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SEX, MURDER, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE by Douglas T. Kenrick

SEX, MURDER, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity Are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature

By Douglas T. Kenrick

Pub Date: May 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-465-02044-7
Publisher: Basic

An evolutionary psychologist with a flair for expressing his ideas in down-to-earth language seeks to integrate evolutionary psychology and cognitive science to explain what makes human beings tick.

Kenrick (Psychology/Arizona State Univ.) asserts that taking an evolutionary perspective clarifies human behavior and has major implications for disciplines such as law, political science, business, education and medicine. His opening chapters focus on research conducted by him and his colleagues on simple, selfish biases to answer questions about sex, aggression and prejudice. He proposes that each person has an assortment of subselves for dealing with different situations—e.g., coping with danger, finding romance, gaining status—and that these subselves are awakened at different stages of life and have a powerful effect on mental processes. What may stir the most controversy is Kenrick’s reconstruction of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Kenrick’s revision replaces self-actualization, which Maslow put at the top of his pyramid, with mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting, and he overlaps the goals to indicate that while higher ones develop later, they do not replace lower ones. The author then examines how higher aspirations of Maslow’s self-actualization need, such as creativity, spirituality and religion, are connected to the same evolutionary mechanisms as sex and aggression. Finally, he looks at how the insights of dynamical-systems theory combine with those of evolutionary psychology to produce a better understanding of patterns of social life and of how our human nature is linked to such large-scale phenomena as culture, religion and economics.

Kenrick’s gift for speaking directly to the reader and making the abstract concrete through humor and homely examples make this an accessible and engaging exploration of how human behavior is connected to the behavior of our primitive ancestors.