Evolution and Contextual Behavioral Science with David Sloan Wilson and Steven Hayes

by Scott Barry Kaufman, May 29, 2019

Today we have David Sloan Wilson and Steven Hayes on the podcast. David Sloan Wilson is president of The Evolution Institute and a SUNY distinguished professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University. Sloan Wilson applies evolutionary theory to all aspects of humanity in addition to the biological world. His books include Darwin’s Cathedral, Evolution for Everyone, The Neighborhood Project, and Does Altruism Exist? Steven C. Hayes is foundation professor in the department of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. An author of forty-four books and over 600 scientific articles, his career has focused on an analysis of the nature of human language and cognition, and the application of this to the understanding and alleviation of human suffering and the promotion of human prosperity. Hayes has received several awards, including the Impact of Science on Application Award from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT).

Together, they edited the recent book, “Evolution and Contextual Behavioral Science: An Integrated Framework for Understanding, Predicting, and Influencing Human Behavior.”

In this episode we cover a lot of ground, including:

  • Steven’s perspective on language and cognition
  • The difference between evolutionary science and evolutionary psychology
  • How Skinner thought of himself as an evolutionary psychologist
  • How evolutionary theory needs to take a step back and taken into account variation selection
  • How evolutionary science need to be an applied discipline
  • How evolutionary psychology done right acknowledges both an innate and adaptive component
  • Why Steven Hayes thinks that 98% of the research we’re doing in psychology might be wrong
  • Steven’s criticism of psychometric research (he thinks it’s “going down”!)
  • The first time Steven encountered David’s work and how it made him cry
  • Steven’s criticism of how the term “genetic” is used in the psychological literature
  • Separating “pop evolutionary psychology” from good evolutionary science
  • Renee Duckworth’s skeleton metaphor
  • The tension between evolutionary change and stability
  • Why we need to look at function, context, and longitudinal development in order to really balance flexibility and structure,
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as managing the evolutionary process
  • How multidimensionality and multi-level thinking allows us to manage evolutionary processes like never before
  • Their upcoming book on prosociality


One Response to “Evolution and Contextual Behavioral Science with David Sloan Wilson and Steven Hayes”

  1. M. McLaughlin says:

    I’ve often thought that CpG methylation was (and possibly repeatedly, is) corraled by the selections favoring adaptation. The very nucleic acids differed in capacity to be affected by methylation, were selected for their various uses by this malleability – Such genetic/epigenetic interaction is a two-way street, coevolving, as it were.

    Certainly, as Jablonka and Lamb pointed out, behavioral, and even their proposed symbolic modalities of evolution feed information back to molecular evolution through constraining and opening avenues where adaptive change can occur.

    Of course, some density-dependent behaviors (and cognitions) have already constrained human (for example) behaviors when large groups and habitat saturation occur. We see repeated emotions and behaviors even though we confabulate about the present differing from past conditions, after demonstrating the usual dispersal pressures – and violence/threat perception are adaptive in promotion of dispersal to perceived greener grasses. No matter how unpleasant it is, it provides motivation to move, and motivation to leave familiar territory is necessary.

    Psychometrics are a whole ‘nother conversation. Obviously metrics developed, such as intelligence, vary in a tropelike manner between individuals. The very universe is heuristic (the most salient or near bodies, forces, densities affect most), and evolution itself, while taking advantage of salience favors efficiency. Psychological heuristics really do underlay what we imagine, believe and the memory/association systems we create – narratives. We ask questions while a subject is in the fMRI, plotting the architecture and likelihood of reality of our hypothesized tropes.

    The basis of psychological heuristic and bias is exhibited in the limited information we accept into narrative. In novel environments an individual , should they survive, must often abandon some, especially those acquired in social and inappropriate social contexts.
    This meeting point of developmental and environmental experience and preparedness is here, where socially learned responses can be shown to be overlays, contingent.
    What may seem to be Gould & Eldrige’s “spandrels” may have been long ago “sensed” and constructed or grasped for adaptation by selection, and may thus have long been basic adaptations misapplied as the interviewees implied (if inadvertently).

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