanism: the acquisition of information about plants. Plants have been central to human life across evolutionary time as sources of food and raw materials for a variety of uses (e.g., artifact construction). However, plants also manufacture potentially dangerous chemical and physical defenses to protect themselves from herbivores. Plant species vary widely across human environments and there are no morphological features of plants that reliably predict human-relevant edibility or toxicity, so employing a trial-and-error sampling strategy would be extremely costly. Accordingly, a series of studies my lab has conducted with infants suggest that human cognitive architecture contains a combination of behavioral avoidance and social information seeking strategies that allow infants to safely learn about plants from other individuals over the course of ontogeny. I will conclude by discussing the broader implications of these findings for the evolution of learning mechanisms.

Before we got WEIRD: Tracing the evolutionary origins of human cooperation using data from hunter-gatherers

The evolution of human cooperation is described as one of biology’s great mysteries. How can natural selection favor traits that are disadvantageous to an individual? Numerous theories and models have been developed to answer this question and they all share the same fundamental solution: positive phenotypic assortment. Cooperation can only evolve if the benefits of cooperation preferentially flow between those who cooperate. Now, a central challenge is determining which theories best explain assortment using ecologically relevant data for the setting of human evolution. Here, I provide insight into the evolutionary origins of cooperation using data from one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer populations in existence – the Hadza of Northern Tanzania. The findings highlight the adaptive nature of human cooperative behavior—particularly its responsiveness to local social environments—as a feature important in generating the assortment necessary for cooperation to evolve.

Using time series data to understand the how and why of cultural change

Authors: Michael E. W. Varnum, Arizona State University & Igor Grossmann, University of Waterloo

Abstract: How have human cultures changed in the past two centuries? Why have these changes occurred? In this talk I present the results of a set of studies demonstrating cultural changes in the prevalence of individualism, gender equality, and contempt, and the success of cultural products with simpler vs. more complex content. This work brings together theory from cultural psychology, evolutionary psychology, cultural evolution, and behavioral ecology, and methods from time series forecasting to provide theoretically grounded and empirically tested explanations for cultural shifts in a variety of phenomena. I will also share forecasts for future patterns of cultural change in many of these variables based on this body of work and initial predictions regarding how a set of ecological and technological changes may lead to/have led to a set of changes in neural structure and function in many human populations. Finally, I discuss future promises and challenges for this type of research.

Social taste buds: An evolutionary approach to interpersonal attraction

An evolutionary approach has been extremely generative in the study of preferences in several domains, such as food preferences and mate preferences. Friend preferences have received comparatively less attention, despite the ubiquity and importance of these relationships. In this talk, I will outline an approach to same-sex friends preferences based on adaptations for choosing long-term cooperative partners. This is in contrast to the standard social psychological approach to friend preferences, which focuses on general associationist mechanisms and the selection of friends based on their relevance for currently active goals. I will present new evidence, using policy capturing methods, showing that same-sex friend preferences match the demands of ancestral cooperative partner choice, but are orthogonal to contemporary goals. Additionally, I will present evidence from economic games suggesting that these same evolved preferences also affect resource distributions. These results suggest that an approach to friendship based on our evolutionary history of cooperative partner choice may be important for understanding a broad set of social preferences, and may have important real-world applications, such as understanding apparent irrationalities in hiring and salary decisions.


Registration for the Evolutionary Psychology Preconference will be through the SPSP Meeting website.

 Important registration information: 

  • Registration is now open, and once full will not reopen
  • Registration for the Evolutionary Psychology Preconference is limited and fills quickly--please register early!
  • Preconference registration ($95 without discount codes, see below) includes breakfast, lunch, and coffee. 
  • Registration for the preconference is independent from registration for the main SPSP conference.

When registering, undergraduates, graduate students, and now postdoctoral scholars 19EvoStu20, will receive a $20 discount on registration, and faculty will receive a $10 discount on registration 19EvoAll10, thanks to the Human Behavior and Evolution Society.

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Save $25 when you register for both convention and preconference together!

Registration for preconferences is limited and fills quickly.
Registration is now open and will not reopen once this preconference fills.

Data Blitz & Poster Submissions:

The organizing committee invites authors to submit their research for presentation at the 17th annual Evolutionary Psychology Preconference. This year we will be accepting abstract submissions for both a data blitz talks and poster presentations! The data blitz and poster session are an excellent opportunity for researchers--including faculty--to present new findings and get feedback from our community.

Each data blitz presenter will have 5 minutes to present 3-4 slides on their research and will also have time to answer 1 brief audience question.

Each poster presenter will have a poster board to attach their presentation to while they mingle with attendees.

Submissions are now open! Submit via our homepage or directly here. Submissions will close on November 1, and speakers will be informed on November 28. 


Jaimie Arona Krems
Eric Pedersen


2018 Preconference  |  2017 Preconference  |  2016 Preconference

2019 Annual Convention
February 7 - 9, 2019
Oregon Convention Center
777 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Portland, Oregon 97232, USA