Evolutionary psychology human universals, and the standard social science model

Neil Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Proponents of evolutionary psychology take the existence of human universals to constitute decisive evidence in favor of their view. If the same social norms are found in culture after culture, we have good reason to believe that they are innate, they argue. In this paper I propose an alternative explanation for the existence of human universals, which does not depend on them being the product of inbuilt psychological adaptations. Following the work of Brian Skyrms, I suggest that if a particular convention possesses even a very small advantage over competitors, whatever the reason for that advantage, we should expect it to become the norm almost everywhere. Tiny advantages are translated into very large basins of attraction, in the language of game theory. If this is so, universal norms are not evidence for innate psychological adaptations at all. Having shown that the existence of universals is consistent with the so-called Standard Social Science Model, I turn to a consideration of the evidence, to show that this style of explanation is preferable to the evolutionary explanation, at least with regard to patterns of gender inequality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-472
Number of pages14
JournalBiology and Philosophy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Game theory
  • Human universals
  • Social norms
  • Standard Social Science Model

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