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Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature

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. KenrickDouglas T. Kenrick


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“Kenrick writes like a dream.”—Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biology and Neurology, Stanford University; author of A Primate’s Memoir and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
What do sex and murder have to do with the meaning of life? Everything.

In Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life, social psychologist Douglas Kenrick exposes the selfish animalistic underside of human nature, and shows how it is intimately connected to our greatest and most selfless achievements. Masterfully integrating cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and complexity theory, this intriguing book paints a comprehensive picture of the principles that govern our lives. As Kenrick divulges, beneath our civilized veneer, human beings are a lot like howling hyenas and barking baboons, with heads full of homicidal tendencies and sexual fantasies. But, in his view, many ingrained, apparently irrational behaviors—such as inclinations to one-night stands, racial prejudices, and conspicuous consumption—ultimately manifest what he calls “Deep Rationality.”

Although our heads are full of simple selfish biases that evolved to help our ancestors survive, modern human beings are anything but simple and selfish cavemen. Kenrick argues that simple and selfish mental mechanisms we inherited from our ancestors ultimately give rise to the multifaceted social lives that we humans lead today, and to the most positive features of humanity, including generosity, artistic creativity, love, and familial bonds. And out of those simple mechanisms emerge all the complexities of society, including international conflicts and global economic markets. By exploring the nuance of social psychology and the surprising results of his own research, Kenrick offers a detailed picture of what makes us caring, creative, and complex—that is, fully human.

 Illuminated with stories from Kenrick’s own colorful experiences — from his criminally inclined shantytown Irish relatives, his own multiple high school expulsions, broken marriages, and homicidal fantasies, to his eventual success as an evolutionary psychologist and loving father of two boys separated by 26 years — this book is an exploration of our mental biases and failures, and our mind’s great successes. Idiosyncratic, controversial, and fascinating, Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life uncovers the pitfalls and promise of our biological inheritance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465032341
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 01/08/2013
Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Douglas T. Kenrick is Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. He serves as a member of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society executive council, and has published over 150 scientific articles, books (including the best-selling Social Psychology, now in its fifth edition), and book chapters (in the Handbook of Social Psychology and the Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology), the majority applying evolutionary ideas to human behavior and thought processes. Much of his work has been funded by NIMH and NSF and has been reported in highly prestigious journals, including Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Psychological Review, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Evolution and Human Behavior, in addition to being covered in national media, including Newsweek, the New York Times, and Psychology Today. Kenrick lives in Tempe, Arizona.

Table of Contents

Introduction: You, Me, Charles Darwin, and Dr. Seuss vii

1 Standing in the Gutter: How did an innocent young student accidentally fall in with a band of intellectual revolutionaries? 1

2 Why Playboy Is Bad for Your Mental Mechanisms: When is beauty bad for you? 9

3 Homicidal Fantasies: Why have most of us had at least one fantasy about committing murder? 23

4 Outgroup Hatred in the Blink of an Eye: Why can't we all just get along? 41

5 The Mind as a Coloring Book: Why doesn't cultural variation support the blank-slate view of the mind? 61

6 Subselves: The three faces of thee. 75

7 Reconstructing Maslow's Pyramid: Where are the missing bricks in the classic pyramid of needs? 97

8 How the Mind Warps: Why do men and women forget different people and regret different things? 115

9 Peacocks, Porsches, and Pablo Picasso: Why do men go out of their way to avoid a Consumer Reports Best Buy? 127

10 Sex and Religion: When is godliness just another mating strategy? 145

11 Deep Rationality and Evolutionary Economics: Why are behavioral economists only half right when they say that our economic choices are irrational? 159

12 Bad Crowds, Chaotic Attractors, and Humans as Ants: Why your parents were right about the company you keep 175

Conclusion: Looking Up at the Stars: How does research on unsavory and taboo topics converge into a grand view of human nature and answer the question: What is the meaning of life? 195

Notes 207

References 219

Index 235

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