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. Kenrick

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Overview

“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: 9780465023424
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 04/26/2011
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 516 KB
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Douglas T. Kenrick is a Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. His work has been covered in Newsweek, the New York Times, and Psychology Today. Kenrick lives in Tempe, Arizona.

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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 Natur 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
PeterCrabb More than 1 year ago
It may sound cliché, but I really could not put this wonderful book down. Professor Kenrick has written a compelling account of the latest discoveries in psychology. It is endlessly informative, often hilarious, and at times rather poignant. I won't rehash the content of the book, which brings together insights from social psychology, evolutionary theory, and dynamical systems theory to explain everything from sexual behavior to family relations, violence, prejudice, religion, and consumerism. But I will say that Kenrick goes beyond explaining things to the reader and shows how we mortals can use this treasure drove of knowledge to make our own lives, relationships, and communities happier and more sustainable. By interspersing cutting-edge research findings with sometimes startling personal anecdotes, Kenrick shines through as the kind of guy we would want to have a beer with. A stuffed-shirt academic he is not. This book is for general readers who want to connect the latest psychological findings to their own lives. It would also work well in college courses in social or evolutionary psychology. I for one look forward to reading more from Professor Kenrick.
melydia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I suspect most people¿s objections to psychological research that demonstrates a trend toward our more base instincts (e.g., it¿s all about mating!) is rooted in a basic misunderstanding of how said research is conducted. It¿s a series of surveys and other tests administered to a semi-random group of volunteers. The findings imply general tendencies - none of which are all that surprising, by the way - but that does not mean we are mindless automatons at the mercies of our impulses. Obviously. For example, women tend to notice and remember powerful men regardless of looks while men are more drawn toward beautiful women regardless of status. Does this mean I judge every male I come across by his earning potential? Of course not. But it¿s not a shocking notion that we may subconsciously be more aware of those more ideally suited to pass along our genes. And that¿s most of what this book is about: our view of the world through the eyes of our evolutionary makeup, most of which has to do with creating viable offspring. I do wish homosexuality had been mentioned earlier and delved into more deeply, but if you¿re only curious in heterosexual reactions, this could be quite interesting. Alas, there was very little I hadn¿t heard before, and nothing I could not have suspected on my own, but this might serve as an interesting book to one new to the field of evolutionary psychology.A note on the audio: Kenrick mentions early on that he has a New York accent, so Stella is a good choice. As an added bonus, his friendly, conversational tone makes what could in less competent hands (throats?) be somewhat dry material fun, quirky, and personal.
kaelirenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An entertaining overview of evolutionary psychology. Kenrick takes examples from the real world (mainly his own life) and explains our irrational behaviors from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. He explains the development of theories and the supporting evidence so clearly and engagingly, it is possible to forget you're reading about such an in-depth topic.Recommended for those who are interested in psychology or biology but don't have degrees in either.
rivkat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Free LibraryThing Early Reviewer book. If you want to know what evolutionary psychology is up to these days, at least in its popular face, this wouldn¿t be a bad start. He¿s very impressed with his rebelliousness against political correctness. He says of one experiment that his results show that ¿people¿ differ depending on the characteristics of the people they¿re seeing; oh wait, it¿s just ¿men¿ who differ in their reactions. This implicit definition is not conducive to trust on my part. The major flaw of his discussion of gender differences related to mating strategies is the repeated statements (the number must be in the hundreds) that men and women differ in various reactions. What he never clarifies: By how much? With what overlap? (The excellent Delusions of Gender is a good place to look for asking how to read studies "proving" gender differences.) The book is silent on race except for how we can manipulate emotions to increase or decrease implicit bias. So, he defends the gender history of the field but not its racial follies.There¿s also an unfortunate caricature of behavioral economists as thinking that people are idiots (he uses this term and others), as if predictable mistakes given certain conditions were some sort of moral flaw that he¿s saving us from accepting as our lot. Instead, he argues, such heuristics are the evolutionary equivalent of the invisible hand: our stupid decisions promote genetic survival. This might be true sometimes, but it doesn¿t make too much sense as a general rule. On his own terms, numerous conditions¿such as the ability to compare ourselves with the richest, most attractive people in the world rather than the local highs¿weren¿t present in the environment of evolutionary adaptation, and thus responses adaptive in that environment might destroy our reproductive success in this one. Or, if we¿re so smart, why do some of us become heroin addicts? By shortchanging behavioral economics because he¿s so insistent on evolutionary explanations (for reasons that read kind of like projection based on standard criticisms of evo psych), he ends up both Candide-like and suggesting a kind of fixity I don¿t even think he really believes in. Near the end, he acknowledges that the field has spent too much time on sex differences, even though he¿s written a book mostly about them, and there¿s plenty in the book about the flexibility of human responses given different circumstances.
avanders on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Review based on ARCThis was, for me, someone without much of a background in "evolutionary psychology," interesting and thought provoking. I appreciated that the author presented the theory without dumbing it down too much, while still making it accessible to someone who is interested in psychology but doesn't quite have the time to really focus on it.The author expresses his theories on how our natural inclinations toward selfishness and pleasure have often given way to the some of society's greatest achievements. He uses anecdotes, including personal ones, to offer examples of his theories and, ultimately, makes the book intriguing and entertaining, without really losing sight of his "sciency" theories.Whether, in the end, you agree with Mr. Kenrick and the other evolutionary psychologists or not, it is worth reading this fascinating exploration of our motivations and how they move society and individuals forward in a productive way (or, at least someone's theory of that ;)).Definitely recommend for the curious reader.
TheBoltChick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book had some interesting information, but I felt it lacking in actual substance. The passages seemed highly anecdotal without real statistics to back things up. In a research type book, I think those "hard numbers" are very important. Without that, I felt much of the time I was getting the author's opinion, but questioned exactly how he arrived at that opinion.
cmwilson101 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life by Douglas Kenrick is a very engaging review of the latest research in the field of evolutionary psychology (that is, explaining our actions from an evolutionary perspective). What could be a dry non-fiction book is light, humorous, and interesting, primarily because of the author's breezy writing style, and his willingness to include personal observations and life lessons in the material. A very thought-provoking and interesting introduction to a field of research that can be dry and confusing. Recommended.
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NeilDTN More than 1 year ago
I listened to author on late night talk show and this book and it sounded great. However, when I bought it and started reading it was boring with way to much filler about nothing. Boring, a lot backround about nothing and EASY to put down. Predictable conclusions and I felt like I was in college reading the professors book who was trying to justify his career.