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We are family

A review of Mothers and Others: the Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, by Sarah Hrdy, the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (2009), 432 pages, £19.95 ($29.95), ISBN: 0674032993 (hardback)

Author: Rebecca Sear
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Abstract

Both life history theory and demographic transition theory predict that fertility responds to changes in mortality, but there have been relatively few tests which identify links between mortality perceptions and fertility preferences at the individual level. This paper provides an individual-level investigation of the relationship between mortality and fertility, by testing whether mortality priming results in an increase in fertility preferences. Data were collected via an internet-based experiment of students at the London School of Economics (LSE), who were randomly allocated between two questionnaires. The treatment questionnaire asked a set of mortality priming questions and then collected information on fertility preferences and attitudes towards the costs and benefits of children. The control questionnaire recorded information on fertility preferences without prior mortality priming. The results suggest that mortality priming resulted in higher ideal number of children for males, but not for females. There were no significant differences in the attitudes towards the costs and benefits of children for either sex, though the raw data suggest a slight shift towards viewing children as less costly after mortality-priming, particularly for men. This paper therefore argues that the reaction of fertility to mortality may be at least partly mediated by a direct psychological link between mortality perceptions and reproductive behaviour.

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Authors: Rebecca Sear, David W. Lawson and Thomas E. Dickins

Abstract

Over the last three decades, the application of evolutionary theory to the human sciences has shown remarkable growth. This growth has also been characterised by a ‘splitting’ process, with the emergence of distinct sub-disciplines, most notably: Human Behavioural Ecology (HBE), Evolutionary Psychology (EP) and studies of Cultural Evolution (CE). Multiple applications of evolutionary ideas to the human sciences are undoubtedly a good thing, demonstrating the usefulness of this approach to human affairs. Nevertheless, this fracture has been associated with considerable tension, a lack of integration, and sometimes outright conflict between researchers. In recent years however, there have been clear signs of hope that a synthesis of the human evolutionary behavioural sciences is underway. Here, we briefly review the history of the debate, both its theoretical and practical causes; then provide evidence that the field is currently becoming more integrated, as the traditional boundaries between sub-disciplines become blurred. This article constitutes the first paper under the new editorship of the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, which aims to further this integration by explicitly providing a forum for integrated work.

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